March 28, 2013

Maundy Thursday: We Can't Out-friend Jesus

            Who is your best friend—the one who saved you from doing that, the one who listens and supports you during tough times, the one who brings out the best in you, the one who helped you become the you you are?
            Susie was my best friend in college. We had loads of fun and got into some scrapes that I still can’t talk about. I was her maid of honor; she was mine. We've loved each other through children, moving across country, our parents’ deaths, and now our grandchildren. I can never be a better friend to her than she is to me. Even now when I think about Susie, I smile. She brings out the best in me and my life is richer because of her. She’s the best. We also can’t be a better friend to Jesus than he is to us. He’s the best and our friendship with him is what we celebrate today.
            Maundy Thursday is the day we celebrate the last meal that Jesus had with his disciples. Tough days are ahead, but now we remember what is good. The word “Maundy” means mandate, and Jesus uses it when he says, “I give you a new commandment (mandate): Love one another; as I have loved you.” Jesus mandates us to love each other, like he loves us, his friends, his best friends.
            The point is simple: Jesus is our friend; and because of him, we befriend others and bear lasting fruit for the Kingdom. But if we fail or run away like Peter, Jesus will seek us out and offer us another chance. In other words, we might drop off the vine and even into the mud, but Jesus remains our friend no matter what.
Throughout the Gospel of John, we hear Jesus say over and over, “My hour has not yet come.” He says this to his mother when she asks him to whip up some wine at a wedding, because they’d run out. It’s said when Jesus is teaching in Jerusalem and some people want to seize and destroy him. It’s said a lot. But it is also said right before Jesus takes the Last Supper with his disciples and again as it draws to a close.
I can just imagine Jesus looking over these clueless disciples. He knows he only has so much time left and he has to fit 5 years of the Course of Study and 4 years of seminary and maybe 15 years of experience working at the church into dinner conversation, which will be especially hard because the wine and the many toasts will make the disciples a little drunk. So the disciples are not positioned to be at their best, and they surely won’t be taking notes. Jesus is going to have to repeat himself and drive home the key points over and over to make sure they get even a little something.
So he starts simple. “I am the vine and you are the branches.” Yes, very good. Let’s make another toast; we are on board with you Jesus. “No,” replies Jesus, “Not quite so easy.” I am the vine and you are the branches. It means that we are connected, but we are connected for a purpose—to be fruitful.” We are connected as the Church. We represent different dominations. We belong to various committees, teams. We are connected and we strive toward common goals to produce significant products for the benefit of the Kingdom. Yes, Jesus we got it.
Then Jesus goes on to say that because we are connected to him, we are connected to each other—not as servants or followers, but as his friends. We are Jesus’ beloved friends. When the Gospel of John talks about “the beloved disciple,” we generally think of John, the disciple. But here Jesus is saying that if we stay connected to him and let him be our friend, we are all his beloved friends. And perhaps even more important, he is our friend; and the hour is here when he’s going to show us just how much that friendship means to him.       
What Jesus asks us to do in return doesn't sound particularly difficult. He wants us to love each other. Yes, even those people who want to sit at the right and left hand of Jesus. Yes, those people who just don’t seem to ever get it. Yes, those people who promise to deliver, but bail at the last minute. You get it—those people.
So under the influence, we all say, “Jesus, we will never fail you. We love you and, ok, we’ll love each other, because we think so much of you.”
Jesus’ hour is here. He is betrayed into the hands of the authorities, who have been trying to get him for a long time. Then there is Peter, who at dinner swears that he will defend Jesus to the death. After Judas’ betrayal and the soldiers step forward, Peter even cuts off the ear of the High Priest’s servant to prove his loyalty. Then he follows at a distance as the soldiers take Jesus away. Peter hangs out in the High Priest’s courtyard waiting for who knows what. Peter would show just how good a friend he was. But we all know the story; Peter denies that he even knows Jesus, let alone that Jesus is his best friend. Peter denies not once, but three times.
And in so doing, Peter cuts himself off from the vine. So he goes back home to fish only for fish. So much for being a rock. So much for the keys of heaven. Peter slinks home, convinced that he will be less than who he could have been with Jesus.
Days pass. Jesus is crucified, buried, and is raised from the dead. Jesus appears to his followers. Everybody wants to see Jesus. Everyone, that is, except Peter. Peter and a few others went home, but Jesus notices that Peter’s not around—like any friend would notice another friend’s absence.
So Jesus goes after him, not a lost coin or lost prodigal, but a lost friend. He goes back to where it all began for him and Peter—to Galilee. And there he is. Jesus finds them all and, of course, Peter. Poor Peter— so broken, so ashamed. So like you would do for any friend who is hurting, you cook them a meal—usually comfort food. So Jesus roasts some fish and they eat.
Then come those questions. Jesus asks, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” These “what” we’re not sure. Probably doesn't matter anyway. At least he and Peter are talking. Jesus asks this question three times. “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” Three times to undo the three times Peter denied him? Three times to drive home his point? Or perhaps it takes three times to get Peter’s attention.
“Yes, Lord you know I love you. Yes, Lord you know I love you like a brother. Then, Yes Lord stop asking, you know already. I can’t love you like you love me. Heck, I can’t even love you like a brother, I can only love you—like Simon son of John.”
Then, I imagine Jesus smiling and saying, “Good enough. That’s all we need. Now, feed my sheep. Go and be that rock I called you to be. Trust me. I’m the best friend you’ll ever need.  
Jesus’ words to us? “Trust me. I’m the best friend you’ll ever need. I’ll help you.”
No, we can’t be a better friend to Jesus than he is to us, but we don’t have to. He loves us as we are. So let’s celebrate our friendship with Jesus by communing with him and each other now.

Have a blessed Easter.

Encountering the Heart of Jesus

I wonder what Jesus was thinking as his death approached. Not many people know thier life expectancy, but Jesus did. I spent time reading scripture preceding the Last Supper, trying to get closer to Jesus' heart during these final days.   

I carried these thoughts with me a few hours later when I went to the hospital to visit a clergy friend, Jimmy.   Jimmy is  93 years old, dying of congestive heart failure. Jimmy was appointed to many  churches in   the former South Indiana Conference. He was  a district superintendent. Jimmy's son, also  a pastor, and his daughter, were  in the room.  

Although his  breathing was labored and speech difficult to understand, he managed to say, "I am going to heaven." I realized Jimmy must be in that in-between place where his  body is on earth, while  his soul is already experiencing  what is to come.

Reflecting later, I believe God gave  me an encounter to answer  the question  that began my day. Jimmy  shared an awareness of ending as well as  beginning giving me a glimpse of Jesus' heart as he too approached death.  

Thank you God for providing an experience to deepen my understanding of your Son.

Jacquie Reed 
Fishers, Indiana

March 27, 2013

Itineracy as a Spiritual Discipline

Many years ago (1976)  when my husband, Mike, received his first appointment after completing seminary at Duke,  we knew we would live in many places. We accepted the reality of moving every few years. We knew that God was with us wherever we landed. We were aware that God would mold us and grow us closer to God and to each other as we developed relationships with   people in each church and 

We never questioned a move. We accepted itineracy as part of ministry. We sought God for strength and courage with each church.

I hear a lot of discussion  with seminary students, clergy and clergy spouses, who want to put 'guidelines' on  itineracy and what he/she will accept in an appointment. Some of these restrictions are related to a spouse's employment, a child's grade in school, or various other factors. I often want to say, "Trusting God is part of an appointment. God will provide as needed. Every appointment provides a place to increase faith and dependency on God."  

Twice during Mike's years of service, I had opportunities for professional advancement. One job I had to decline, because we were moving. The other job, in a different town, I  sought for six  years. Finally, there was an opening, for which I applied and was hired. We found out we were moving three months into the  job. I was, of course, disappointed, as was Mike. However I trusted and had faith that God would provide employment in the new community. Shortly after we moved, I received a new position , which combined aspects of the job I had to decline and the job I had to leave. I was so grateful.  

Last week I met with a dear friend whose husband is a district superintendent in the Indiana Conference.  (The North and South Conferences merged a few years ago.) She explained that during a recent seminary visit, her husband spoke with students about itineracy as a spiritual discipline--interesting thought.

Spiritual disciplines are various  practices  that can increase faith and trust in God, as well as expand or open one's heart to the possibilities of growth and opportunity to love and serve in the kingdom. I am so thankful for the way my walk with God has developed each place we've lived. I cannot imagine declining or limiting an opportunity to see how God can act and provide. I left each church Mike pastored a different person--closer to God and deeper knowledge of myself.  

I completely agree with my friend's husband. Perhaps itineracy needs to be added to the list of spiritual disciplines that can draw us closer to God. Jesus' ministry was itinerant. However, times are different than in 1976 when Mike began. What remains the same, however, is the importance  of  seeking God for all needs--for trusting God at all times--and having faith that God WILL provide no matter where one lives.

Jacquie Reed 
Fishers, Indiana

March 26, 2013

Ever Present Help in Time of Trouble, Part 2

As spouses of pastors, we see the worst and best of the Church. This story is about how one of our church youth offered extravagant generosity. I shared several months ago about the funeral service at our church for a young girl, who had bravely fought cancer and how our church came together to be the Body of Christ for her family and loved ones and the hundreds of her classmates who attended. Several of you asked what has happened since.

Last weekend, a teenager, who is one of our youth, stepped forward to lead and coordinate a benefit for the hospital that cared for her friend who had died. The young woman had quite a line-up of talent for the music. She asked a couple of boys to MC, who were very funny. During intermission, she created some games for the audience-- based on "A Minute to Win It." All the participants were good sports despite doing ridiculous things, like balancing and stacking chap sticks using only chop sticks. (You just had to be there for the full effect.) Naturally, there was food. And she had friends who helped clean it all up afterward. It was great to have our Christian Life Center full of youth, some of whom had never been to our church, or perhaps any church, before. Everybody had fun. It was truly a good time for lots of reasons. And the crowd was very diverse, something that doesn't often happen.

I'm not sure how much money she raised, but her goal was $2000. And I suspect she either made it or came close.

I like to think that the seeds for this event were sown not just from the funeral but also from our vibrant youth program that has taken years to build. But it also could not have happened if the adults of the church had not been willing to chaperon and support the event by buying tickets and attending themselves.

As I looked faces in the audience, I couldn't help but think that God must be smiling as well. It was, after all, the Body of Christ experiencing the joy of our salvation.

Grace, Kathy

March 14, 2013

Things to Ask When Meeting with a New Church

Families all over the UM connection are in the middle of the appointment season. Often times, there is an opportunity for you to meet the Staff/Pastor Parish Relations Committee with your pastor spouse. before the appointment is finalized as part of the consultation process. While everybody wants to make a good first impression, hopefully, you can also come away with helpful information.

Just remember to smile and be as relaxed as possible. Show them that you're glad to be there, even if you're not. Remember people take only about 30 seconds to create a first impression. So be the best self you can be.

While the SPRC/PPRC will want to look you (pastor and spouse) over, they will also want you to like them. They will be eager, most times, to want you to be a good match for their church. So finding common ground is always a good start. What do you have in common? Be interested in them and listen. If they loved their old pastor, they will still be grieving loss. But, at least in the UM system, moving pastors is just part of church life and they know that too. If they were happy to see their old pastor leave, just beware. The problem might not have been the pastor; it might be them. Still, the first meeting is an intricate dance. Praying before you go, while you are there, and after you leave is a good idea.

But you might also need some specific information, like who to contact for help moving and getting settled into the new community should you end up going to that church.

It's also a good time to evaluate their hospitality. How hospitable are they to strangers (you)? Chances are they'll treat you at least as well as other strangers. Hopefully, they will be kind and gracious people.

Despite having moved several times, I've only gone with my husband for this first meeting one time. They graciously asked me along. Their graciousness was indicative of them and continues to be. When we moved into the parsonage, it had been cleaned and they had even left some flowers and food in the refrigerator. There was a new phone book and all the keys to the house. It was a good move to a loving church. I pray your move goes as well.

Grace, Kathy   

March 11, 2013

What Laity Think about Clergy

It never fails to amuse me to hear how little laity think a clergyperson does. I know my spouse's grandfather really did think that all pastors do is preach one hour a week, until we started sending him the church newsletter. And many pastors have the same number of committees and meetings no matter what size the church or churches. At our particular church we have about 800 members and my husband is the only pastor, although there are other full-time staff. We would never get a vacation if he didn't have some help covering the hospitals, and there have been a few times when we had to come home from vacation because someone in the congregation died. He's on call 24/7.

Pastors work very hard and have to deal with extremely difficult and complex situations. Care of souls is arduous work. For example, we had a person accused falsely but he was sent to jail anyway. The situation was complicated by the fact that the accuser, accuser's family, the accused, and the accused's family all attended the church. Needless to say, there were many hours spent in sorting everything out.

Sermons can take many hours to prepare. How would you like to prepare and memorize a 20-minute speech weekly and have about 200-300 people evaluating your every word over dinner?

Then, at least in the United Methodist Church, pastors have responsibilities beyond the local church, in the district and conference and perhaps in the jurisdiction and at the general church level. If pastors aren't careful, all they might end up doing is going to meetings.

Most pastors I know, love people and are there to serve. I know my husband wouldn't be anything else. He is called by God and gifted to serve as a pastor. But sometimes its a heavy gift. My job as a spouse is to help make the load as light as possible and smooth things out when I can. But as a Christian, I also have a calling. All Christians do.

So when people kid me about how little their pastor works, I just smile and say how wonderful and how pleased God must be that their pastor has laity like them to help share in the multitude of responsibilities. That usually ends the conversation.

Grace, Kathy

March 7, 2013

Join When You're Ready

I've known my husband for just shy of ten years. In that time, he has served three churches. I've been members of all three, but my decision to join has looked very different in each case.

In the first church, my new friend/boyfriend was the newly hired youth pastor when we met. I helped out with the youth some on Sunday evenings and for special events and activities, but continued to search for a church "of my own" on Sunday mornings. As we got more serious, however, I wanted to make a church home with this person I hoped to make a life and marriage with, so I came over to his church, got more involved, and eventually joined, around the time we got engaged. It was the closest thing to a "normal" (i.e. unrushed, unpressured) new member process as I have had or probably will ever have.

During our first year of marriage, my new husband was appointed to lead a small church in another town. And because I didn't know any better, and wanted to be a "good little pastor's wife," I joined the church on our very first Sunday. I don't really know if it's true or not, but I assumed that was the expected thing for a clergy spouse to do. Over time, however, I really regretted that decision. That church ended up being a very poor fit for my husband and me, and our time there was largely miserable. On top of all the other frustrations, the fact that I didn't "belong" there (i.e., fit in) was put into even starker relief by the fact that I technically "belonged" (i.e. I was a member).

When we were blessedly moved four years later, I was determined not to put myself in such a situation again. So I didn't join on our first Sunday there. Or anytime in our first month there. No one said a word about it to me, though one older lady did ask my husband who they should "write to" about my membership, and my husband liked to tease me that until I joined another church, my membership would still be at our dreaded former church.

I waited more than five months before joining our new church. I had gotten to know the people. I had gotten involved. I had joined the choir. I felt like I belonged. And only then was the time right to make my "belonging" official.

When I went forward, I chose to say a few words to the congregation, explaining why I had waited:

"The pastor's spouse is often expected to join the church on the very first Sunday there. To me, that feels a little like getting engaged on your very first date. I wanted to wait until I got to know this church better to make my membership official. So now, after five months, I have come to know and love this church, and would like to join"

Three wonderful women actually got up out of their seats to come stand around me as I took the membership vows. We hugged, and I really felt they were not just church members, but my church family. People told me later that, knowing my reasoning, it meant more to them that I wanted to be a part of the church. And it meant a lot more to me, too.

March 6, 2013

Are Clergy Just Another Union?

Recently, I've been told that clergy are just another union. I can see how people might think that. At least, United Methodist clergy have a guaranteed appointment to a church and these churches are required to provide either a parsonage or a housing allowance. And there are parsonage standards. Clergy are organized and provide leadership for the church, as a local institution but also regionally, nationally, and even internationally. There are great benefits to being in the clergy family. We have the satisfaction of serving God and living with other Christians in mission and ministry.

However any spouse will tell you that for each benefit for being part of clergyperson's family, there are also great burdens.True, God gives us gifts and graces, but too often the churches make them heavy gifts indeed. But in no way are clergy part of a union.

For one thing, in a union the leadership is accountable to the membership and are tasked to lead for the benefit of the membership.This is hardly the case in the church. Our leadership, once elected (bishops) or appointed (District Superintendents), other than following church law, are not accountable to pastors.They are accountable to the Church, often at the expense of the pastors in their charge.

Next, unions have contracts with their employer. For United Methodist pastors this is especially tricky. Pastors are employed by the Annual Conference and not the local church. And pastors may influence their pay and benefits, but often lay leadership in the local church make those decision--again within the bounds of church law, which, in the case of UMs, is codified in the Discipline.

I've never been a part of a union, but I know union members can strike. This would be unthinkable for pastors to do, no matter what the circumstance. And unions negotiate for working hours. I don't know about your spouse, but mine is on call 24/7, even when taking time off.

And I would suppose that there is some solitary between union members. Increasingly, this is untrue for clergy, much less their families. But perhaps you have another clergy spouse who has stood by you in tough times, I know I have.

Looking at another profession from the outside in always gives a distorted view. But so does only looking from the inside out. From the inside we know that UM clergy may have a guaranteed appointment, but that doesn't mean that you would choose or can afford to go there or that you won't be sent far from your place of employment.You may live in a parsonage, but that doesn't mean that the church keeps it up or that you are proud to call it your home. But looking from the outside, many lay people believe that clergy have a sweet deal. More on that later.

So what is the true picture? Clergy are not a union, but sometimes I wish they were.

Grace, Kathy

March 4, 2013

Being an Encourager

This past week, I took my young son to one of his karate classes just like I do every week. But on this particular day, the class was unusually small (only 7 kids). So the sensei decided to have the kids practice a particular set of skills one at a time and have the rest of the group comment on their technique. He gave two simple instructions. After the student was finished doing their skills, each of the other students could choose to say something positive that they did well or give a suggestion on how they could improve. Well my son is a very analytic child, and so he waited and watched each child take their turn and strategically chose to go last. I could only assume it was because he got the benefit of learning from the mistakes of those that went before him. When class was over and we were driving home, he asked why the other students only pointed out what he did wrong instead of saying something nice about what he did well. I did not want his feelings to be hurt, so I simply said they just wanted him to be able to do his best.

Later I was thinking about his question to me and it got me thinking. Why do we find it so much easier to point out the faults of others instead of building each other up? Think about that for a minute. How often do you criticize or pass judgement on others when what we should be doing is offering encouragement and sharing God's love? I think many times it comes from a place of insecurity inside us and finding the faults in others makes us feel better about ourselves. But when you meditate on the fact that we are created in God's image and through Jesus we are new creations, you can find wholeness and peace and let those insecurities slip away.

So how do we do it? How can we be encouraged, and how do we become encouragers? True encouragement grows out of a deep faith-walk with God and one another. It requires our time and selfless devotion. It seeks to lift up and heal, helping others grow closer to God, so they can press on in their faith and be better suited for serving in God’s kingdom. There are dozens of Bible verses that train us to be encouragers. May these sampling of Scriptures encourage you today!
Jesus, our Hope, encourages us. (Heb. 6:18, 2 Thess. 2:17)
Salvation encourages us. (1 Thess. 5:8-11)
The Holy Spirit encourages us. (Acts 9:31)
The faith of others encourages us. (Acts 11:23, 28:15, Ro. 1:12, Phil. 1:14, 1 Thess. 3:7)
Fellowship with believers encourages us. (Phil. 2:1, Heb. 10:25)
The truth of Scripture encourages us. (1 Co. 14:31, Phil. 1:14, Tim. 4:2-5, Titus 1:9)
Serving God encourages us. (2 Chron. 35:2)
Anticipating the Lord’s coming encourages us. (1 Thess. 4:18)


March 1, 2013



Since September, 2012, the Rev. Saeed Abedini, 32-year-old Iranian-American pastor has languished in Tehran's notorious Evin prison on national security charges for leading the underground house-church movement. On January 27, 2013, Rev. Abedini was sentenced to eight years in prison. Abedini's wife and two young children are in Idaho. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom labeled the charges against Abedini "bogus" and asserted they were used "to suppress religious belief and activity of which the Iranian government does not approve."

Pray for the release of Rev. Abedini!

(From a report in WORLD magazine, Feb. 9, 2013 issue.)

One way we can help is to post this everywhere we know. The more visible  Pastor Abedini is, the more likely the Iranians might be inclined to release him. At least, he and his family may find out that they are not forgotten by the Church.

Grace, Kathy