1001 Way Forward Jokes (for Methodists)

Q:  Why were the moderate delegates in danger when a fire broke out?
A:  They hadn’t considered the Exit Plans.

Q:  How many General Conference 2019 delegates does it take to change a light bulb?
A:  It depends on if a majority can turn the same direction.

Q:  Is such an important, crucial moment in the life of our church a joking matter?
A:  You bet your modified connectional one church simple backside it is!

Let me explain.

On September 11, 2002, one year after the terrible attacks in New York and the Pentagon, I sat in the sanctuary at Manhattan, KS FUMC.  We hosted a community worship service, and there was a full sanctuary of people of different backgrounds and religions.

Right at one of the most solemn moments, I heard something from across the room.  Laughter.  A woman was laughing.  It took me a few moments to realize it, but it was something I’d studied in seminary:  Holy Laughter.  Folks from some more Pentecostal churches believe that, much like speaking in tongues, the Holy Spirit could lead people to laugh.

Well, the folks around me were not impressed, nor was I.  It seemed crass and out of place, especially on such a dark occasion.

But since then, the idea has stuck with me.  Holy Laughter.   Is such a Spirit-led thing possible?  I kind of hope so.

I may not believe in glossolalia (speaking in tongues) or spirit-fueled utterances, but I believe in the holy power of laughing.   I would consider it high up in my list of spiritual gifts.   Every sermon, every wedding, ever funeral — I aim to include some laughter, because I’ve seen what it can do.

Now, there’s good laughter and bad laughter.   I try not to be crude, or divisive.  I’ve made my share of jokes that cut another person down — I’m ashamed of those.  But I find that laughter can open up lines of communication that once were closed.  Laughter can heal anxiety like nobody’s business.  Laughter, if truly used according to the Spirit, can awaken hope, relief, and yes…a Way Forward.

Hard as I try, I’m not much of a prophet.  I have strong beliefs but I prefer to be a shepherd to my flock, guiding them as they grow in faith.   I struggle with anxiety and uncertainty as much as anyone, but I’ve learned that nobody is served by an excess of fear and panic.

And so, as our delegates head to Saint Louis for this momentous occasion, what I have to offer is a counter-intuitive suggestion:  Laugh a lot next week.   Find the humor in moments big and small.  Laugh with people from different places and different positions.  Not divisive or crass humor, and maybe not when it’s clearly uncalled for — but embrace the kind of Spirit led humor that can lighten a room and clear a way.

Even if you’re only laughing on the inside, if you feel the nudge, let er rip.

Grace, Peace, and Blessings!

Have a great week,

Mitch Todd

My style of humor is more spontaneous, so these riddles fall more into the Laffy Taffy realm of bad.  Enjoy.

Q:  What do you get when your denomination is reduced to a single location?
A:  The One Church Plant

Q: Why does the Connectional Plan have trouble meeting people?
A:  It’s Complicated.

Q: If Jesus showed up in St Louis, where would he sit?
A: Enterprise Center.  Bruins vs. Blues.

Q:  How many Bishops does it take to change a denomination?
A: That’s not their job.  (But if you get desperate you could ask)

Q: If there’s a schism, who gets the cross and flame?
A.  Jesus gets the cross.  The Spirit gets the flame.  And God gets a headache.

(That’s 8 down, and 993 to go.  You write the rest.)

 

 

The Wrestling Life

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The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still. -Exodus 14:14

What a match this has been.

On one side, it’s been You and God, and on the other side, your opponents.  You know, your physical and mental illnesses that bring you to your knees.  Injustices that try to hold you down.  Doubt and Fear that threaten to do a pile driver on you.  Sin and shame that will hit you with a chair when you least suspect it.

You and God?  Totally outnumbered.  There’s an endless mob climbing up over the ropes trying to pin you. Adversaries you’re wrestled with for so long you know them as well as you know yourself.  Grabbing you by the hair, and flinging you into the ropes.

You’ve had about all you can take.

Isn’t wrestling supposed to be fake?  This doesn’t feel fake.  It feels like you’re getting your tail kicked.   Sometimes life is like that.  And no matter how hard you try to fight it, sometimes it feels like you may be going down, and you may not be getting up again.

Gasping for breath, you see it out of the corner of your eye:  God’s hand, reaching out desperately.  How could you have forgotten?  This is a tag team match!  If you can just reach out and take…God’s…hand…

Connection!  God swoops into the ring as your beaten body slumps to the side.  God says, “I will fight for you; you need only to be still.”  And so you are.  It’s all you can do.

You lie there, panting, having done everything you could do to overcome every last sin, sickness, and shortcoming.  You’ve long been accustomed to the wrestling life, one ordeal after another.  One obstacle, one battle, one endless bout, but now, you have taken God’s hand…

God is powerful. Doubt and Fear dissolve at God’s gaze.  Injustices and enemies reel at God’s signature move — a mighty blow, arms formed into the shape of the cross.

As the match continues, you just lie there, as instructed.  Your breathing slows.  Your eyes droop.  You are still.

And then God is prodding you.  You awake refreshed, energized.  God nods back to the ring, hand outstretched to you.  God has done so much on your behalf, but most importantly, God has renewed your strength, so that you’re ready to go back to the battle..

It’s your turn again.   You take God’s hand, and climb back into the fray.

Now this story may seem a little bleak to you.  Life must surely be more than a constant battle, and our relationship with God is certainly more than a “Tag, you’re it” at the edge of a wrestling ring. But the moral of the story is essentially clear:

God will fight for you when you can’t. And when life threatens to overtake you, God can give you rest.

So get out there!  Grab that lingering self-doubt by the shoulders and pin him to the mat.  And remember, you don’t have to conquer all your adversaries at once…

just the ones walking around in their underwear.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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SHUTDOWN?

 

picture4If a government can shutdown, I wonder:  Can a denomination?

In a month and a few days, delegates from around the world will gather in St Louis to try to chart the course for the United Methodist Church.  At issue is how United Methodists respond to certain aspects of homosexuality.

There are “Traditionalists” who view homosexuality as a sin and want to make sure the church doctrine strongly reflects this.  There are moderate “One Church Plan” folks who advocate letting conferences and churches choose whether or not to allow gay marriages and ordinations.  There are “Simple Plan” folks who want to remove all restrictive language and any barriers for LGBTQ people all together.   There are any number of variations on these themes, represented by the 78 petitions delegates will have to examine at this February meeting.

What if they can’t make a decision? What if our delegates remain just as log-jammed as the rest of our denomination appears to be? What if there’s no consensus, or even a majority, and we’re just stuck?

This is a possibility, by the way, and I honestly don’t know what the Way Forward would be in such a situation.  Maybe we’d just…

SHUTDOWN.

You know?  Like the government?  If we can’t agree and can’t move forward, maybe we’ll just have a shutdown.  A partial denominational shutdown.

Can you picture it?

  • Churches would get filthy.  With no one to empty the trash, our sanctuaries would start to look like neglected national parks.
  • Ministries would be crated while people on opposite sides tried to compromise on what our priorities are supposed to be.  Until the higher-ups get things figured out, all our local churches could offer is fellowship time.  But no donuts.
  • Pastors and staff would show up for a week or so, but then we’d start calling in sick.  You’d see us taking temp jobs at coffee shops, trying to strike up a conversation about religion.  You’d drive through Taco Bell and find your preacher handing you your order, winking and tossing in extra salsa packets.

Ya think?

Nope.  No way.  I don’t know what we face in the next few weeks, but a shutdown is not in the picture.  Unlike our government, the Church doesn’t close.  Discipleship does not get furloughed.  Good News is not subject to a budget.

You or I may stumble, or change course, or lose our way, but the Church of Jesus Christ continues its mission.  Remember what Jesus says to Peter?

“…and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”  –Matthew 16:18b

I take that to mean that we are, and will remain OPEN FOR BUSINESS.  The business of saving souls.  Transforming lives.  If we strain, we’re still open.  If we split, still open.  If things change…or don’t change, we’re still open.

Be sure to let people know that.  In your giving, and working.  In your loving and witnessing.  Christ’s work doesn’t stop, even when Christians argue, or worse.

See you on the job.

Maybe I’ll even bring donuts.

Mitch

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MY NEW BOOK!  A collection of my favorite devotions from over the years, complete with study questions.  Perfect for individual reflection or group discussion.  Get yours on Amazon!

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Siren Song

loud-musicThe Song:

At noon and 6pm, music pours forth from my church.  Bells, or electric facsimiles of them, send out five minutes of tunes into the neighborhood around us.  In a closet behind the sanctuary, a cassette is timed to play through outdoor speakers.

It sounds really nice.  We have a few different tapes we can play, even a tape of Christmas tunes to play in December.  I’ve threatened to look online for one that plays Beatles tunes.

The Siren:

Perched atop our building is an elaborate speaker, pointing in all four directions.  When this sound cranks up, people go into their basements.   I suppose the sound is grating, but it could save your life.

It seems to go off at least once every spring when dangerous clouds are swirling overhead. When I hear it, I feel an instant pang in my gut, a warning that all is not well.

What sort of vibe is your church putting out?

Is your church a gentle lullaby, coaxing people in, or is it a brash trumpet, alerting all to imminent danger? Does your church present itself as a sacntuary of rest and comfort, or as a watchtower blowing the whistle on the threats we face?

Which is the right one to be?

A prophetic, siren blaring church is uniquely suited for fighting injustice, for helping the marginalized.  Members of a Siren church write letters and go on marches.  They take risks and carry the banner of Jesus Christ into a broken world.

A song church that sends music out to all who can hear is sending an invitation of peace, gentleness, maybe healing.  Inside the walls of this church is a place of comfort, of creativity, of togetherness.  Members of a Song church invite others to praise God and acknowledge each other as made in the image of God.

There are, of course, many other types of churches, but still I wonder…which of these two would you be drawn to?  Is God’s Kingdom blessed by both?

In the spring, on the first Monday of the month, something interesting happens.  The siren fires up for its monthly test at the same time  that the bells begin to play.

Let me tell you, for a couple minutes there at noon, it’s quite a racket.

But to the discerning ear…

it sounds like harmony.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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The Big Squeeze

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“Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.”  –Luke 13:24

I’m not what you would call a small man.

I’ve lost 30+ pounds and “found them” again, twice.  In the 14 months that I’ve been a vegetarian, I’ve actually gained 5 pounds.  When I shop in the Big & Tall section, no one would mistake me for being there because of my height.

So yeah, I’m a heavy guy.  Which has me wondering about this door Jesus talks about. Just how narrow is it?

You know, I can squeeze into a restaurant booth.  I can squeeze into an airplane seat. I can squeeze into my dress pants without popping a button. But what I really need to know is how tight a squeeze this door really is.  Do I stand a chance? Jesus tells us many will try to enter and not be able.

That makes me nervous.  Because that’s not all I’m carrying.

It’s very hard to enter into the Kingdom if you’re carrying anything sinful: a spare tire around the middle, or an overinflated ego, or bags stuffed with greed, or the giant plank stuck in your eye.

What are you carrying that will make it hard for you to squeeze through the narrow door?

The door is there before us, a challenge for your life and mine, but Jesus didn’t put it there to daunt us or to taunt us.  The truth is, alone, none of us could make it through.  We’re carrying too much!

No, the door serves a purpose for our lives.  Jesus invites us to measure up against that narrow door, to make a wholehearted attempt to mold ourselves into the shape of the Kingdom.  This is the work of discipleship, as we learn to shed what weighs us down and pick up what helps us resemble Christ.

Ultimately, it is God’s Grace that leads us through the door and into the Kingdom.  Every pound we shed is our “Thank You” for bringing us through.

It’s a New Year and a New Start.

So…

What have you got to lose?

Have a great week,

Mitch

straight gate

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Thanks so much for supporting me with my new book.  If you’ve enjoyed it, and are so inclined, I could sure use some more reviews on Amazon.  If you have a minute, that would be great!

MY NEW BOOK!  A collection of my favorite devotions from over the years, complete with study questions.  Perfect for individual reflection or group discussion.  Get yours on Amazon!

barefoot.: devotions & discussions by Rev. Mitch Todd Paperback

 

 

31 Santas

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We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. –Hebrews 6:1

I’m running a B & B for Santa Clauses. Or a detention center.  I’m not sure.

Out in my cold garage, all wrapped up and nestled on shelves, lie 31 Santa Claus figures.  A burly outdoorsy Santa carrying a tree over his shoulder. A mystical wizard-looking Santa in a robe.  Short, hand painted wooden figurines.  Tall, spindly abstract Santas.

31 of them!

We’ve gathered them over a few decades, but the last couple years it hasn’t seemed worth it to set them all up.  We’ve kept things simpler.  A tree, a manger scene, and that’s about it.

But those Santas…

At night, I can hear them muttering to one another, out in the garage.  They’re restless.  Most of the year they’re content to slumber away, but not in December.

The outdoorsy Santa says:  “If they’d let us out of here we could at least ring the salvation army bells somewhere.”

“Yeah,” an old fashioned looking Santa replies.  “If we went to 31 different locations, think how much change we’d collect!”

“Or,” the mystical looking Santa says, “We could go to 31 different churches and increase everybody’s attendance by one!”

“Maybe,” a gnome-like Santa says, “but I think we could make more of a difference if we all impersonated yard gnomes and made sure nobody stole packages off people’s porches!”

“I mean,” the tall spindly Santa says, “if they’re not going to use us, they could at least give us away to someone else.  Tis the season of giving, right?”

I heard a lot of agreement with that.  He was right. So I got up out of bed, stepped into the cold garage, unboxed each Santa…

And set them free.  They scurried off into the night to do what Santa’s do best.

I spotted the outdoorsy one today, escorting an old man across the street.  The mystical one was at the coffee shop, having a deep theological discussion about the Incarnation.  And I caught a glimpse of three or four at the thrift store, passing out gifts.

I was a little sorry to see them go, but more than anything, I was thinking about why I had collected them in the first place.  To me, Santa is a human attempt to reflect the divine impulse of giving.  Santa reminds us that humans can give grace.  We were made in the image of God, and blessed by the Grace of Jesus. Santa knows this.

Santa isn’t the manager of a toy factory.  Santa is one of the “Saints”, devoting himself to a lifetime of thanks to God by giving to God’s children.  As I, too, should be.

This morning, I walked out to my empty garage, and grinned.

I was ready to be…

Number 32.

Have a Merry Christmas!

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MY NEW BOOK!  A collection of my favorite devotions from over the years, complete with study questions.  Perfect for individual reflection or group discussion.  Get yours on Amazon!

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Christmas is for adults, too.

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Everybody always says, “Christmas is for Children.”

Been there, done that.  It was great.

However…

I’d like to raise a few points on behalf of those who find themselves with a few gray hairs.  Or a lot of them.

Christmas is no less magical or profound or sweet or challenging now than it was when we were whippersnappers.

In fact, it may even be better.

Let’s talk about Hope:  I must confess I’ve done my time on the Island of Misfit Toys.  Feeling broken. Not sure where I belonged. But I’ve learned that everyone gets broken.  Everyone feels like a misfit from time to time.  It is the coming of Christ that gives our lives meaning and purpose.  Now I know what it really means to have HOPE!

Let’s talk about Love:  I’ve learned that there is no perfect present underneath the tree.  Hard as we might try, we can’t fit love in a box.  There’s only one gift that truly satisfies to that extent.  It is the gift that God gave to us, so that we might pass it on.  Now I know what it really means to have (and give) LOVE!

Let’s talk about Peace:  Every year I find myself saying, “has the world ever been this bad?”  My attentiveness to the suffering around me has developed, but so has my faith and resolve.  I believe there is no turmoil that the Prince of Peace cannot transform, and I want to help.  Now I know how to look for signs of PEACE!

Let’s talk about Joy:  Whereas once a gadget or a toy would make me giddy, now joy strikes me much more deeply. It is in the presence of family and friends.  In witnessing simple acts of grace.  In the Christmas story.  More than just the excitement of a season, I am reminded of what God With Us truly means both now, and the whole year round.  Now I know the ongoing thrill of JOY!

Oh, I’d never take back all those wondrous Christmases I spent as a child.

But I’m surprised to report that the Christmas miracle keeps on getting clearer,

…even as I keep getting grayer.

Merry Christmas.

Mitch

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originally published 12/14, revised 12/18

Sunday, 12/16/18 2-4pm at Jane’s Landing Coffee Shop in Mulvane KS — BOOKSIGNING PARTY!  Come drop by!

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barefoot.: devotions & discussions by Rev. Mitch Todd Paperback