Opportunities are Everywhere

The view here at the beginning of September is not what I had in mind at the New Year.  A quick survey of the past half year, a look at our current news, and a glance at what people are talking about in the coming months – and it is easy to understand why many are stressed and despairing about 2020.  Uncertainty of what will be, fear about what is, and paralysis of analysis on what has been has led to inaction and anxiety.  Yet,  John Adams’ wisdom observation still shines through, “Every problem is an opportunity in disguise.”  The way it was is now problematic.  The way it will be has yet to be revealed.  We must have courage to the opportunities budding.  We are in the transition, but with our God at the helm, we know glory is not far away.  Take Paul’s words as further evidence:
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
Through the cross, we can find resurrection.
Our denominational founder also speaks to these moments.  John Wesley brought hope to the downtrodden masses with a long look at holiness of both heart and life, personal and social.  He knew we had to be accountable or else we would rationalize our every departure from the ‘methods’ of scriptural holiness and despair at society’s prospects..  One question he asked of regular class meetings cuts to the quick in times like these, “What is your doing?”  
This one hits close to home.  I am far more comfortable with ‘how are you doing?’  There I can keep it subjective and real – my feelings, my thoughts, what happened to me – the other calls me to account on my actions and my inactions.  ‘How’ allows for interesting stories and good reflection.  ‘What’ draws us back to the commands of our savior – the One who is good.  This is why Wesley’s 3rd rule was to attend to all of the ordinances of God (Prayer, Fasting, Conversation, Bible, Serving, etc.)
In the midst of a pandemic we righty give ourselves a pass on so much.  Do we want to give ourselves a pass on those things which draw us to our God and eternal life?  Opportunities are everywhere.
We have such an opportunity to walk with one another in social holiness in our upcoming Workbook of Living Prayer study.  In this we will have a workbook to guide us through regular prayer while doing so amidst a group of fellow sojourners.  We will cover both the what and how in the journey and be transformed along the way.  I don’t know about you, but I am excited about deepening my prayer life while learning from others during these coming 6 weeks.  Lord, hear our prayer.
You can access and sign-up for these groups here on OnRealm.  I have come to realize many still do not know what OnRealm is.  Let me take a little more time and offer some clarity. 
OnRealm is our existing directory service for Central. We have been using it for years.  When the pandemic hit we wanted to activate the online login feature so all at Central could stay connected to one another.  To do this, we had to invite you to access your already existing account (hence the email and creation of password).  As everyone logs in and updates their photo and information, we will be able to print off our own directory for those who do not have access to OnRealm.  Further, with everyone now signed on, we can offer other features such as a messaging board for prayer requests, private access to your current giving statement, sign-ups such as this study, private chats, and group communications.  With OnRealm, we can adapt as a church and continue Christian conversations in 21st century mediums.
Sure, there is pain ahead and the unknown, but I like what our God is calling us to.  Through the cruciform life, new opportunities arise.  New neighbor outreach, a new focusing on prayer, new ways for Christian conversation – 2020 could go down as one of the most formative for our Christian journey.  
Yours in Christ,
Pastor Joseph


The Bible tells us more than just about God

King Hezekiah was considered one of the most righteous Kings in Judah’s history.  He oversaw temple reforms, commissioned the infamous Siloam tunnel (pictured), helped collate some of the proverbs for the book of Proverbs, and is mentioned in Jesus’ geneology. Nine different books in the Bible mention Hezekiah.  He “trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. For he held fast to the LORD. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the LORD commanded Moses,” (2 Kings 18:5-6).  He fought against idol worship and offered a lavish Passover not only to his own people, but also to the other tribes of Israel in the North.  He received promises from Isaiah no nation could overtake Judah as long as they were faithful.  Still, challenges of ‘biblical’ proportions arose.
Sennacherib was one of the most famous kings in ancient history.  Not only is he featured in the Bible, but he also destroyed Babylon and built Nineveh into a wondrous city.  After the death of his father in 705BC, uprisings challenged his power throughout the Levant (area from Egypt to Turkey).  These campaigns were recorded not just in the Bible, but also in archaeological finds – the Lachish Relief and the Sennacherib Prism.  One of those kings mentioned in the carvings- Hezekiah.
Many accuse the Bible as being made up.  However, again and again it has been vindicated through archaeology and other historical studies.  Further, people do not pause to think how thousands of years of writings could coalesce so well and point to a person so significant that the world changed its dating system to accommodate.  Finally, we often fail to remember how accurate it is in mirroring back the nature of humanity in such piercing ways.  Case in point, Hezekiah and Sennacherib.
2 Chronicles 32 tells of when these two great kings met in a series of sieges around Jerusalem from 705 – 689 BC.  Hezekiah at the height of his religious reforms and political power finds over 40 cities throughout Judah seized.  Despite having offered tribute in a moment of fear of the vast Assyrian power, Hezekiah realized nothing would satisfy the onslaught of Sennacherib.  He appeals to the people to trust in God and cries out with Isaiah in prayer.   In the middle of the night God sends deliverance and the Assyrian army fled despite having claimed to have ‘shut up Hezekiah like a bird in a cage.’  We see a story here told again and again in scripture.  
Absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Even for someone as righteous as Hezekiah.  It may seem like a minor infraction on Hezekiah’s part – paying for protection to prevent destruction of all of the reforms he had oversaw – but it still was a departure from faith and a matter of the heart God was pursuing(2 Chron 32:25-31).  
Some of our biggest falls come when everything is going well. Hezekiah worked wholeheartedly and faithfully for God and he prospered (2 Chron 31:21-32:1).  It was not in the midst of tragedy, but rather unparalleled success that trials and temptations came to Hezekiah and Judah.
There is still more.  If you turn to this story or have been following along in Reading the Bible in One Year, you know there is so much more to this story.  Opening the Bible each time reveals new layers of history, religion, truth, humanity and more.
Ultimately, Hezekiah’s heart turned towards God and offers us renewed hope.  Not in our own efforts or circumstances, but in the truly righteous king the Biblical story goes onto reveal – our king Jesus. No matter the righteous work we have done or the enormous circumstances which arise, God pursues the depths of who we are and offers renewed hearts.  With these we can have shalom and put our hands faithfully to the kingdom work ahead.
Excited to be on this lifelong journey in the Word with you.
Yours in Christ,
Pastor Joseph



Growing up I loved books by Gary Paulsen.  He wrote about boys and young men in the wild, wrestling with history, or up against great challenges.  Recently, I have been sharing this love by reading The Hatchet to my own boys.

In it, Brian wonders what life with his Dad in Northern Canada will be like after living with his Mom in the city.  These forward looking thoughts are pierced with the unthinkable reality of a plane crash leaving him in the middle of the wilderness with just what he is wearing, which fortuitously includes a brand new hatchet.  The story rolls out with adventures in survival and changing perspectives.

I don’t want to give it all away for it is a great read (and we are not finished yet), but I could not help but think of the story line anew against the backdrop of 2020.  Marriages, grand trips, and professional plans are but a few of the many predicates to “I was planning to….” Losses have been abundant, but in this current moment new perceptions and skills are arising for our surviving and hopefully someday thriving.  What plans and dreams did you have derailed by the events of the past 5 months?  What unknown wildernesses do we find ourselves learning how to survive again? 

These have been disorienting times as the information from around the world no longer aligns with what we once knew.  Yet all is not lost.  Much like Brian is forced to learn new ways and transforms in the process, so also we have an opportunity to learn new ways and grow as a community.  Along the way, we might see what God has strapped to our sides for such a time as this.  What tools or people which have always been close by have become indispensable this year?

We all have been through a lot and have challenges ahead.  Though we may be stewarding different stores through unimagined challenges, Our God abundantly blesses throughout. We do well to remember Moses’ word to the Israelites as they were ending there wilderness journey, “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy‬ ‭31:8‬ ‭

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Joseph


Masking Ourselves in Love

Masks.  They dominate our conversations.  Only if only it was just about halloween again.  I am sure we all find ourselves staring into the past to try to regain footing for these current moments.  I find myself reminiscing about simple conversations with my kids about superhero masks and alter egos and wonder when the coronavirus villain will be vanquished.  I look to the Bible and see most references to masks are about hypocrisy and false teachers.  I remember working in attics and wearing masks to keep my lungs healthy for future outings with my grandkids.  And then I am back again to our moment. Masks…everywhere.
Governor Holcomb announced this week masks would be required of all people in public who cannot socially distance.  I believe we at Central can continue to model this precaution for our neighbors.  No longer are masks ways to hide our identities (though I miss seeing you all face to face).  Now they are ways of showing our love.  When we think of Jesus’ words, ‘Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends,’  masks are but a simple step.  Many could not – can not – go out into spaces where people are not taking what has become a simple precaution.  Masks are a simple way to allow for us to continue to be present in our lives.  In this sense, social distancing might better be understood as healthy distancing so as to avoid the extreme of social isolation.  We want to continue to create space for those who are able to gather.  
To this end we are asking all who come to Central at any time to wear a mask while moving around the building.  This will allow us to continue to minister to all of our neighbors while continuing to fight the spread of the coronavirus.  Further, we will be returning to limited office hours (8-1 on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, & Friday & 8-5 on Thursday) to provide flexibility and space for our staff to navigate these times.  The building will still be available for groups and appointments outside of these hours.  We continue to serve not just the discipleship needs of our members at Central, but also the broader community.  If you feel called to donate masks, we will continue to distribute them to all who come through the doors at 1425 E Main St.
Let us continue to make disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world.  I will admit, I never thought masks would be a part of it.  But as Paul writes, ‘I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.  I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.’
Yours in Christ,
Pastor Joseph


A recent message from our Indiana Conference Associate Director of Leadership Development for Laity and Discipleship.

We are blessed to be part of a Global connectional church. Today’s post is a recent message from our Indiana Conference Associate Director of Leadership Development for Laity and Discipleship.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you! When I try to make sense of all that is going in the world today, I keep coming back to the imagery of a groaning world. The pandemic, political conflict, unjustified killings, and civil unrest are all reminders of the brokenness of the world. They are also reminders of the need for Christ’s reconciling work and the continuing movement of the Holy Spirit to redeem all of creation.
When we see the images and hear stories of brokenness and injustice, it is right to mourn and to feel righteous anger. At the same time, we have the hope of the promise that all things will be made new. God has recruited us to be agents of change in the world as we live in the image of Jesus. Mourning and anger remind us of what ought to be and should motivate us to take action.
We are all called to use the gifts we have been given to partner with God in the mission to make disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world. The transformation happens little by little and person by person. However, sometimes dramatic movements of the Spirit happen in moments of desperation when people will see what they have not recognized before. I believe this is one of those times. As such, it is up to the people of God to reach out to the scared and lonely, work to bring justice to communities, and meet the needs of the most vulnerable in the name of Jesus.
This work will look different in today’s circumstances, but it is just as necessary as it has always been. Take time to identify the needs in your community, especially those that have long gone unmet. Open yourself to making new friendships with those that God has put in your path and be ready to share the difference that Jesus has made in your life. There are many searching to make sense of the times. We must be ready to show them Jesus, who offers hope and healing.
R.C. Muhlbaier, Assoc. Dir. of Leadership Development – Laity & Discipleship


The Journey So Far


How are you?  No really, how are you?  So much has happened and is happening.  It is good to work through it all in prayer and conversation.  I miss having time throughout the week to sit and talk with all of you as you pass through the building.  Do you have a fellow Christian to talk it all over – to listen?  If not, let me know and we can remedy that shortly.  It is my hope all who have ever called Central home has a regular connection as we follow after Jesus in these strange times.

Recently, we concluded the book of Proverbs in our Wisdom Study (resuming in August).  In it, there is a centering line in Chapter 3 which reads:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.
Though this is true in all circumstances, I have been surprised at how often I want to lean on my own understanding throughout the pandemic, the rising conversation on race, and movements in the streets.  God’s shalom has been broken anew.  Rather than finding eyes to see the Spirit’s new work, I rush to return to what worked before in my understanding.  Every time I do, I find it no longer holds like it used to.  Every time I do, I find myself humbled anew.  Every time I do, I find how foolish I was to ever turn from awaiting for God’s beckoning – from trusting God’s timing and action.  Still, his grace overwhelms me as again and again our Lord allows me space to return to the straight path.  


This is the path I pray we at Central maintain in the weeks ahead in both our peace-making work and in our continued vigilance with the coronavirus.  Our drive down this path has shown us much, but still much remains to be revealed around the coming bends.  Indiana is doing well with its coronavirus mitigation as we continue on a downward trend.  Wayne county and its health professionals have done an even better overall job of keeping our community in one of the lowest per capita case rates of any county.  Still with so much still unknown, we will still be proceeding with the following measures on Sunday mornings.

• We are asking you to continue to wear a mask to worship on Sunday mornings..
• We will continue to offer communion outside for both those attending and drive thru.
• We will continue to tape off rows.
• We will continue to offer more meditative music opportunities throughout the service.

If you will be rejoining us for the first time come July 5th, you will notice several other changes with an eye towards keeping any possible transmission at bay.   We continue to encourage anyone who is feeling even the slightest symptoms or who is at risk to join us in worship online through Facebook on Sunday mornings at 10.  If you are in need of face to face conversation, please call and I or another of the good people at Central will come and sit socially distant in the driveway for a good chat.  We are in this together.  God is still good.  We can lean into his solid Word.  He continues to call us to holy work in our lives, our homes, our community, and beyond.  Let us walk faithfully down this straight path.
Yours in Christ
Pastor Joseph


Central’s Future

Greetings in the name of Christ! 

I am so grateful we share the journey ahead together as the people of Central UMC here in Richmond.  Thank you all for your prayers and efforts in this time.  This letter is a travel guide for how we go forward together as we again begin to gather in the coming weeks.

The road ahead has not yet fully revealed itself, yet I have no fear for I know where we have been together.  My family came here a mere 10 months ago and has so appreciated the welcome and work accomplished on our journeyed so far.  Just a few months ago I was eager to walk through our first Holy Week together.  That newness seems decades ago.  The blunt reality of the spread of the coronavirus has changed so much.  There will be more pain ahead.  Still, just as the headlights reveal the next part of the visible road and move with every turn, so also this guide will illuminate the path we hope to follow and shift with every change.

We know the timeless words of Jeremiah, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” It is a word of scripture I still pray over Central.  But did you know this verse is part of a larger vision letter to the Jewish people?  It was sent to them in exile, far from their promised land.  It begins by saying they will not return for 70 years, but pivots to hope as God invites them to return to the activities of life to be blessed and be a blessing to others.  This verse encompasses those plans.

The letter goes on to say as the people of God turn in prayer and seek Him, they will find God in new ways.  It is my prayer we at Central continue to be a people who seek Him.  I believe as we are faithful, we will find Him.  We the church are the called-out people of God.  We will again gather, but we know there is a lot we do not know. We may not know, but we have faith.  We can dream about where we will be based on where we have been. So let’s raise our eyes and look to what the light illuminates.

Our Bishop and our Governor continue to update us with guidelines.  We will adjust as they share more.  We acknowledge those who are at a greater health risk will stay home and encourage those who continue to do so.  Please continue to reach out to one another and your amazing church staff for ways we can come alongside you. For all below, additional measures of sanitization and social distancing will be implemented. Hopefully, we can begin walking this road wisely…

  • Starting next week, we will be reopening our childcare to come alongside the businesses which will be reopening.  Additional precautions have been added to protect families and workers. 
  • Starting May 4th, we invite those who are able and willing to begin gathering in homes and at public locations in small groups.  This could be getting together to serve, bible studies, Sunday morning watch parties in homes, dinner church, or just enjoying one another’s company.  Again, please do so mindful of best practices and only assume the risk as you are ready to do so. Zoom options will continue.
  • We will resume in person worship at Pentecost, May 31.  The sanctuary will be limited to 100 people.  Livestreaming will continue as a permanent service to those social distancing, sick, away from home, or just not able/ready to come. Those who come after the other spaces fill will be asked to view it remotely in the fellowship hall (limit 1 family per table – 50 people total. 
  • Sunday school will start again on the 31st and rooms will be limited to 10 people. 
  • All summer camps have been postponed until July.  Check with Central staff for further information.

We are still open 9-1 Monday-Friday for your various needs.  If everything continues as expected, we will send another update to our road ahead the last week of May.  Keep on checking our Facebook page and website for updates.  God is good.  Keep on calling one another and serving where called.  Be the body of Christ wherever you find yourself.  

We are in this together.  Together, we will go far down this road.  We may have to wait for a season longer than we would like, but let’s remember the words of another Hebrew prophet, “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Joseph


Central Updates

Dear friends,

Greetings in Christ’s name!  I pray you and yours are participating in the grace and peace of our God.  I give thanks for our Lord’s provision and steady presence as the world we have known changes before our eyes.  We are hemmed in, but our light still shines brightly.  I have been blessed to hear of stories of Central members reaching out to neighbors, seeking out ways to serve those on the margins, and rekindling old relationships.  I have been humbled at how our staff has stepped up again and again to take on the ever arising challenges of ministry under social distancing guidelines.  I am hopeful for the good news of Jesus and His love to spread through Central’s love in the coming weeks.

With these constant changes continuing to pile up, we wanted to update you on the happenings here at Central:

With the new restrictions imposed by the state, we have clarified we are an essential entity and will be at the building for emergencies as they arise.  We are encouraging people to call into the office from 9-1 or email us for communication.  We will continue in serving from 1425 Main, in our homes, and in the community.

  • To this end, if you are feeling called to assume the risk and serve in these times, we are asking for servants to staff the Food Pantry.  We have been able to be a part of opening back up this vital resource to our neighbors. This will involve either isolated shifts inside the building of 3-4 people to sort and bag groceries or curbside service.  Please call Dave Shaw (765) 966-2770) to sign-up.
  • We have many ways to gather online via Facebook, Google Hangouts, and Zoom.  Several small groups are continuing to meet.  If you are interested in hosting or joining a study or small group, please contact the office.  Here are Central’s regular online gatherings in the coming weeks.  
    • Sunday – Worship – 10am, TRIBE with Sheri on Zoom @ 5
    • Monday – Bible in One Year study with Pastor Joseph on Zoom@ 1:30
    • Tuesday – Morning Worship with Madeleine @ 10am
    • Wednesday – Midweek Connection with Staff @ Noon
    • Thursday – Afternoon Worship with Madeleine @ 2 pm, Thoughtful Thursdays @ 8pm with Pastor Jen and guest

Please continue to lift one another up in prayer.  I am asking we all take a minute at 7:00pm (19:00 for Covid-19) each night to join the world in prayer for our response to Covid-19.  Let us pray for those suffering, those without access to medical care, those who have lost their jobs, those who don’t know how to find resources, the heroes in the medical field, those serving in essential services, families spending more time together than ever before, families divided by quarantine, those feeling alone, those not regarding guidelines, those risking all to serve the least of these, and those on your heart each day.  We are together in this fight.


May you find God’s love in every breath today.



Pastor Joseph