One of the biggest challenges we face as a religious community in Covid is losing our identity. As a pastor, I struggle with not being as involved in my parishioners’ life as I would be under normal circumstances. I am new to the church and find it exceedingly difficult to establish deep connections in our current environment. “When will this nightmare end?”
Faith must be our rock, our comfort, and our hope. When I get down about the news, I hold fast to the promise that the best is yet to come. How did the Hebrew people hear the words of the prophets? They must have felt abandoned by the Divine as they faced exile. It isn’t easy to believe that prosperity will flow in the land in the middle of the worst of times. The captives responded, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Ps. 137:4 NRSV).
The reality is that through the harshness of whatever situations in which we find ourselves, we must remain diligent in finding a Divine presence. Holy love is right here, in this very moment. We must cling to hope until the light reveals the path by which we take to find deliverance. Hold on and remain faithful, for the promise arrives in the most peculiar of ways.
Ministry may not look like it did pre-Covid, but that does not mean that we cannot think out of the box and try other approaches. The challenge is to discover ways to bring people together in a virtual world. Our faith community should not be a casualty in the war on this dreaded disease. We must stand together and petition God to help us find ways to share in fellowship, even if that means sitting in front of a computer.
May divine light guide you and instruct you on the right path. I pray that your spirit illuminates with joy and that you share it with a world that needs relief right now. Let us keep the faith and continue our journey. Remember, they will know we are Christians by our love.
This past week I had the honor of officiating a cousin’s wedding. At the rehearsal, I found myself getting nervous. The family never saw me perform a wedding, and the pressure to deliver well screamed wildly in my mind. Throughout my eleven-year tenure as a pastor, I cannot remember the many services I officiated. This one was different.
Maybe the small voice inside me wanted to show my sister, aunts, uncles, cousins, and anyone else belonging to my family, that I knew how to do a great job. I am not the little kid anymore that terrorized everybody. This event is me doing what I do well. The best I had to give was on display, and I hoped that it proved good enough.
For me, I find it very tough to share my faith authentically with my extended family. They know where all of my skeletons lie buried, so the message better be authentic and ring true. Casual acquaintances are one thing, but people who know you are another story. Truth must prevail, and faith must not possess any hint of insincerity.
Everything went well. I loved spending time with those who remind me of my mother and still miss her. We shared great memories and a few not so great memories, laughing and crying (sometimes all at once). They also told me how proud they were of me and the things I achieved.
I accepted their compliments with a full heart. I gathered with people who witnessed my first steps, my first words, my first laughter. These fantastic people all gathered at a table on a hot Texas evening. I know that my mother smiled from heaven, seeing us together, celebrating another milestone.
I did something yesterday that I never dreamed I would do. I posted a recording of me singing Bring Him Home from the Broadway musical Les Miserables. By sharing this song, I overcame a long-standing fear of someone laughing or not thinking me good enough. Now, I am not asking for any reassurances or anything to help with self-confidence. Praise be to God, I have a great therapist to help with all of that stuff.
I want to celebrate victory over a struggle that I carried most of my life; a fear of being a phony. At times, I became almost crippled due to anxiety perpetuated by irrational fear. The statement, “I am fooling people, but I not good enough to do what I want,” reverberates in my head. The noises grow so loud that I cannot hear the voice within calm my heart and soul. I give in and resist as much risk as possible.
This time proved different than past challenges. I decided that the words I heard a fellow pastor speak one day would serve as my mantra. My friend said, “Other people’s opinions of you are none of your business.” Don’t get me wrong; I respect and admire feedback, but my entire decision as to whether I risk or should not include the idea of fear. I decided to do away with anxiety and risk putting a part of myself out into the world, remembering the words of the psalmist when he said, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).
I hope that we come out of the shadows of “imposter syndrome” and rely on the strength given to us by God. With divine help, panic can take a back seat as we embrace the source of all hope and love. May we continue to grow in a faith that empowers us, not encourages us to sneak back into the darkness of shame. Let the world discover the rich talents you share and be a better place because of your faithfulness.
Youtube link to my recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_PnPhiAftY
In church work, we throw around the word “discipleship” as if everyone understands the meaning of the word. What does it truly mean to be a discipulus (from the Latin meaning a learner or follower)? If grace is a gift from God, then why must we surrender our lives to Jesus? I know that we have simple answers to these questions, but I want to take a step back and re-examine our responses. I did not grow into the deep riches of my faith until I committed to taking a closer look at my relationship with faith, God, and what it meant for me to change my entire perception of being a follower of Christ.
I must admit that my earliest understandings of faith and the requirement for being a disciple contained a very emotional decision to turn my life over to the care of God. I heard phrases like, “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?” While I answered yes, I felt perplexed. How could I know a first-century Palestinian Jew? This way of thinking did not make sense to me, but I closed my mouth and resigned myself to be a hypocrite because I could not force myself to know the man who walked the earth over two-thousand years ago. So, I felt like a fake disciple who wanted so badly to be the real thing.
I found an answer to my issues in my mid-forties. I remember hearing about the interpretation of a single Greek word “pistus” (faith in/of) and how that might help in the understanding of a relationship with Jesus. Interpreted one way, faith in assumes that one must believe in the first-century Palestinian Jew, and him alone to become a true disciple. Another idea caught my attention because it made more sense to me. Having the faith of Christ means deciding to follow the teachings of this man, Jesus. I found it liberating to finally answer the question, “Yes, I am a disciple of Jesus.”
God presents us with the gift of grace. We choose to either accept the gift or reject it. I make a choice to follow, and in so doing, I surrender my self to the ways that Jesus instructed us to live with one another. I follow the two greatest commandments, love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. This new way of life requires action on my part. I must work at it every day by embracing the teachings of the one I call, Messiah. My faith illuminates a decision to turn my will over to the care of God. I follow the examples of Divine love, as shown through the actions of Christ, my savior.
Praise God that we come to the table of the Holy One in different ways. My story is simply that, my story. Everyone encounters the sacred in their way. Through a personal understanding of what it means to be a discipulus, we find our way through the world, honoring the One who sets us on our journey. May you follow the path of Divine illumination and experience the richness of Christ along the way.
Living through Covid-19 continues to make me aware that I miss many of the luxuries I took for granted. I miss meeting friends for coffee and/or meals. I am sad that many of the traditional activities that announce a new season (The State Fair, Balloon Fiesta, to name a couple) will not occur this Fall. I feel like my biological clock received a horrible jolt, and I cannot get back into a steady rhythm. When will this darkness end? I look to the heavens and say, “Even so Lord Jesus, quickly come!”
As I reflect on these things, I realize that while I miss the things in life, what I long for is connection. I am a part of a clergy group that meets one day a month. It is a great group that serves as a safe space to reconnect with dear friends and to replenish our hearts and souls. Since the pandemic, we continue to meet by holding Zoom conversations. Each of us remains safe, but still, connect in the privacy of our own homes.
I look forward to these times with dear friends, but it does not replace patting a shoulder or be swept away by the energy of the group. Online interactions do not allow for the most sacred of all human needs, a touch to remind us of our connectedness. In the spirit of the great Jewish theologian, Martin Buber would say, “I need to experience the ‘You’ and not the ‘It.’” Our need for a relationship is at the core of our restlessness.
Hopefully, we may recover from this horrible time in our nation’s history and renew our ties with loved ones in ways that leave us breathless. Kindness must rule the day and love for our neighbor, not as an It but as a You, must mandate our reactions to the chaos of disease and brokenness. In other words, let us love well, sharing the true riches of our faith. Love one another, not as an object, but as a person. This radical approach to living with one another is a directive given by the One, who continues to love us with His whole being.
“He has told you, human one, what is good and what the Lord requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8 CEB).
Nowadays, we lack kindness in our world. Whatever happened to caring for our neighbors? Sometimes, the noise is so loud that it overpowers the voices that cry out for a return to sanity. I often remember the psalmist asking, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” (Ps. 137:4 KJV). Kindness seems like a foreign word as leaders attempt to solve the world’s problems.
At this moment, I turn to the verse in Micah. The Lord does more than ask us. He requires us to follow the laws given by God, radical care for those around us, and to continue living in your faith by following the Creator. These three things sum up our faith in a nutshell: We encounter God, we experience transformation to be a light in a word of darkness, and we practice our faith by continuing to journey with our Lord. We find hope in our commitment to live a life that is pleasing to God. Each day we remember our transformation and hold it deep within our hearts.
How can we grow in our faith right now, right here? We can examine our lives to find the things that prevent us from living justly, loving wholeheartedly, and continue walking in the light of Christ. There are no instructions to judge others, but we do justice. The practice of our faith is what calls others to follow the Son. We must be bold in our love of God and each other, allowing our hearts and minds to renew our commitment to the Divine.
May you find a new spark of hope in your faith this week. May you be made aware that you are a beloved child of the Most-High God. In being a new creation, people may see the light in all that you do. May your witness be bold and secure as you walk in holy illumination. A more vibrant and more authentic commitment is that for which we hope. Embrace the hope found in Christ and be changed.
We are back in the area that we call home, thirty miles from Albuquerque and mountains right outside our windows. The size of the church is similar to past places that I served. As a pastor, I think many of us experience the highs and lows of ministry. I am no different from my fellow clergy persons. There are experiences in my past that I learned how to do things and what not to do. It is all part of the human process.
In my circumstance, it is easy to look at the new and compare it to the old. This view is not a negative judgment; it is merely a reality. My problem is that some of the negative stuff caught in my head still lingers in my mind’s crevices. One person acts like someone else, and wham, my body tenses as it waits for the scene of the past to mandate how the present will speak. Again, this is my reaction to what I experienced in the past. I need to redeem the part of me that holds on to negative messages. I must let go, but it is tough to do so.
As a child of God, I find that resentment is the hardest part of our walk. Ridding myself of sorrow is a constant struggle and must be handled, for failure to do so robs the current situation of my whole self. I am sure those who caused harm do not think about the damage done, so why should I? God ordains our calling, and so we minister right now, leaving our past behind.
What we do take forward are the truths that are revealed to us. Our calling compels us to share the Gospel by God and not by people. Sometimes there is conflict, and other times there is joy. We take all of these experiences and learn from everything, the good and the bad. Every situation informs us to move forward as we sometimes learn tough lessons on the journey.
And as far as the new surroundings, while it is great to learn from the past, I cannot let it dictate the present. Take what I learned, not how I reacted. This enlightened approach means allowing myself to objectively look at the summation of all experiences and say, “Thank you, God, for guiding me to this moment, confident that the lessons of the past may illuminate my ministry in the present.”
Today is my first Sunday as the pastor of a new church, and I am excited about the possibilities for worship and growth in the Word. But I am up at 5:00 a.m., this morning, wide awake. I complete my sermon on Thursday and feel good about the message. What weighs on me this morning does not concern the semantics of how things proceed. I am in my twelfth year of ministry, so I am accustomed to the butterflies I feel on Saturday evening. I talked to many pastors who wrestle with the dreaded pre-Sunday question, “Is my sermon good enough?”
There is something about the beginning of a ministry in a new place. For me, I feel the awesome responsibility on my shoulders of sacred leadership. And so, this morning, I offer a prayer before I start. I hope that when all is said and done that Holy Hands direct the ministry at Belen First United Methodist Church, and my ears may listen to the spiritual needs of the people who worship with us. I offer what I have to a people who entrust me to be their pastor.
When one weighs the responsibilities for the care of God’s people, the task proves, at times, overwhelming. Thank God, I do not share this burden alone, but a continued dependence on the Holy Spirit to guide the journey. I come today equipped with a sacred message and aware of the responsibility placed on my shoulders.
May what I say and do during my tenure at this church be pleasing to the Father and let us move forward together as a people who follow the calling ordained by a loving God. May Divine love pour over us, so that the light of Christ may shine and illuminate the road before us.
Peace to all this day. And now, let all who serve this day truly offer this old prayer, “Let the words of our mouths, and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.” (The United Methodist Book of Worship, pg. 22).
Certain events happen in life that will forever remain in our minds. I will never forget the day of June 23, 1996. At about 9:56 p.m., something happened that changed the trajectory of my life. My first son came into the world, crying at the top of his lungs. I remember the moment like it was yesterday. I remember thinking that this little creature that the medical staff placed in my arms would change me. Everything I did, from this moment forward, was for his welfare. My reason for living took an abrupt turn, as now someone else needed me for many reasons.
I could not believe that I inherited a name that sounds much better to my ears than the one I knew. My son (Doesn’t that sound great?) began calling me “Padre” early on and never stopped. The world seems brighter when I hear him call me the endearing name that is synonymous with joy. Let everyone else call me Joe, but there are only two people in the world who call me “Dad.”
Today marks the twenty-fourth year to the day that my first child made his presence known. Since that day in 1996, I never stopped giving thanks for him, my greatest gift. May he enjoy his special day as much as I do. I hope that he lives a life filled with passion and purpose. All of these things I hold up to God and say, “Thank you for the miracle of life, as found in my amazing son.”
Amid the Coronavirus, isolation proves difficult. We must remain separated from close friends and family at a time when reaching out seems like a natural response to this horrible pandemic. Life is anything but typical, and I find myself feeling like we are in the middle of the movie Groundhog’s Day. Like the character Bill Murray portrays, I get up and basically run through the same agenda every day. While the feeling of the mundane is problematic, I know it is necessary to fight the new virus that invaded our communities.
In the middle of all of the routine, I received a not from a friend simply saying, “I hope that all is well with you. I have been thinking of you and wanted to reach out.” I smiled when I read the note. My friend thought of me! This small sign of thoughtfulness raised my spirits and offered me a place of sanctuary. This act of kindness overcame any feelings of being stuck in a rut, simply because this beautiful note reminded me that I matter to someone else in this world. I am not alone.
I challenge you to do the same for another person. Reach out by writing, calling, or even visiting through apps such as Zoom or FaceBook live. There is no telling what kind of hope we can offer to one another with just one simple act of kindness. We need to be the hands and feet of Christ now more than ever. May God remind you of His love for you, and may you respond in acts of generosity to those closest to you. Blessings to you and God’s generous love overwhelm your spirit this one and only 22nd of April, 2020.