The Most Important Thing

This past week proved to be a little rough for me. I am still trying to figure out some sense of schedule in my life. I have different “projects” staring me in the face and I seem not to be able to dive in to anything. I keep asking for the strength to get it all done.

I prayed to God for help in feeling so overwhelmed. I asked for the way to fight the desire to run away from my responsibilities. In my quiet time I was given the simple answer to my question. Stop trying to tackle everything at once and simply focus on one portion of one project a little at a time.

In ministry it is very easy to be overwhelmed. The only deadline that we face on a weekly basis is on Sunday morning. We prepare for worship services and tend to focus on Sunday as if that is the only thing that we are to focus on.

I was reminded last week that I have people out there who need a pastor during the rest of the week. I also was reminded that, to meet the needs of others, I have to fill myself with spiritual food. How can I give when there is nothing in my own storehouse? It is impossible.

The last day I went up to Denver for seminary one of the professors took me for coffee. I quickly learned that she wanted to emphasize the importance of a commitment to daily spiritual renewal. That can be done in solitude as well as within a group, but I needed to remember that my own need for spiritual reflection was crucial to my own health spiritually and psychologically.

My own spiritual time is the time that I tune in to that power that comes from having a relationship with my God. My renewal will serve to help further my ministry and breathe life into those around me and in my community. Without my own spiritual discipline I lose my connection to the Divine. I must approach this time with purpose and a sense of allowing myself to be lost in the presence of the one who sustains me. My goal is to honor this time every day of the week.

We Do Have Choices!

I am craving for the school year to begin. My family will be in a routine. This summer the word “routine” is a standing joke. Our summer seem to be inundated by hospital stays. The word rest was not in our vocabulary.

My summer was a lesson in how to claim those sacred times that I so desperately need to be a good husband, father, friend, and pastor. I found my holiest of times not in long stretches but in brief interludes. I had to remember that sacred time does not necessarily mean lengthy retreats or hours of time. I could not sacrifice large chunks of time because I needed to fulfill the roles I play in my life.

One sacred moment that I enjoyed this summer was meeting up with a very talented and wonderful friend. She reminded me of days when life was a little more carefree and my passion for the arts was real and vital. She reminded me that I made choices in my life. Without the choices I made, my family would probably not exist. I left her presence by giving thanks for her friendship as well as making my choices.

So often, I feel like I became a victim to life. I feel that my life spun in a direction that I really didn’t want it to go. Now let me clarify something right now. I am grateful for my wife and my children. They are by far the greatest blessings in my life. I am talking about those choices that I made regarding my career.

I am sure many of you can identify with what I am talking about. I am referring to the time in your life when the world was your oyster. I am talking about the time where that inner voice motivated you and compelled you into this fearless search to be true to yourself. Little by little the demands of the world set in and fearlessness gave way to practicality.

Seminary was a tremendous blessing in my life because it woke me up from the feeling of entrapment. I began to look back at my choices and realized that they were options that I had chosen to help further my life in one direction or another. I am grateful that teaching provided my family with security. Although I am very glad that I have sense moved past that experience and entered what I perceive as my true calling, I realize that I had more power than I realized.

Love That is Everlasting

“Put me like a seal over your heart, Like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death, Jealousy is as severe as Sheol; Its flashes are flashes of fire, The very flame of the Lord. Many waters cannot quench love, Nor will rivers overflow it; If a man were to give all the riches of his house for love, It would be utterly despised” (Song 8:6-7 NAST).

I have to admit that this is one of my favorite Biblical passages. The image of a seal over the heart is one of tenderness and complete adoration. The writer, which is described in my translation as the “Wife to her Husband,” captures the desire that there is a commitment to pure and holy love that is binding and is desired. The idea that it is the woman who is the example of what humanity desires in a relationship with God empowers more voices than the traditional masculine description of a relationship with God.

This image of the bride longing for the devotion of her husband is a wonderful depiction of our longing for God. The way that God compels us to commit our lives to the care of the Divine moves us to complete oneness with our creator. We long to be set on the breast of God. We hope to be protected.

We are further given the example of the vastness of love. In reading this text with modern day eyes, I cannot help but notice the description of love as being parallel to Paul’s writing in 1st Corinthians. “Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant” (1 Cor 13:4 NAST). Perhaps Paul’s description of the nature of love is an exegetical study of Song 8:6-7. (That may be a good research project for future endeavors.)

Well, all of this is wonderful, but what does this text have to do with me in the current day? It is simple. Through the noise of what voices all around us say is the right thing to be or do; there is something within us that desires to be shielded by our Creator. I need that protection from a world that constantly tries to define me in ways that are insulting or belittling.

God is my protector. I crave a relationship with God as much as I desire water. May we all yearn for a relationship with the one who radically seeks us out to be in full relationship. Let us drink from the fountain of living water and be sheltered and renewed. Let us all be changed.

It’s Nice to Remember the Beginning of the Journey

I am in Houston and visiting my family and friends. My mom and sister live in my house in Houston and my boys and I are staying in my old home. I must admit that I miss my house however; I do not miss the weather in Houston. The humidity is horrible. I also realized that there are two things in my life that I need to sustain me. One is mountains and the other is stars. You can’t find those two things in Houston.

Being here I am surrounded by memories of the beginning of my journey away from a life that I considered fruitless and unproductive. When I left Houston I felt like I was running away from failure and a life of settling for second best. It was only when I started seminary that I realized that I was actually running towards the calling which God placed on my life. The concept of running soon gave way to a notion of purpose.

When I first moved to New Mexico there was a little room that I stayed in at my church. I felt completely safe from everything and everyone in that room. I was afraid of being found. I quickly discovered that my life was based on fear. I had mixed feelings of being afraid of the past and excited about the possibilities which were before me.

It was in that little room that I discovered the promise of Psalm 139. God was present with me in that little room. My running would be used for the glory of the one who I know as the unknown God. It was in that little room that I discovered the source of my strength which would encourage me and sustain me through one of the most frightening times in my life.

Today I am thankful for that little room. I am thankful that God radically searches me out for a relationship. No matter where I choose to hide, I can never out run God. It is great to remember this wonderful promise. This “vacation” is more about gratitude and less about rest.

Rest

This morning I seem to be scrambling to find my way back to a schedule that includes time to write and research. For some insane reason, I am finding it very difficult to get motivated. I who set out to finish my master’s degree now have it. I ask myself, “What’s next?” Where do I find that spark of passion that moves me forward?

Perhaps this is my time to rest for a little while. I mean, summer is about renewal right? That includes me as well. When I think about resting, I acknowledge that my schedule for the last several years has been anything but restful. For the last three years I attended school year round by driving two or three hours to an airport to fly up to Denver. This occurred on a weekly basis. By the end of my studies, I did not want to see another airplane for a long time.

Rest did not come to our family immediately after seminary. My youngest son was hospitalized for most of the month of June. His port-o-cath became infected and needed to come out. While we were in the hospital he received a pic line. While the surgeon placed the pic line he accidentally hit an artery. Because of this, my son’s arm has been very painful. Yesterday was the first day since coming out of the hospital two weeks ago that he has not been in pain.

It made me wonder a little deeper about the issue of rest. I know that my struggles are only for a small season in my life. What about those who must face health and wellness issues on a daily basis? Is rest limited to those who do not struggle for more than a certain amount of time? I can honestly say that I don’t believe that to be true.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28 NRSV). Look closely. There are no conditions that we must maintain to achieve this rest. We simply have to be present to receive the gift of peace. Unfortunately, I get very distracted and lose my sense of connectedness with the Divine. We have to show up. That means being in the moment. That means giving up the worries and struggles that overwhelm us in life. Sometimes we can give those struggles up for good, but at other times, we can give worries up for a moment. We can give them up for a second. Anytime we can surrender to the presence of our God. This is where we will find rest.

Jesus knew that those to whom he preached struggled with major stuff. He even acknowledged it. He simply invites all to come and be renewed. Will you take the journey to restoration? I know that I am ready. Peace to all of you.

Seek First the Kingdom

We are finishing up Vacation Bible School at our church tonight. I must admit that I was disappointed with the numbers of the students that we had in attendance. I thought that we had done all of the right things. We advertised and even invited the congregation to help with all of the PR “stuff” to help spread the word. I hoped for at least 20 kids and we wound up with 10.

While I was banging my head against a wall trying to figure out what I did wrong, I was reminded that it is not the numbers that count as much as the actual ministry that is taking place. We had a youth group from a larger nearby town come in and lead the VBS. We provided the place by which the youth program could minister. They, middle school and high school aged students, are doing a wonderful job teaching our younger children about the wonders of God.

One of the boys who regularly attends our church is normally shy. This week, I have seen him come out of his shell and have a great time. It does my heart well to see excitement in the lives of both our guests and the children in our community. This boy reminds me that, even if he were the only child attending the camp, it was worth it for one soul.

I hope I can always remain focused on winning souls and not be so worried about numbers. Perhaps the lower numbers in our church are occurring at this particular moment in time to remind me that it is about ministry to those present. While it is great to have hopes and dreams, it is far more valuable to simply serve God. “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt 6:33 NRSV).

Our Church Community

This week has been a very stressful yet a rewarding week in the life of my family. My youngest son had surgery on Friday and, as a result of the surgery, has been hospitalized since Friday. We live approximately two hours from the hospital. Needless to say, our lives have been on hold this weekend. My oldest son and I have been spending nights in a hotel while my wife stays with my youngest at the hospital.

I drove the two hour drive to my church this morning and preached. While I was there, it occurred to me that, even though I had the drama of the hospital in my life, my congregation still needs a pastor. That is part of my duty as a servant who has answered the call to ministry. I made a commitment to serve in ministry, and my faith must sustain me so that I can still be the pastor which is needed for my congregation.

Even though I served this morning out of a sense of duty, I felt the presence of the reaffirmation of my calling. Despite what was happening around me, being present in the community of believers gave me a sense of God’s peace. This inner sense of fulfillment strengthens me in times such as these. I mean those times when life tends to become overwhelming.

I kept coming back to an appreciation for my church. It is within the presence of the people of God that I learn that there are many people who love me and support me and my family. This connection to both the presence of the Divine in my single life and my connection to the church as the vehicle which God shares, continues to motivate me and encourage me. This is my strength.

Our sense of connection to one another is vital to our continued development. It is in our relationships with one another that we experience God’s presence. The church, which is a community of believers, gathers its power from those who willingly serve each other to further the kingdom of God. May we be empowered in our affiliations with and to each other as we continue on our journey to perfection.

My Man Job

This coming Sunday I will be preaching on a passage taken from the Book of Job. As I study for Sunday, Job brings about several issues regarding my own theology and how and why I believe what it is that I believe.

From my understanding of Hebraic theology of Job’s time, there were several assumptions that were made in regard to humanities relationship to and with God. The first concept that appears is that if one does the “correct” things and lives the “correct” way that God will bless their lives. Well, that is fine and all, but what happens when catastrophe strikes? Job faced that situation. He was faithful, he was honorable, and suddenly he lost everything.

There are some theologies that are out there in our world which, unknowingly, endorse this kind of attitude. Sentences such as, “If you only pray hard enough…If you only get your life right God will bless you….If you attend 5.76 worship services in a week, God will acknowledge your work.” It hurts me to see pastors which promote this kind of twisted idealism as well as those who follow this type of ideology because they know nothing better.

Both of my children have hemophilia. This is a rare bleeding disorder which prevents clotting of the blood. It is a disorder which is not curable, but mostly treatable. Well, to get back to how this relates to Job, my wife attended a prayer retreat in which the concept that, if one has enough faith, prayers will be answered,” was the main focus of the meeting. The name given to this type of prayer is called theophostic prayers. This means that if she had enough faith, my boys would no longer have hemophilia.

This concept of placing the “sin” on a person because of their “lack of faith” can be very damaging to those who struggle with forgiveness. This was what Job faced. Throughout the Book of Job, there were those who asked critical issues concerning common theology of the day. The main question presented in the text was, “Job, what did you do to anger God?”

The ending of the text is resolved by God restoring Job’s fortune in a way that was double what he had before tragedy struck. God’s message to Job was simple. The most important resolution which God offers is that, the questions regarding who is at fault are not the right questions. The right question to ask is, “Who will be with me during catastrophe?” The answer to the question is God.

Christ would eventually complete the answer to Job’s initial questions in the Gospel of John 9:1-3. “As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. (John NRSV).

My life lesson from Job is to remember that God will always be with me in every situation. That is the most important thing of all.

Happy Birthday Son

Today is a big day in my household. My wife and I are celebrating our oldest son’s 14th birthday. I am not sure where the 14 years have gone, but I do know that my life has never been the same. I think back to the person I was before I became a dad. I was someone who lacked a sense of purpose. I was attempting a career transition that would never give me peace like I thought it would. Eventually, I answered my call to be a pastor.

My son gave me hope. I believe I learned how to be a man through being a father. My father was not present in my life. My genealogy tree is very one sided. I know nothing of my father’s side of the family. It’s as if they never existed. Because of the lack of a father, a part of me felt empty. My son’s birth filled that void. Fatherhood has given me a chance to give to my son something that I never had.

Today, I offer thanks to God for being the provider, protector, and defender, of my strangely talented and wonderful son. Every day he teaches me how to be a better man. I am convinced that we walk with God on our journeys through life and, sometimes, we experience the overwhelming love of our heavenly father. Those moments are what we live for. I am grateful that my journey, while not a very usual path, has taken me to where I am today. Maybe I needed to not know my father. Maybe there are reasons that I will never understand which keep me from communicating with that side of the family. What I do know is that along my way, I have discovered through my son how to give love in a way I never dreamed possible. Happy birthday son!

Psalm 68:5 "Father of the fatherless"

As I prepare my sermon for Father’s Day, I am having a rough time writing. My sermon is uncharacteristically based on only one verse. While I do not use the exegetical approach known as text proofing, I am led to Psalm 68:5 “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling” (NIV).

What exactly does that phrase mean? How does one father the fatherless? Growing up, I did not have a biological father living in my home. As a matter of fact, I do not know a single person on my father’s side of the family. That also includes my father. I have no way of contacting him nor do I really know his name.

My mother moved back to her home when she was pregnant with me (She was the oldest of 9 and only 20 when she had me). I lived with 3 uncles, 5 aunts, my mother’s parents, and my sister. We all lived in a three bedroom one bath house with a garage which was converted to an extra bedroom. I did not realize that my home life was considered different until I was in high school. In the chaos of such a tiny space, I discovered the love of family and discovered that God loved even the likes of me.

Perhaps Psalm 68:5 became real to me in the lives of the mighty men who became my mentors throughout my life. I think of my grandfather, who died when I was only 18 years old. I think of his inexhaustible love and knew that I had security throughout my childhood. I think of Alan, the music director at my church where I discovered that I had a talent and a passion for music. I think of Gonzalo my father-in-law, who trusted me enough to allow his daughter to marry me form a family. I think of Pastor W.C., while working for him as his music director, I finally answered my call to ministry. These were only a few of the men who guided me in ways that affirmed my very existence. God, through these wonderful men, became a father to me. I, who was fatherless, had many fathers.

There are men who had wonderful biological fathers. They are powerful and wonderful men who are a result of a love that taught them how to be men. Their fathers left their world newer and better because they were a part of their lives. I sometimes envy these men, because they grew up understanding the love of God so much better than I did. They had a living example of the kind of love a father has for his children in their very homes. Their example was present.

I truly believe that we are on a journey to make the most of our own paths. I believe that our paths all lead to one “prime mover” in the universe. That being is God. While it is easy to look at those who had wonderful biological fathers and be envious, I do not go that route. I appreciate and am very grateful for my own journey. Without traveling on my own road (meeting God on my own terms), I probably would not have met my wonderful mentors.

Father’s Day, to me, is not about celebrating with my biological father. Many people do celebrate with their dads and I am glad that they have that time to rejoice. I celebrate by remembering and giving thanks for the many men who shaped my thoughts on life, family, and God. It is through their actions that Psalm 68:5 becomes a living and breathing part of my life.

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