“Change your hearts and Lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!” (Matt. 3:2 CEB).
We see that John’s version of baptism (small “b” because it is not a sacrament) appears different than what Christianity came to know. John called for people to repent of their sins and come to the river to be washed clean. The people who came to John followed a first-century practice of ritual washing. The water suggested a symbolic cleansing, so a recommitment to God started from the purist of places. For the ancients, one had to become clean to have a complete change of heart and life to embrace the kingdom of heaven.
The Christian understanding of Baptism (big “B” because it is a sacrament) differed with a focus on God’s involvement in the very act of the water. Our initiation into the family of God refers to a Divine invitation for the believer in Christ. Grace plays a vital role in the church’s life. We must show up and receive the gift of salvation offered without price.
The main difference between the earlier understanding of baptism and the Christian view involves humanity’s role in both systems. The ancient understanding called for a symbolic washing of the soul to receive God’s grace. In other words, salvation depended on the works of the people. To obtain the Divine’s blessings, they had to do something suggesting that one must work to receive the holy gift.
The ancient thought regarding baptism starkly contrasts the Christian understanding. For the believer in Christ, the sacrament does not depend on anything we do. Instead, all the blessings of Baptism depend on the unmerited grace of the Holy One that flows through us. The gift of water reminds us that we are clean in God’s eyes. The only agency we experience is simply showing up. The Divine does the rest.
Through the season of Lent, I hope to discover the gifts given to me by simply showing up. How do I receive the love of God in my life? I pray that I may toss away the idea that I must prove myself worthy to receive God’s love. Instead, may we constantly thank the One who offers us holy love that transforms us into the people called by our amazing God.
I must admit that I miss writing in my personal blog space. However, I will try to do better in the future. Today, Wednesday, February 22, 2023, marks the beginning of Lent. My goal this year is to read and write reflections on the Gospels. Hopefully, I can maintain a faith practice of sharing thoughts regarding the sacred text.
The central concern of the text lives in the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. “Joseph called him Jesus” (Matt. 1:25b CEB). The author clarifies that Joseph publicly acknowledged him as his son by naming the child. Though we know that Joseph was his adopted father, according to ancient Hebrew tradition, the father naming a child affirms the legitimacy of the family connection. Since Joseph’s familial line carries the great King David, Jesus can genuinely claim he is from the House of David.
To be affirmed in the ancient culture, Joseph had to name Jesus to fulfill scripture (see Isaiah 9:6-7). His Davidic ties placed Jesus into the very heart of Jewish culture. As a Hebrew, he could rightfully claim his place as the Messiah. The identity of the Son proved crucial to telling the Gospel narrative.
I am a United Methodist Pastor, and the season in which we live is not easy. So it is with great sadness that I see and hear churches in my annual conference choose to disaffiliate with the United Methodist Church to join other denominations. I know we are not a perfect body of believers, but we live in the promise of grace through Jesus the Christ, our Lord. The assuredness of God’s faithfulness compels me to celebrate my faith in my blessed denomination. Okay, that is about as political as I am going to get.
The times we live reflect moments of sadness as I put names and faces on those who choose to leave. I think of my friendships with my clergy brothers and sisters and realize that we will not share special moments at retreats or around a table after a brutal Annual Conference. We may remain friends, but our relationships will change. I mourn for the possibility of loss as my denomination seeks to redefine itself as we let our loved ones explore new ways to celebrate Christ in the world.
I also feel anger as the era of misinformation attempts to cast opposing sides as enemies. I constantly ask myself, “How in the name of the Almighty can people demonize their fellow clergy members with statements based on untruth?” I refuse to accept such mean-spirited attacks on my colleagues. It is wrong and should stop. We must separate because, at the heart of the matter, our disagreements prove so severe that we can no longer find common ground and must search out a new path.
With a heavy heart, I must say goodbye to pastors and churches as they seek to further their understanding of the mission of God. I pray that the truth continues to make its presence known and that those who continue to spread misinformation stop and allow churches considering disaffiliation to find the answers to their questions. Through this experience, I hope we continue to pray for one another, wishing God’s best to everyone. Let grace prevail, and the truth of Christ remains our guiding principle.
This week my sister came to visit us in New Mexico. So far, we have enjoyed catching up and planning trips in the “Land of Enchantment.” I appreciate her company and look forward to many mad-capped adventures. It is comforting to know that although she knows the burial sites of all my skeletons, yet still wants to spend time with me.
I marvel at how much our relationship continues to evolve. I think of the times when I let frustration and a lack of understanding prevent me from enjoying a relationship with her. Through my years, I learned how to sit back and listen to the hearts of those I love. Psalmist wrote, “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10 NIV). The implication from this very brief verse reminds me that to fully understand God or a person, and I must stop my mind from forming opinions before taking a moment to stop and allow the Divine presence to speak into my soul.
I take the words of the Psalmist to heart in all my relationships. I stop and listen to the hearts and souls of others who see me. Holy listening allows me to share and discover fullness with information that helps me share the truth. Even in our brokenness, the Holy One can restore us, but it takes time, patience, and stillness. Healing beyond our imagination can find its way into the recesses of our hearts if we only allow it.
As I journey from this moment, I hope to maintain the spiritual discipline of stillness and let it foster growth in my life. I aim to discover the sacredness of each connection I have in my life and be an encourager to everyone I know. In stillness, I encounter integrity, which leads to wholeness. May we continue our journey in our love for one another, always discovering ways to express heartfelt truth.
The last post I shared was in early summer. After 10+ years of writing blogs, I needed a break from the mundane. At first, I felt guilty about stopping, but gradually I realized that respites offer a time of rest to regroup and rediscover purpose. I think of the psalmist when he writes, “That’s enough! Now know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10 CEB). Some translations start with “Be still and know…” We must come to a place of rest to discover the presence of the Holy One.
After taking time for a season of silence, I realized the purpose of writing my blog. I started by acknowledging that I am a very flawed person, complete with mental baggage enough to fill ten train stations the size of Grand Central. Despite my misgivings, I know God works within me to remind me that I am a child of the Most High. My sense of direction centers around where I am of most use to further the Kingdom of Christ.
Sometimes, like in my case, I need time to stop and remember who guides me. I need to stop and breathe and remind myself of the source that propels me forward. These moments of a renewal offer me a chance to allow my heart to find consolation. My soul’s deepest resources invite me to reclaim my strength by finding the founts of living water. To reclaim my purpose, I must sit by streams of living water and enjoy their healing resources. My connection to God-ordained rest fills me with hope and joy.
Let us commit to sharing the fullness of our salvation and remember the love that reflects the image of the Christ. When we take the time to be still, we renew our lasting covenant with God and one another. Hope reclaims its victory in our spirits, and faith propels us to reimagine the love of Elohim in our lives. I invite you to be still and know the presence of the Great I Am.
I cannot help but think of the Jewish refugees reentering the land flowing with milk and honey after the exile. Jerusalem lay in ruins, and the first temple no longer existed. The word trauma seems to be an appropriate word as the life remembered in dreams no longer existed. Many probably asked, “Where do we go from here?”
Many of us can relate to the feeling of our ancient brothers and sisters. We know what it is like to have our world taken from us. A sense of despair overwhelms soul after soul as we stand in shock, unsure of what to do next. Hopelessness permeates the air as we try to discover a way to make it through the next minute. Finally, our struggles become overwhelming, leaving us in absolute brokenness.
In the blackest moments, God begins holy work in the smallest ways. As we turn toward an almost imperceptible glimmer of light, we discover that hope finds us in all our stuff. Our journey toward the little source of illumination gives way to a greater light. Suddenly, we stand and discover the source of our light fills us with a new way of being. We find hope in the Divine. We realize that, much like the ancients, we must find our way out of the darkness by looking for a small ray of light.
I pray that all who suffer this day may find God when all seems lost. Friends may offer comfort and thereby shine the light of Christ into lives who lost their way. May we be the hands and feet of Christ just as we are, to show agape to a world that needs the good news. We step forward in faith with the assurance that we, the people who once walked in darkness, now see a great light.
Today we celebrate the arrival of the Messiah. He is in Jerusalem now, so we wait for him to show his authority over the Romans. God will be with him, and in one fail swoop, he will reclaim the land for us, his chosen people. We show him pride and eagerly wave palms to celebrate the entrance of a King! How he smiles and waves at us, assuring us all will be made right soon. The excitement in the air is so thick that I can hardly breathe. I witnessed the chosen messenger from God in the flesh.
For many years we waited for this moment when the world would experience the splendor of God, unleashed on a world desperate to hear good news. The bright light that surrounds him is out of this world. Words fail me to describe such incredible beauty. It is neither sun nor moon, but a radiance unique unto him. It is easy to see why so many people place their trust in this man. His whole personhood illumines the Divine. Through the joy of this moment, we step on sacred ground, holy and set apart for all to see.
I stand there, looking out at the many faces welcoming him into Jerusalem. Will this feeling of adoration continue to the ultimate revelation of his divinity? I cannot say, but I know that there is a feeling of hope in the air. For now, let us feast and remain steadfast in our joy for what the future brings. Today is the beginning of the end for the Romans. Let us celebrate the good news of this day.
“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.
It is hard to believe that we are nearing the end of our journey through the Bible. As we finish with the Book of Revelation, the Apostle John invites us to a ringside seat regarding the end of times. The action is surreal as we face false gods, fallen angels, and the lengths to which dramatic forces will go to hold fast to the world. These demonic beings underestimate the power of God. While chaos battles ferociously for the hearts and minds of divine creation, heavenly hosts respond in righteous anger and match each blow from the enemy with a strength that is far superior to anything that dares to challenge sacred superiority. In the end, God reigns supreme, and creation rediscovers the Divine’s initial intent.
Many know what it’s like to feel like we are in the middle of the apocalypse. We wonder how we will ever recover from where we are; our situation sometimes brings us to our knees, and we feel like we have been kicked right in the stomach. Life feels like it is falling out from under our very feet, and we cry out in the middle of what looks to be the end of the world, our world. The fires of hell overwhelm us to the point that we cannot breathe. We gasp, unsure if we’re taking our last breath.
Hear the good news, God wins! Our protector will always shield us from our foes. We must hold on to our faith during these rough times and rejoice that we know who holds the ending of our story. In Genesis, we discovered this amazing God, who wanted to have a relationship with us, loved us into creation. Over time we were introduced to God’s love and God’s wrath. Through every type of situation known, the one constant remained that heavenly arms reached out to us and continue to do so to this day. Revelation reminds us that our faith leads us to the ultimate victor.
For those of you who participated in the reading for the year, thank you for sharing sacred moments with me as we went on an incredible journey together. May you all go out into the world and share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and through your love, you may change the world one heart at a time. Peace be to you, my brothers and sisters in Christ reading is the beginning of faith. The real action occurs with how you respond to God’s calling on your life. Share the good news with everything you are, and in so doing, the world will know you are a Christ-follower. Amen.
“But there are also many other things Jesus did; and if they were all to be recorded, I don’t think the whole world could contain the books that would have to be written!” (John 21:25 CJSB).
As the Gospel of John comes to a close, the above verse is the last one. To sum up the phrase, Jesus completes so many miracles, that there were not enough writing utensils to record everything. We only have highlights (which is more than enough to feed us), while Jesus continued to love the people around Him. Our road map, the Gospels, gives us all that we need to know to follow the Messiah. Love God with everything you are (warts and all) and love your neighbor as yourself. To complete the two commandments requires a change of heart, which leads to redemption and hope.
I believe that Jesus continues to work miracles all around us. We simply must stop and look to find the Holy Spirit alive and well in our day-to-day living. Think of the many ways that God guides you on your path, and recall the healing processes in which the hope of Jesus restored you to wholeness. There are enough miracles we continue to witness that could not fit in a book. The Holy One is deeply connected to us and restores our souls.
My hope for us, as we leave the Gospels and begin reading the Book of Acts, is that we take a few moments to look around and remember, Jesus, is still in the business of healing hearts and restoring minds. Praise be to God that we may stop and give thanks for all that we receive from the Father. Let us stop, observe that beauty of faith, and then go out into the world to make a difference. In so doing, the last verse of Luke is not an ending of the story, but a continuation.