We finished the Book of Daniel yesterday, and something hit me over the head for the first time. This is not my first time reading the text, yet the message revealed to me is quite clear. Why have I missed one of the most visible messages concerning the passage? Maybe my spirit was not ready to embrace the idea that, despite the storytelling of Daniel, God worked in the lives of the people even in the exile.
For those not entirely up to snuff about the Book of Daniel, the setting is in Babylon during the time of the captivity. God moved in the hearts and minds of at least some of the people, and just like Daniel, Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego, he delivered those who remained faithful to the Divine. The Hebrew people were not left to their own devices while in captivity. Their God still searched them out. They simply needed to call out to the Holy One, and they could receive God’s promise. Captivity may not have been the ideal way to worship, but at least they were provided with the holy presence of Almighty God.
I further reflected on how the text speaks to me now, here in the 21st century. There are times when I feel like I am in exile. When events make me feel like I am forced out of my place of refuge and made to live in a foreign land. I don’t know how God could find me, but the little glimmer of light that I see reminds me that the Holy One never left me in my exile. He was there with me; even in the darkest of places. I turn to the light, and holy hands hold my hands until I am rescued from exile.
Praise be to God that even in the worst of circumstances, we can still find a glimmer of hope; a flicker of Divine presence. We must look around to see it, but I know it is there. We must look under the darkest places in our souls to discover that nothing is obscure to the One who gave us life. Once we find that small light, let us follow it to the brilliance of joy everlasting.
Devastation and heartbreak surrounded Jerusalem. Disaster followed the Hebrew people. God officially claimed that due to the constant disobedience of the favored nation, the covenant broke. And for the first time in the nation’s history, Divine favor did not exist. No one saved the children of Israel; they submitted to the Babylonians and became exiles in a foreign land. Such proved the plight of the chosen seed of God.
I know what it feels like to be abandoned by God. I look at some of the many struggles in my life and can’t help but wonder, “I should have made a better choice.” My actions led to God’s overwhelming silence. Equipped with sorrow, I push God away. I say, “Forget about a new covenant, I want a new soul.” I yearn for a way to start all over again while maintaining the lessons I learned. I cry out, “I want a do-over, God!”
But wait, through the most horrific part of the story, the Holy-One prepares for another covenant, a new way. God did more than speak through a prophet, the Divine burned within the people an opportunity to follow the road of light. Humanity’s innermost part of their spiritual DNA points to a compass leading to God.
Praise be to the One, who gives us the strength to face the struggles of each day. Every morning we can follow our minds and souls to the very throne of God. Let us serve the world, equipped with heavenly guidance. Make this day count by staying on the path of Divine holiness.
Psalms 120-134 are known as the Psalms of Ascent. The title possibly refers to physically climbing the outer stairs of the temple to reach the center square. Songs reflected melodies that started low and gradually got higher with each idea sung. The primary focus reflected God’s elevation and our constant desire to reach up for His guidance.
Our world teaches us to keep our head to the grindstone and get the job done. While it is important to be productive, the Creator of the Universe wants us to look up and remember to give thanks for our deliverance. Just as God calls us from the pit of despair, “ADONAI, I call to you from the depths; hear my cry, Adonai! Let your ears pay attention to the sound of my pleading” (Ps. 130:1-2 CJSB), we are to acknowledge the hope and assurance found in those who are faithful. The Psalmist expresses a strong dependence and commitment to God’s protection when he proclaims “Those who trust in ADONAI are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved but remains forever” (Ps. 125:1 CJSB).
This week I invite you to join me in taking moments to reflect on God’s deliverance in your own lives. What ways do you stop and raise your head to offer the Holy One your joys and concerns? Please feel free to share your moments of divine revelation with me by posting a response. Allow the blessings of God to overwhelm you as you recount all that the Lord has (and continues) to do for you.
Recently, I spent part of an afternoon in a department store. I wanted to take advantage of sales. As I continued to glance, my eyes caught a showcase of a beautiful collection of watches. I thought to myself, “Oh, I would make that watch look good.” Each magnificent work displayed its unique beauty.
There, in the middle of one of the cases, my eyes fell on a beautiful, gold piece of heaven. It’s shape and nuance sparkled and appeared to outshine everything else around it. I stood there in amazement. Each watch a proud display of its creator. Fashioned with beauty in mind.
As I stood there, I suddenly became overwhelmed with guilt. My sons gave me the watch on my arm. How could I even consider anything else? As pretty as the shiny bling is, I could never imagine surrendering my gift for the sake of something bigger and brighter. My big stinky boys gifted me with a present that they chose for me. All the sudden, the shiny watch was not as bright, nor as inviting. My watch that I wear is a continual reminder that what I have is so much greater than what I imagine.
God loves us in the same way. Sure, there are beautiful and shiny things all around us, but God fashioned us into the people that we are, with the gifts that we share. Be grateful, for all that we have, for we never know the real value of our greatest treasures. I wouldn’t trade my watch for anything. So, God would never trade us, because we are His. And that is enough!
As the congregation of my church stood singing carols and decorating the Chrismon tree, I couldn’t help but give thanks for the customs that are part of my United Methodist heritage. I learned my earliest religious instruction in a tradition that did not observe the church seasons, so I grew up without knowing anything about Advent and Lent. They were words that I heard for “other” Christians.
When I broke ties with the Southern Baptist church and embraced the United Methodist faith, the one thing that captured my religious imagination was the adherence to the church year. I celebrated different festivals throughout the different seasons and felt like a new religious language came into being. My faith experience grew richer and more profound. The Christmas and Easter seasons became much holier and deeper in joy and meaning as I experienced the awkwardness of Advent and Lent. What could I add to my life, or give up, that would help me be still and sense the presence of the Lord?
This year, I have asked my congregation to spend this season of Advent in prayer. I challenge my religious community to be still and let the Spirit of God move within their hearts. May everyone experience holy transformation. Pray without ceasing, focusing in on the goodness of God. This call to the Light is our task during the sacredness of the season of preparation. Be still and know the presence of the One, who delivered you.
And strangely, when I am silent, I do give thanks for my earliest of religious teachers. Yes, the Southern Baptists. I give thanks to the mighty men and women of God, who supported me through my very formative years, planting the seed in my heart that God loves even me, a broken and lost child. God makes it possible so that I can live a life that is meant to be a blessing to others.
My prayer for everyone this Advent season is to embrace light in the middle of darkness. May we all find hope in the midst of despair, and may we celebrate the love and knowledge that our God delivers us from hopelessness. Praise be to our amazing Giver of Light. Let us embrace the reality that we are God’s children, and may we live like sons and daughters of the Highest King.
When I stand at the altar to prepare for Communion, there is an innate sense of responsibility that flows through me. I think long and hard about every word that comes out my mouth, as I consecrate the elements, inviting the Holy Spirit to speak into the lives of the congregation. Each member is asking, pleading, requesting God to speak into their lives.
Everyone in the room comes seeking to be made whole, to take a break from a life filled with chaos. And so, with all of these things in mind, they come to the table. And there standing beside the table is me; waiting, hoping, praying for everyone that I see. Each person coming with their language, their way of expressing the deep needs of hearts yearning for wholeness.
As I watch the feast at the banquet, I hope everyone stops long enough to realize the moment of truth that Christ Himself calls to each of them to find that for which they are looking. May the music of redemption fill their ears as heavenly bells ring out that everyone is loved and desired by our amazing God. The reality of Holy love is the hope of our faith; it is the headwaters of that which we believe.
Heavenly truth reveals to us that we are never alone, that God’s presence is with us always. We continue to struggle in a world that challenge us with each new day, the foundation of hope is always the underlying part of the victory that we share in Christ. Love never leaves us. Love never shames us. Love is simply and continuously present. We only turn and embrace the amazing gift of grace.
Today, I am grateful for the gift of God’s grace as revealed in the invitation to a banquet like none other. I stand there and participate in the meal, confronting the truth that I am a beloved child of the Most-High God. This reality is at times incomprehensible and overwhelming. Such grace is offered to someone like me. How amazing!
Shame is more than a five-letter word. It can hold you hostage and keep you wholly locked within a prison of your making. For me, I carry shame for things that were not even my fault. The wounds pierce my soul with pinpoint accuracy, creating systems of thought that leave a long-lasting effect in my life. Shame is the most destabilizing of any ammunition utilized.
To the naked eye, shame is invisible, secretly doing its best work in secret. I didn’t choose one path in life because I was too frightened about what may or may not happen. I keep hearing the nagging words, “If only I would have….” The underlying decision at every turn is the shame that continues to carry on in my life.
Please don’t get me wrong. I love my life. I am blessed beyond all measure and have excellent resources at my disposal to reclaim parts of my heart that were damaged. My story is not one of victimization, but of light, healing, and forgiveness. I continue to look for those places that are still entrapped and rob me of the joy in which I am meant to live.
Surrendering to God means giving up the shame as well. We cannot hold on to the secret things that hold us back from experiencing the plans that are laid out before us. Giving up all of our stuff is not easy because it forces us to be vulnerable. Suddenly, we no longer have control. God is the one who guides us.
Today I am thankful for my journey. I am grateful that I have amazing people who walk beside me on my journey, always reflecting the love of Christ, which flows through me, around me, and over me. I pray that I may be the one who helps others come out of the shadows of shame and into the light of God. Praise be to our Amazing Creator.
Last week was a little too crazy in my life, and so I did not post. My oldest son moved into his dorm last Tuesday. I am excited for him and look forward to all that he will accomplish while being a student at the Santa Fe School of Art and Design. His first week has been filled with anxiety and then joy, as he discovers his capacity to make it on his own.
As my wife and I were helping him unpack, Julian shook a box full of coins in my face. I asked, “What is that?” He responded, “Dad, it is the box that Granny gave me.” That was all that I needed to hear, as I kept my composure long enough to get out of the room. My son kept a beat up old dilapidated box that my mom gave to him for no reason, filled with pennies. On the inside of the box was my mother’s handwriting with these words, “Julian, every time I thought of you today, I put a penny in the box.”
Of all of the things that he took with him to his dorm, one of them had to be this box. It serves as a reminder to him that he was loved before he ever knew his name. People, angels, and other heavenly beings encircle him to remind of this truth, that he is a child of the Most-High God. Loved beyond anything he can ever imagine. All of these important reminders found in a cardboard box.
Julian’s gift reminds me to find an answer to the question, “What am I leaving so that the world may know the incredible love that the Father has for us?” The answers are not taken lightly. They build others up, giving purpose to those who need to hear words of comfort and hope. Store your pennies well!
I have to admit that I do not like walking through the fire. I like to tiptoe around it. Try to avoid it, and wrap it up in a pretty bow. Maybe if I ignore the fire, I won’t be burned by the flames. Of course, while I tiptoe around and ignore what is in front of me, the flame continues to grow larger and larger, until there is nothing left, but ash and smoke. More often than not, where once there was a possibility of creation, now exists only a clump of mess incapable of sustaining any sort of life.
The hardest part in life is walking through the fire. Only when confronted with the hottest heat can we breathe onto it refreshing water. Gushing from the spirit at the wellspring of who we are is a chance, an opportunity to find redemption. We save the earth, our hearts, our souls, from the ravishes of generations of chaos that burns with fury into the very recesses of who we are. No, we must move through the hardest part to get to the other side.
And the promise of our faith is this, even though we must walk through the fire and deepest darkness, we are not alone. That is the promise to which we are divinely appointed. God is with us. We need only look at the darkest part of our faith, Holy Week, to see the magnificent claim of divine love that redeems us, that calls us by name. We are children of the Most-High God. We are made new, having come through the ravages of the past. With our amazing creator, we have the power to put out the fire. But we have to walk through it first, always trusting that the one in whom we trust will deliver us and make us whole.
I am grateful for my time in Austin. While attending Austin Presbyterian Seminary, I was able to walk the campus of the University of Texas. Ah yes, that beautiful campus with the tower. As I walked down the stairs of the main building, I was taken back to my eighteen-year-old self who was enrolled as a freshman. I thought of the many mistakes that I made that would drastically alter the course of my life. Some of my choices left long lasting marks of shame and regret. I kept asking myself the age old question, “What happened to that kid? Why those choices?”
What a frustrating place in which I found myself. No matter what resolution I could find, it would not replace the opportunities that no longer existed. And then that horrid feeling of being stuck in my inability to fully resolve the issue kicked in. What a mess. I knew that in order to move forward I would have to let go of my insane thinking. You know, the kind of thinking that allows you, in all of your folly to think that you are capable of changing the past.
All of these thoughts seemed to illuminate from my soul as I looked at the past with eyes in the present. I began to talk to that 18-year-old boy. I gave him permission to be himself, that he was more than the scars of his childhood. I assured him that he would move past the effects of the battle wounds that he inherited, and that he would thrive past his wildest dreams. He was, and his more than the sum of his failures.
So, after dipping my foot into the healing waters of forgiveness, I turned and headed back to the seminary. It was time to leave the past behind, and continue forward. I gave thanks for being able to shine a light on the realization that, while I falter, there is always the promise of a new day. If my heart learned anything, it was a sense of forgiveness of myself, along with the need to keep moving in a direction that guides me to the eternal light of God.
Praise be to our wonderful Creator, who never allows us to remain in the past. And blessed are we, as we remember that we are all created in the image of God. That includes who we were, what we are, and what we will be. May we carry that promise into a future filled with the riches of our amazing Savior.