“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.
It is no secret that I took a little time off from my blog to rest and renew my spirit. But unfortunately, I found that I began to put pressure on myself to write something, anything, consistently. As a result, I grew resentful and did not want to be accountable, so I took a long pause to rekindle the spark that moved me. In short, I needed a break from the self-induced stress that I unknowingly placed on myself.
I think about all the pastors that serve in local churches who do not listen to the signals that warn us of burnout. I learned to listen to the tell-tale signs of stress and anxiety. As a result, I experience anger and resentment against anything that tries to take my time. It is not a pretty sight, but I learned to hear that inner voice saying, “find rest for your soul.”
It is easy to keep the Spirit silenced as a clergyperson. No one waits to have an emergency when it is convenient for my schedule. But, life happens, and my calling moves me to be a presence in my parishioners’ lives. The trick is finding ways to experience rest and renewal during challenging times. What can I do to maintain my edge so that I may continue to serve God with my entire being?
I realize that as a pastor, it is crucial to encourage everyone to maintain a daily prayer life and connect with the Spirit each day. I wish I had followed my advice, but my connection with God fell by the wayside. Nevertheless, the same Spirit that speaks to you is available to speak to me. The trick is letting the Holy One refill my soul too.
As I return to the land of the living, I hope to discover a new commitment to sharing my thoughts and feelings regarding faith. May all of us take time to let the Spirit work in us and find moments to rekindle our faith throughout our day.
Thanks be to God, who shares with us love beyond our wildest imagination.
Today we begin the season of Lent. As Christians, we discover an invitation to explore the darkest parts of ourselves – the part of our souls cut off from the joy we celebrate in Christ. Our journey reminds us of the many ways we need to discover God’s great love, even in places we could never imagine God inhabiting. With hope, the reexamination of our hearts compels us to respond to Christ’s invitation to feast with him in a way that leads us closer to our redeemer.
Although I did not worship in a tradition that observed Lent, I later learned the season’s significance. This period of forty days before the celebration of Easter calls me to look into the darkness and bring the light to those places that call out for help. My participation must require a fearless examination of my life to be a better disciple. Only by practicing my faith can I overwhelm the dark places in my soul with holy light. Through my spiritual disciplines, Christ may speak into those spaces that feel lost and rejected.
In the middle of our distress, I pray that the light of Christ illuminates our paths, piercing through the darkness. I ask God’s presence to captivate us and set free our hearts so that we may follow in fullness. All these things I ask for those who need to hear a bit of Good News during this time. Come, Lord Jesus, and fill our hearts with sacred peace. Amen.
There are moments in ministry, especially itinerant service when moving occurs. Sometimes the possibilities of moving forward appear to be the next right steps. This experience is not the case for me at this moment. This week I had a conversation with my District Superintendent to discuss the ministries of my current church, along with my wishes regarding moving. I told him that I felt like possibilities for growth and renewal continued gathering speed in our church and that I was not interested in leaving. I also understand that I serve in a system that can move me to any church where my gifts and graces may further the cause of Christ.
As a pastor in an itinerant system, I feel joy as the church supports my leadership. I give thanks to the congregation members at the First United Methodist Church of Belen, who serve God with all their hearts. Our house of worship is a fantastic place to be, and I cannot wait to see the amazing possibilities that lie before us. The seeds of growth found rest in the bed of faith and hope. Let us continue to nurture and water the soil so that ministry may grow and bloom.
This day, I give thanks to the men and women professing the love of Christ and serving in their churches. May the love of God make the holy presence known through your love and care. May we all give thanks for the houses of worship that we call home, remembering our first encounters with the Holy One began in those places. Remember your Baptism, be grateful, and reach out to a world in need to hear the Good News of Christ.
When I speak of joy, I do not mean a superficial show of emotions that appeals to the senses. Instead, I refer to a stirring of the soul moving me to realize that God fills every part of my body. My spirit connects with the author of love as I come to appreciate that love (God within me) bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things. True joy finds its way into the headwaters of faith and fills the heart with light.
As we go about the business of Christmas, let us not forget the depth of joy and how it manifests itself in us to a world that needs to discover the riches of God’s love. May true contentment fill our souls and pour out in the form of hope for a bright, better world. To understand the nature of holy joy is to claim the greatest gift that permeates the season. Faith and hope collide, and our hearts are never the same.
I hope we connect with those around us and offer a season of good cheer, laughter, and complete joy. We reflect on the gift of new birth, not only seen in the manger but also our lives. Faith makes itself known to us as an infant. Let us continue to encourage hope to grow and manifest itself in joy for life, friends, family, and the perpetual light of God. May the reality of the Divine presence be a constant source of strength, not only through the Christmas season but also for the entire year.