A New Start: A New Beginning

Here we are in a new year.  Many of us set new goals, with new expectations in both our personal and professional lives.  Yes, we are given a chance to start over.  We are encouraged to change our way of thinking, our way of managing our lives, our way of approaching problems that have appeared to have no answer.  These are all the hopes and wishes in which we invest as we move forward into 2016.

The problem, however, is that we still bring our baggage along with us.  Many of us, I am pointing the finger back at myself, truly don’t live as if we have a new beginning.  A new start will include some failures, but will never give up until we achieve our goals.  What holds us back are the ways that we cling to the past.  We give up on our resolutions, only to fall back into the very familiar patterns of behavior that we promised to leave behind.  We fail to hold on to the assumption that our fresh start is indeed that, a fresh start.

I could really move from preaching to meddling with the following question: “How does this mirror your faith journey?”  I mean, we start off with incredible energy.  We proclaim to the world that we were not the people that we were before.  We keep this enthusiasm of new life, only to see it fade as we surrender to the pressures and demands of our places in the world.  We continue to drift away, until we wonder where and who we are.

Hear the Good News!  We are a people who have a chance to begin anew every waking day of our lives.  We do not need to wait for something like a new year to initiate change.  Each day for us is a gift, given by the one who encourages you to embrace your life with the passion with which you started the journey.  This is the promise that we are given with each passing moment.  Praise be to God, who gives us the strength to overcome our weaknesses.  May your “New Year” begin today, and may you know the blessings of God, beyond your wildest imaginations.

We Know What We Know

First of all, I have to say that I am a very grateful pastor as I have learned how loving and caring my congregation truly is.  We have been inundated by prayers, food, and words of hope and inspiration to carry us through what continues to be our longest hospital stay to date.  Caeleb will be in the hospital for a full month on Monday.  Within the month, we have been discharged twice only to return to the hospital the next day with complications from a knee bleed that will not stop.  Specialists can’t even stop the bleeding.  They try and try, but without much success.

I must admit that this journey has been very difficult for many different reasons.  It is hard seeing my son in pain and not be able to stop it.  We as parents are “supposed” to fix problems.  When we get to the point that we can’t relieve his pain there is a feeling of absolute powerlessness.  Faith becomes the only option by which to express hope.

I look at faith as part of my life intertwined into the very fabric of day to day living.  I have faith that medicines will work, or I have faith that a certain treatment is the one that will restore my son’s health, or I have faith that God will show up in the middle of all of the chaos and create beauty.  I must say, I cannot separate science from my expression of the Divine.  The merging of both worlds is a rich tapestry of both faith and reason that provides a holistic approach to who I am in my finite humanity and that part of me that is connected to Spirit. Together, that which is seen and unseen fills me with the love and knowledge of something that is light years bigger than who I am in this world.

I see God’s work being done by the love and care the nurses on our unit offer to my family.  Their efforts reinforce the holistic identity of who we are by engaging the spiritual aspect of care as they utilize scientific methodology to provide answers to medical issues.  It is an incredible and necessary dependence on various ways that we can validate the existence of both science and the Divine.  The truth is, sometimes we can’t measure what we know to be true.  It is simply profound and present.

So, today I give thanks for the marriage of science and faith and how they come together to make life complete.  I am grateful for the men and women who continue to make life better for my son and seek ways that not only provide him with medical wholeness, but also feed his spirit.  I give thanks for the many people who touch our lives with material and spiritual gifts.  Your service and your compassion are amazing!

And I say, “Thanks be to God.”

Preserve Our Memories Well

Recently I was visiting with a wonderful man who served in the military during World War II.  He told me some amazing stories of love, sadness and deliverance.  I finished my conversation with him expressing a feeling of gratitude for the memories that he clings to reminding him of his life and purpose.  He maintains a spirit of joy even at the ripe old age of 95 years old.

Even though I am not his age, I do understand a little something about memories.  I made a commitment this year to write everyday for a year.  At the end of the year I want to look at my writing and see if there are any themes that seem to pop up over and over again.  My goal is to find common ground with Scripture and my own story.  I want to answer the ultimate life question, “Where has God been present in your life?” 

It just so happens that I stumbled upon a small cassette tape that I recorded back in 1994.  I had turned 30 years old and wanted to give my mother a gift of memories.  I wanted to thank her for giving me a loving family and share with her the not so subtle of ways of teaching me life lessons on forgiveness and healing.  Some of the stories that I recorded where not easy memories; however, they were necessary reflections to my growth as a human being.

Listening to these stories 19 years later has brought me a new appreciation for my family and the path that I had to journey on to get to where I am now.  As I listened to my younger voice, I celebrated the lives of those who are no longer with me but were a very important part of shaping my life.  I listened to my own process of forgiveness and healing as told in my own words.  There was something incredibly liberating to hear a recounting of the many stories that gave me a sense of identity.  I appreciated the lessons that were handed to me as I struggled to find my own sense of worth.

I recently preached a sermon on God’s presence in the middle of darkness.  I told of God’s faithfulness and existence in the blackest of times.  This tape reminded me of a time that I came out of the fog and into the light of God.  As my World War II buddy said, “Memories are powerful and important.”

We hold tight to our past as a reminder of a time when God led us to be free of the pain that we carried.  Our faith keeps us safe and our memories serve to remind us of our journey.  The Israelites would never have gone back into slavery, but every year there is a celebration known as the Passover Seder to commemorate what God did in the lives of the faithful.  As he did for those in physical bondage, The Holy One of Israel led us out of bondage.  Theirs was a physical servitude while ours was a spiritual captivity.  There is not a year that goes by that we remember that from which we have been delivered, the one who delivered us (God), and the absolute joy we have as those who have been redeemed.  We preserve and celebrate our memories.  They have shaped us well.

What Must I Do To Be Made Whole?

“But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 14So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean” (2 Kings 5:13-14 NRSV).
Many times we tend to approach our faith as something that is tangible and can be physically possessed.  We strive to be made whole and restored by following a list of do’s and don’ts.  We incorrectly assume the idea that we must not only offer ourselves, but our good deeds as the basis upon which we “acquire” healing.  Our understanding of God becomes skewed and we adopt the idea that if we pray hard enough good things will come.  This “prosperity gospel” has become a fabric that is dangerously woven into who we are as God’s children.
In our Biblical story, Naaman was no exception to the “prosperity gospel” regarding faith.  He brought extravagant wealth and riches to the king of Israel in order to be healed.  Naaman lived under the assumption that healing would occur if he found favor with the king and ultimately favor with the prophet.  It was at the prophet Elisha’s house that the fearless commander would hear a way to be radically transformed.  Naaman did not need anything but faith.  It was with this belief in transformation that Naaman entered the waters of the Jordan.  His little mustard seed of faith spurred him onward.   
Naaman was not simply healed in a physical sense, but experienced a spiritual healing that awakened a presence of the Divine in Naaman’s very soul.  His journey led him to the cleansing waters of God.  He left the Jordan River with a new faith and new commitment to his God.  He would take the message of salvation to his world. 
We are very familiar with Naaman’s story if not in the Biblical sense then in our own lives.  We approach God with gifts to earn special favor.  We pledge our lives to change that sound something like this, “O God, if you help me this time I will…even again.”  Time and again we make this bargain with God until our pledges are hollow and represent the struggles born out of a place of desperation.
The good news is that God does not need our extravagant gifts.  God seeks our hearts.  There is no magic, no special cure, and no secret spell that will bring us any more or less healing.  The gift is already given.  God’s grace is offered to us free of charge and without price.  All we can do is accept the blessings which are given by the Creator.  To assume that we have any more agency regarding our salvation is to diminish the gift of God.
In the Gospel of John, the religious scholar Nicodemus found Jesus and began a dialogue that serves as the basis of our Judeo-Christian heritage.  The underlying question that Nicodemus wanted answered was short and to the point.  The scholar asked, “What must I do to be saved?”  Jesus (the Master) answered, “Believe.”
Whether we read 2 Kings or skip ahead to the Gospel of John, the word of God proves to be consistent.  Our belief is what heals us.  We are not transformed because our body may be made whole nor are we saved because prayers have been answered.  We are restored to wholeness because God’s gift of salvation changes us from the inside out.  Our wholeness is not a state of being, but a state of worship.  Let us wash our hearts in the waters of everlasting life and be made new people.
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