Advent and I

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.

The Best Necklace in the Whole World

I was eleven years old, and my mission in life was to by my mother the best birthday gift possible.  Her birthday was coming up, and I was desperate.  My grandparents took me to a shopping mall in Houston, and I was determined that I would not leave empty handed.  There had to be something in one of the many stores.  I had a whopping $15 in my pocket, and I was ready to do a little retail damage.

As we went into one of the many stores that night, there was something that caught my eye.  I saw a bracelet that shined like I had never seen anything shine in my life.  I walked over to look at this incredible work of art.  Surely it was way too far out of my league.  I was shocked to learn that it only cost $12.  At eleven years old, I wasn’t aware that rhinestones were not the same as diamonds.  The necklace was simply a beautiful piece of jewelry and that it was just what I wanted to give to my mother.

I eagerly asked the salesman to wrap up my trinket and was excited that my mom would wear it soon.  A feeling of pride swept over me as I paid for the rhinestone necklace.  This gift was my idea.  My mom would wear the best jewelry that the store had to offer (or so I thought).

When it came time to open the box, my mother immediately placed the jewelry around her neck and proclaimed it to be the most beautiful gift that she had ever received.  I thought she looked like a queen.  It was even better than I expected.  I was very happy with myself, for I gave my mother the best necklace in the whole world!

As the years went by my mom would talk about her special present and smile.  I was a little embarrassed as I reflected on my younger self. I know that as an adult, my childhood self did not know the difference between fake jewelry and the real thing.  All I knew is that my mom deserved the best that I could give.

Five years ago, almost to the day, my mother died.  I still think of her and miss her.  I am thankful for the friendship that we forged in my adult years.  Not long after she died my sister and I began the arduous task of sorting through her things.  I stumbled upon a jewelry box and opened the top.  In the box was a beautiful diamond and right next to the amazing stone was a little bag.  I unfastened the top of the bag and to my amazement, the little rhinestone necklace that I bought so many years ago fell onto the table.

I immediately teared up as I remembered that brave little boy, eager to give the best that he had so that his mother would smile.  All of the sudden the costume jewelry increased in value and surpassed that big old diamond.  My necklace contained all of the love that an eleven-year-old heart could muster.  Nothing is more priceless than the intention of the heart.

Today I am grateful as I remember my mother this week, and the legacy that she gave to me.  I honor her memory every day of my life, as I hope to be the best husband, father, brother, friend, pastor, and the person that I can be.  I believe that she is with me each and every day and that her memory continues in love shared with those in need of hope and renewal.  Praise God for Ruby Jensen, and her spirit of compassion and joy.

 

A Moment of Truth

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!

A Time to Remember

As I prepare for All Soul’s Sunday, I remember the incredible men and women that left a lasting legacy on my heart.  I must admit that the Service of Remembrance is one of the most sacred of the church year.  There is a feeling of comfort and holiness as we invite our brothers and sisters in the faith to join voices in giving thanks for the many saints that went before us.  We thank them for their teachings, for their presence in our lives.  We are better because they lived.

One of the many men who had a profound impact on my life was my grandfather.  Edwin Lance Jensen lived a life that many would consider remarkable.  He survived the Great Depression, the early loss of his mother, homelessness, a world war, and the loss of a child.  I knew him for 18 years.  Unfortunately, he died at the young age of 60.

My grandfather was the most significant male role model that I had growing up.  I learned patience, perseverance, and endurance.  This tough talking, rough around the edges kind of man took the time to teach me the many life lessons that I needed to know.  I look back and still consider him one, if not the most intelligent man that I ever met.

One of my fondest memories of him was an event that happened during my senior year of high school.  I prepared to leave for school when all of the sudden I heard a thunderous crash right outside my house.  A lady hit my parked car.  My grandfather ran outside, all 6’4″ and 300 pounds of him to check on the person who was involved in the wreck. Making sure she was safe, he invited her in to have some coffee while we handled the day to day stuff involving my car.  I like to think that a mechanic fixed the car, and the lady found peace, all because of my grandfather’s kindness.

Many years after Edwin’s death, I was in an old bookstore sorting through different titles that caught my eye.  One of them was about the presence of angels.  I looked inside of the book and the question, “How do we know that we are in the company of angels?” peeked my curiosity.  I had to continue, the words called to me.

As I read the answer to the question, I found myself weeping, giving thanks for this saucy dirty old man that encouraged me to be the person that I am today.  It said, “An angel is a person who leaves our world better because they were in it.”  Through my tears, I started to laugh thinking about this broken not too old of a man, appearing as one of the many angels who journey through my life.

Through this week, let us stop and give thanks for our angels (sometimes disguised in the strangest packages that we could ever know).  We are bolder and better because of their legacy.  When you think of the special people in your life, remember to stop and give thanks and praise for the people that speak the words that you need to hear at the moment that you need to hear them.  Today we say, “Praise be to God for our angels.”

 

A Chance to Give Thanks

Recently I traveled to Carlsbad, California and had dinner at a restaurant overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  All I had on my mind was the promise of excellent seafood.  Living in a landlocked state does not afford me many opportunities to enjoy fresh shrimp and oysters. As my friends and I held a glass of wine up in the air to toast a gorgeous California day, we watched as the sun set over the horizon.  I thought to myself; this is a work of art, a true masterpiece of heavenly proportions.  Thank you, dear God, for allowing me to witness this incredible display of beauty.

And so, with the setting of the sun we are called to remember the business of the day.  We give thanks that difficult moments and situations come to an end, and we also rejoice in our accomplishments.  All, fruitful and challenging, falling under the care of God.  The night comes to offer us solitude, and a chance to rejuvenate our souls for the day that lays ahead.  A little Sabbath in which we open ourselves up to new hopes and new dreams.

We need the night as much as we need the day.  There must be times that we can rest and focus our attention on the things that motivate us, our reason for being.  Sacred times allow us to reconnect with the most intimate parts of who we are.  We feed our souls, the places that are starving to come to light.

The truth is, we cannot be complete beings without both the night and the day.  Each one reminds us that we all have different gifts that we must cultivate in our unique ways.  Our attention to divine healing and wholeness encourages us to give proper attention during the correct time of the day.  Our spiritual nourishment should never appear forced but patiently develop and grown at the right time, in the right seasons of our lives.

Today, I give thanks for our Amazing Creator, who gives us every opportunity to enrich every part of our souls.  God offers us the chance to be made new, each and every day. Praise be to God for this amazing gift of resurrection.  We die to self, only to rise again with the hope of what is to come.  Thank you for both the night and the day, for even, You said, “It was good!”

 

What We Learn on the Journey

Today I am reminded that January will bring about my final semester regarding classwork in the Doctorate of Ministry.  My next step will be implementing and reporting on my final project. My first assignment will be an analysis of several books, with some course work due before the first day of the semester.  While I always feel overwhelmed, I am giving thanks for the program offered at Austin Seminary.  The academic expectations are very high, and for that, I am truly grateful.

With the acknowledgment of the end in sight, I can’t help but recall the years of struggle that I had making it through my undergraduate program.  My head and heart were not in school.  All I knew is that I wanted to sing.  Nothing else mattered.  Making good grades was not a part of my interest in my early twenties.  It would take many years before I appreciated the discipline of academic achievement.

Seminary gave me a perspective that changed my complete outlook on life.  At Iliff, I recaptured my love of history and writing.  I discovered the depth of my appreciation for theological studies, particularly concerning how others expressed their understanding of God and our place in the universe.  I also reclaimed my joy for academic research.  School to me became a blessing, a way of reaching beyond myself and not being afraid to live within a world of unknowables.  One of the most important lessons that I learned was that God, and how humanity expresses the divine presence, is larger than anything I can ever fathom.  The Holy Mystery is vast and amazing.

Our journey takes us to many places that we would never expect to go.  If someone had told me at twenty-five that I would be pastoring a church before I finished my forties, I would have told them they were insane.  Those that knew me back then probably are still questioning the discernment of a congregation to have me as their pastor now.  What no one on either side of the spectrum realizes is that I have walked a road that is distinct to me.  God illumined my path and blessed me for ministry.  For that, I am truly grateful.

It has been a very long journey.  One that is filled with disappointments as well as blessings.  I would never have enjoyed my experiences if I had never chosen to go down the path, one step at a time and one lesson at a time.  Praise be to God for His holy patience and understanding.  This is my story, and I am sticking to it!

 

A Time to Remember the Incredible!

Last week I attended a retreat at Sacramento Methodist Assembly.  The camp is located north of Cloudcroft, NM on top of a mountain.  It is truly in the middle of nowhere.  At night the stars seem to be so close that you could reach up into the air and grab a handful.  I have yet to go up the “Holy Hill” and not be mesmerized by the beauty of the land.

On the last night of the retreat, several of my friends and I did something that I had been longing to do since the first time I attended the camp ten years ago.  At about 10 p.m., we hiked away from the lights and sounds of the camp to a place called Serenity Peak.  We took with us luminarias hoping to capture some incredible pictures while we were in our sacred space.  Our journey was not very far, but long enough to transport us into the darkness of the mountain.

As we journeyed on, I started to fear the possibilities of encountering animals, losing my way, or not being able to see my path clearly.  My anxiety started kicking in, and I thought of possibly turning back.  Camp was secure.  I knew where I was going and could go back to my room, safe and secure.  This was too much of an adventure for me.

Gradually, my worries subsided as we arrived at Serenity Peak.  The stars, while brilliant at camp, held a beauty that I could never adequately describe.  While standing in the darkness and gazing upon the majesty of God’s beauty, I could not help but think of the writing of the Psalmist’s declaration, “When I look up at your skies, at what your fingers made – the moon and the stars that you set firmly in place – what are human beings that you think about them; what are human beings that you pay attention to them?” (Ps. 8:3-4 CEB).

I realized that there is beauty in the night.  Something that is set apart from the day, which has its own majesty.  God’s wonder is both for the day and the night, neither being better, just different.  I remember that I must take the time to be aware of the sacredness of the evening, and not only rely on all that is in the light of day.  The holiness of the night allows us to remember to stop and look and enjoy a new way of thinking of things, a new way of being in our world.

And as for the retreat, I took an extra few moments to etch into my mind the incredible picture that will help me through times during the day when life gets very busy.  I can reflect on my journey through the night and all of the lessons that I learned, and be grateful.  Praise be to God for the greater light to rule the day, but also the lesser light to rule the night.  Each one, offering a different response to those we love and to our God.

Today, I am very grateful for getting to spend time with my clergy friends, who are amazing people who strive to make a difference in this world.  I thank God for laughter, for intentional retreat, and for opportunities to share sacred spaces.  We have all been called to embrace our world, filled with the light that guides us.  May we remember our stars, our moments of a holy embrace, and as we give thanks may we continue to be made whole.

Freeing Yourself from Shame

Shame is more than a five letter word.  It can hold you hostage and keep you completely 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 being 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.

He Remembers!

LasIMG_0245t 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!

Ah! The Joy of Being Human!

I must admit that I have a fear of being found out.  I try everything I can to hide my weaknesses, and many times I am very successful.  I can do this as along as I do not have to get close to anyone.  I can preserve an appearance of being completely the person that everyone wants me to be.  I can smile, acknowledge that I am great, and keep moving forward.

The reality is that I do struggle and wish I had a better skill set in some areas than I do.  For me, this is a major source of anxiety, the notion of being discovered.  So to combat my feelings, I have learned to wear a mask.  It always has a smiley face on it and gives the generic answer that everyone wants to hear from me.  The thing is, the longer I wear the mask, the further I run from getting close to people.

I have just begun my fifth year as pastor of Rio Rancho  United Methodist Church.  Anyone that has been in one place for a while knows that there comes a time when the mask must fall away, and you must reveal you’re real self.  That includes the strengths and the weaknesses.  It is not an easy thing to do.  It takes guts and absolute faith in God’s mercy.

We are all faced with the issue of sharing ourselves with each other.  Taking a step in building trust is the only way that relationships can develop into something much greater than we ever could imagine.  It is also the diving off point for intimacy.  The reliance on faith is the uncomfortable part of being in a place for a long time.  We grow together, relying on God’s incredible strength to mold us into the people for which the church can become.

True wholeness must include vulnerability, acknowledging that there are parts of us that need developing.  If we can do the work together, we can become stronger.  We can live bolder, and we can be richer in wisdom.  Praise be to God, who calls us to live not just as surface level neighbors, but to join in the richness of relationship.

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