The Mountains and Me

Yesterday my family and I made our annual pilgrimage to the mountains. Labor Day usually consists of a mountain stream and great fried chicken. I will tell you now that my wife is an incredible cook. Her fried chicken is second to none!

This year we explored new territory as we settle into our new home in Rio Rancho. Approximately an hour away from my house there are tremendous national parks along with incredible opportunities for hiking up and down valleys and hilltops. We parked the car, ate some good southern food, and began our quarter mile journey down to a place where the mountain stream emptied itself into a beautiful ravine complete with a waterfall.

The water was cold and very inviting. The four of us took off our shoes and began to wade in the water. My toes were so cold that I thought each one would freeze off. I sat on a rock that was at the very top of the waterfall. We were playing near a 100 foot drop into a reservoir below. Of course, my youngest son was not allowed to join me so close to the falls. It was way too risky for him. He just played a little further back in the stream with my wife. My oldest son sat with me near the edge of the falls. All fears and anxieties seemed to give way as we enjoyed gazing into the falling water as it fell upon the rocks below.

I love being surrounded by the beauty of the mountains. The air is crisp and the hiking trails give way to breathtaking views that startle the imagination and reinvigorate the soul. I still sometimes find it hard to believe that I live near such incredible scenery. It is safe to say that where I live today is quite different than the coastline of my youth. When I moved to New Mexico I realized that I needed two things in my life. I must have mountains and stars. Houston did not afford me those necessities.

My faith is expressed in ways that are very similar to how I feel concerning the wonderful mountain landscape. The majesty of God woos me into beauty. Sometimes I am unable to see the wonder that is just around the corner, but I know that if I continue on my journey I will experience a connection to the Divine that I never knew existed. As I draw strength from the One who brings water that will feed my spirit I stand in awe of the endless possibilities. It is at the stream of life that I find renewal of spirit and great joy. It is surrounded by the presence of God that I find hope. God invites all of us to the water to be renewed and made whole.

Peace,   Joe

Our Stories of Freedom

I am reading a book that accents the power of our own testimonies and how sharing the love of God through our own stories dates back to New Testament tradition. There is incredible power in sharing how we came to realize that God is a necessary and life giving part of our very foundation. We reveal how we have been changed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I have been taken back to my own story of redemption and how the incredible realization of God’s love set me on a course that radically altered my life. I remember being led into the waters of baptism and rising again with a feeling of being set apart. I was chosen as one who would follow Christ. I was fourteen years old when I was baptized and I will never forget the clarity of purpose and peace that I felt as a teenager.

Unfortunately, I also heard a voice in my head that kept repeating itself saying, “What you have done is so bad that God will never forgive you for it.” That was the voice of an abusive past that proved successful in ruling my life for many years after my baptism. Here I was a child with a profound sense of freedom shadowed by another voice that was judgmental and horribly devastating at the same time. These conflicting messages of both redemption and condemnation spoke into my life for a very long time.

It would take many years before I could reclaim what God did for me in my baptism. It would also take many years before I could calm the voice that spoke harshly into my life. I am speaking about the false messages that seemed to expose me for an absolute fraud. Eventually God’s voice spoke over the chaos of the other voice and calmed the angry sea that seemed to find a home in my soul.

My testimony, as well as countless others, chronicles the journey that we take with God. It is a story of hopelessness which gave way to hope. Our tales are stories of love even when we felt unlovable. We are a collection of the incredible tapestry of the wonder workings of God. While we are not perfect, we have that which is perfect within us. We stand and proclaim that we reflect a change that we could never have done for ourselves. It is only through the workings of our God that we are made new. Today I give thanks for my own story, or testimony. I hope you do to.

Our Journey Takes Us North

I love to help people build things.  When performing in shows I loved being a part of the whole process that resulted in a big production.  When I worked in the public school system and in music ministry, I enjoyed working together with people to create the highest caliber of music possible in  each group I directed.  In my life as a pastor, I find that the greatest reward is watching life changing ministry occur in the hearts and minds of the people in my community.  Building souls is awe inspiring to say the very least.

While I have been actively involved in church work for most of my adult life, I can honestly say that the congregation at First United Methodist Church of Truth or Consequences will always hold a special place in my heart.  T or C was the first place I was called a pastor.  It was the place that I learned to spread my wings and truly live into the calling that God placed on my life many years ago.  I entered into a special bond with the T or C congregation that continues to empower our church and community.  Our connectional thread continues to be the Holy Spirit.  Together, we step out in faith knowing that it is through Divine leadership that we are all made new.

Sunday, June 17th, will be my last day with the people of this wonderful congregation.  I will be moving from Southern New Mexico to lead worship in Rio Rancho, NM.  My ministry will continue in a different place, with different people, and different concerns.  I will always be grateful to the people in T or C who filled my spirit full of joy each week as we celebrated the risen Christ.  To say my cup is full of love for you is an understatement.  I appreciate the tools that you gave me to build a place where all are welcome.

It is with the spirit of joy and trust that I turn to my new church in Rio Rancho.  Please know that I am a person who feels truly blessed to have worshiped with some amazing people.  As I acknowledge the presence of God in the lives of those who went before me, I look forward to you and am excited about embracing this new part of the journey.  We push forward knowing that God will lead us as we transform our world with the incredible message that God loves all of us. 

We Have To Journey On!

It is hard to believe that tomorrow is Palm Sunday. In one short week we will journey into the darkest places of our faith only to celebrate the greatest joy the following Sunday. This Lenten season has been about our walk with God. Our focus centered around the fact that God is present with us even if we stray as far as we can possibly go. No matter how far we wander, God is there. We hold true to this hope. We celebrated our encounters with God through the act of Communion throughout the season.

Palm Sunday reminds us that we stand on the edge of a cliff much like the early Hebrews did. Remember the story? The young Israelite nation looked over the incredible land that God had promised to them with wander and amazing joy. There was one problem. In order to claim the land the Israelites had to walk through difficulties and trials to get into the great promise that awaited them. In the end the Hebrew nation received their reward.

Christ did the same thing. Beginning with the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus knew the prize that awaited him. He knew that God would have ultimate glory in the resurrection story. The only thing was that Jesus had to endure the trial, flogging, and utlimate horrible death on a cross. The reward was in plain sight, but the journey to the prize was difficult and painful.

In all honesty, we stand at the edge of cliffs many times in our lives. We catch a glimpse of the wonderful possibilities that await us, but sometimes never get there because we refuse to journey through the darker more difficult roads that lead us to our reward. The journey changes us and makes our hearts ready to openly receive the gift with much more gratitude than we had when we were simply looking over the edge of the cliff. Sometimes the path is not as dark as others. The truth remains, we still must journey through to get to the beauty that awaits us.

My hope for everyone is that we all realize that we must pick up our cross and walk the road that leads to our joy and hope. We understand and live in the knowledge that continues through the darkest times; that God is on this journey with us. There is no path too dark nor too deep that God’s presence is not an absolute reality. It is nice to stand on the edge of the journey and see the beauty of the promised land, but at some point we must sacrifice our view from the edge of the cliff to cross through the rough parts of the journey so that we can live in the land flowing with milk and honey.

Let Us Cross the Bridge

This past week my family and I attended a symposium in San Francisco.  While the conference was jam packed with wonderful information, we did get a little free time to explore the city.  I was drawn to Fisherman’s Warf.  I could not believe that I was standing on a pier and actually looking at the Golden Gate Bridge in person.  That was definitely something I could cross off of my bucket list.  The other bridge in the harbor was the bridge that connected San Francisco to Oakland.  To keep things straight in my family, we called the bridge to Oakland the Silver Gate Bridge.

The final evening event was a dinner cruise around the harbor.  Unfortunately, we could not travel to the Golden Gate Bridge due to the thickness of the fog.  Instead, we did travel under the “Silver Gate Bridge.”  The temperature was very chilly on the boat.  It was wonderful to have a respite from the horrible heat in New Mexico. It felt, and looked like a wintry day.  This is July.  I was not supposed to be wearing a jacket.

As I stood on the ship and looked at the bridge, I began to wonder about how life would have been different for the people living in the area had there been no bridges to connect one land mass to another.  Life would have been drastically altered.  There would not be a simple jaunt from San Francisco to Oakland. 

Bridges do more than connect things. They provide a way to improve our lives. 
They offer a chance to have a different view, a different perspective.




Our world is expanded as we are able to cross into other places with different ideas and customs.

It all starts by making the pilgrimage to the other side.  We have to take the journey.

Christ is our bridge.  Our relationship to God is restored and reconnected because of the love which is shared through the one who saved us from only our limited view of life.  Our paradigm shifted dramatically.  We connected from our land of selfishness to the land of absolute selflessness.  It takes a bridge by which we can cross into the land of God.

Loincloth, Nakedness, and Shame Oh My!

“Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves” (Gen. 3:7 NRSV).

As I prepare for Lent, I stumbled across Genesis 3:7 and was intrigued at the actions that Adam and Eve took when discovering their nakedness. While I am sure there might be several people who read this post because of some of the words located in the text, I do not believe that the literal interpretation of the story is the most important assumption made.

Before the reality of nakedness, Adam and Eve lived in the presence of God and the creation of God without anything to hide. I am not talking about their physical selves, but a spiritual sense of the word nakedness. Their lives were in complete communion with God. They served the land and guarded the soil. Immediately after their disobedience, there was a change in their perception of self and their relationship to God.

There was a need to be hidden. Perhaps out of sense of shame for disobeying, or the realization that something had changed. Perhaps (and I am definitely reading something into the text that is not there) if they could have gone back they might have chosen a different path. The fruit was not as appealing on the other side as it had been before.

We see the first recorded romance with the other side. That romance that eventually devoured Adam and Eve. The truth is, it is easy to point the finger at the first man and woman, but the apple (so to speak) doesn’t fall too far from the cart. We are seduced into situations or people who eventually hurt us. How many times do we fall into the trap of doing the wrong thing with the right motives? The truth is, when all is said and done, the wrong thing is just that regardless of the motive.

Many of us have been wounded in the past in some way or another. We have learned how to travel in secret and hide from ourselves and God the ruined dreams or shattered relationships of the past. This was the only way that we knew how to survive. God wants more from us. God calls us back from the realms of abuse and calls us into a relationship which leaves no room for secrets due to shame or whatever motivation.

I recently read a blog that made me think of how painful it must have been to wear a loincloth made of fig leaves. It was probably scratchy and hurt. We put these loincloths on over our souls. They hurt and tend to make us uncomfortable. We cannot be free of pain until we are free from those things that we have created to give us the illusion that we are covered. Uncover your soul and allow God to fill you with strength, hope, and love.

We are reminded through the Lenten journey to get back to God and bare all that you are to the one who created you. Our relationship with God does not need to possess anything. We simply bring to God our complete selves. Loincloths are not needed.

What is schedule?

When I lived in Houston, I remember one of the things that drove me crazy was the complete predictability of my schedule. Every day seemed to be planned out and ordered. I became resigned to the fact that I would live this way until retirement. To say I felt trapped was an understatement.

Then I answered a call to ministry. Since moving to the mountains of New Mexico, I will say that schedule has been replaced by unpredictability. One incident triggers another and I find myself simply showing up and getting out of the way of God’s purpose. God reveals how my day will unfold. Some days are more predictable than others.

While I sometimes long for a remnant of schedule, I have learned that I surrendered my plans to the one I serve. I report to work every day asking one simple request. I ask God to use me so that I may be a vehicle for the Kingdom. Many times that means that my schedule is extremely erratic and unconventional. As I move past my own wants, I realize that my needs are very simple. I need to be the conduit through which the light of Christ may be shared.

I must admit that I sometimes long for the days when I had a sense of schedule in my life. I miss the routine; however, I embrace and enjoy the adventure of unpredictability. While I am grateful for my friends who maintain and thrive within very scheduled routines, I know that my strengths are best played out when I am outside of the box. My hope today is that whether you are like those who best work within a systematic routine, or those who thrive within a system of unpredictability, you may grow in the knowledge that Christ loves and delights in you. Equipped with the knowledge that we are loved by God, the rest matters not.

The Journey Through the Exile

I am now an official commissioned pastor in the United Methodist Church. Up until this point, I served as a local pastor. Being a local pastor meant that I served one church in my annual conference. I could not offer the sacraments outside of my assigned church. Moving from local to commissioned pastor meant that I turned in forms and answered questions and completed my seminary degree. All of these things were read, questions were asked, and I moved on. I may now offer the sacraments at any gathering of which I am a part. As John Wesley said, “The world is my parish.”

I completed the first part of the process to full ordination. Hopefully, after a three year provisional period which includes more answers to questions and additional forms, I will be ordained as an elder in full connection with the church. The list seems to never end. I finish one set goals only to discover there are another set of goals. I keep wondering if I will ever complete the journey.
Despite the many hoops through which I am required to jump, I have enjoyed this journey into answering the calling which God placed on my life.

Last week I preached from the Book of Ezra and discussed the issue of exile. The biggest question with which I struggled was the question, “Why did God allow this to happen?” While I dismiss any notion that God simply stands aside and allows bad things or events to happen, I cannot get away from the fact that God acts in the middle of horrible circumstances.

Many times in my life, I have felt as if I was in a spiritual exile. I felt as if life, and God for that matter, had been unfair and I was left wandering through the wilderness. As I struggled in exile, God came to me and guided me through the desert. I have learned to be grateful for the journeys that I must take through the wilderness so that I may be led to the streams from which living water flows.

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