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.
Today we celebrate the arrival of the Messiah. He is in Jerusalem now, so we wait for him to show his authority over the Romans. God will be with him, and in one fail swoop, he will reclaim the land for us, his chosen people. We show him pride and eagerly wave palms to celebrate the entrance of a King! How he smiles and waves at us, assuring us all will be made right soon. The excitement in the air is so thick that I can hardly breathe. I witnessed the chosen messenger from God in the flesh.
For many years we waited for this moment when the world would experience the splendor of God, unleashed on a world desperate to hear good news. The bright light that surrounds him is out of this world. Words fail me to describe such incredible beauty. It is neither sun nor moon, but a radiance unique unto him. It is easy to see why so many people place their trust in this man. His whole personhood illumines the Divine. Through the joy of this moment, we step on sacred ground, holy and set apart for all to see.
I stand there, looking out at the many faces welcoming him into Jerusalem. Will this feeling of adoration continue to the ultimate revelation of his divinity? I cannot say, but I know that there is a feeling of hope in the air. For now, let us feast and remain steadfast in our joy for what the future brings. Today is the beginning of the end for the Romans. Let us celebrate the good news of this day.
“He has told you, human one, what is good and what the Lord requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8 CEB).
Nowadays, we lack kindness in our world. Whatever happened to caring for our neighbors? Sometimes, the noise is so loud that it overpowers the voices that cry out for a return to sanity. I often remember the psalmist asking, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” (Ps. 137:4 KJV). Kindness seems like a foreign word as leaders attempt to solve the world’s problems.
At this moment, I turn to the verse in Micah. The Lord does more than ask us. He requires us to follow the laws given by God, radical care for those around us, and to continue living in your faith by following the Creator. These three things sum up our faith in a nutshell: We encounter God, we experience transformation to be a light in a word of darkness, and we practice our faith by continuing to journey with our Lord. We find hope in our commitment to live a life that is pleasing to God. Each day we remember our transformation and hold it deep within our hearts.
How can we grow in our faith right now, right here? We can examine our lives to find the things that prevent us from living justly, loving wholeheartedly, and continue walking in the light of Christ. There are no instructions to judge others, but we do justice. The practice of our faith is what calls others to follow the Son. We must be bold in our love of God and each other, allowing our hearts and minds to renew our commitment to the Divine.
May you find a new spark of hope in your faith this week. May you be made aware that you are a beloved child of the Most-High God. In being a new creation, people may see the light in all that you do. May your witness be bold and secure as you walk in holy illumination. A more vibrant and more authentic commitment is that for which we hope. Embrace the hope found in Christ and be changed.
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!
Today is my birthday. Each year, I give thanks for one more moment, one more second here on this planet. So, by all accounts, I consider myself a blessed man. Today I am thankful for:
- My wife who continues to love me with a fierce loyalty that knows no ending or beginning.
- My sons who are grateful that I happen to be their father.
- A career that is filled with many affirmations and challenges.
- A life path that is definitely not what I would expect, but for which I am grateful.
- People that I call friends that actually know me and love me in spite of myself.
- A chance to work hard with a goal of achieving a hard earned Doctorate. I set the educational standard for my family.
- Incredible opportunities to share my passion for making music.
- The gift of having amazing teachers in my life who illuminate my spirit with wisdom.
- Hope that continues to motivate me to be the best that I can be.
- Strength for overcoming every obstacle that stands in my path. Here’s to being made whole.
We never know how many years are given to us while we live on this planet. Every blessed day is a chance to make things right; to reach beyond our own understanding. Time is the gift of heaven. Life is passionate, and pain is temporary. We honor each other by the amount of time that we give to one another.
I am grateful for the community around me. It is with these beautiful people that I understand what it is like to be the person that I am created to be. Praise be to God for you, for friends, for community. It is within the recesses of our deepest souls that Christ dwells within us, giving us strength for the journey that lies ahead. Let us travel together, seeking power from the One who strengthens us.
Last Sunday I asked the congregation, “You are a new creature in Christ, so what are you going to do about it?” In asking the question, I hoped to spark an awareness that our faith requires us to not only have as Paul said, “A circumcision of the heart,” but to respond to this new way of being with our actions. What we do, along with what we say determines our commitment to God. In other words, we simply can’t say we are Christians and then act like we are anything but children of God. We must prove it with how we treat others.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, spoke very candidly about the importance of our actions. While he acknowledged that we can do nothing to earn our salvation, Wesley also stressed the need to mirror the change within by sharing our faith from the inside out. How we live matters. The way that we exist in the world proves that we have indeed had a “circumcision of the heart.” To live any other way would indicate that our transformation lacked authenticity.
As we begin 2017, I pray that people see my change of heart by the way that I treat others. This is a tough task and should not be taken lightly. Careful attention towards a change in action requires a commitment to living the life to which God has called me. I will admit that there are a few relationships with which I struggle. Yes, I am called to reveal a new heart even in these very tense and complicated situations.
You indeed are a beautiful creation in Christ. Now take up this claim and show those around you that a new path is being made in the desert. It is your answer to the calling that God placed on your life. Pick this task up and carry it forward. How else will they know that we are Christians than by our love?
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.