“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.
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.
“But there are also many other things Jesus did; and if they were all to be recorded, I don’t think the whole world could contain the books that would have to be written!” (John 21:25 CJSB).
As the Gospel of John comes to a close, the above verse is the last one. To sum up the phrase, Jesus completes so many miracles, that there were not enough writing utensils to record everything. We only have highlights (which is more than enough to feed us), while Jesus continued to love the people around Him. Our road map, the Gospels, gives us all that we need to know to follow the Messiah. Love God with everything you are (warts and all) and love your neighbor as yourself. To complete the two commandments requires a change of heart, which leads to redemption and hope.
I believe that Jesus continues to work miracles all around us. We simply must stop and look to find the Holy Spirit alive and well in our day-to-day living. Think of the many ways that God guides you on your path, and recall the healing processes in which the hope of Jesus restored you to wholeness. There are enough miracles we continue to witness that could not fit in a book. The Holy One is deeply connected to us and restores our souls.
My hope for us, as we leave the Gospels and begin reading the Book of Acts, is that we take a few moments to look around and remember, Jesus, is still in the business of healing hearts and restoring minds. Praise be to God that we may stop and give thanks for all that we receive from the Father. Let us stop, observe that beauty of faith, and then go out into the world to make a difference. In so doing, the last verse of Luke is not an ending of the story, but a continuation.
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.
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.
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!
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!”
Shame is more than a five-letter word. It can hold you hostage and keep you wholly 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 is 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.
I will not deny that I am a person who has a reputation for being outgoing and very boisterous. I draw strength from being in the presence of others. If you have ever talked to me for two minutes, it is quite evident that I am not a shy person. I enjoy great conversation had over a great meal with a glass of “iced tea.”
While this is true, I must admit that I find my greatest sources of strength from spiritual practices that are quieter and reflective. In many ways, it is like a candle that is present in a room. The flame never makes a sound, but fills the room with light. Its power is not found in a theatrical production, making its presence known. It is discovered in a holy stillness, illuminating the room without making one peep.
While I am grateful that God created me to be an outgoing person, I hope that I may continue to learn the lessons that one can glean from a candle. My testimony does not have to be made known with loud, obnoxious sounds, but simply by being present. My service should speak louder than words. After all, this is the very foundation of the ministry of Jesus. His actions spoke bolder and stronger than anything he said.
My hope is that we may light the candles by being the people of God. Jesus illumines our path. We are not required to tell people about the love of the Holy One. We are meant to show by example. How we treat others is our testimony. We have the light within us so that it may shine for others to see the way to the Father. Praise be to God that we might be the vehicle by which the world will know of the tremendous blessings given freely to us.
I am a pastor in the United Methodist tradition. It is no secret that our church is going through a very rough time. The issue of sexuality, and how we as a church express our faith is a topic that threatens to divide us. I know that we draw battle lines and seek to defend our personal thoughts and feelings regarding this and many other issues. I pray for the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with clarity and wisdom as we seek how to move forward as a truly “United” faith.
This past week I preached on the story of Mary and Martha. My hope was to go past the traditional interpretation of the text, and hopefully, gain new and fresh insights from the story. While not addressing the issue of sexuality in a very open and explicit way, I saw a key ingredient within the scripture that might lead to a possible way forward in how we are to care and love one another. This crucial understanding of love is the key element of our faith.
This time, as I read the story, I couldn’t help but pay attention as to where Mary sat. Her positioning was significant to the underlying truth in the story. Mary was in a place reserved for men. Most women in first century Palestine did not sit at the feet of the Rabbi. Such a place belonged to men. For Jesus to allow such obvious disregard for the cultural norm of the day suggests a new and unique approach to teaching and being called a disciple. Could this not be a subtle way of demonstrating that the “Kingdom at Hand” is new and different? The most marginalized of the society could now be called “disciples.” It became possible for all of us to sit at the feet of the Messiah. Could we look at this lesson as a way forward in how we treat our GLBTQ brothers and sisters?
My hope and prayer for the church are that we may not shun others from sitting at the feet of Jesus. We must embrace all of our brothers and sisters in the faith. To banish them, or send them into exile is to operate contrary to my understanding of how Jesus intended us to live. We are called to be the hands and feet of Christ. That includes every one of God’s children.
Yes, we can quote scripture and use the holy text to prove our point. I want to dive under the surface level and go below the water to discover riches unknown. Perhaps in a thick and rich search, we may come to love and understand that the Bible not be used as something that proves our point, but that the sacred writing may grab us in holy love and transform us into disciples. That is my story, and I am sticking to it!