Last week I hit the ground running. My week consisted of running from meeting to meeting, dealing with issues both in the church and beyond, and trying to find some time to write a sermon. I didn’t even mention fighting for family time. When each day ended, I felt overwhelmed and unable to feel like I accomplished the tasks that needed to be achieved.
All of the chaos of the week reminded me of what is most important in the life and work of the pastor. It is maintaining and leading the body of Christ in worship. I felt stressed because everything that pressed upon my time took me far away from what I was called to do. While I know that all that I do contributes to the welfare of the church, there are times that I just want to stop the craziness and refocus my attention on the One who called me into ministry.
We all have the kind of weeks that I described. Our children get sick, we have to manage people who are not so good at managing themselves, or we must press on due to a diagnosis that we didn’t expect to hear. It is difficult, to say the least. Whatever the issue may be, we must set our eyes on Christ, who leads us through the chaos, and continues to create beauty.
Praise be to God, who leads us through the rough times. I remember reading a passage by a writer who once said, “God never promised to stop the storm that a rough sea may bring. He promised to calm the storm in us.” This is where the greatest of work is done. It is performed in the heart.
May we embrace the message of hope that is found in God, and be comforted. We are children of the Most-High God. Let us live like it, and remember whose we are. Through this, we will claim the promise of a peace that passes anything that we can ever hope to understand.
On Monday of this week, I had the honor of presiding at the memorial service of one of my great aunts. It was amazing to stand and look out at the members of the congregation that were made up of cousins that I had not seen in many years, along with family members whom I had never met. All of us were there to honor an amazing woman, and one who lived through hurt and tragedy. She did not let her very humble beginnings define her. Instead, she rose up and had an amazing life. Blessings to you Great Aunt Jessie. May you feast to your heart’s desire with family who have gone on before you. May you smile in their presence, and may God’s light perpetually shine on you, providing you warmth for eternity.
After the service, I visited with people with whom I share a DNA connection. I looked for patterns of behavior, likes, dislikes, even ways to speak. I searched for anything to affirm my connection with this group of people. I shared stories, they shared stories. We laughed, sometimes shocked, but always grateful to be in one another’s presence. The power of my great aunt’s life was alive in this very room. A family can rise above anything and find a connection that is unique and compelling. The discovery of kindred spirits gave way to a lifetime of possibilities, hopes for new friends and new connections.
Today I am grateful for my extended family. Thank you for giving me a little clearer definition of my own self. These amazing people, complete with their own life stories, affirm my own journey. There is nothing quite like being accepted for who you are by people who share the same blood. There is a sense of home, of complete and total affirmation. Praise be to God, when we can catch of glimpse of ourselves in a new and unique space.
Today, I sit in my office, absolutely tired. I notice I sit with a little more pride, a little more strength. I give thanks for the path on which I travel. There are a few more people who eagerly great me with a smile and help me move forward. I am honored to walk my path with new names and faces alongside me. My hope is that we all find companions for the journey.
I have to admit that I do not like walking through the fire. I like to tiptoe around it. Try to avoid it, and wrap it up in a pretty bow. Maybe if I ignore the fire, I won’t be burned by the flames. Of course, while I tiptoe around and ignore what is in front of me, the flame continues to grow larger and larger, until there is nothing left, but ash and smoke. More often than not, where once there was a possibility of creation, now exists only a clump of mess incapable of sustaining any sort of life.
The hardest part in life is walking through the fire. Only when confronted with the hottest heat can we breathe onto it refreshing water. Gushing from the spirit at the wellspring of who we are is a chance, an opportunity to find redemption. We save the earth, our hearts, our souls, from the ravishes of generations of chaos that burns with fury into the very recesses of who we are. No, we must move through the hardest part to get to the other side.
And the promise of our faith is this, even though we must walk through the fire and deepest darkness, we are not alone. That is the promise to which we are divinely appointed. God is with us. We need only look at the darkest part of our faith, Holy Week, to see the magnificent claim of divine love that redeems us, that calls us by name. We are children of the Most-High God. We are made new, having come through the ravages of the past. With our amazing creator, we have the power to put out the fire. But we have to walk through it first, always trusting that the one in whom we trust will deliver us and make us whole.
As a pastor, I am faced with deadlines all of the time. I have to submit my bulletin information on Monday, prepare the rough draft of my sermon by Wednesday (if I want to practice for Sunday), prepare newsletter articles, and the list continues. I even find a little stress when writing my blog post each week. All of the sudden, I find that I robbed myself of the joy of some of the most fulfilling parts of my work. I am left with a sense of being a casualty to the demands of day to day living. Where can I find satisfaction in looking at everything as a chore?
When I find myself overwhelmed, I take a moment, and simply stop what I am doing. I remind myself that there is joy to be found in even the most ordinary and routine of duties. Preparing the bulletin for the next Sunday, allows me to begin the process of focusing on our next day of celebrating the resurrected Christ. I set my sights on the next project, the next time that I will stand before my congregation and lead my fellow believers in the liturgy of a Sunday morning. And this preparation includes writing, insights into the Biblical text, and how our narratives merge together with the sacred writings of an ancient people. Contentment is found in the process, the journey to another feast day.
What seems overwhelming is the reminder that there is a lot of work to be done before we celebrate another Sunday morning. Preparation becomes my companion, my guide, and not my enemy. It becomes my sacred time throughout the week. It just takes a change of perspective; a new way of looking at the journey. Praise be to God, who gives us the task of creating a weekly work of art for the human soul each and every week.
My hope for all of us this week is that we transcend our thought patterns, and serve with a spirit of hope. Let us leave the drudgery of completing tasks to another day. For this moment in time, let us remember that our preparation gives way to the presence of our amazing creator. I hope that we grasp on to the reality that God gives us ways to remain connected to the joy that sustains us, cares for us, and constantly recreates us each and every day.
I am grateful for my time in Austin. While attending Austin Presbyterian Seminary, I was able to walk the campus of the University of Texas. Ah yes, that beautiful campus with the tower. As I walked down the stairs of the main building, I was taken back to my eighteen-year-old self who was enrolled as a freshman. I thought of the many mistakes that I made that would drastically alter the course of my life. Some of my choices left long lasting marks of shame and regret. I kept asking myself the age old question, “What happened to that kid? Why those choices?”
What a frustrating place in which I found myself. No matter what resolution I could find, it would not replace the opportunities that no longer existed. And then that horrid feeling of being stuck in my inability to fully resolve the issue kicked in. What a mess. I knew that in order to move forward I would have to let go of my insane thinking. You know, the kind of thinking that allows you, in all of your folly to think that you are capable of changing the past.
All of these thoughts seemed to illuminate from my soul as I looked at the past with eyes in the present. I began to talk to that 18-year-old boy. I gave him permission to be himself, that he was more than the scars of his childhood. I assured him that he would move past the effects of the battle wounds that he inherited, and that he would thrive past his wildest dreams. He was, and his more than the sum of his failures.
So, after dipping my foot into the healing waters of forgiveness, I turned and headed back to the seminary. It was time to leave the past behind, and continue forward. I gave thanks for being able to shine a light on the realization that, while I falter, there is always the promise of a new day. If my heart learned anything, it was a sense of forgiveness of myself, along with the need to keep moving in a direction that guides me to the eternal light of God.
Praise be to our wonderful Creator, who never allows us to remain in the past. And blessed are we, as we remember that we are all created in the image of God. That includes who we were, what we are, and what we will be. May we carry that promise into a future filled with the riches of our amazing Savior.
This week I had the amazing privilege and honor to be one of ten people in a discussion group with theologian Glaucia Vasconcelos Wilkey. I walked away from this wonderful experience feeling honored and blessed to have had the opportunity to hear her teach and share her journey. She is an incredibly powerful woman filled with God’s presence and light.
As our incredible scholar left the seminary, she turned to me and offered me an amazing blessing acknowledging and reaffirming the full authority that God has given me to preach and teach. She spoke straight into my soul, and I left feeling blessed and renewed. Here was this scholar sharing a special blessing with me. Grateful could not begin to describe how I felt when leaving her presence.
There are people that we encounter that leave us feeling better about who and whose we are, simply by being present. There are no magic words, just a keen awareness of the Holy Spirit. We are left knowing that the Truth is within us, eager to be free. Our joy is renewed and invited to be released into a world that needs to know the source of our happiness.
As I reflect on my encounter with the blessed theologian, I hope that I may be like her with everyone that I encounter. People may be renewed in the presence of divine hope as the Spirit of Truth dances between us all, encouraging us to be the light of Christ for the world. Praise be to God, who constantly reminds us that we are chosen to share the message of the Gospel.
We have a little Christmas calendar, but is in the shape of a clock. My youngest son is the keeper of the calendar. Each day he adjusts the hand that signals one day closer to Christmas. As we get closer and closer to the big day, he gathers more excitement in his voice as he announces that we are one step nearer to Santa’s visit. We all laugh and encourage him to keep us on track.
MacDonald the Younger’s excitement reminds me of the eagerness that comes with the anticipation of what is to come. Whether it be the joy of the Christmas season, the possibilities of traveling to new and exotic places, or a planned night out with my wife, I am guilty of being caught up in what lies ahead. I recapture the energy of my youth. There is a magic to this time of year.
I continue to think of the idea of joy and happiness and wonder if my life emulates this kind of excitement. Have I become stale in my faith? Heaven forbid that I have lost that moment when my life changed, and I surrendered my heart fully to the presence of God. Have I truly forgotten the feeling of divine peace? May it never be so.
My hope is that this Advent time will remind me of the joy of being a newcomer to the faith. As I reclaim the special moment of my conversion, I hope to continue forward sharing the hope that is found in my faith. Perhaps that is why we celebrate a season of anticipation every year; so that we can embrace and remember the freshness of belief. This may be the time that hope is reborn, and excitement comes in our recalling of how we were made whole.
We are blessed with the gift of imagination. It allows us to fill in dots in innovative and creative ways. We explore, we learn, we grow. All this from the brain that is hard wired to express our own unique view of the world and the Creator that fashioned us in the image of the Divine.
We are blessed to be given the ability to live with a passion that moves us and motivates us to have a sense of meaning and purpose in the world. When we connect spirit to spirit with the Prime Mover, there is nothing quite like it. We are energized and equipped to have an awareness beyond our own comprehension. This reality cannot be explained, it can only be experienced.
Beware of those who try to steal your joy. Run from those who seek to overpower you and attempt to cast judgement on your own unique approach to understanding the world. These people are wolves in sheeps clothing. They cast doubt and despair on your joy. To say that they are dangerous is an understatement. Be on guard against them, for they will disguise themselves as well intentioned people filled with the spirit of God, only to leave you dazed, confused, and hurt. You must avoid them at all cost.
Direct your energies to the God of your understanding. Allow the joy of your unique vision of the Creator to be your primary focus. This is what will sustain you and bring you joy. This is the well spring of hope; this author and creator of all that we are.
Today, I am grateful for the people who strengthen me, and encourage me to look beyond the limitations of those who try to steal my joy. I am grateful for a God who continues to work through me and empowers me beyond my own imagination. Praise be to God who gives us a renewal of spirit each and every day. I pray that you may live in the power of God, in your own language, in your own way. Thanks be to God.
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.
I enjoy the Gospel of Mark. I enjoy the way the narrative of Jesus is told as the issue of miracles is deeply embedded in the rich tradition of the text. The miraculous is witnessed throughout all of the population. I am speaking about a people that strive to exist in the world and hungers to have the Divine change their lives. We see the radical changes in the lives of those who Jesus heals. All of these changes cannot be defined in any terms other than miraculous.
Ah yes, the miraculous. That space in which there is no explanation for an occurrence in our everyday life. Somehow that which is infinitely bigger than who we are steps into our lives and we are changed (or saved) as a result of this heavenly occurrence.
Jesus brought this incredible love of God into our world and empowered those who called upon the redemptive presence of God to be living miracles in the lives of all who they encountered. “Wait a minute Joe! Didn’t Jesus instruct us that the greatest two commandments are to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves?” While the answer to the question is yes, I believe that our actual obedience to these instructions to love is miraculous in itself.
How is someone’s life changed? It is through the interaction with others. God’s love is displayed in kindness. Maybe this person has never known an act of mercy. Maybe violence and abuse have been the barometers by which one may view their relationships with others. This kind of pattern or cycle is reflected in how someone might perceive God.
We, the disciples of Christ, are called to set people free of all of the baggage that ties one to death. We are called to be liberators who bring the miracle of truth to those in need. This truth is grounded in the love and transformative power of Christ. With the power of the Holy Spirit working through us, and yes even in spite of us, we offer a world the gift of restoration back to the Holy One.
Our calling began with that still small voice inside us. I believe that is the presence of God in our lives. Our teachers nurtured that voice. These men and women of God encouraged us to grow in the knowledge and love of Christ. We followed their example and now we are the ones to share the good news of faith, hope, and love to our world.
In the Gospel of Mark, we see how the disciples were taught and then empowered to share the incredible power of God by the greatest of all teachers. We see how Jesus not only talked the talk, but walked the walk. His lessons left a profound impact on not only a select group of men, but also the entire population who saw him demonstrating God’s love to humanity. That love is displayed to us today in miraculous ways. May we take the love that is shown to us and bring the miracle of God to our world.