Joy Overpowers Despair

Many years ago in Houston, a nurse asked me to bring one of my choirs to entertain a group of children at an event.  Little did I know that I discovered an incredible display of life and love that transformed me and made a lasting impact on my students.  These are the moments for which teachers live.  We are honored when we have the opportunity to learn along with our students.

I prepared my choir for the event.  I explained the nature of the illness and that it is considered a terminal illness.  Each of my students seemed to absorb the information like a sponge.  Every one of them promising to do the very best job possible.  We were all prepared and ready to perform.

As we opened the doors of the room, we were taken back by what I saw.  One would expect that there would be a sense of gloom pervading the air, but that was not the case.  There was a lot of laughter and joy as clowns blew up balloons and children played games.  My students were invited to participate and help lead some of the activities.

Throughout the event, I walked up to different tables of families and had good conversations.  One person took me by surprise as we began to talk.  We discussed the nature of his child’s illness, and he said that “life is not measured by a number of years, but by the quality of the years that we are given.  How we live is what counts the most.”

I thanked him for his wisdom and left that particular conversation a new person.  This man taught me a great lesson.  It is possible to find joy, even in the midst of great pain. The center, the heart is where we find life.  And so, equipped with the knowledge that every moment must matter, we live more passionately, love more deeply.  What I experienced that day is faith in action.

Years went by, and my students graduated.  Several of them came back to visit me and share fond memories of the choir and how important being in the music program was to their lives.  Eventually, everyone that participated that wonderful day expressed their gratitude at having made a difference in the lives of the children.  They also shared how that one opportunity to sing at that particular venue changed their lives.  My heart filled with gratitude that all of us participated in such an incredible event.

Today in Jerusalem, I am grateful for the moments that we all share in ministry that is transformative and exciting.  We are reminded that our collective efforts gather us together and create actions and songs beyond our imagination.  All it takes is volunteering to be a part of the action.  Praise be to God, who gives us the victory in Jesus Christ, His Son.

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The Language of Praise!

I am sitting in my office enjoying choral music.  Since getting to church this morning, I have heard at least four different languages singing praises to the same God. Each song that is sung in its original form crosses cultural boundaries to exalt the Creator.  The beauty comes from a place that matches profound love that is easily understood no matter which language, dialect, or style.  Truth abounds across political boundaries.

As Christians, we sometimes are guilty of “othering” voices that don’t quite sound like ours.  We blind our hearts to those who worship differently than we do.  “Why can’t they sing this song the way our church does?”  “That’s not Biblical.”  We stand on our moral high horses as if God requires us to defend how He chooses to reveal Himself to humanity.  Our gratitude is replaced with a self-righteousness that is anything but gracious, kind, or slightly understanding.

Today in Jerusalem, I am reminded that my voice is not the only voice that lifts praises to God.  There is beauty in all of the expressions of divine love that reach out to the One, who continues to work great wonders in His creation.  My heart must be open to hear the splendor of someone else’s joy.  Their pronouncements will infuse my spirit to live bigger, reach higher, love bolder.  I simply need to listen.

Our task is great as we continue forward to the cross, but we must not forget that others are on the journey.  We must not lose sight of the fact that we all come searching for hope, for only in our willingness to acknowledge each other’s words can we be the community of God.  We must remember that before we become members of our local churches, we take vows to be the universal church.  The global church of God, where denominational boundaries are not included.  Praise be to our God, who gives us the victory in His Son.

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Preparations for Passover

Tomorrow night we will have a Seder meal at our church.  This has become one of my favorite parts of Holy Week, as the community comes together to have a meal and celebrate God’s generous acts of deliverance.  We laugh, we pray, we sing, but most of all, we are together.  This is our time to remember the wondrous love of God.

One of the many things that hold my attention is the meticulous planning that occurs to prepare the meal.  Certain herbs must be mixed with others, and the Seder plate must contain certain things.  Each table carefully set so that we may recall how the stories of the ancient people became our stories.  How they were set free from captivity is not so far removed from how we are released from the prison of despair.

It is very appropriate that we honor our God with this Passover meal during this Holy Week.  It is sacred and maintains the traditions that were first observed by the ancients. This is the gift of our amazing Creator, who continues to ransom us from whatever forms of oppression in which we find ourselves.  We take in this food as people who are free.

Today in Jerusalem, I am grateful that we can take a few minutes to praise our God, and share the gift of fellowship with our fellow brothers and sisters.  Let us remember the joy that we share this evening so that the brutality of the coming days will not overwhelm us and return us to captivity.  We eat the bread and drink from the cup in communion with one another, promising that we will not leave each other alone.  Praise be to God, who gives us the final victory through His Son.

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Moments of Doubt to Hope

When I converted to the United Methodist tradition in my early twenties, I remember observing my first Holy Week.  I attended church every night not knowing what to expect.  Each night brought a different aspect of the final nights that Jesus was physically present with us.  The liturgies were unique and fulfilling.

Many years have passed, but the excitement never fades.  I can recite most of the liturgical parts by heart now, and one might argue that so many years saying the same thing can get repetitive and boring.  That may be true for some people, but not for me.  I never lose sight of the power of the words, the critical reflection on the part of me that is at my very core.

Each year I think about what it must have been like for Jesus as He continued through the darkest of times.  I know how it feels when life appears to offer no hope.  All is lost, and despair takes over our hearts.  It is a very exhausting place to be.  And as I reflect on Jesus, I grow deeper in my faith knowing that He grieved as I have many times.

My God knows what it is like to be in darkness.  He understands me when I feel like I am in a place without light.  We grieve together through these times.  And through His tears, I am reminded that I am a child of the Most-High God.  Worry will pass, and hope will be restored.  But for a moment, we sit together until I can stand and walk again.  Sometimes I recover at a pretty fast pace, but there are times that it takes a while.  However long it takes, I know that the God of my understanding is patient with me, waiting for the storm to pass.

Today, in Jerusalem, I am grateful for worshiping a God that stays with me through the roughest of circumstances.  We will make it to Easter.  The Divine reassured us that our sadness will turn to dancing.  Praise be to God, who gives us the victory in His Son.

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I See Jerusalem!

I see Jerusalem ahead of me, and I am scared.  I don’t know what to expect when I return home.  Tomorrow we will arrive back into the city.  There will be crowds of people with palms waving in the air.  It sounds like a big celebration, yet I am unsettled.  I feel like something is going to happen.  I can’t see it yet, but the anxiety I feel as I see the city lights leaves me worried.

Making our way out of the wilderness is not an easy feat.  We are accustomed to the different pace, the different way that we approach life.  And now, we must move forward and pick up the hectic pace of lives that must be reclaimed.  Christ leads us to our ministry, to show others the way to the Father.

As we make our way out of the wilderness and into the reality of Holy Week, I pray that the lessons learned over the past few weeks will guide me through the coming days.  We will get through the rough times, but to do that, we must keep walking.  There is no turning back, only forward.  Each step is a labor of love because ahead of us lies the hardest part of the journey.

My anxiety is real and cannot be easily removed by a cute little saying.  The next leg of the trip frightens me.  I have to own what I feel.  The only comfort that I know is that the Savior walks before me, always leading me.  I must focus my eyes on Him and continue in His presence.  This is the only way home.  Praise be to the God, who sent His Son to lead us, guide us, and comfort us.

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There is Business to Finish

We have turned to Jerusalem.  Our time in the wilderness is coming to a close, as we march onward to the cross and beyond.  As we set our sights back to the real world, it is easy to become so fixed on what lies in store in Jerusalem that we forget about the ministry that is needed right here.  There are still people who are suffering, even though we are in the desert.  We are not the only ones who need to experience transformation. The message of Christ must still be shared.

Sometimes it so easy to focus on our needs, that we forget that there are people all around us who face struggles and need a good word.  While it is great to turn our attention back to ourselves, we must remember that we all are in ministry to the world (no I am not just thinking about pastors).  As such, we have a duty to proclaim the Word so that everyone may encounter the radical presence of Christ.  This includes times along our wilderness journey.

For me, this duty is life affirming.  I can easily retreat into my own thoughts and shut myself out from the world.  The truth is, I need to share as much as they need to hear what I say.  By reaching out, I find purpose and for a brief moment, suspend the anxiety that I feel by constantly looking inward.  And in a way that only God can create, I am made free as much as the hearer is liberated.

There is a prayer that I learned a long time ago that I still recite, especially in the toughest of times.  I say, “God, please speak for me, through me, or in spite of me.”  This releases my lofty ideas that Divine love cannot be expressed unless I have control.  That is simply not true.  God can use anyone of us, no matter the situation.

Today in the wilderness, I am grateful that God takes me, yes even me, and through me speaks truths into the hearts and souls of His people.  Let us remember that we are all children of our Creator with gifts that must be shared to further the kingdom.  You never know who you might encounter along the path with words that help to raise someone out of the pit and place them back on the road towards home.  Praise be to God, who gives us the victory through His Son.

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When I Fall

There are times when I am on a journey that I stumble over something unseen on the road.  I may trip and recover quickly, but there are moments when I lose my balance and fall onto the ground.  Where is the culprit that caused me to lose my footing?  Sometimes it is evident, and sometimes it is not.  Whatever or whoever is to blame is not always held accountable.  There is one thing that remains, I must get up and continue the journey. That even means letting anger or a desire to make things right fall away.

We all know what it is like to fall.  The question is, “How do we get up and regain our footing along the path?”  It is not an easy thing to do.  Sometimes we must nurse our injuries while we move forward, letting go of those things that can hold us down.  We hurt, but our allegiance to the One, who invites us down the road is far more important than the cause of the fall.

This is where faith steps in.  We safe in the knowledge that Christ is with us in every part of the journey.  Holy presence, guiding us and sharing in the pain that we feel.  Our confidence is in Divine arms picking us up to give us the strength that we need to keep moving forward, helping us to move past resentments and pain.

Today in the wilderness, I am grateful for the realization that my fall doesn’t define the next part of my journey.  The thing that does is how I get up.  This is where I put my money where my mouth is, for the strength that I need is the center of my faith.  Praise be to God that holy arms reach out to all of us and guide us through all of the unseen bumps in the road.

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The Comfort of Liturgy

As we draw closer to Holy Week, I am reminded that there is great power in the liturgy. It is our dance pattern in worship.  We know when to participate in the recitation of communal prayers, listening to scripture, singing songs, or hearing the Word proclaimed. We know what to expect, and with such familiarity, there is a feeling of comfort.  We find the place that we call home.

I remember when I started attending a United Methodist Church.  The first thing that captured my attention was the order of worship.  Every week there was a communal proclamation; either a prayer or a profession of faith.  Hearing the congregation recite and participate as one body excited me and made me feel connected to the body of Christ.  Our words lifted together and rose through the air and filled the church.  Our chanting evoked the Holy Spirit to move in our hearts.

And so, our time in the wilderness will end, but the gathering of the saints will not.  We will continue to walk along our paths and join together in acts of worship.  The light of Christ will guide our hearts as each day we are living proclamations of the mystery of our faith; Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.  Equipped with this assurance, we direct our steps towards Holy Week.

Today, I am grateful to stand together with my fellow brothers and sisters and affirm what we believe.  I rejoice in the homogenous sounds of prayers and praises rising from the ashes and into the heavens.  We are children of the light, proclaimers of truth.  The simple words we say give way to strength and love.  Praise be to God, who fashions us to be in community with one another so that we may continue to grow in the love of Christ.

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A Reminder of What is Good

There are times that I just need to see a familiar, welcoming face.  No words need to be said, just the presence of someone who really knows me.  For just a few moments in time, I know that I am loved.  Life is good, and all will be well.

My oldest son drove from Santa Fe to come and visit today.  He had no motive, no agenda.  He opened the door to my office and smiled.  What he didn’t know was that I needed to see him, as much as he needed to see me.  We talked, laughed, yes, we even sang a little.  Praise be to God for genetics, because our timbre is very similar.

For us, blending is not a problem, we get each other musically.  To sing with my son is as important today as it was at the very beginning of his life when I carried him to the warming table right after his birth.  He was crying and screaming at the top of his lungs, and I started singing a song to him that I sang to Cazandra’s stomach every night.  All of the sudden he stopped crying and turned to me as if to say, “Okay Daddy, you really get me.”  And we have never stopped making music.

Today in the wilderness, I am blessed beyond imagination for the lives that I have around me that remind me that I am loved beyond my own understanding.  Thanks to the people that sing the song that raises me out of the darkness to embrace the light. They sing the heart songs that remind me that I am a child of God, blessed with a fierce love of music and music-making that begin in the deepest parts of my soul.  Their songs set me free.

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Mapping the Way Back

I love reading maps.  When we plan a trip, it is not enough for me to put the address into my navigator and let it tell me when to take a left or a right.  I need to see the whole path. What cities will I pass through?  How far is it to the next rest area?  These are all questions that I like answered by viewing the way with my own eyes.

It is time to map out the road home.  Our journey through the wilderness took us to unknown lands, and we do not know the way back.  We must plan accordingly.  And so, we pull out the map and look for a road leading us to the familiar.

We will not be the same people as we were when we started this Lenten journey.  We know things now that were foreign to us only weeks ago.  Our commitment to God changed with each new discovery, each new experience.  Faith returns and hope springs anew.

Today in the wilderness, I am grateful for the many lessons learned while exploring my path.  Light must make its way through the darkness, sometimes lessons are learned when we least expect them, and hope will return even after long periods of despair.  And as the spring arrives, we lay claim to the reality of constant reminders of resurrection that are in the fabric of our very DNA.  What appeared dead in the winter comes back to life in the spring.  We must wait for the new season to bloom.  Praise be to God, who gives us the victory through His Son, Jesus the Christ.

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