It’s a Season!

So many times I catch myself preparing for Easter and then treating the season as if it is just one day.  The truth is that the day we celebrate as Easter Sunday is actually the beginning of a period of time; a season in the life of the church.  Matter of fact, the resurrection is not to be observed only one day, but for the entire year.  All of our liturgies are centered around the miraculous event that altered our lives.  We must carry the good news with us at all times.

As I journey through the excitement of the season of spring, I am caught up in all of the excitement that surrounds me.  My youngest son is going into sixth grade, my oldest son finishes one of his best years in school, and I finished all of my coursework for my Doctorate and turn my focus to the Final Project.  There is a newfound energy in all of our lives as we celebrate hard work and determination.

But what about the resurrection?  My prayer is that we did not leave the event behind and vow to come back and celebrate next year.  We call ourselves an Easter people, filled with the joy of our faith.  We must hold on to the fact that a commitment to God is not reserved for one day, but a lifetime of service.

Today, let us remember that our praise must continue as we journey.  Easter is about what God did and continues to do in our lives.  We celebrate the resurrection, but we live into the full power of redemption.  Because of God’s gift, we are made whole.  Let us demonstrate that we are people alive and renewed in the reality that God’s love transcends time and space and that we press on in the fact that we are children of the Most-High God.  Praise be to God, who gives us the final victory in His Son.

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The Time is Coming

The evening is nearing its end, and soon it will be morning.  Tomorrow we will give thanks to our Creator, who redefined God’s relationship with humanity.  The tomb opened, and there was no one there, and the heavens sang a loud Alleluia!  Nothing fills the space but light.

Here, in the last stages of the holiest of seasons, we remember the sadness will give way in the morning.  We simply need to hold on until the dawn.  At times it is hard to focus because we ride that fine line between despair and hope.  Keep the faith that tomorrow will bring a new way of living, a new way of being.

We sit in the darkness anxiously awaiting Easter morning.  Hope in all of its glory reveals itself to the world, and we rejoice with God and the angels.  This day is a day of rebirth, of resurrection.  Life conquers death, and we experience it first-hand.

This final night in Jerusalem I am sitting in silence with full confidence that I shall see the beauty of the morning.  The darkness that overwhelmed me releases itself to the day. Freedom rings true, hearts are made whole, and Christ comes to us in full victory.  Our loud Hosannahs fill the sky.

With this entry, I fulfilled my Lenten discipline.  With the exception of one day, I posted all forty days of the season.  I thank God for the words that somehow found their way to the computer.  Some days proved harder than others, but maintaining faithfulness somehow got me through the hardest of days.  All I can say is, Praise God, who gives us the final victory in His Son!

Happy Easter to You All,

Joe

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It is Finished

The earthly ministry came to an end.  He did what He came to the world to do; show the love and grace of God to humanity.  Through Him, God revealed God’s very self to the world.  And in response, the world crucified Him.  Yes, the world and not just a few people.

We know the rest of the story, but for now, we are left with the words, “It is finished.” We are left with the death of Jesus and wonder what he meant by the small little phrase that he uttered on the cross.  What does it mean?  Perhaps it means that His purpose on earth was complete and in His death, the world would know that the Son of God finished what He came to earth to do.  Maybe the utterance of the Savior indicated that He had no more left to give.  This was it.  He had done all that He could do.  “It is finished.”

We know what it is like to complete something.  For some of us, our end of term projects are done, and we can regain the human race.  For others, it could mean the ending of a long struggle with medical issues that completely overwhelm us.  To say, “It is finished,” indicates that the treatment is done.  No more hospital visits in the foreseeable future. We move on to another part of our journey.

This, the darkest night of the soul, when our faith leaves us with more questions than answers, we come to remember the sacred moment of the death of Jesus.  Hope was gone and everything we knew now seemed upside down.  The air filled with a heaviness that seemed to hold everyone captive.  The Messiah died, and there was no expectation that he would come back.  All was lost.

Today in the city of Jerusalem, we take that long day’s journey into the night of our faith. We take on the very nature of loss and loneliness, remembering that the One, who delivered us now is dead.  And we must live with this reality.  Our souls are filled with sorrow as we try to make sense of all of this.  Praise be to our God, who till holds us, even while Divine tears are shed for His loss.  And for now, let us reflect on what it means to hear the words, “It is finished!”

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The Darkness and Me

Here we are in the darkest days of the year.  Jesus is betrayed and everything that we know to be true seems to unravel right before our eyes.  He is the Messiah, so why doesn’t he do something?  He could call down a legion of angels and destroy the enemy. All it would take is one look, one gesture to indicate the time is now.  Frustration speaks loud and clear.

We know what it is like to feel hopeless when there is nothing left but the darkness. The roar of our hearts beats faster and faster.  There is no escaping it.  We can’t walk around it.  We must walk through the middle of blackness to get to the light.  It is our only way, and so we walk forward.  Our steps are unsure and very calculated.

We find our way in the dark because the light is hidden deep within us.  It illumines our path, and it is bright enough to pierce the night.  And through the journey, we smile with the confidence of God’s children. We remember the scripture that reads, “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 Jn. 1:5 NKJV).

My journey in Jerusalem today takes me into uncharted territory.  I cannot see clearly in the dark.  The only thing I know is that the light within me is my guide.  My job is not to stop and be overwhelmed with the things that can bring me harm in the night.  I must commit fully to the path and trust the Creator to guide me.  Praise be to God the Father, who is with us through the most difficult part of the journey.

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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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