An Unexpected Turn of Events

There are times that you are strolling along, minding your own business, when all of the sudden you discover something that hits you at your very core.  You are left speechless, without any way of expressing how you feel, or what this new found information may bring.  It leaves you paralyzed and unable to move.  What is left is a feeling of numbness and uncertainty.  Did I really want to know that?

I received some information that helped put to rest a long time question for me.  I discovered something that proved unsettling and definitely not what I wanted to hear. Truth is truth, and no matter what I wanted, I must eventually settle with what I received.  Life will continue, and my family and friends will always remind me of their devotion and appreciation.

Life is very unpredictable, and often reveals things to us that sinks us to our knees.  It is in the harshest of moments that we are reminded that Christ’s presence does not change. It does not blow in with the wind at its own leisure, but stands by us and commits to a holy presence that will never leave us.  Life is often unstable, but God is not.  It is important that I remember this lesson of absolute stability on days like this.

Today I am grateful for my wife, who calls me through the day to make sure that I am still standing vertically.  I give thanks for the support of my buddy Charlotte.  My goodness, how blessed I was to meet you all of those years ago.  Your friendship continues to be an amazing blessing in my life.

And as I continue to journey through this day of incredible revelations, may I recall in times of weakness this passage from Romans:  “We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us!”  The victory is ours.  God remains our support.  May I never forget that promise.  Praise be to our amazing God, who gives us the victory through His Son.

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When the Answer is No

The ticket is in your hand as you make your way through the airport.  You have been looking forward to beginning the next leg of your journey.  Woo!  Hoo!  This is going to be the best adventure ever.  The closer you get to the gate, the faster your heart races.  And so you hurry, anxious to reach your destination.

And then the strangest thing happens.  You present your ticket at the gate, only to realize that your purchase is for another day, another place.  You must stay where you are.  The adventure of a lifetime must be delayed, at least for now.

Anger and frustration greet you as you stand there in disbelief.  “I was supposed to get on that plane and travel to that destination,” you cry out.  Life appears unfair, and you stand there feeling completely defeated and helpless.  “I am not meant to remain here,” is the only thing that runs through your mind.

There are times in life where the road neither turns right or left.  We come face to face with a stop sign and road blocks.  The journey requires us to stay put and don’t move. There is more to be done where we are.  Sometimes, the new adventure is the one that we are meant to experience standing right where we are.

Joy can come, even when the answer is no.  The problem is that we must find a way to be still and allow the Spirit to use us where we are.  Sometimes, waiting patiently is not a bad answer.  It is in trying times that we remember that wherever our journey takes us, God will use us.  That is the promise that we are given.  Hope can come out of the ground that is trampled and unkept.  Faith is the assurance that life can still mean something, even when the answer is no.

Today, I pray that joy may abound in the middle of Divine answers of yes and no.  We may be content with all things, even the things that we don’t like.  In the rough seasons, we learn lessons that shape our hearts.  We still respond to the love and care of God and how life is revealed to us.  Praise be to the God of creation, who continues to lead us on the path.

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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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