“There’s a season for everything and a time for every matter under the heavens” (Eccl. 3:1 CEB).
I am drawn to the reading from the Book of Ecclesiastes 3:1-13. There is something about the incredible awareness of being human that the author brings to the table of our everyday life; that humanity acknowledges before God that there are times that we celebrate as well as times that we struggle. Of course, the selfish side of me would like to play God’s hand and make him take away the trying times in life. My prayers tend to be selfish like, “God take this away from me. Let me know perfect health. Let my family know perfect peace. Take hemophilia off of my children’s back. We have dealt with this bleed for so long. It is time to release my son from his pain.” My prayers are not wrong, they are simply a petition to move forward to times of peace and wholeness. The first thing we want to do when faced with difficult times is to get out of the chaos as quickly as possible. Who wants to feel trapped in a rough situation? Not me.
The passage from Ecclesiastes reminds me that life consists of everything. To deny suffering is to deny joy. We must face whatever it is that life throws our way. That is our human condition. There is no way around it, we must move forward in our victories and our defeats. How we respond to the situations that we face determines our attitude and awareness of the Divine presence in the middle of all of life’s issues. We must put our trust in the God who rejoices with us on the mountain tops and carries us through the difficult times in the valleys. To expect there to be no valleys takes away the joy of the mountain top experiences. Joy – sadness, faith – doubt, happiness – sorrow; they must remain in balance in our everyday lives.
My hope for all of us this year is that we can praise God while we celebrate and cling to God in our times of greatest need. May the endless blessings of God surround you so that while you are in the valleys, you may look up towards the mountains and journey forward to the summits of peace, love, and joy. I pray that you may be comforted by God in whatever season of life in which you find yourselves. I hope that you may be able to say, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the final victory in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.”
First of all, I have to say that I am a very grateful pastor as I have learned how loving and caring my congregation truly is. We have been inundated by prayers, food, and words of hope and inspiration to carry us through what continues to be our longest hospital stay to date. Caeleb will be in the hospital for a full month on Monday. Within the month, we have been discharged twice only to return to the hospital the next day with complications from a knee bleed that will not stop. Specialists can’t even stop the bleeding. They try and try, but without much success.
I must admit that this journey has been very difficult for many different reasons. It is hard seeing my son in pain and not be able to stop it. We as parents are “supposed” to fix problems. When we get to the point that we can’t relieve his pain there is a feeling of absolute powerlessness. Faith becomes the only option by which to express hope.
I look at faith as part of my life intertwined into the very fabric of day to day living. I have faith that medicines will work, or I have faith that a certain treatment is the one that will restore my son’s health, or I have faith that God will show up in the middle of all of the chaos and create beauty. I must say, I cannot separate science from my expression of the Divine. The merging of both worlds is a rich tapestry of both faith and reason that provides a holistic approach to who I am in my finite humanity and that part of me that is connected to Spirit. Together, that which is seen and unseen fills me with the love and knowledge of something that is light years bigger than who I am in this world.
I see God’s work being done by the love and care the nurses on our unit offer to my family. Their efforts reinforce the holistic identity of who we are by engaging the spiritual aspect of care as they utilize scientific methodology to provide answers to medical issues. It is an incredible and necessary dependence on various ways that we can validate the existence of both science and the Divine. The truth is, sometimes we can’t measure what we know to be true. It is simply profound and present.
So, today I give thanks for the marriage of science and faith and how they come together to make life complete. I am grateful for the men and women who continue to make life better for my son and seek ways that not only provide him with medical wholeness, but also feed his spirit. I give thanks for the many people who touch our lives with material and spiritual gifts. Your service and your compassion are amazing!
And I say, “Thanks be to God.”
Today I met with my incredible staff at a restaurant (Gabriel’s) in Santa Fe, NM. The food was wonderful. After a great meeting I was dropped off at the Santa Fe Plaza. My wife is joining me for a wonderful concert of American music presented by the Desert Chorale.
It has been strange being on my own. I have spent my time wandering the streets and visiting the Loretta Chapel and the St. Francis Basilica. No one would have branded me a Methodist in this all Catholic setting. My secret was safe with the exception of the cross that hangs from my neck. No crucifix, my secret is revealed!
When I left the Basilica, I noticed a labyrinth outside of the church. I decided to walk the path and did so in silence. The intricate inner workings of the design took me approximately 30 minutes to walk. As I continued on my journey, I tried to clear my mind of the world around me and concentrate on taking the next right turn on the path. Sometimes there were distractions along the way. The street was filled with cars that filled the air with unnecessary noise. I tried not to let the external chaos overwhelm me as I attempted to listen to my soul.
I prayed for my family; for my sons. I prayed that I would continue along my path to be the person, pastor, husband, father, friend, etc…that I am called to be. I had to concentrate on my journey. While I was walking several people started to follow the labyrinth’s path. They were noisy and did not exhibit a sense of solemnity as they ran up and down the colored bricks that indicated the road to the center of the pattern. It was distracting and at times I wanted to break my silence and simply say, “Please be quiet!” Realizing my response would negate the reason I began this journey in the first place I decided to be quiet and make room for the intruders into my holy space.
Despite everything around me, I finished walking the labyrinth. I walked to the center and then back out to where I began my odyssey. Taking this quick 30 minute journey made me realize that as I continue down my spiritual path I will encounter noise, distractions, and fatigue. All of these outside influences should not interrupt my walk. I should push forward with my eyes focused on the next right step and the next right turn. It is my focus on God that carries me through the challenges that I encounter. I am grateful that I am on the road and that I am a child of the One who guides my path. I hope to have more moments to simply be still and focus on God.
It is nice to look at this picture, because when I was ordained I did not see a thing (at least not physically). I closed my eyes and focused on the moment for which I had studied so hard. All of the years of the journey seemed to come to this moment. I am referring to the moment that the bishop (Bishop Earl Bledsoe) placed his hands on my head and charged me to “Take authority as an elder to preach the Word of God, to administer the Holy Sacraments and to order the life of the Church in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (The Sacrament of Holy Orders).
I remember two distinct sensations that I had while kneeling with my eyes closed. The first thing I felt was a heightened awareness of so many hands that were placed on my head and shoulder to lead me to this particular moment. I am not just talking about the hands that were physically touching me, but those who helped guide me along my path. It felt like just about everyone I knew was with me and confirming my calling. I knew that friends and relatives who had gone on before me were now with me celebrating in this moment. I knew that I was blessed beyond measure.
I also had an extreme awareness of the presence of God as a white light of love appeared to envelope the service. This light was pure and bright with its primary source coming from aboveme. It was an extraordinary second in time that I know will not be repeated again. It confirmed that light that I felt as a child when I would attend church. God’s grace was again revealed in my life as I felt the assurance of being in the right place at exactly the right time.
All of these feelings were inside of me during this picture. We sometimes loose our memories of being present in the moment as we continue our journey. Time seems to dull those sensations. I know that there are a few moments in my life that I will never forget the presence of God in my life. They are my wedding, the birth of both of my children and now my ordination.
I pray that I may be a blessing to others and that Christ may be reflected in my actions. I hope to empower someone in my own ministry to experience God in ways that leave them speechless and full of wonder. The journey did not stop with this picture, in fact, this is just the beginning. May we all take from this odyssey of life the blessings of God so that we may bless each other!
I am currently in Nashville attending the Festival of Homiletics. I have heard nothing but phenomenal preaching and I am encouraged to journey forward with a renewal of spirit. I have met many people from different denominations and across the country. We all have one thing in common. We want Christ to be seen in the words that we share with our congregations.
It has been way too long since I attended anything like this festival. As I listen to incredible teaching and preaching, I realize that I must take time to attend these different events to rejuvenate my spirit. Renewal is a small word with an incredible meaning. Within the context of that word, we learn how to fill our cup so that way we may take the message of hope to our congregations.
There are many opportunities available to take a retreat. I know that the instant reply is that life is way too busy to take a retreat. Remember, Jesus retreated to reinvigorate himself and reconnect with God. He needed this time as much as he needed to minister to all those who would hear His teaching. Connection to God is as important as air.
Retreats can come in days, hours or even moments. However they come to us we must make good use of our time and be purposeful in our retreat. There must be spaces in our lives to allow the Spirit to speak to us. It is crucial to life and to our connection to God. Silence is powerful. Without it our words would not have a frame.
I enjoy listening to good preaching. I love it when the message is powerful and well crafted. There is a sense of an invocation of the Spirit. God’s voice is revealed through the words of the one who brings the message. The listener is encouraged to take in the Divine and move towards holiness.
It is my goal to take a part of what I have learned here in the “Music City” and challenge my own congregation in new and innovative ways. I hope to be a better pastor because I heard the messages that I needed to hear in Nashville. I am revitalized and encouraged to share bolder, be braver and love stronger. And to think this all happened less than two blocks from the Grande Ole Opry!
This coming Sunday is Mother’s Day. I have not really contemplated the reality that many of us will celebrate this day without our mothers (at least in the physical sense). The truth is, I have been thinking about my mom quiet frequently. I am sad that she will miss my ordination. She was extremely happy when I was commissioned three years ago. I know that her spirit will be present as I am welcomed into the ordained body of my annual conference.
As I think about my mother through this time of celebration I reflect on this incredible notion of resurrection and how important it is to our spiritual lives. The idea of rebirth confirms a promise of hope that God so wondrously shared with humanity. It is a Divine promise that a person will never die; that they will never be forgotten. Their memory will live on. The body can still be considered dead, but not the legacy which is directly tied to the spirit.
I believe that my mother lives on. She continues to be a source of strength to me as I live my life in a way that honors her memory. I tell my children stories so that they might add to their own memories of my mom. As long as I continue to share my mother’s life with those whom I come into contact she is still very much alive and vital. She is constantly resurrected as life is reclaimed in the presence of death.
One of the many blessings that Jesus gave to us through his own death and resurrection was the concept that nothing ever dies. The energy of our loved ones burns with the brightest fire. Our gift of memory and the ability to preserve stories and fables of those whom we love is one of our greatest gifts. We are blessed with an incredible tapestry of resurrection that carries us through rough times and rejoices with us during the bad times.
I know that my mother is present with me if not in the physical sense for sure in spirit. I know that she is smiling with me as my family journeys through the process of ordination. Today I am very grateful for the gift of resurrection and how we truly never lose our loved ones. I take delight in the hope that springs from my soul with the Divine within me being at the head waters of my life. Praise be to God!
This past Saturday I was getting ready for bed and I started entertaining the question, “Why are you a Christian?” I started to grasp for the typical responses to the question about God’s love and how I am saved through the loving acts of Christ. While I certainly would not want to dismiss any of the more traditional responses, I found myself challenging my spirit to dig deeper into the question. Why do I continue to be a follower of Christ? There has to be something that motivates me to continue on my journey in my faith.
I began to contemplate possible reasons that I hold tight to my faith. The one answer that seems to continue to come to the surface is that Christ challenges me to love in ways that no other deity or religion challenges me. While I know that many of my other friends and family express their understanding of God in very many ways, I still return to the incredible expression of God as reflected in the life of Jesus. For me, I find incredible power in a tradition that continues to motivate me to express love (agape) in ways that change my heart. My strength is found by allowing the Divine to renew my spirit.
I am a Christian because I am challenged to align my spirit with the Holy Spirit. This is not a watering down of the Bible, but more of continuous calls to love more boldly, worship more radically, serve more fully. The task of loving with all of your heart is not an easy job. There is a consistent summons to lay aside our own wants so that God may be seen through our actions. In other words, I must love as Christ loved me whether I want to or not.
The act of loving well is where the rubber meets the road. We love because God first loved us. Our acts of kindness are to flow out of us as the Divine renews our hearts and souls. This love is not based on a reward or the expectation of receiving anything in return. We are simply to reflect God’s love back into our world. To assume any gifts for our faithfulness is to undermine the pure essence of God.
While we serve without the expectation of a reward, we are to live as a people of hope. We hope to bring joy to one another’s lives. We hope that our world will be transformed because of the incredible acts of love that reflect the Divine. We also hope to be one with God.
I am a Christian because pure love has transformed my soul. I call this love God that is best expressed in the form of Jesus the Christ. It challenges me to make a difference in my world and calls me to become one with soul and spirit. I reflect this change by loving my world to the best of my ability. I hope for things to be made better because of the presence of God in my life and our world.
This past week I had the opportunity to speak with a lady who worked with my mother. We talked of good times and laughed a lot. I enjoyed speaking to my friend and particularly appreciated the stories that were shared between us. This woman has known me for a very long time. As a matter of fact, I can’t remember a time that I did not know her.
As we were continuing our conversation, she told me, “Joe Keith, there is no doubt that you are your mother’s son.” I smiled and thanked her for such a big compliment. My mother’s work ethic was incredible. I hope to emulate her passion and energy in all that I do. There was nothing like my mother’s unending drive to do her job well.
As I continued through my day, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the statement my friend said earlier. “There is no doubt that you are your mother’s son.” I wonder if the same can be said of my relationship with God. When people see me do they see the incredible change that has occurred in my life? Would someone say to me, “Joe Keith, there is no doubt that you are your Father’s son?”
I began to focus on the relationships that I have in my life. Am I the husband, father, brother, nephew, pastor etc… that God called me to be? Where can I be still and listen for the Spirit to speak words of healing and wholeness into my life? It is my hope that my actions will lead people to conclude that I am a son of the Most High God.
Perhaps my family friend assumed that I was very much like my mother because of how I respond to both joyful times and crisis in my life. She knows how I celebrate and how I get up off the floor when I have been knocked down. She concluded that my mother reacted in a similar way. My responses to various experiences align with my mother’s actions.
I hope that the same is said of my relationship with God. I desire to share the love of Christ in a way that sets the prisoner free. I want to respond to situations in my world as Jesus did. Matter of fact, I want to go beyond duplicating God’s actions to the point that when someone sees me they may say, “There is no doubt that you are a child of the King!”
May you live in the hope and knowledge that you are a child of the Everlasting God. May you go into the world and share with others so that they will be led to the One who gives us life.
I asked my son to come and help prepare the church for tonight’s gathering. We will honor and remember the ancient custom known as Stations of the Cross. As our fantastic Youth Director guided us through the preparation, my son mentioned to me that this was a lot of work for one night. I explained to him that our practices and customs are very important to us and that if just one person experienced the resurrected Christ in a new and profound way, then our work was not in vain.
I can take it a step further; even if no one’s heart was changed it was worth every ounce of energy that we all utilized to finish the beautiful reminder of God’s incredible gift of freedom from spiritual bondage given to us. It is overwhelming to think that God offered humanity the most incredible of all presents knowing full well there was a tremendous amount of risk involved in His offering. Jesus’ followers could have run away and left without giving their rabbi another thought. All could have been lost. The light of the world could have been diminished and snuffed out before it ever defeated the darkness.
I am very humbled by the thought that God carried out this incredible sacrifice to ensure my salvation. The Divine poured out amazing love that falls down on us from heaven in the gift of His very own Son. Every once and a while I think of the holy risk given to call my heart and fall down in worship because I am loved in a way that can never be fully put into words. We have been redeemed or called back into right relationship by God. Our souls are restored to a holy and loving heavenly presence. Not because we deserved it, but because God chose it for us. This night I only think, “Praise be to God, who has the victory over sin and death!” I thank God because if just one person experienced the resurrected Christ in a new and profound way, then the work (our gift of salvation) was worth every moment of heavenly labor.
Recently I was visiting with a wonderful man who served in the military during World War II. He told me some amazing stories of love, sadness and deliverance. I finished my conversation with him expressing a feeling of gratitude for the memories that he clings to reminding him of his life and purpose. He maintains a spirit of joy even at the ripe old age of 95 years old.
Even though I am not his age, I do understand a little something about memories. I made a commitment this year to write everyday for a year. At the end of the year I want to look at my writing and see if there are any themes that seem to pop up over and over again. My goal is to find common ground with Scripture and my own story. I want to answer the ultimate life question, “Where has God been present in your life?”
It just so happens that I stumbled upon a small cassette tape that I recorded back in 1994. I had turned 30 years old and wanted to give my mother a gift of memories. I wanted to thank her for giving me a loving family and share with her the not so subtle of ways of teaching me life lessons on forgiveness and healing. Some of the stories that I recorded where not easy memories; however, they were necessary reflections to my growth as a human being.
Listening to these stories 19 years later has brought me a new appreciation for my family and the path that I had to journey on to get to where I am now. As I listened to my younger voice, I celebrated the lives of those who are no longer with me but were a very important part of shaping my life. I listened to my own process of forgiveness and healing as told in my own words. There was something incredibly liberating to hear a recounting of the many stories that gave me a sense of identity. I appreciated the lessons that were handed to me as I struggled to find my own sense of worth.
I recently preached a sermon on God’s presence in the middle of darkness. I told of God’s faithfulness and existence in the blackest of times. This tape reminded me of a time that I came out of the fog and into the light of God. As my World War II buddy said, “Memories are powerful and important.”
We hold tight to our past as a reminder of a time when God led us to be free of the pain that we carried. Our faith keeps us safe and our memories serve to remind us of our journey. The Israelites would never have gone back into slavery, but every year there is a celebration known as the Passover Seder to commemorate what God did in the lives of the faithful. As he did for those in physical bondage, The Holy One of Israel led us out of bondage. Theirs was a physical servitude while ours was a spiritual captivity. There is not a year that goes by that we remember that from which we have been delivered, the one who delivered us (God), and the absolute joy we have as those who have been redeemed. We preserve and celebrate our memories. They have shaped us well.