The Great Light May Not Be What We Expect

     I cannot help but be intrigued by the statement from the prophet Isaiah, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light” (Is. 9:2a CEB). Notice, the passage never describes what the “great light” looks like. For all we know, there is a magnificent appearance of something that pierces the darkness of the soul, a transformative reality that leaves behind the ravages of despair and pain. Hope replaces despair. The heaviness of oppression surrenders to the spirit of freedom.

     But what form does the light take? For years I read the passage with my mind’s eye envisioning a sense of joy and excitement, a fresh new start. While feelings are great and do make one engage the promise of a new day, I get caught up in filling in the blanks of what freedom looks like for me. I forget that God gives the gift, and it is not mine to assume how the Divine delivers grace, nor what form hope may take. It is my experience that what I receive from the Holy One is much better than I imagined. The gift of God is freedom from sin in every circumstance. My job is not to expect grace in a certain way but rejoice that the gift of God comes to me, no matter the package, no matter the bow. Take the love shared and maintain an attitude of gratitude.

     During this season of Advent, may you experience a “great light” as you step out of the darkness and into a world of promise. May hope and joy overwhelm you as you surrender your life over to the care of God. May all things appear brighter, bolder, richer. May you know the reason for the season – the love that the Divine pours out on humanity.

Who is Jesus to Me?

     Such an easy question; Who is Jesus to Me? I can easily say friend, redeemer, comforter, philosopher, etc. All these titles are accurate, but I think there is more to the story. In prayer, I hear the Savior inviting me into a prosperous relationship. Labels are acceptable, but they do not request a personal call to love. God wants action, discipleship born out of a free will. We choose to follow because our hearts crave it.

     The personal decision we make requires the freedom to surrender the care of our lives over to the One who first loved us. Deep in the headwaters of our souls, Jesus embraces our choice. There is no manipulation in this profound place, no cajoling to decide to commit to a new way of life. We respond to God’s invitation despite our hurts, passions, and fears. The moment of true conversion does not depend on any outward action but an internal response to Divine grace.

      This Advent season, I listen to the still small voice inside me that calls me into a depth of relationship that bases itself on a rich, holy, and sacred dialogue with the Savior. This year, I hope to reconnect with my heart in a way that shares the good news of Christ. My actions externally may reflect an internal process of freedom. Hope abounds when we turn the care of our lives over to the Creator.

     What will you do to grow more affluent in the faith? This question lies before us in this season of preparation. Go beyond a surface level of trust into a renewal of spirit deep within your core. This inner sanctum is where God does a holy work in you.

The People that Walk in Darkness Have Seen a Great Light

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned.” (Is. 9:2).

     There is a familiar hymn whose chorus reads, “For the darkness shall turn to dawning, and the dawning to noonday bright, and Christ’s great kingdom shall come on earth, the kingdom of love and light” (We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations, H. Ernest Nichols).

The words establish two realities regarding humanity’s situation. One is that we find ourselves in darkness, and the second is the promise of Divine restoration. Our spiritual blindness is not permanent if we surrender to the Holy One’s presence, who comes to reveal a new way forward, a new hope.

     Advent is about our need for both the dark and the light, for it is in our deepest darkness that we move into hope. Our sorrow forces us to look for crevices of light. Without knowing the darkness, the light would not shine with a splendor that captures us and never lets us go. Our rebirth into the Son light is an expression of joy with faith at the very core. Out of the headwaters of belief, rivers of living waters flow.

     But our faith starts in the darkest of circumstances, a glimmer of hope that, at first, is very faint. We must search for it. We who walked in darkness know what it is like to find a way out. We are living testaments of the glory of God’s handiwork. May Advent bring you hope beyond all understanding and light at the end of an exceedingly long tunnel.

Tear Open the Heavens

“If only you would tear open the heavens and come down!” (Is. 64:1 CEB).

     Advent is a season that calls us into a re-examination of our faith life. What are the things that we keep in the shadows; that we are scared to admit even to God? We all have something that stays in the darkness. What hold you back from trusting in people? Where do you need to rediscover a sense of hope?

     A fearless inventory of our longings and shortcomings lead us into a season that calls us to expose our struggles and enter a more intimate relationship with the Creator. We plead that God tear open the heavens, come and be with us, O Lord. We seek and need divine guidance. Our community needs to experience a sacred presence with us.

     So, the start of our Advent journey rings loudly. The invitation to receive deliverance from our souls’ darkest recess calls us on a path of faithfulness. We start by taking one step at a time and being careful that we do not miss the holiness of the season of expectation. God will mend a broken heart, restore hope, comfort in times of grief.

     God is the great healer, but there is one part of the equation that requires our action. We must be faithful participates in the journey. Without our work, God’s promise simply sits on a shelf. Our confidence comes when trusting that the One, who leads us, is the one who will never leave anyone stranded.

Prayer of the Day: Come to us, Lord Jesus. We need to hear from you. Be with us as we take a leap of faith during this Advent season and face whatever is our stumbling block. Come to us, renew us, and make us whole.

Et Lux Perpetua

     Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and it is hard to believe that the end of a bizarre year is here. My initial response is to through my hands up in the air and shout, “Hallelujah! Good riddance to 2020!” When I think of the year in general, I stop myself and think about the blessings that came my way, despite the obstacles of a pandemic, quarantine, and moving to a new church.

     There is no doubt that the year continues to present the world with challenges not seen for over one-hundred-years. Many families were affected by a virus that crossed all imagined boundaries and left many in grief. Such loss is unimaginable, and many prayers go out to those who face a new normal this season. I hope that through tears and sadness, everyone may find a sliver of hope, even in the bleakest of circumstances.

     Hope comes to us in many ways. There are times that the message of faith overwhelms me, and light surrounds me. To ignore such a vivid radiance of the presence of the Divine is to deny reality. The thick, vibrant, intoxicating joy of the Holy Spirit permeates any gloom. We stand and bathe in joy all around us.

     But sometimes, in the darkest nights of the soul, hope comes to us in a tiny sliver of light. Its radiance is buried so deep in despair that it barely makes itself known. We happen upon the speck of hope piercing the dark, and if we hold on to the brilliance of joy, the light grows brighter until there is nothing left but a holy presence. Hope casts out despair and promises new beginnings, a new appreciation for each God-given moment.

     I cling to the faithfulness of the Divine force in the world that, while we struggle, refuses to leave us without a sliver of joy. Maybe this year is about reclaiming the presence of the Almighty, even in the worst of circumstances. Covid-19 may continue to rage against us, but we know the source of our strength. In the end, the virus will go away, but God’s love endures forever. Let us hold fast to the promise of our Creator, “I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created” (Rom. 8:38-39). May you find comfort and hope, even in the darkness of Covid-19.

Shining Through Division

     I am a pastor serving a church comprised of people from different theological backgrounds. With a constant eye on predictions for the United Methodist Church’s next General Conference, my heart races a little bit when thinking about what the church may look like in the future. Will congregants have to choose which kind of Methodist church they will attend? I do not have the answer, but I think we should begin to plan for possibilities. We must have tough conversations to determine which path we follow.

     As I feel overwhelmed, I wish I could stand up and shout, “Look! Let my church be a model of how we can continue to worship together. At the door, we lay aside our differences and enter our worship space with one thing in mind, worship. We, meaning all of us, come before God and focus our attention on the One, who gives us all things. We put first things first. Every Sunday, we invite everyone in the community to fellowship with us. As the body of Christ, we need one another for support and guidance. In our church, we give all to the Father and check our preferences at the door.

     As we approach General Conference in September of 2021, I pray for our church. If we split, I pray that we can part amicably and still hold one another in love and care. We spent too many years on anger and hatred. Let us reaffirm our baptismal covenant to love and serve God and practice kindness and forgiveness lessons. That was the focus of Jesus’ ministry. Let it be ours as well.

Faith in the Time of Covid

     One of the biggest challenges we face as a religious community in Covid is losing our identity. As a pastor, I struggle with not being as involved in my parishioners’ life as I would be under normal circumstances. I am new to the church and find it exceedingly difficult to establish deep connections in our current environment. “When will this nightmare end?”

     Faith must be our rock, our comfort, and our hope. When I get down about the news, I hold fast to the promise that the best is yet to come. How did the Hebrew people hear the words of the prophets? They must have felt abandoned by the Divine as they faced exile. It isn’t easy to believe that prosperity will flow in the land in the middle of the worst of times. The captives responded, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Ps. 137:4 NRSV).

     The reality is that through the harshness of whatever situations in which we find ourselves, we must remain diligent in finding a Divine presence. Holy love is right here, in this very moment. We must cling to hope until the light reveals the path by which we take to find deliverance. Hold on and remain faithful, for the promise arrives in the most peculiar of ways.

     Ministry may not look like it did pre-Covid, but that does not mean that we cannot think out of the box and try other approaches. The challenge is to discover ways to bring people together in a virtual world. Our faith community should not be a casualty in the war on this dreaded disease. We must stand together and petition God to help us find ways to share in fellowship, even if that means sitting in front of a computer.

     May divine light guide you and instruct you on the right path. I pray that your spirit illuminates with joy and that you share it with a world that needs relief right now. Let us keep the faith and continue our journey. Remember, they will know we are Christians by our love.

Officiating at a Family Members Event

This past week I had the honor of officiating a cousin’s wedding. At the rehearsal, I found myself getting nervous. The family never saw me perform a wedding, and the pressure to deliver well screamed wildly in my mind. Throughout my eleven-year tenure as a pastor, I cannot remember the many services I officiated. This one was different.

Maybe the small voice inside me wanted to show my sister, aunts, uncles, cousins, and anyone else belonging to my family, that I knew how to do a great job. I am not the little kid anymore that terrorized everybody. This event is me doing what I do well. The best I had to give was on display, and I hoped that it proved good enough.

For me, I find it very tough to share my faith authentically with my extended family. They know where all of my skeletons lie buried, so the message better be authentic and ring true. Casual acquaintances are one thing, but people who know you are another story. Truth must prevail, and faith must not possess any hint of insincerity.

Everything went well. I loved spending time with those who remind me of my mother and still miss her. We shared great memories and a few not so great memories, laughing and crying (sometimes all at once). They also told me how proud they were of me and the things I achieved.

I accepted their compliments with a full heart. I gathered with people who witnessed my first steps, my first words, my first laughter. These fantastic people all gathered at a table on a hot Texas evening. I know that my mother smiled from heaven, seeing us together, celebrating another milestone.

Overcoming Fear

I did something yesterday that I never dreamed I would do. I posted a recording of me singing Bring Him Home from the Broadway musical Les Miserables. By sharing this song, I overcame a long-standing fear of someone laughing or not thinking me good enough. Now, I am not asking for any reassurances or anything to help with self-confidence. Praise be to God, I have a great therapist to help with all of that stuff. 

I want to celebrate victory over a struggle that I carried most of my life; a fear of being a phony. At times, I became almost crippled due to anxiety perpetuated by irrational fear. The statement, “I am fooling people, but I not good enough to do what I want,” reverberates in my head. The noises grow so loud that I cannot hear the voice within calm my heart and soul. I give in and resist as much risk as possible.

This time proved different than past challenges. I decided that the words I heard a fellow pastor speak one day would serve as my mantra. My friend said, “Other people’s opinions of you are none of your business.” Don’t get me wrong; I respect and admire feedback, but my entire decision as to whether I risk or should not include the idea of fear. I decided to do away with anxiety and risk putting a part of myself out into the world, remembering the words of the psalmist when he said, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).

I hope that we come out of the shadows of “imposter syndrome” and rely on the strength given to us by God. With divine help, panic can take a back seat as we embrace the source of all hope and love. May we continue to grow in a faith that empowers us, not encourages us to sneak back into the darkness of shame. Let the world discover the rich talents you share and be a better place because of your faithfulness.

Youtube link to my recording:

The Meaning of Discipleship

     In church work, we throw around the word “discipleship” as if everyone understands the meaning of the word. What does it truly mean to be a discipulus (from the Latin meaning a learner or follower)? If grace is a gift from God, then why must we surrender our lives to Jesus? I know that we have simple answers to these questions, but I want to take a step back and re-examine our responses. I did not grow into the deep riches of my faith until I committed to taking a closer look at my relationship with faith, God, and what it meant for me to change my entire perception of being a follower of Christ.

     I must admit that my earliest understandings of faith and the requirement for being a disciple contained a very emotional decision to turn my life over to the care of God. I heard phrases like, “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?” While I answered yes, I felt perplexed. How could I know a first-century Palestinian Jew? This way of thinking did not make sense to me, but I closed my mouth and resigned myself to be a hypocrite because I could not force myself to know the man who walked the earth over two-thousand years ago. So, I felt like a fake disciple who wanted so badly to be the real thing.

     I found an answer to my issues in my mid-forties. I remember hearing about the interpretation of a single Greek word “pistus” (faith in/of) and how that might help in the understanding of a relationship with Jesus. Interpreted one way, faith in assumes that one must believe in the first-century Palestinian Jew, and him alone to become a true disciple. Another idea caught my attention because it made more sense to me. Having the faith of Christ means deciding to follow the teachings of this man, Jesus. I found it liberating to finally answer the question, “Yes, I am a disciple of Jesus.”

    God presents us with the gift of grace. We choose to either accept the gift or reject it. I make a choice to follow, and in so doing, I surrender my self to the ways that Jesus instructed us to live with one another. I follow the two greatest commandments, love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. This new way of life requires action on my part. I must work at it every day by embracing the teachings of the one I call, Messiah. My faith illuminates a decision to turn my will over to the care of God. I follow the examples of Divine love, as shown through the actions of Christ, my savior.

     Praise God that we come to the table of the Holy One in different ways. My story is simply that, my story. Everyone encounters the sacred in their way. Through a personal understanding of what it means to be a discipulus, we find our way through the world, honoring the One who sets us on our journey. May you follow the path of Divine illumination and experience the richness of Christ along the way.


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Reflections on leadership and what it means to be the church God intends for the 21st century.