Hope

I think “hope” is one of the most powerful words in our vocabulary. It moves us forward with the possibilities of what can be. Through this little four letter word “hope” we can see a light at the end of the tunnel. There is a promise that relief will come and we will move forward into a place that is free of some of our current struggles and/or situations. We will have options and choices not known to us in the current moment.

In my faith tradition hope is everything. God’s divine care and providence are as much a part of my life as the air that I breathe. Tomorrow I am preaching on the Hebrew Bible text found in the Book of Jeremiah (31:31-34). I am talking about the new covenant made to the people of God as they attempt to find a new normal in a world that has changed drastically.

In the middle of it all, God comes to the prophet Jeremiah and speaks words of hope and promise. The Holy One will establish a new way of living and being with His people. This will be a covenant like none other. “No, this is the covenant that I will make with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my Instructions within them and engrave them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. They will no longer need to teach each other to say, “Know the Lord!” because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord; for I will forgive their wrongdoing and never again remember their sins” (Jer. 31:33-34 CEB).

As I write this I remember the journey with my younger son over the last couple of years. I remember those days in the hospital that turned into weeks at a time. I remember staying up with him as he screamed in pain. “When will this stop?” Many of those days and nights the only thing my family could do was hope. I am happy to say that we are living in the middle of that hope. We have made it past a year since his last joint bleed. Praise be to God!

Today I am grateful for the hope found in my faith. This is God’s promise to me found in the very depths of my soul. Praise be to the God who knows us inside and out. The God who loves us beyond our own understanding will illumine our paths so that we can move forward in the promises that were given to us.

My Mind is a Dangerous Neighborhood

There was a phrase that I heard a long time ago. Someone told me, “My mind is in a dangerous neighborhood, so I never go there alone.” I laughed as my friend revealed this information. As I continue through the years I often come back to that phrase. I think I have even used it in a sermon or two.

There is a lot of truth about my friend’s remark. My mind can travel into some seriously strange places. My thoughts can bring tremendous amounts of joy, but they can also lead me into the darkest places imaginable. Sometimes, thought processes can arrest me and hold me hostage. I am often overwhelmed by my own projections or anxieties stimulated by my psyche.

This is where the power of God steps in and sets within me a new place to dwell. It takes me out of the rough neighborhood and into a place that brings healing and wholeness. I am no longer forced to surrender to the negative thoughts and feelings that want to move into my mental space. I am given the power to reclaim my heart and offer it to God. My strength stems not from my own abilities, but the power of the Holy One.

My task is to remember that I have moved out of the neighborhood of despair and regret and into a place that affirms me and guides me. I am no longer in a place of shame and sorrow. I have to stop acting like I live in that negative space. That is a very hard thing to do; shift my paradigm. I am not left to my own defenses, but it is God who secures my heart. I am a new creation.

For today, let us live in the joy and peace that God gives to us. The world will see that we have been changed. They will see the light that shines in our hearts. They will long to move into a neighborhood similar to ours. We will now be able to say, “I live in a new neighborhood, and it is God who dwells with me. It is divine light that shines and lights my path.” Praise be to God.

The Revelation of God

I’m not talking about the big loud thunder crashes, lightning bolts, and dramatic revelations.  I mean the kinds where God may quietly reveal His presence to you throughout the day.  It can be in the form of a phone call from a friend, the kindness of a passing stranger, or even a smell or picture that calls to mind God’s awesome presence.  Some call it a coincidence, but I call it divine intervention.  Whatever it is, we are left with the amazing awareness that something greater than us calls us to be a part of that which is bigger than our own little corner of the world.

Many times in life God has set me on a journey.  Many times I have come to appreciate God’s voice located in the still, small, silent discoveries along the way.  Things that may not appear to be much at first glance, but in the end are just as important as the big things.  They are the wonderful little nuggets of knowledge that we glean from our desire to grow in God’s will for our lives.

We simply have to be open to the quiet discoveries along the way.  Reflect and know that the Creator continues to pour blessings in your life.  While they are subtle, they are incredibly profound and important.  All that is required is a willing heart.

Today, I give thanks for the times where God is undeniably present.  I also give thanks for the times when I must be still and allow God’s love to quietly flow through me and around me.  These times of peace lead to times of strength and confidence in the awareness of spirit.  May we leave ourselves open to God’s breath to speak hope and healing into our lives.

How Amazing Is That?

My wife and I were walking past an exhibit at a craft show yesterday and a phrase caught my attention.  Since I don’t know the author, I feel like I am not at liberty to quote it.  What captivated me was the incredible intimacy of the writing.  The sentence reaffirms the unique and incredible bond between a mother and her children.  There is a place that I as a man and father will never be able to travel, nor will ever be able to experience.  A heartbeat from the inside out.

I first thought of my own mother and was overcome with how much I miss her.  I then thought about the love of God that has known us since we were created.  How intimately and thoroughly the Holy Spirit knows me.  Think about it.  This One who is the creator started the beating of our hearts.  Like the author of Psalm 139, “This knowledge is too much for me; it’s so high above me that I can’t fathom it” (vs. 6 CEB).

The reality is that we are linked together by God’s incredible knowledge and love for us.  It is in our very DNA.  We long for a relationship with the One who has known us before our mothers had a clue that we were being formed.  How amazing is that?  Again, I am speechless.  For those who know me, that is an awesome wonder to behold.

It is very easy to take for granted our relationship with God without considering the incredible and unique nature of the divine love which has been poured out over us from our humblest of beginnings. Sometimes, when we are prompted by signs, we remember (and hopefully give thanks) for this amazing gift that was given to us before our first heartbeat, before our first breath, even before our first memory.  This Holy Presence has been with us; and will continue to stay with us.  Again I ask, “How amazing is that?”

It Is Good to Be Back

It was great to be back in the pulpit this Sunday. I have not preached in two weeks due to some very special Sundays in the life of our church. While we worshipped well the last few weeks, I felt like I was back where I belonged this morning. Life seemed to be balanced, right where everything makes sense.

There is a feeling of strength and wholeness that I experience when delivering a sermon. Nothing feels the same. I have a place in which the words that come out of my mouth matter. I enjoy struggling with the issues of life and God, along with my congregation. Transformation occurs as I surrender to the One who gives me strength. I become a vehicle by which hope can be expressed in ways that will empower a room full of those seeking solace.

There is something that is other worldly when I stand before the congregation each Sunday morning. It is a time to share absolute gratitude for being allowed to live in a space that is holy and sacred. This is where lives are made whole and hearts are “strangely warmed.” I am blessed beyond all measure, because I get to share with everyone what the Holy One has done in my life. Believe me, it is a true miracle!

It is my hope that you will find that special something that guides you and brings you into your heart’s joy. You may be able to share that passion with a world that needs to hear the good news. Stand up and allow the Spirit to guide you and direct your path. You will be much happier as you continue your journey.

Praise be to God that we can search and find our passions in life. May we embrace them and give thanks for all that we are given. Live within the joy of your salvation and know that you were created to shine the light of God into the world. Be ever present and always joyful.

It All Begins With a Blank Slate

If only life were as simple as the title of this post suggests.  We all start with a blank slate and write our own story.  The truth is, our slates are colored by others in ways that are sometimes affirming and sometimes harmful.  When we finally become aware that we have any agency what so ever in our narrative, we are the result of many people who have etched on our souls ways and processes by which we respond to the world.  Our stories are not our own.

As we get older we begin to assume responsibility for our actions and take over the role of artist and creator in our lives.  While we may not be able to erase those parts of our slate that have wounded us, we can paint broad strokes over those unhealthy places and reclaim those parts for ourselves.  Many of us don’t realize until much later that we are capable of framing the portraits of our lives.  We allow others to continue to wield power over places that should be ours.  Our freedom is found in reclaiming our own voice.

“Now wait just a minute,” you say.  “Isn’t God the author of our stories?  The one who paints on this blank slate?”  Well, yes, but we must claim and share our part in the process.  God is the one who holds our hand steady as we paint.  The vision of what we shall put on the canvas is created by God.  We must be still and capture the picture that will become the painting.  It is up to us to get the work done.  To assume that we have no part in the creation of the work is to diminish our role in the process of being human.

I hope that we continue to pray to the one who guides our hands and create the work of the master of all works.  May our painting reflect the incredible love of our amazing God.  While the slate is not blank, it can capture the brilliance of the creator of life.  We embrace our divine inspiration with the hope that our work will reflect the love of the Holy One.

The Moment We Embrace Change

I am currently reading a book titled Love and Hate: The Story of Henri Landwirth.  Henri was a holocaust survivor.  His journey takes him through the atrocities of the death camps in Germany, his struggles to survive in a world torn apart by war, and his ability to carry on with his life.  We share in his moment of transformation, when he realizes in postwar Paris that he wanted more for his life than to live with continued hostility.  He discovers that in order to live a life filled with meaning and purpose he had to surrender his anger and bitterness.  Henri concluded that if he were to continue down a path of hate the Nazis would win.  He was determined not to give them the victory.

The power of transformation occurs in our lives when we discover the desire to be made complete.  Our lives must be more than the events of our past.  We have no control over people or situations that occur before the present moment.  What we can manage is now.  How often do we let the events of the past control us and leave us feeling like victims; without power, without joy, without hope?

In order to change our situations, we must allow God to transform our hearts.  The power of the Holy Spirit is an amazing thing.  It’s brilliant fire fills us with a sense of renewed passion.  Where once there was no hope, now there are is meaning and wholeness.  Through our surrender to God’s love our rebirth sparks within us the joy of creation.

As we journey through this Lenten season let us call to mind how God has changed us.  Let us reclaim the brilliant handiwork of the Divine in our lives.  We renounce hate and bitterness only to embrace joy and love.  This healing power alters the course of our lives and gives us a gift beyond our own understanding.  We are transformed.  We are made whole.

The Fear of God – It’s a Good Thing

When I talk about the fear of God I am not talking about the kind of feeling that makes us anxious and recoil in absolute terror. If we had to live in that kind of fear to please God, I am not sure I would be up for the task. This type of fear brings about negative images and certainly not a place that I would like to visit much less in which I would like to live. There has to be another solution or definition for a unique kind of fear.

The shepherds warned us not to give in to this kind of fear when encountering God. Several times throughout the Bible different people are confronted with heavenly beings and the first thing that is said is, “Fear not!” Anxiety is not to be the main emotion when encountering the Divine. How can a person even hear the voice of the Divine if the main energy in the room is one of paralyzing terror?

So, then what does it mean to live in fear of God? Martin Luther suggested that there are several different kinds of fear. Servile fear is the kind of toxic anxious kind of stuff that we try to avoid at all costs. It is the kind that blinds us to any life giving substance. We are held in its grip and surrender to its dark power that overwhelms us. It’s that kind of fear that knocks me to my knees and beats me up until I can’t seem to stand. It is unyieldingly brutal and painfully crippling.

The better understanding of the fear of God is something called filial fear. It is an understanding or acceptance of the power and strength of God in our lives. This type of fear is one that describes our unique relationship with God as our Father. As children of the Holy One we fear that they will not do what is needed to please our parent God, and so our work is done carefully and thoughtfully to present the very best that we have to offer. It is not done in the worry and dread that there is punishment, but out of a necessity to please God.

Healthy fear is born out of our reverence and not out of our places of shame and worry. The more we live into a filial fear of God, we will experience the exact opposite of what we experience when we are driven by servile fear. We will experience joy as our work moves us into a deeper relationship with God. We will know peace as our ministry draws us closer to the Divine.

The author of the Book of Proverbs writes, “The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord; the knowledge of the holy one is understanding” (Prov. 9:10 CEB). Our transformation from servile to filial moves us into the wisdom and holiness of God. This is the beginning of our journey. It is our story as we continue to share in the richness of God’s grace.

This Thing Called Fear

“Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, 15but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord” (1 Pet. 3:14b-15a CEB).

Yesterday I started by letting my fears be known. Okay, some of my fears. The truth is that fear is such a deeply rooted part of my psyche that I am not aware of its powers and hold over me. It sometimes it leaves me crippled and without a sense of purpose. It comes out in ways that hold my soul hostage and a freeze comes in and leaves my soul motionless.

The Biblical text from the third chapter of 1 Peter addresses those who shared in my struggle. I obviously was not the first person (nor will I be the last) to know what it is like to let fear control different parts of life. The ancient believers struggled as well. There was much of which to be afraid. To be discovered as a believer in Christ in the first and second century Palestine was to risk being imprisoned or even worse, martyred. There was a lot at stake to confess being a follower of the Amazing One.

It is in the middle of chaos that the author of the Book of 1 Peter reminds believers to not fear what everyone around us fears. This implies that there is good fear and there is fear that is not life giving. I am not simply called to dismiss the fact that I am afraid, but to redirect my fear back to God. In other words, as long as I can find strength from God in the middle of the times that put me on high alert, then fear can become a reminder that in the middle of all of this stuff that is hurled against me, God will be there in the middle of it all.

My hope is that you are able to acknowledge the most basic parts of you that is weighed down by fear and all of its negative consequences. I think calling them by name and writing them in a journal is a great way to begin this journey. We come before God authentically and say, “Here it is God; the stuff that I know that keeps me from worshiping you fully. The stuff that keeps me so blind that I can’t even see your amazing handiwork in my life.” Be open to allow the Spirit of God to help you see all of the other things in your life that seem to hold you captive.

Tomorrow I will write about the idea or thought of good fear.

Peace,

Joe

I Come to This with Fear and Trepidation

Today is Ash Wednesday, and I have made a commitment to write a post each day throughout the season of Lent.  I have to admit that I enter this with a ton of fear on my shoulders.  I have not been consistent in my posts, so why should I change my wicked ways now?  I hope to be able to follow through with this.

Another fear that I carry is that I will not have enough material to form meaningful sentences.  In other words, I am not sure that I have anything substantial to say.  I want to write about things that matter.  What if my writing is not of good quality?  This is a major concern with which I consistently struggle.

So the first of my Lenten writings is acknowledging my fears.  It is crucial for me to simply own up to the fact that “adding in” is sometimes a lot harder than “giving up.”  Adding in requires making room for reflection and discernment.  Planning becomes a necessary component of who we are.  In other words, we must be intentional by making our time an important part of our day.  I am not sure that I will be able to write at the same time of the day each and every day, but I do know that as I plan each day, I will include time to write in my day.  Some people need to plan a consistent time, but that is something I don’t think will work for me.

Now that I have shared some of my concerns, I can look toward the process of writing.  I start the journey and look forward to sharing what God continues to do in my life.  I hope to create a space that will challenge me and inspire me to find wonderful new ways to grow in the joy and love of our amazing God.

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