Our Invitation into the Darkness

     Today we begin the season of Lent. As Christians, we discover an invitation to explore the darkest parts of ourselves – the part of our souls cut off from the joy we celebrate in Christ. Our journey reminds us of the many ways we need to discover God’s great love, even in places we could never imagine God inhabiting. With hope, the reexamination of our hearts compels us to respond to Christ’s invitation to feast with him in a way that leads us closer to our redeemer.

     Although I did not worship in a tradition that observed Lent, I later learned the season’s significance. This period of forty days before the celebration of Easter calls me to look into the darkness and bring the light to those places that call out for help. My participation must require a fearless examination of my life to be a better disciple. Only by practicing my faith can I overwhelm the dark places in my soul with holy light. Through my spiritual disciplines, Christ may speak into those spaces that feel lost and rejected.

     In the middle of our distress, I pray that the light of Christ illuminates our paths, piercing through the darkness. I ask God’s presence to captivate us and set free our hearts so that we may follow in fullness. All these things I ask for those who need to hear a bit of Good News during this time. Come, Lord Jesus, and fill our hearts with sacred peace. Amen.

Giving Thanks for My Current House of Worship

     There are moments in ministry, especially itinerant service when moving occurs. Sometimes the possibilities of moving forward appear to be the next right steps. This experience is not the case for me at this moment. This week I had a conversation with my District Superintendent to discuss the ministries of my current church, along with my wishes regarding moving. I told him that I felt like possibilities for growth and renewal continued gathering speed in our church and that I was not interested in leaving. I also understand that I serve in a system that can move me to any church where my gifts and graces may further the cause of Christ.

     As a pastor in an itinerant system, I feel joy as the church supports my leadership. I give thanks to the congregation members at the First United Methodist Church of Belen, who serve God with all their hearts. Our house of worship is a fantastic place to be, and I cannot wait to see the amazing possibilities that lie before us. The seeds of growth found rest in the bed of faith and hope. Let us continue to nurture and water the soil so that ministry may grow and bloom.

     This day, I give thanks to the men and women professing the love of Christ and serving in their churches. May the love of God make the holy presence known through your love and care. May we all give thanks for the houses of worship that we call home, remembering our first encounters with the Holy One began in those places. Remember your Baptism, be grateful, and reach out to a world in need to hear the Good News of Christ.

Finding Pockets of Rest

     Every day I find the busy-ness of life calls for rapid decisions and constant movement. If I am not careful, I can move from busy to overwhelmed at a lightning-fast pace. I run at 100 miles per hour and then wonder why I have nothing left in the tank. Decisions I make throughout the day control spaces in my brain that need to remain free to finish projects or listen to hearts that need to speak.

     To combat all the noise that reverberates through my mind, I must find pockets of rest, moments to stop and reflect on God’s goodness. While observing the Sabbath over a day or two is excellent, I find that I must stop and observe pockets of mini-Sabbaths to keep me focused and give me mental toughness throughout my day. The more I practice mindfulness and spiritual reflection, the better pastor, friend, spouse, father I become.

     Taking time to rest is not a luxury but a necessity. I need time to fill my spiritual tank as much as I need air. Unfortunately, my busy-ness can get in the way of my relationship with God. That might sound like a contradiction in terms I am a pastor and do the work of God on earth. My work, however, should not be my primary focus. The center of our lives is faith. How can works flow from the gift of grace when the free present offered never receives care?

     Today, I commit fifteen minutes to stop and receive the quiet reminder that I am God’s child. May freedom allow me to experience the presence of the Holy One, who so generously gives love beyond anything I can fathom. I take in the breath of God to exhale goodness, kindness, and understanding. May I remember to stop, even for one minute, and reflect on the mercy of the Holy One of Israel and experience transformation.

Not Enough Paper to Go Around

“But there are also many other things Jesus did; and if they were all to be recorded, I don’t think the whole world could contain the books that would have to be written!” (John 21:25 CJSB).

As the Gospel of John comes to a close, the above verse is the last one. To sum up the phrase, Jesus completes so many miracles, that there were not enough writing utensils to record everything. We only have highlights (which is more than enough to feed us), while Jesus continued to love the people around Him. Our road map, the Gospels, gives us all that we need to know to follow the Messiah. Love God with everything you are (warts and all) and love your neighbor as yourself. To complete the two commandments requires a change of heart, which leads to redemption and hope.

I believe that Jesus continues to work miracles all around us. We simply must stop and look to find the Holy Spirit alive and well in our day-to-day living. Think of the many ways that God guides you on your path, and recall the healing processes in which the hope of Jesus restored you to wholeness. There are enough miracles we continue to witness that could not fit in a book. The Holy One is deeply connected to us and restores our souls.

My hope for us, as we leave the Gospels and begin reading the Book of Acts, is that we take a few moments to look around and remember, Jesus, is still in the business of healing hearts and restoring minds. Praise be to God that we may stop and give thanks for all that we receive from the Father. Let us stop, observe that beauty of faith, and then go out into the world to make a difference. In so doing, the last verse of Luke is not an ending of the story, but a continuation.

Our Songs of Ascent

Psalms 120-134 are known as the Psalms of Ascent. The title possibly refers to physically climbing the outer stairs of the temple to reach the center square. Songs reflected melodies that started low and gradually got higher with each idea sung. The primary focus reflected God’s elevation and our constant desire to reach up for His guidance.

Our world teaches us to keep our head to the grindstone and get the job done.  While it is important to be productive, the Creator of the Universe wants us to look up and remember to give thanks for our deliverance.  Just as God calls us from the pit of despair, “ADONAI, I call to you from the depths; hear my cry, Adonai!  Let your ears pay attention to the sound of my pleading” (Ps. 130:1-2 CJSB), we are to acknowledge the hope and assurance found in those who are faithful.  The Psalmist expresses a strong dependence and commitment to God’s protection when he proclaims “Those who trust in ADONAI are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved but remains forever” (Ps. 125:1 CJSB).

This week I invite you to join me in taking moments to reflect on God’s deliverance in your own lives.  What ways do you stop and raise your head to offer the Holy One your joys and concerns?  Please feel free to share your moments of divine revelation with me by posting a response.  Allow the blessings of God to overwhelm you as you recount all that the Lord has (and continues) to do for you.

Gripe, Gripe, Gripe!

God delivered the people of Israel and what do they manage to do? Gripe about their circumstances. Never mind that Moses, with God’s help, led the people out of bondage. Everyone safely crossed the sea and witnessed one of, if not the most remarkable miracles ever known. They wanted steak, and they wanted it now. Many complained that it would have been better to stay in Egypt than die in the wilderness. In short, gratitude was not the leading practice of the day.

The undercurrent that I hear in the Exodus chapters is fear. How will I survive? Where can I eat? What if?…… While the natural propulsion is to read with complete shock, I don’t believe we are that different than the ancient Hebrews. We witness God’s incredible presence over and over again, only to return to a place of skepticism.

God calls us to come out from under the rocks that leave us hidden from the world, captured by fear. Let the Holy One feed you and give you living water to quench your thirst. We may be in the wilderness sometimes, but the God who delivered us from slavery still leads us to green pastures and quiet waters.

Today, may I continue to walk in the light and celebrate the joy of the Lord, who is my strength. No griping allowed, only shouts of hope. Let us remember to search for the Lord with our whole heart and soul and as we seek out God, may our heart remain set on the riches in which we give thanks. Praise be to our amazing God.

God, the Creator of All

“God answered him (Moses), ‘Who gives a person a mouth?  Who makes a person dumb or deaf,  keen-sighted or blind?  Isn’t it I, Adonai?'”  (Ex. 4:11 CJB).

Those of us who either have or are caregivers for those with chronic illness know what it is like to feel as if we are the cause of our loved one’s affliction. We said or did something wrong, and because of our sins, our punishment is relegated to those closest to us. Guilt overwhelms us and leaves us spiritually paralyzed. We ask ourselves, “What have I done God, that my dear one must face every day with his/her affliction?” This question reverberates over and over in our brains until we cannot hear the truth that everyone is created in the image of God.

I’ve moderated many groups of those with bleeding disorders. Because the genetic marker is on the X-chromosome, hemophilia is passed through the mothers DNA. Newly diagnosed families handle the shock in different ways. It is my experience that a mother feels a tremendous amount of guilt while a father is frustrated because he cannot fix the problem. It is out of his control.

Enter the fantastic verse from Exodus. While Moses attempts to make every excuse known to man why he should not be the one who returns to Egypt to free the Hebrew people from slavery, God says, “Hold up Moses! What is going on with you? I made everybody, including those who have every kind of disability. I even created those with every type of chronic illness known and unknown (I insert the word hemophilia).

Hear this, let us be very careful in who we call whole and healthy. To God, there is no difference between any of us. The Creator did not make a mistake when we were fashioned together in the womb of our mothers. Everyone one of us is made in the imageo Dei (image of God). As such, we are all perfectly designed. Each of us created with a spirit longing to sing praises unto our God.

This day, let us live with purpose knowing whose we are. Seek out the God of our understanding and sit in silence, giving thanks to the Creator. Chronic illness may change how we live our lives and relate to the world, but they can never keep us from living out our purpose in a society that cannot fathom how we can live in a state of joy always and everywhere, giving thanks to our amazing God. Amen.

Really Listen for the Truth

As a pastor, I am privileged to a wealth of information.  There are times that I just shake my head and keep moving forward.  No matter what I hear, I try to listen for the truth that is sometimes buried deep within the stories that people tell.  Through the deep level of hurt and sadness, there lies the mustard seed of our deepest wants along with our deepest needs.  The challenge that I face as a pastoral caregiver is to encourage people to tap into these deep places.

Too often we stop, afraid to travel to the headwaters of our souls.  Many of us are afraid of what we may find.  This is an allusion because all of us who have boldly made the journey find freedom at the realization of our true selves.  I am speaking about our most authentic selves.  That part of us that includes the divine spark of ingenuity.  The space that the very core of who we are and what we believe exists.

We know the time that we tap into the special places in our hearts.  Something within us comes to life.  The gospel of our lives transforms us and strengthens us.  We find a renewed spark of hope, and a commitment to remain faithful to the truths that have been shared by the Divine.

There is a part of us that is not wounded by pain.  It is bathed in light and provides strength.  Sometimes it is masked by layers upon layers of hurt, shame, regret, etc…  Once discovered, the possibilities are endless.  We must remain diligent to rediscover who we were created to be.

Today, I am thankful for the journey.  I am grateful that I boldly travel into the deeper resources of my soul to discover my truest self.  My hope is that we all may walk on towards healing and wholeness so that we may claim the promises revealed to us by our Creator.  Praise be to God, who gives us the victory.

Miracles Are All Around Us!

I could write about the wonderful class that I just finished at Austin Presbyterian Seminary, but then I would also have to write about the amazing friendships that I developed while I was in Austin.  I could write about the incredible fact that my son is turning nineteen years old tomorrow, but then I would also have to write about the amazing gift of being a father.  With so many amazing things going on around me, I think I can sum them all up in a simple little word; miraculous.

It is a herculean feat that I am even enrolled in a doctorate program.  Boys with my demographic background are lucky to get a high school diploma.  How blessed am I to not adhere to such low expectations.  I serve a God that whispers incredible strength into my soul and says to me, “You are not finished!  Continue to reach for heights beyond anything or anyone.  I created in you a desire to live out your life, complete with passion and joy.”

And the friendships that I am developing at the Seminary…well, let’s just say that they are the kind that one hopes for throughout one’s life.  These amazing people that have made it clear that I am loved unconditionally.  Those words can be said, but when they are spoken with heart and truth, they are game changers.  It is indeed what I call miraculous.

Then there is my son, that is one of the greatest gifts (my youngest son included) that I could have ever been given.  He is an amazing young man with incredible amounts of talents.  I never knew how to identify a miracle in my life, until I saw his face.  That incredible face, that looked on me immediately, and I knew that I was standing in the presence of a divine gift from God himself.  How blessed I am to have this one human being change my life in ways that I could have never imagined.  And it all took one little word; daddy.

Today, I am humbled to see the miraculous all around me.  I see it in my family, my friends, my calling into ministry.  Praise be to God who continues to mold me and places signs and miracles all around me to remind me that I call someone mein vati.  My daddy.

Gratitude

Gratitude…what a simple little word with incredible depth. There is no other way to describe the moments when I am overcome with thanksgiving for my journey. Sometimes I have climbed some very large mountains, while at other times I simply walk in quiet pastures. While the scenery may change at a moment’s notice, the presence of God is with me, always encouraging me to continue down the path.

The past few weeks have proven very rough. Sometimes, there have been mountains that appeared to be too high, or too impossible to climb. The good news is that I reached the summit and continued my journey. Each challenge has been met. Each experience a chance to grow in grace.

And through it all, there is an incredible awareness of gratitude. Thanks to the friends who remind me that I am a part of something so much bigger than I could imagine on my own. Grateful for colleagues who support me and encourage me to continue to grow and become the pastor and person that I want to be. And most of all, a family who believes in me and encourages me to continue to reach for the stars.

Today, I am thankful for the presence of the Divine, as I am filled with strength and purpose. Thanks be to the One who is my creator, who designed me to be the person that I am, complete with joy and hope. Praise be to God, who fashions us in His image. My hope is that we all might remember that we are created to be who we are and not anybody else. We are enough! End of story.

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