A Fresh Start

     It is no secret that I took a little time off from my blog to rest and renew my spirit. But unfortunately, I found that I began to put pressure on myself to write something, anything, consistently. As a result, I grew resentful and did not want to be accountable, so I took a long pause to rekindle the spark that moved me. In short, I needed a break from the self-induced stress that I unknowingly placed on myself.

     I think about all the pastors that serve in local churches who do not listen to the signals that warn us of burnout. I learned to listen to the tell-tale signs of stress and anxiety. As a result, I experience anger and resentment against anything that tries to take my time. It is not a pretty sight, but I learned to hear that inner voice saying, “find rest for your soul.”

     It is easy to keep the Spirit silenced as a clergyperson. No one waits to have an emergency when it is convenient for my schedule. But, life happens, and my calling moves me to be a presence in my parishioners’ lives. The trick is finding ways to experience rest and renewal during challenging times. What can I do to maintain my edge so that I may continue to serve God with my entire being?

     I realize that as a pastor, it is crucial to encourage everyone to maintain a daily prayer life and connect with the Spirit each day. I wish I had followed my advice, but my connection with God fell by the wayside. Nevertheless, the same Spirit that speaks to you is available to speak to me. The trick is letting the Holy One refill my soul too.

     As I return to the land of the living, I hope to discover a new commitment to sharing my thoughts and feelings regarding faith. May all of us take time to let the Spirit work in us and find moments to rekindle our faith throughout our day.

     Thanks be to God, who shares with us love beyond our wildest imagination.

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.

Have a Merry Christmas Filled with Joy

     When I speak of joy, I do not mean a superficial show of emotions that appeals to the senses. Instead, I refer to a stirring of the soul moving me to realize that God fills every part of my body. My spirit connects with the author of love as I come to appreciate that love (God within me) bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things. True joy finds its way into the headwaters of faith and fills the heart with light.

     As we go about the business of Christmas, let us not forget the depth of joy and how it manifests itself in us to a world that needs to discover the riches of God’s love. May true contentment fill our souls and pour out in the form of hope for a bright, better world. To understand the nature of holy joy is to claim the greatest gift that permeates the season. Faith and hope collide, and our hearts are never the same.

     I hope we connect with those around us and offer a season of good cheer, laughter, and complete joy. We reflect on the gift of new birth, not only seen in the manger but also our lives. Faith makes itself known to us as an infant. Let us continue to encourage hope to grow and manifest itself in joy for life, friends, family, and the perpetual light of God. May the reality of the Divine presence be a constant source of strength, not only through the Christmas season but also for the entire year.

Peace and Blessings this Christmas Season,

Joe

A Time to Live in a Spirit of Thanks

     I must say that my heart is full this week of Thankgsliving. My oldest son arrived in town last night, and the first thing we did was sing together. In my world, there is nothing quite like singing with my very talented son. I know that I am prejudiced, but I can’t help enjoying the sound of our voices blending. There is nothing like the beautiful colors of sound that we share as we make a joyful noise.

     I think of my relationship with Christ and hope that the traits that I share with my son are as close. For example, when I pray, do I pray with the same passion as Jesus? Do I treat others in a way that glorifies the Father? I hope that my faith is so interconnected to the Divine that my actions reflect the Creator.

     Many people tell me that my son’s voice blends so well with mine that they have trouble telling our sounds apart. May that be the same for my God, who guides me on my journey, and me. May this time of Thanksliving be a constant reminder that our gratitude should mirror the source of all good things. I hope that everyone celebrates and lives in a spirit of praise and hope, for the light is in the world and among us.

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.

Moving from Point A to Point B

     Each year, as Annual Conference begins, I remembered my ordination service several years ago. I remember how a boy raised in exceedingly challenging circumstances found his way to a place unimaginable among his family. I represent the struggles to rise out of generational poverty and into a paradigm shift affecting future generations. I look at my cousins and celebrate that while I am the first to start a journey towards endless possibilities, praise God I am not the last.

     I reflect on the difficult road I traveled, knowing that having a goal is one thing, but to achieve objectives requires fortitude, patience, and endurance. It is not easy to move from one set of unspoken rules to another without suffering setbacks and heartache. The journey is rough and requires perseverance and grace. One most constantly battles demons that attempt to keep a person relegated into a life that fights to maintain unwilling victims in a class system that offers little exit.

     Yet, despite all obstacles, I sit in my office, at my pastoral desk, equipped with an education I never dreamed possible as a child. I live by the statement of human worth taken from Psalm 139, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” This statement is my mantra on this journey. I remind myself that I am God’s creation, and therefore I possess attributes that transcend a class structure, filled with unwritten do’s and don’ts. Each mandate attempts to define me and put me in a box, but I refused to surrender.

     Friends, I cannot pretend to know the journey that one travels, but I know who will guide us. Hold fast to the reality that our past does not define us, nor how others attempt to characterize us. We start by acknowledging that we receive our self-worth from God and not from humanity. The rest is greatness, as we depend on the Divine for guidance.

Coming Out of the Darkness

     Over the last few weeks, I find myself grappling with new information about the pandemic and a possible end to what quickly became a strange way of life. On the edge of summer, we look forward to churches opening for activities for children, and mandates regarding mask-wearing drastically changing. Sometimes, my head spins, trying to keep up with following the proper guidelines. Lord, in Your mercy!

     I cannot help but reflect on the darkest of times with my youngest son as he struggled with a never-ending volley of bleeding episodes. I remember looking into my wife’s eyes and assuring her that we will look back on this time and give thanks that these difficult days lay behind us a year from now. I wanted to ensure her, as well as myself, that this is not our new normal. Better times wait for us ahead. I needed to convey some sense of hope to remind us that faith plays a significant role in our most difficult times.

     Last year, I answered an appointment to pastor First United Methodist Church Belen. It proved strange leading a new congregation during a historic pandemic. I believe that we weathered the worst of times together and left a stronger team. I laugh when thinking about the first year of a pastoral assignment as living in a honeymoon phase. This easy season was not the case, as the church’s leadership rallied around each other to help the church move through the darkest of times.

     In this last week of May, let us remember and give thanks for the victories we celebrate as we move forward. We celebrate our resilience and a common respect for one another. We can do anything if we stand united and love one another well. No wonder Jesus proclaimed our compassion for our fellow neighbors as one of the top two commandments. With hope, we give thanks for our deliverance during the worst of times but give thanks unlimited possibilities.

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.

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