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.

Giving Thanks for Friends

On Thursday I was going through my daily tasks of clergy life when I received an unexpected e-mail from a friend. I smiled and continued my day. By Friday I had heard from several other friends (all in the same boat of navigating church life). At this point, I could not help but give thanks for what they all bring to my life.

Throughout our lives we are given the gift of friendships and enjoy the company of wonderful people who weave their way in and out of our lives with careful attention to the patterns that are stitched together in the depths of our spirits. Some people journey with us a lifetime while others are only with us for brief periods of time. No matter how long they are with us there is one truth that exists; our lives are better because they taught us valuable lessons to which we hold fast. We live stronger. We love richer and deeper.

Today I am especially grateful for my new friends that attend Austin Seminary. Yes we will journey on with the hope that we will stand and celebrate the milestone of receiving our Doctorate of Ministry degree. Somewhere in the middle of this educational pursuit, I have come to realize that one of the biggest life lessons that I am continuing to learn is that it is never too late to share in the joys of friendships.

I give thanks that we are hard wired to share our lives with each other. I look forward to the many more times we will have to discuss life’s issues and rejoice in a project being finished, or a life event that occurs. This is the spark that motivates me to continue my journey. Praise be to the One who created us. Today my amazing friends, I say, “Thanks be to God for you!” Oh yeah, and did I mention that I give thanks?

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.

My Mother’s Love

It is hard to believe that tomorrow my mother will be gone for three years.  I find myself thinking about her as the anniversary of her death draws closer.  I miss the laughs, smiles, tears, arguments, etc.  I miss it all.  Those that knew her know what I’m talking about.

I think the most amazing thing that I miss is the security that I had knowing that she was just a phone call away.  I never had a problem that was too big for my mother to help.  Her voice is gone and I miss it deeply.  Even after three years, I miss it now more than ever before.

So, it is with a sense of loss that I had a fantastic dream.  In my dream, I was in a desolate area and a pay phone started ringing.  I answered the phone and it was my mom on the other end.  I started to cry and told her that I missed her.  Getting myself together, I asked her, “What’s it like?”

She responded, “Do you remember the prettiest city that we ever visited?”  I told her that I remembered.

She then said, “It is so much prettier.”  I knew then that she could not leave and that she wanted to stay.  The dream ended with me telling her that I loved her.

No matter how incredible the descriptions are in the Bible, we can never know the beauty that awaits us.  Our own imagination is limited by our humanity.  Every now and then we have wonderful glimpses into what is to come.  And we know that at the end, we will be united with our loved ones and proclaim in unison, “It is so much prettier!”

My Boy’s Mighty Spirit

As I reflect back on my stinky boy’s journey through the long hospital stays and the incredibly large amounts of time traveling back and forth to and from our home, I remember the one thing that seemed to be missing. It was my son’s spirit. He is quick and joyful and full of wonderful amounts of energy. It is impossible to keep up with him.

As the hospital stays got longer I saw that amazing spirit disappear. I did just about everything I could to bring it back. It took time and it took being a cheerleader to keep that energy present. We played games. We talked. We moved heaven and earth to maintain his joy.

We are far removed from those horribly rough times. I have seen the return of the old spirit that my son fearlessly shares. I have seen a joy return that has been missing for quite a while. He is happy and very glad to be where he is right now. He indeed gives thanks for the journey.

As a parent watching and sharing in this journey, I am amazed at the many life lessons that this incredibly boy of mine continues to teach me. I learned from him that the worst possible things can happen, but that little seed of faith that is in the core of who we are can be ignited to bring us comfort during the hard times. Just because the journey becomes hard does not mean that our travels are not worth the effort. We must continue to stay strong and to keep moving forward in spite of the obstacles that seem to stand in our way.

So, today I give thanks for my amazing son who teaches me the greatest of life’s lessons every day. I am grateful that even at my age I am learning the biggest lessons from an eight year old. Praise be to God for him and for the one who fills my soul with so much gratitude that the only thing I can do is to stand and shout, “Hallelujah!”

I Will Teach You How to Skate

I am reflecting back on the journey my family and I have taken over the course of the year. My youngest son spent almost every holiday between October thru February in the hospital.  I helplessly stood by and watched my son lose the ability to walk.  He was suffering from an internal bleed that occurred right in the knee joint.  As the bleed progressed he lost mobility in his right leg.  He could not extend his leg fully and the bleeding continued for almost four months.

Hemophilia has reared its ugly head in our family many more times than I care to admit. At times living with the effects of a bleeding disorder takes a toll on one’s psyche.  For me as the caregiver it is sometimes overwhelming. I can’t imagine how my son must feel.

Last week my stinky boy and I went to the ice rink near my home. He wanted to go with me to see me skate.  I enjoyed seeing him sit in the stands.  This was a part of my life that I had not shared with him.  The ice actually is my solitude.

As I was leaving the ice my son said to me, “Daddy, I wish I could skate.” It never occurred to me that he would want to join me.  I quickly grabbled around for the right words to say to him.  I said, “Son, I will teach you how to skate.”  As I listened to the words come out of my mouth I realized that all I have to offer my amazing boy are words of assurance.  Sometimes a quick message of hope is all that we can bring to the table in the toughest of times.  These mighty words filled with confidence and a promise that things will not stay the same.

I give thanks today that we are at a new point in our treatment. Knock on wood, my son has not had a bleed since February.  With the help of a good physical therapist he is beginning to walk again.  It is our hope that he will not depend on a wheelchair in the very near future.  We will look back on this season of struggle and give thanks for the lessons that we have learned through these difficult times.

I will teach him to skate. I will also teach him many other things reserved for dads and sons.  I will continue to be his biggest cheerleader; his biggest advocate.  I will…

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