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!”

Fear is a Part of Life

I have to admit something right off the bat. I am a pastor and I struggle with fear. I have heard it said that a pastor should never allow fear to enter his/her life. Faith should be enough to carry a “person of the cloth” through any situation. Well, if only it were that easy.

The truth is fear is a reality that seems to be present in my life and makes its way into my psyche without warning and without any introduction. This past week my youngest son was admitted into the hospital and had his fifth port-o-cath removed and his sixth placed in a new position in his body. For some reason I had a tremendous amount of anxiety regarding this his eleventh or twelfth surgery (I’ve lost count). I kept thinking that the Spirit had protected my son in the past, but another procedure is really tempting the fates.

I did the one thing that I never do; I lost control of my emotions. I am very good at keeping things in check except when it comes to my family. I tend to love much deeper and feel things much stronger where my wife and children are concerned. So, it should have been expected that fear would be present in most aspects of my life. In other words, the “What Ifs?” were killing me.

As I was feeling overwhelmed, a Bible verse came to me. The text reminded me that my son would be protected and that he would be okay. I felt a sense of relief wash over me as I claimed the promise found in this special verse. While it did not wipe away all of my anxiety it did bring me a sense of peace.

I thought about the crazy notion that a pastor does not, or should not fear. I say balderdash to that idea. The truth is, we are human. We can get angry, happy, sad, resentful, etc… The issue is not that we feel emotions, but whether we let our emotions become our god. Notice I put the little “g” and not the big “G”. That is the constant struggle with fear. While it is normal to experience feelings, nothing should replace the source of strength to which we are called. For me, I reclaimed my strength in a verse from scripture. I didn’t go from frazzled to fantastic, but I did reclaim the source of hope that holds me up when my path becomes uncertain.

My prayer is that we all my return back to our source of hope, light, and life when we struggle. May you encounter that Divine spark and let it illuminate your soul to penetrate the darkness. It all comes down to one word; trust. This five letter word filled with a ton of meaning.

What will be your God? The choice is yours to decide.

There Is Indeed a Time for Everything

“There’s a season for everything and a time for every matter under the heavens” (Eccl. 3:1 CEB).

I am drawn to the reading from the Book of Ecclesiastes 3:1-13.  There is something about the incredible awareness of being human that the author brings to the table of our everyday life; that humanity acknowledges before God that there are times that we celebrate as well as times that we struggle.  Of course, the selfish side of me would like to play God’s hand and make him take away the trying times in life.  My prayers tend to be selfish like, “God take this away from me.  Let me know perfect health.  Let my family know perfect peace.  Take hemophilia off of my children’s back.  We have dealt with this bleed for so long.  It is time to release my son from his pain.”  My prayers are not wrong, they are simply a petition to move forward to times of peace and wholeness.  The first thing we want to do when faced with difficult times is to get out of the chaos as quickly as possible.  Who wants to feel trapped in a rough situation?  Not me.

The passage from Ecclesiastes reminds me that life consists of everything.  To deny suffering is to deny joy.  We must face whatever it is that life throws our way.  That is our human condition.  There is no way around it, we must move forward in our victories and our defeats.  How we respond to the situations that we face determines our attitude and awareness of the Divine presence in the middle of all of life’s issues.  We must put our trust in the God who rejoices with us on the mountain tops and carries us through the difficult times in the valleys.  To expect there to be no valleys takes away the joy of the mountain top experiences.  Joy – sadness, faith – doubt, happiness – sorrow; they must remain in balance in our everyday lives.

My hope for all of us this year is that we can praise God while we celebrate and cling to God in our times of greatest need.  May the endless blessings of God surround you so that while you are in the valleys, you may look up towards the mountains and journey forward to the summits of peace, love, and joy.  I pray that you may be comforted by God in whatever season of life in which you find yourselves.  I hope that you may be able to say, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the final victory in Christ Jesus, our Lord.  Amen.”

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