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.
“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.
Last week I was in Glorietta, NM attending the New Mexico Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. I went home on Friday and flew to Austin, Texas to take my third class in my Doctorate of Ministries studies. While I enjoy traveling, I am a home body at heart. There is nothing more enjoyable to me than to be at home working on projects around the house. The last thing I wanted to do this morning was get on a plane.
While it is exhausting, I am reminded that the journey is worth it. Through all of the struggle and stress, the prize is in sight. It is just a matter of continuing forward and not stopping. That is the key to our struggles. We must journey on.
As we continue down the path, we learn to appreciate the marvels of God that surround us. It can come in the form of a friend who sends a text to let you know that he/she is thinking of you, a friend who strikes up a conversation that reminds you how important that you are in their world, or a colleague who hand picks you to be their partner for a class project. In whatever way God chooses to reveal God’s self in your life, you must be present on the journey to notice the still small voice that is holy and divine.
Today, I am thankful for friends who reveal themselves in mysterious ways in my life. I give thanks to a God who reminds me that moments with special people are separate and holy. It all starts as a part of the journey. Let us remember to give thanks to the One, who created us and gave us the heart to be a part of a wonderful family.
Today is a holiday to remember and give thanks for those who have served in our Armed Forces. It is with gratitude that I say, “Thank you for your service.” I give thanks for the many members of my family who made a difference in my life. There are not enough words to express my thanks for leaving an incredible legacy to my generation. We must move forward equipped with the gift of hope and passion.
In addition to showing my appreciation for those who served in our military, I am grateful for a wonderful day of rest. There was nothing exciting about the day. It was quiet and peaceful; just the kind of day that is needed every now and then. I claimed sanctuary at home and did some much needed tasks around the house.
I caught myself starting the day feeling a little anxious. How would I make my day count? What will I do to claim success? The answer was, be still and know. Through my anxiety, I simply heard, “Joe, just chill out. Enjoy your day.”
Sometimes it is a little rough to stay still. I am hard wired to get up in the morning and hit the ground running. It seems like there are not enough hours in the day for me to accomplish every task that I want to finish. I think, “If I only had another hour.” I know that if I had another hour I would find a way to use it up, only needing another and another. It seems to not stop.
Today I give thanks for a day of rest. I am grateful to live in a nation that allows me to pursue my heart’s desire. I give thanks for the many men and women who have secured our freedom. May we continue to honor their sacrifices by living our lives with purpose and joy. While we rest, let us remember to direct our lives so that others may see the light of Christ that flows from the deepest parts of our spirit.
As Holy Saturday draws to a close I feel as if I am walking through a door to begin another adventure. My Lenten obligation is fulfilled with the writing of this blog entry. Forty days of writing have been lessons in commitment and overcoming fear. While sometimes I felt overwhelmed by continuing to put my thoughts into written words each day, I leave the season of Lent with a sense of purpose and gratitude.
Before the season started it would take me literally hours to post a blog. I would check my writing over and over again for errors, expressions, or anything else that caught my eye. It got to the point that it became too exhausting to write an entry. I didn’t have enough hours in my day to proof my work and get other tasks accomplished. Writing each day gave me the freedom to express myself without having to be so incredibly critical of what I put on paper.
I am not saying that my work was not well thought out. I made sure that I had a purpose for creating an entry each day. Through this journey I was open to where the Spirit led me. There was a surrender to the presence of the Holy Mystery, as it revealed something within my spirit each and every day. There were only a couple of times that I struggled to put something down. Most days were filled with a divine guidance and a joy for living.
Now this daily journey is coming to a close, but the lessons that I learned throughout the season enhance my walk and my faith. I know that I will not be able to continue writing every day, but I will be sitting down to put pen to paper much more often than I had before Ash Wednesday. Praise be to God, who still guides us and teaches us throughout our lives. We grow by moving forward and not remaining idle.
So, I leave this space by walking through a new door. I do not know what opportunities are ahead of me, but I do know who guides me. I look forward to seeing what my new space will feel like. What will the new part of this road look like? There is only one way to find out the answer to the question. That is by moving forward.
Today, I am grateful for the journey through Lent to get to Easter. I travel embracing the life lessons that will be revealed as I continue down my path. This is my hope. This is my joy. This is my strength.
Today is a day that our church traditionally focuses on the death of Jesus. Our church service is usually called the Service of Darkness. There is typically little, if any, light in the sanctuary. I am drawn to it because it is one of the very few services where we worship in a more contemplative style. The quiet is very loud as we observe the darkest part of our tradition. We remember the times that we have failed to be a people of faith. Remembering these bleak times, we ask forgiveness.
It is with my thoughts looking toward the darkness that I was asked to preside at a memorial service this morning. We celebrated the life of an amazing man. It was a beautiful day here in Rio Rancho and the sun seemed to glow especially bright. As I began the memorial service this morning I thought of the paradox between the mood of the day as it gave way to the observance of death in the evening.
In the morning, I quoted scripture reminding the mourners of the hope of resurrection and the life to come. I spoke of the same death that I would observe in the evening. This one that is God’s gift to the world. With 21st century eyes, I know what happens after the death. There is life and a divine renewal of hope and spirit. We didn’t have to act like it hadn’t happened. Like Paul Harvey, we know the rest of the story.
Those that attended the memorial service needed to hear the rest of the story. They needed the words of hope in that moment. It couldn’t wait until Easter. Unlike our ancient predecessors, we are able to offer the words of the Gospel when everything around us is dark and uninviting. Praise be to God for the gift!
My hope for today is that we not wait to share the good news of God for a particular moment, but we are actively sharing now. I hope that we take the message of love to a world that is starving to hear something that brings strength in times of weakness. Let us remember to continue to live as Christ’s disciples. We can change the world by bringing the light of joy and peace into the darkest of places.
As a pastor, I learn lessons about life from just about everyone that I meet. Each person teaches me a little jewel about how to live with God and each other. Some lessons are extremely uplifting and positive, while others are more about what not to do. While sometimes being very uncomfortable, I am grateful for these nuggets of life’s lessons.
One of the greatest lessons that I have learned is the importance of studying scripture. I need to spend time studying holy writings as much as I need air. Knowing the teachings and sayings that illuminated men and women have spoken over the years equips me to call upon divine help in moments of struggle. In order to summon God’s help, I must know what to say. Scripture gives us the words by which we can live and struggle in this world.
I have seen people call upon the name of God without opening a Bible, nor anything else that directs them to the Holy One. To put it bluntly, we must study the Word to be equipped with the Word. It is through study that holy love is revealed to us. How can we identify if God is there, if we don’t know what we are looking for? We must search the sacred text to explore the possibilities of divine intervention. It is like starting on a journey without a map. Sometimes you might get lucky and discover something completely by mistake, but more often than not, you will surely miss the mark. You must have something that gets you from point “A” to point “B”.
Today I hope to discover how God leads me as I continue to study and search for God’s purpose in my life. I hope to not simply “go through the motions,” but continue to live with the presence of the Holy One. Sometimes the map is easy to follow, while at other times it seems like the map has blown away. It is through all times that we set our sights on God. The Divine will show us the way if we let Him. Praise be to God, who gives us the victory!
I know that my last few posts have been a little darker than normal, but t’is the season. In the Christian tradition we are entering the most sacred time in our faith. Sunday will begin the week known as Holy Week. We will end the week with the time known as the Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday). Our eyes move beyond our own spiritual commitment and on to the sacrifice of God. We remember the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
I have celebrated many a Holy Week, but I continue to struggle in fully comprehending the nature of love as God shared with humanity. And the answer to the big why question (Why do we remember the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus?) is pretty simple: We remember the Triduum out of divine love for the highest order of creation. Holy love came to us to reclaim the core of our identity.
The thought of all of this is overwhelming. I know that my words fail me every time I try to answer the “big why” question. Perhaps it is best by not seeking out a definitive answer. Maybe it is best to simply live every day in gratitude for the One who gave us life. It could be that our words will always fall short in answering such a large question, but maybe our works are our response to the giver of the wonderful gift that was given unselfishly to us.
Today I am grateful for the Passion of Christ. The one who taught me to face the darkness, because on the other side there is light. My journey may take me through the darkest of places, but I know the perpetual light of God will see me through those times until I am on the other side of my struggle; embracing the holy light of the One who leads me. This is the core and basis of my faith. This indeed is my strength. Praise be to God, who gives us the final victory!
I once heard a favorite pastor of mine ask a congregation, “Is it truly possible to change, or do we simply rearrange the chairs on the deck of the Titanic?” I initially laughed at my friend’s question, but started thinking about what was being asked. To keep it in a Wesleyan perspective, do we truly change when our heart is “strangely warmed?”
There are people that I know that swear to a radical shift in ideas and focus. I know that there are people who truly experience an amazing transformation. Many come to a place in their lives where they profess that change has occurred, yet spend a rather large amount of time attempting to convince themselves that something really occurred. They boldly proclaim that Jesus is the one who has changed their hearts, yet live in doubt and fear when faced with life’s many issues.
What is the change that occurs? We can give the religious hard line answer that, “Jesus changed my life,” but how are we living like he really made an impact on our thoughts and actions? I believe that when true change occurs there is a shift in our way of thinking. I do not believe that we get a little “Jesus Juice” and start living our lives as if we are completely different people. Little by little we exchange our old world view and our reactions to it, for an approach that is life affirming and life giving.
Change is not achieved in one single moment. It takes a lifetime. I think this is what it means to move forward towards perfection (Again another Wesleyan statement). And as we continue through our journey, there is one thing that we know to be true, the God of grace will forgive us. This leads to the stumbling block to true change; accepting the gift of grace. I mean at the heart level. If we don’t accept the idea that God will love us into perfection, then are we truly changed?
I don’t want to live as if I am simply rearranging the chairs, I want to share a message of hope and love. I want to let people know that this incredible God of all things changed my heart and life; from the inside out. I want to live as one who has accepted and holds dear the notion of divine love and amazing grace. Praise be to God, who gives us the victory!
Today was a little uncomfortable for me. Not in a bad way. Today, in my sermon, I made my feelings known regarding a theological issue. I try to avoid going too far away from center on just about every Sunday, because I know that we have people on each side of the aisle. Our church does an amazing job of accepting people as they are. We are a diverse congregation. I think that is a great strength. So, in respect to my conservative and progressive friends, I try to preach the truth of the Gospel in a way that all can hear and understand right where they are. It is a slippery slope, but I think I maintain a balance pretty well.
Today, I discussed the new covenant found in the 31st chapter of the Book of Jeremiah. The basis of my theological assumption was found in the 34th verse: “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.” I stressed the inclusive nature of the phrase. The text says “all” and not just a specific group. Thanks be to God, my sermon was well received.
The Christian tradition has a past that at times excludes people. I called that to mind and basically said, “Who are we to judge? That is God’s work and not ours.” We play judge and jury in many different ways. I could write a list of how others minimalized my voice, but that is not the point. The main thing that cries out from this holy covenant is that God no longer remembers any wrong doing, so why should we?
Today, may we remember that this covenant is made for “all” and not just for “some.” We must leave space at the table and allow God to determine who is in and who is out. That is how we are to live and be in this world. Let us focus on being grateful that we are called to the Supper and we are not left to our own devices. Praise be to God who gives us the final victory!