It’s All About Practice

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!

Facing the Darkness

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!

The Art of Changing

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!

Stepping Out of the Box

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!

Hope

I think “hope” is one of the most powerful words in our vocabulary. It moves us forward with the possibilities of what can be. Through this little four letter word “hope” we can see a light at the end of the tunnel. There is a promise that relief will come and we will move forward into a place that is free of some of our current struggles and/or situations. We will have options and choices not known to us in the current moment.

In my faith tradition hope is everything. God’s divine care and providence are as much a part of my life as the air that I breathe. Tomorrow I am preaching on the Hebrew Bible text found in the Book of Jeremiah (31:31-34). I am talking about the new covenant made to the people of God as they attempt to find a new normal in a world that has changed drastically.

In the middle of it all, God comes to the prophet Jeremiah and speaks words of hope and promise. The Holy One will establish a new way of living and being with His people. This will be a covenant like none other. “No, this is the covenant that I will make with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my Instructions within them and engrave them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 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” (Jer. 31:33-34 CEB).

As I write this I remember the journey with my younger son over the last couple of years. I remember those days in the hospital that turned into weeks at a time. I remember staying up with him as he screamed in pain. “When will this stop?” Many of those days and nights the only thing my family could do was hope. I am happy to say that we are living in the middle of that hope. We have made it past a year since his last joint bleed. Praise be to God!

Today I am grateful for the hope found in my faith. This is God’s promise to me found in the very depths of my soul. Praise be to the God who knows us inside and out. The God who loves us beyond our own understanding will illumine our paths so that we can move forward in the promises that were given to us.

The Revelation of God

I’m not talking about the big loud thunder crashes, lightning bolts, and dramatic revelations.  I mean the kinds where God may quietly reveal His presence to you throughout the day.  It can be in the form of a phone call from a friend, the kindness of a passing stranger, or even a smell or picture that calls to mind God’s awesome presence.  Some call it a coincidence, but I call it divine intervention.  Whatever it is, we are left with the amazing awareness that something greater than us calls us to be a part of that which is bigger than our own little corner of the world.

Many times in life God has set me on a journey.  Many times I have come to appreciate God’s voice located in the still, small, silent discoveries along the way.  Things that may not appear to be much at first glance, but in the end are just as important as the big things.  They are the wonderful little nuggets of knowledge that we glean from our desire to grow in God’s will for our lives.

We simply have to be open to the quiet discoveries along the way.  Reflect and know that the Creator continues to pour blessings in your life.  While they are subtle, they are incredibly profound and important.  All that is required is a willing heart.

Today, I give thanks for the times where God is undeniably present.  I also give thanks for the times when I must be still and allow God’s love to quietly flow through me and around me.  These times of peace lead to times of strength and confidence in the awareness of spirit.  May we leave ourselves open to God’s breath to speak hope and healing into our lives.

How Amazing Is That?

My wife and I were walking past an exhibit at a craft show yesterday and a phrase caught my attention.  Since I don’t know the author, I feel like I am not at liberty to quote it.  What captivated me was the incredible intimacy of the writing.  The sentence reaffirms the unique and incredible bond between a mother and her children.  There is a place that I as a man and father will never be able to travel, nor will ever be able to experience.  A heartbeat from the inside out.

I first thought of my own mother and was overcome with how much I miss her.  I then thought about the love of God that has known us since we were created.  How intimately and thoroughly the Holy Spirit knows me.  Think about it.  This One who is the creator started the beating of our hearts.  Like the author of Psalm 139, “This knowledge is too much for me; it’s so high above me that I can’t fathom it” (vs. 6 CEB).

The reality is that we are linked together by God’s incredible knowledge and love for us.  It is in our very DNA.  We long for a relationship with the One who has known us before our mothers had a clue that we were being formed.  How amazing is that?  Again, I am speechless.  For those who know me, that is an awesome wonder to behold.

It is very easy to take for granted our relationship with God without considering the incredible and unique nature of the divine love which has been poured out over us from our humblest of beginnings. Sometimes, when we are prompted by signs, we remember (and hopefully give thanks) for this amazing gift that was given to us before our first heartbeat, before our first breath, even before our first memory.  This Holy Presence has been with us; and will continue to stay with us.  Again I ask, “How amazing is that?”

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.

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.

bloodwinewally

Supernatural Sites

Sacred Flow

Yoga. Community. Collaboration.

christopherjoiner

Some Thoughts Along the Way

Cazandra Campos-MacDonald

We take our journey with love and hope.

Perseverance Runner

Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.

strugglewell

That marriages in crisis will find Biblical solutions and reconciliation

jefflust

Reflections on leadership and what it means to be the church God intends for the 21st century.