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.
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 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.
“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.
“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.
God delivered the people of Israel and what do they manage to do? Gripe about their circumstances. Never mind that Moses, with God’s help, led the people out of bondage. Everyone safely crossed the sea and witnessed one of, if not the most remarkable miracles ever known. They wanted steak, and they wanted it now. Many complained that it would have been better to stay in Egypt than die in the wilderness. In short, gratitude was not the leading practice of the day.
The undercurrent that I hear in the Exodus chapters is fear. How will I survive? Where can I eat? What if?…… While the natural propulsion is to read with complete shock, I don’t believe we are that different than the ancient Hebrews. We witness God’s incredible presence over and over again, only to return to a place of skepticism.
God calls us to come out from under the rocks that leave us hidden from the world, captured by fear. Let the Holy One feed you and give you living water to quench your thirst. We may be in the wilderness sometimes, but the God who delivered us from slavery still leads us to green pastures and quiet waters.
Today, may I continue to walk in the light and celebrate the joy of the Lord, who is my strength. No griping allowed, only shouts of hope. Let us remember to search for the Lord with our whole heart and soul and as we seek out God, may our heart remain set on the riches in which we give thanks. Praise be to our amazing God.
“God answered him (Moses), ‘Who gives a person a mouth? Who makes a person dumb or deaf, keen-sighted or blind? Isn’t it I, Adonai?'” (Ex. 4:11 CJB).
Those of us who either have or are caregivers for those with chronic illness know what it is like to feel as if we are the cause of our loved one’s affliction. We said or did something wrong, and because of our sins, our punishment is relegated to those closest to us. Guilt overwhelms us and leaves us spiritually paralyzed. We ask ourselves, “What have I done God, that my dear one must face every day with his/her affliction?” This question reverberates over and over in our brains until we cannot hear the truth that everyone is created in the image of God.
I’ve moderated many groups of those with bleeding disorders. Because the genetic marker is on the X-chromosome, hemophilia is passed through the mothers DNA. Newly diagnosed families handle the shock in different ways. It is my experience that a mother feels a tremendous amount of guilt while a father is frustrated because he cannot fix the problem. It is out of his control.
Enter the fantastic verse from Exodus. While Moses attempts to make every excuse known to man why he should not be the one who returns to Egypt to free the Hebrew people from slavery, God says, “Hold up Moses! What is going on with you? I made everybody, including those who have every kind of disability. I even created those with every type of chronic illness known and unknown (I insert the word hemophilia).
Hear this, let us be very careful in who we call whole and healthy. To God, there is no difference between any of us. The Creator did not make a mistake when we were fashioned together in the womb of our mothers. Everyone one of us is made in the imageo Dei (image of God). As such, we are all perfectly designed. Each of us created with a spirit longing to sing praises unto our God.
This day, let us live with purpose knowing whose we are. Seek out the God of our understanding and sit in silence, giving thanks to the Creator. Chronic illness may change how we live our lives and relate to the world, but they can never keep us from living out our purpose in a society that cannot fathom how we can live in a state of joy always and everywhere, giving thanks to our amazing God. Amen.
Gratitude…what a simple little word with incredible depth. There is no other way to describe the moments when I am overcome with thanksgiving for my journey. Sometimes I have climbed some very large mountains, while at other times I simply walk in quiet pastures. While the scenery may change at a moment’s notice, the presence of God is with me, always encouraging me to continue down the path.
The past few weeks have proven very rough. Sometimes, there have been mountains that appeared to be too high, or too impossible to climb. The good news is that I reached the summit and continued my journey. Each challenge has been met. Each experience a chance to grow in grace.
And through it all, there is an incredible awareness of gratitude. Thanks to the friends who remind me that I am a part of something so much bigger than I could imagine on my own. Grateful for colleagues who support me and encourage me to continue to grow and become the pastor and person that I want to be. And most of all, a family who believes in me and encourages me to continue to reach for the stars.
Today, I am thankful for the presence of the Divine, as I am filled with strength and purpose. Thanks be to the One who is my creator, who designed me to be the person that I am, complete with joy and hope. Praise be to God, who fashions us in His image. My hope is that we all might remember that we are created to be who we are and not anybody else. We are enough! End of story.
There is someone that I know that just celebrated a tremendous milestone. There is a reason to be happy and give thanks for the many hurdles that had to be crossed in order to reach this amazing goal. There were tremendous odds to face and mountains to climb, but when all is said and done, he continues to focus on his failures that he encountered along the way. Never mind that he achieved his prize. He can’t seem to get past the many times that he made a wrong turn on the road.
The way that this person handles his success leaves me frustrated. Why can’t he simply see that he made it regardless of how poor his choices were along the way? The truth is, there are very few things in life in which you can have do overs. You either achieve a goal, or you fail.
There is no guarantee that we will always make the best choices as we reach for a dream or an objective in life. We are not perfect. To assume that we must rise to the standard of perfection is absurd at its best. We are human, and as such, we sometimes get things wrong. It is within our nature to veer off the path. Praise be to God that there is one who can help us return back to the main road when we are far off course.
Today, I give thanks for a God that loves me enough to seek me out and lead me back to the correct path way. I am grateful that, while I am not perfect, the one who is flawless lives within me. I pray that we may continue to live as well as we can; to love as deep and rich as we possibly can. May the God of your understanding bring you peace and happiness as you surrender your imperfections to the One, who makes us whole.
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.