Paralyzed By the Past

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.

Resurrection on the Darkest of Days

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.

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!

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.

My Mind is a Dangerous Neighborhood

There was a phrase that I heard a long time ago. Someone told me, “My mind is in a dangerous neighborhood, so I never go there alone.” I laughed as my friend revealed this information. As I continue through the years I often come back to that phrase. I think I have even used it in a sermon or two.

There is a lot of truth about my friend’s remark. My mind can travel into some seriously strange places. My thoughts can bring tremendous amounts of joy, but they can also lead me into the darkest places imaginable. Sometimes, thought processes can arrest me and hold me hostage. I am often overwhelmed by my own projections or anxieties stimulated by my psyche.

This is where the power of God steps in and sets within me a new place to dwell. It takes me out of the rough neighborhood and into a place that brings healing and wholeness. I am no longer forced to surrender to the negative thoughts and feelings that want to move into my mental space. I am given the power to reclaim my heart and offer it to God. My strength stems not from my own abilities, but the power of the Holy One.

My task is to remember that I have moved out of the neighborhood of despair and regret and into a place that affirms me and guides me. I am no longer in a place of shame and sorrow. I have to stop acting like I live in that negative space. That is a very hard thing to do; shift my paradigm. I am not left to my own defenses, but it is God who secures my heart. I am a new creation.

For today, let us live in the joy and peace that God gives to us. The world will see that we have been changed. They will see the light that shines in our hearts. They will long to move into a neighborhood similar to ours. We will now be able to say, “I live in a new neighborhood, and it is God who dwells with me. It is divine light that shines and lights my path.” Praise be to God.

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.

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.

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…

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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