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!
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.
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.
On Thursday I was going through my daily tasks of clergy life when I received an unexpected e-mail from a friend. I smiled and continued my day. By Friday I had heard from several other friends (all in the same boat of navigating church life). At this point, I could not help but give thanks for what they all bring to my life.
Throughout our lives we are given the gift of friendships and enjoy the company of wonderful people who weave their way in and out of our lives with careful attention to the patterns that are stitched together in the depths of our spirits. Some people journey with us a lifetime while others are only with us for brief periods of time. No matter how long they are with us there is one truth that exists; our lives are better because they taught us valuable lessons to which we hold fast. We live stronger. We love richer and deeper.
Today I am especially grateful for my new friends that attend Austin Seminary. Yes we will journey on with the hope that we will stand and celebrate the milestone of receiving our Doctorate of Ministry degree. Somewhere in the middle of this educational pursuit, I have come to realize that one of the biggest life lessons that I am continuing to learn is that it is never too late to share in the joys of friendships.
I give thanks that we are hard wired to share our lives with each other. I look forward to the many more times we will have to discuss life’s issues and rejoice in a project being finished, or a life event that occurs. This is the spark that motivates me to continue my journey. Praise be to the One who created us. Today my amazing friends, I say, “Thanks be to God for you!” Oh yeah, and did I mention that I give thanks?
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!”
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!”
I asked my son to come and help prepare the church for tonight’s gathering. We will honor and remember the ancient custom known as Stations of the Cross. As our fantastic Youth Director guided us through the preparation, my son mentioned to me that this was a lot of work for one night. I explained to him that our practices and customs are very important to us and that if just one person experienced the resurrected Christ in a new and profound way, then our work was not in vain.
I can take it a step further; even if no one’s heart was changed it was worth every ounce of energy that we all utilized to finish the beautiful reminder of God’s incredible gift of freedom from spiritual bondage given to us. It is overwhelming to think that God offered humanity the most incredible of all presents knowing full well there was a tremendous amount of risk involved in His offering. Jesus’ followers could have run away and left without giving their rabbi another thought. All could have been lost. The light of the world could have been diminished and snuffed out before it ever defeated the darkness.
I am very humbled by the thought that God carried out this incredible sacrifice to ensure my salvation. The Divine poured out amazing love that falls down on us from heaven in the gift of His very own Son. Every once and a while I think of the holy risk given to call my heart and fall down in worship because I am loved in a way that can never be fully put into words. We have been redeemed or called back into right relationship by God. Our souls are restored to a holy and loving heavenly presence. Not because we deserved it, but because God chose it for us. This night I only think, “Praise be to God, who has the victory over sin and death!” I thank God because if just one person experienced the resurrected Christ in a new and profound way, then the work (our gift of salvation) was worth every moment of heavenly labor.