Today we begin the season of Lent. As Christians, we discover an invitation to explore the darkest parts of ourselves – the part of our souls cut off from the joy we celebrate in Christ. Our journey reminds us of the many ways we need to discover God’s great love, even in places we could never imagine God inhabiting. With hope, the reexamination of our hearts compels us to respond to Christ’s invitation to feast with him in a way that leads us closer to our redeemer.
Although I did not worship in a tradition that observed Lent, I later learned the season’s significance. This period of forty days before the celebration of Easter calls me to look into the darkness and bring the light to those places that call out for help. My participation must require a fearless examination of my life to be a better disciple. Only by practicing my faith can I overwhelm the dark places in my soul with holy light. Through my spiritual disciplines, Christ may speak into those spaces that feel lost and rejected.
In the middle of our distress, I pray that the light of Christ illuminates our paths, piercing through the darkness. I ask God’s presence to captivate us and set free our hearts so that we may follow in fullness. All these things I ask for those who need to hear a bit of Good News during this time. Come, Lord Jesus, and fill our hearts with sacred peace. Amen.
There are moments in ministry, especially itinerant service when moving occurs. Sometimes the possibilities of moving forward appear to be the next right steps. This experience is not the case for me at this moment. This week I had a conversation with my District Superintendent to discuss the ministries of my current church, along with my wishes regarding moving. I told him that I felt like possibilities for growth and renewal continued gathering speed in our church and that I was not interested in leaving. I also understand that I serve in a system that can move me to any church where my gifts and graces may further the cause of Christ.
As a pastor in an itinerant system, I feel joy as the church supports my leadership. I give thanks to the congregation members at the First United Methodist Church of Belen, who serve God with all their hearts. Our house of worship is a fantastic place to be, and I cannot wait to see the amazing possibilities that lie before us. The seeds of growth found rest in the bed of faith and hope. Let us continue to nurture and water the soil so that ministry may grow and bloom.
This day, I give thanks to the men and women professing the love of Christ and serving in their churches. May the love of God make the holy presence known through your love and care. May we all give thanks for the houses of worship that we call home, remembering our first encounters with the Holy One began in those places. Remember your Baptism, be grateful, and reach out to a world in need to hear the Good News of Christ.
I must say that my heart is full this week of Thankgsliving. My oldest son arrived in town last night, and the first thing we did was sing together. In my world, there is nothing quite like singing with my very talented son. I know that I am prejudiced, but I can’t help enjoying the sound of our voices blending. There is nothing like the beautiful colors of sound that we share as we make a joyful noise.
I think of my relationship with Christ and hope that the traits that I share with my son are as close. For example, when I pray, do I pray with the same passion as Jesus? Do I treat others in a way that glorifies the Father? I hope that my faith is so interconnected to the Divine that my actions reflect the Creator.
Many people tell me that my son’s voice blends so well with mine that they have trouble telling our sounds apart. May that be the same for my God, who guides me on my journey, and me. May this time of Thanksliving be a constant reminder that our gratitude should mirror the source of all good things. I hope that everyone celebrates and lives in a spirit of praise and hope, for the light is in the world and among us.
Every day I find the busy-ness of life calls for rapid decisions and constant movement. If I am not careful, I can move from busy to overwhelmed at a lightning-fast pace. I run at 100 miles per hour and then wonder why I have nothing left in the tank. Decisions I make throughout the day control spaces in my brain that need to remain free to finish projects or listen to hearts that need to speak.
To combat all the noise that reverberates through my mind, I must find pockets of rest, moments to stop and reflect on God’s goodness. While observing the Sabbath over a day or two is excellent, I find that I must stop and observe pockets of mini-Sabbaths to keep me focused and give me mental toughness throughout my day. The more I practice mindfulness and spiritual reflection, the better pastor, friend, spouse, father I become.
Taking time to rest is not a luxury but a necessity. I need time to fill my spiritual tank as much as I need air. Unfortunately, my busy-ness can get in the way of my relationship with God. That might sound like a contradiction in terms I am a pastor and do the work of God on earth. My work, however, should not be my primary focus. The center of our lives is faith. How can works flow from the gift of grace when the free present offered never receives care?
Today, I commit fifteen minutes to stop and receive the quiet reminder that I am God’s child. May freedom allow me to experience the presence of the Holy One, who so generously gives love beyond anything I can fathom. I take in the breath of God to exhale goodness, kindness, and understanding. May I remember to stop, even for one minute, and reflect on the mercy of the Holy One of Israel and experience transformation.
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.
As a pastor, I am privileged to a wealth of information. There are times that I just shake my head and keep moving forward. No matter what I hear, I try to listen for the truth that is sometimes buried deep within the stories that people tell. Through the deep level of hurt and sadness, there lies the mustard seed of our deepest wants along with our deepest needs. The challenge that I face as a pastoral caregiver is to encourage people to tap into these deep places.
Too often we stop, afraid to travel to the headwaters of our souls. Many of us are afraid of what we may find. This is an allusion because all of us who have boldly made the journey find freedom at the realization of our true selves. I am speaking about our most authentic selves. That part of us that includes the divine spark of ingenuity. The space that the very core of who we are and what we believe exists.
We know the time that we tap into the special places in our hearts. Something within us comes to life. The gospel of our lives transforms us and strengthens us. We find a renewed spark of hope, and a commitment to remain faithful to the truths that have been shared by the Divine.
There is a part of us that is not wounded by pain. It is bathed in light and provides strength. Sometimes it is masked by layers upon layers of hurt, shame, regret, etc… Once discovered, the possibilities are endless. We must remain diligent to rediscover who we were created to be.
Today, I am thankful for the journey. I am grateful that I boldly travel into the deeper resources of my soul to discover my truest self. My hope is that we all may walk on towards healing and wholeness so that we may claim the promises revealed to us by our Creator. Praise be to God, who gives us the victory.
This picture was taken at my sons’ favorite restaurant. It is called Burrito Express. Both boys enjoy the wonderful tortillas that are made on the spot. This restaurant is as close to Tex-Mex that we can get living in Rio Rancho. We are New Mexicans by choice, but the food from Texas will always be near and dear to our hearts.
Don’t let my 19 year old son’s face fool you. He had a good time in spite of my request to take a selfie. I am sure everyone remembers those incredibly awkward moments that you did something out of a sense of obligation. The expression on my son’s face says it all. “Dad, please. Taking this picture is not the highlight of my day.” While that may be so, the food was well worth it!
What I enjoyed, more than the food, was a chance to connect with my stinky sons. We sat and ate and laughed about ridiculous things. These are moments that I treasure beyond words, for they capture the unique camaraderie that I share with these two amazing men. I hope that this is a summer that they will look back on and smile as they remember that insane picture, the delicious food, and their insane dad, smiling with absolute joy over being blessed with small bursts of time with my amazing sons.
Today, I am grateful for my family, who constantly remind me that when life gets messy and stressful, they are there to be a place of comfort. I look at this picture and realize that I am very blessed. I could never have imagined that I would be the father of these guys, much less a husband (In December we will be married for 23 years) to the one who is truly the love of my life. Praise Be to God, indeed!
I could write about the wonderful class that I just finished at Austin Presbyterian Seminary, but then I would also have to write about the amazing friendships that I developed while I was in Austin. I could write about the incredible fact that my son is turning nineteen years old tomorrow, but then I would also have to write about the amazing gift of being a father. With so many amazing things going on around me, I think I can sum them all up in a simple little word; miraculous.
It is a herculean feat that I am even enrolled in a doctorate program. Boys with my demographic background are lucky to get a high school diploma. How blessed am I to not adhere to such low expectations. I serve a God that whispers incredible strength into my soul and says to me, “You are not finished! Continue to reach for heights beyond anything or anyone. I created in you a desire to live out your life, complete with passion and joy.”
And the friendships that I am developing at the Seminary…well, let’s just say that they are the kind that one hopes for throughout one’s life. These amazing people that have made it clear that I am loved unconditionally. Those words can be said, but when they are spoken with heart and truth, they are game changers. It is indeed what I call miraculous.
Then there is my son, that is one of the greatest gifts (my youngest son included) that I could have ever been given. He is an amazing young man with incredible amounts of talents. I never knew how to identify a miracle in my life, until I saw his face. That incredible face, that looked on me immediately, and I knew that I was standing in the presence of a divine gift from God himself. How blessed I am to have this one human being change my life in ways that I could have never imagined. And it all took one little word; daddy.
Today, I am humbled to see the miraculous all around me. I see it in my family, my friends, my calling into ministry. Praise be to God who continues to mold me and places signs and miracles all around me to remind me that I call someone mein vati. My daddy.
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.