Medicine for the Soul

 

 

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Scripture – Psalm 23

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside the still waters; He restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff – they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

Reflection

David is credited as the author of Psalm 23. It is no surprise because David was a shepherd boy, and he knew about the realities and dangers of shepherding a flock. Psalm 23 is profound in meaning and scope. It uses strong metaphors that acknowledge the threats and opposition one faces in life. It’s six short verses span over the course of one’s life experience and beyond.  Scholars believe that the psalm’s reference to the “house of the Lord” in verse 6 is a reference to the temple that David hoped to build (2 Samuel 7:1-14).  So, David must have written the psalm later on in his tempered and mature life as he reflected back upon God’s faithfulness and steadfast love toward him throughout the years.

Many of us first heard the comforting psalm when we were children in Sunday School or during vacation bible school or at home during our family devotional and prayer times. We often hear this psalm read to comfort those who mourn at memorial and funeral services. The simplistic beauty and comfort contained in the twenty-third Psalm, especially during times of distress, is appreciated by all of us. Many of us know this beautiful psalm by heart.

Bernhard Anderson (1916-2007), a United Methodist pastor and Old Testament scholar, has best expressed the value of the twenty-third Psalm when he wrote, “No single psalm has expressed more powerfully humanity’s prayer of confidence ‘out of the depths’ to the God whose purpose alone gives meaning to the span of life, from womb to tomb.”

Each time we read or recite Psalm 23, we take into our souls, a powerful spiritual medicine that refreshes, renews, and restores our faith, our hope, and our strength to keep moving forward in life in both good and challenging times. Reading and reciting Psalm 23 brings us into a deeper dependence upon God’s love and grace and fills us with the assurance that our Good Shepherd, Christ himself, walks with us along our life’s path. Psalm 23’s words of assurance anchor us through life’s long nights, they spiritually restore our weary souls, and they enable us to feel more alive and connected to God and to others.

I invite you to start your days this coming week by reading or reciting Psalm 23. If you have time, practice “Lectio Divina” or “Divine Reading” to open yourself to what God wants to say to you.

For example, select a short portion of Psalm 23 each day such as “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

  • Step 1 – Read the passage slowly and reflectively so that it sinks into you.
  • Step 2 – Meditate on the passage so that you take from it what God wants to give you.
  • Step 3 – Respond by letting your heart speak to God.
  • Step 4 – Contemplate by resting in the Word of God. Listen at the deepest level of your being to God who speaks within you with a still small voice. As you listen, you’ll be gradually transformed from within. Then take what you read and contemplated in the Word of God into your daily life.
  • Step 5 – Keep a written journal to record how God is transforming your life.

Prayer

More than ever I find myself in your hands, O God.

Leadership Lessons I Learned by Watching my Father

Scripture: 2 Timothy 2:1-7

So, my son, throw yourself into this work for Christ. Pass on what you heard from me—the whole congregation saying Amen!—to reliable leaders who are competent to teach others. When the going gets rough, take it on the chin with the rest of us, the way Jesus did. A soldier on duty doesn’t get caught up in making deals at the marketplace. He concentrates on carrying out orders. An athlete who refuses to play by the rules will never get anywhere. It’s the diligent farmer who gets the produce. Think it over. God will make it all plain.

Reflection: 

Happy Father’s Day!

Country Western singer Rodney Atkins sings, “Watching You.” The song’s refrain goes like this:

“I’ve been watching you, dad, ain’t that cool? I’m your buckaroo, I wanna be like you and eat, and grow as tall as you are. We got cowboy boots and camo pants. Yeah, we’re just alike, hey, aint’ we dad? I wanna do everything you do. So I’ve been watching you.”

Dad did not wear cowboy boots or camo pants, but I grew up watching him as a leader in our church, in public education, and in the broader community. Dad is now 83 and very active. He is a veteran who out of high school served four years in the U.S. military with the Air Force. He retired from the field of public education after 52 years of service as a classroom teacher, high school principal, school superintendent, and dean of my hometown community college. He stays engaged with life and people teaching his Sunday School class, something he’s done since the third week after joining First United Methodist Church in Rio Grande City in 1960. He is a member of the Lions Club and visits elementary schools to provide vision testing for children and eyeglasses for those that need them. He serves as an advocate for the South Texas region of the Retired Texas Teachers Association and makes several trips a year to Austin to talk with legislators about issues affecting retired teachers. He walks 4 miles a day, does his own lawn (in 100+ degree weather), and plays golf on the weekends, often scoring better my brother, sons, and me!  I’ve seen him love mom for 58 years, teach us about life, love his grandchildren, help others succeed, and never really ask for anything in return because as he says, “I’m just doing what I am supposed to do.” Yes, I’ve been watching him.

Below are some leadership maxims for the type of leadership I try to practice which I learned from watching my dad.

  1. Stay focused on the mission. That’s your job as a leader. Treat what you do as if it’s the most important job in the world because it makes a difference in people’s lives and in the world and it’s your responsibility for its success. Besides, people are counting you.
  2. Cast a vision that makes people stretch and aspire without exasperating them and give them what they need to succeed. When the vision is accomplished, cast another, and another, and another always stretching people to be a little more and see a little further – “un poquito mas.” At first, some might complain a little but will feel great about themselves and their work when they accomplish it.
  3. Over plan for success and ensure that details are paid attention to – details matter and it’s the small things and little touches that separate good from excellent.
  4. Secure and align material and human resources to accomplish the mission.
  5. Thank the people – always! Especially the invisible ones, the ones that work in the background making things go well – they matter the most. Give away credit to others. Assume responsibility when things do not succeed then work to make them right.
  6. Act confidently to inspire confidence in others, especially in times of uncertainty and chaos. Stay calm. God is with you.
  7. Coach the people to expect more of themselves and to take pride in what they do. People have a depth of talent and gifts. A good leader will identify and call forth the abundant treasury of people’s gifts, talents, and resources.
  8. Delegate authority, responsibility, and accountability to others and specify the expectations and outcomes – they will do better than we imagine.
  9. See the whole of the organization, its interdependencies, its culture, and its direction and lead forward with hope for a brighter future with principle, integrity, firmness, gentleness, and fairness.
  10. If we you forget why you do what you’re doing, take what you do for granted, or lose focus on what you’re doing, go back to # 1.
  11. Above God and your family because they are the ones who care most about you and will be with you when it’s all said and done.

The apostle Paul mentored Timothy, his spiritual son. Timothy was a student of Paul. Timothy watched Paul minister in all sorts of situations with all sorts of people in all sorts of places. Now as Paul is ready to finish his course, he asks Timothy to carry forth the mission. “Pass on what you heard from me—the whole congregation saying Amen!—to reliable leaders who are competent to teach others.”

Perhaps you did not have a biological father to walk alongside you, model, or mentor you in life. But, I’m sure there have been other men in your life you have watched that have inspired you, challenged you, who expected great things from you, and who believed in you. As you have been mentored by a father figure, mentor others and bless their lives with the bounty and richness of your life experience, your faith, your wisdom, and your accompaniment.

Happy Father’s Day! Feliz Dia de Padres.

Seven Fold Blessing Prayer for Father’s

May God be gracious to you. May God bless you. May God make his face shine upon you. May you be strengthened with all power according to God’s glorious might. May you be filled with joy. May God give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. (Drawn from Psalm 67:1, Colossians 1:11, Psalm 20:4)

When Things Seem Hopeless – June 24, 2018

 

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“The Storm on the Sea of Galilee” (Rembrandt, 1633)

Scripture: Mark 4:35-41

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Reflection:

The disciples fear and despair for their lives. Their boat is swamped with water and about to sink in the middle of the lake during a great windstorm. Jesus is sound asleep, seemingly oblivious to their danger. They are frustrated by Jesus’ inaction in the face of their impending doom and wonder if he cares for them. They despair because they have hope and their hope is unfulfilled. All despair presupposes hope. “Where hope and life are frustrated in every respect,” says Jurgen Moltmann, “the hope turns against the hoper and eats into him.”

I have heard many people caught up in seasons of impending danger speak words similar to those of the disciples, “Teacher, do you not care that we are, or that I am perishing?” In fact, I’ve thought and spoken similar words myself on occasions throughout difficult seasons in my life.

In seasons of impending danger, our anxious thoughts tend to move from trust in God to fear, from initiative to resignation, from seeking the spiritual strength and grace of our Christian community to isolation and loneliness.  This movement away from trust in God, from agency, and from the Christian community, drives us deeper into the grip of fear and despair. But we are never without hope!

The good news in this text is that the disciples have hope in Christ; more than they think. They are able to turn to him for help amid their own fears and lack of faith. They have faith in Christ, against their own lack of faith. They hope in Christ, against their hopelessness. Christ rises to calm the raging sea outside of them and calms their raging fears and despair within them.

There will be times when the great windstorms of life will shake our hope and our faith in God and in humanity. Our prayers, our hopes, and our agency will seem small, empty, and frustrated by the largeness of what we face individually, as a church, a community, our country, or as a global community. We will wonder in frustration, “Does God even care?” And still, we pray, we hope, we dare to trust, we dare to take agency, and we continue to seek the spiritual strength and grace of the Christian community, as we watch for the hope-filled world of God to unfold.

We pray, hope, and watch until our fears are overcome by the assurance of God’s enduring and everlasting love from which nothing can separate us from (Romans 8:38-39).

We pray until we can say with awe, wonder, and praise, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Prayer based on Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32

We are at our wit’s end in our calamity, O Lord. Hear our cries of faith and hope to you and bring us out of our distress.  Still the storm, and hush the beating waves that engulf us. Bring us into the haven of your peace. Thank you for your steadfast love for us which endures forever.

Extraordinary Power

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Scripture:

2 Corinthians 4:5-12 For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

Reflection:

Paul persevered through much mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual affliction because of the mission that was given to him by Jesus Christ. That was, to “be a light to the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the ends of the earth” (Acts 9:15-16; 13:47). He describes his afflictions as a distressing and gradual act of dying or sacrificially giving up his own life so that others would live for Christ in the world as a result of knowing the “glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).

The afflictions Paul humanly endured for the sake of others were enough to bring him down, perhaps lead him to quit, but he does not. He is a fragile clay jar filled to overflow by God’s extraordinary power and grace, not a superhero. Paul comes through his afflictions and perseveres in his mission not by drawing from his own limited and insufficient inner resources and wits, but from God’s extraordinary and abundant source of power and grace for living.

Troubles in our life come and go, sometimes they chronically stay around for years.  Job says “People are born for trouble as readily as sparks fly up from a fire (Job 5:7). Whatever the difficulties we may encounter in our lives or their intensity, variety, or duration, the extraordinary and abundant power and grace of God is always present in us to bring us through them; especially with things around us look dim, withered, or hopeless.

The Serenity Prayer attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, 1892-1971

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.
Amen.

Agents of a New Normal

 

Isaiah angelScripture: Isaiah 6:1-8 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

Reflection: 

We cannot remain the same when we get a glimpse of the greatness and holiness of the Lord. Isaiah saw a vision of the Lord when he was in the temple and he experienced a deep conviction for his sin. He cries out, “Woe is me!” Not only did he experience personal conviction of his sin, he vicariously experienced the weight of his own people’s corporate sin that in many ways shut God out, with disastrous results.

Isaiah was a product of and participant in a social context described by spiritual lostness, futile worship practices, corrupt leadership, greed, injustice, and political crisis. Knowledge of his own sinfulness and the sinfulness of his own community created a crisis in him because he knows that he can never be the same after his vision of the greatness, the glory, and holiness of the Lord. He could either betray his vision and conviction, ignore God, and just keep on going along to get along in a world where brokenness was normalized. Or, he would have to live the rest of his life speaking up for a new normal of God’s reign, even if his speaking up meant rejection from family, friends, and society.

Isaiah chooses to offer his whole self for the mission to go to a moribund people with spiritually calloused hearts, dull ears, and closed eyes. He says, “Here I am. Send me!” In so doing, he reorders, realigns, and refocuses his life upon God and God’s mission for the world. God forgives Isaiah and sends him back into the world because God loves the world and seeks to save it (John 3:16-17). God turns Isaiah outward beyond himself, toward unity with God’s vision for the world and the world that God loves. Isaiah accepts and pursues the mission given to him by the Lord to proclaim an unpopular message of repentance, reconciliation, restoration, refreshing, and revival. Most of the people in his community would reject Isaiah’s ministry and message of God’s new normal. Some would eventually listen. Isaiah was faithful to his mission, the outcomes were left to God.

Like God sent Isaiah to a broken people, God sent his only son Jesus Christ to a broken world so that whosoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life (Jn. 3:16-17). Christ sent the Holy Spirit to enable us to live as children of God and agents of hope in the Reign of God amid a broken world (Rom. 8:12-17).

Let us expectantly seek a new vision of the greatness, glory, and holiness of the Lord in the months to come as we practice our daily disciplines of worship, study, prayer, and meditation. A new vision will empower us to offer ourselves more fully as Christ’s agents of faith, hope, and love into and for the sake of a world that has normalized its brokenness.

The Covenant Prayer by John Wesley:

I am no longer my own but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed for you or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.

And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. So be it. And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

 

 

 

Hoping and Waiting in a VUCA World – Pentecost Sunday, May 20, 2018

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Holy Spirit Come by Beverly Guilliams – Fine Art America

Scripture: Romans 8:22-27

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

Reflection: 

Our world can be described as volatile, uncertain, chaotic, and ambiguous or VUCA. VUCA is an acronym used to describe or to reflect on the volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity of an extreme condition or situation. The term derives from military vocabulary resulting from the end of the Cold War in the early 1990’s. The dictionary defines the words for the abbreviated letters as follows:

  • Volatile: liable to change rapidly and unpredictably, especially for the worse. Likely to become dangerous or out of control.
  • Uncertain: Not exactly known or decided. Not definite or sure. Having some doubt about situations or outcomes.
  • Complex: Not easily explained or understood. Not simple.
  • Ambiguous: Having more than one possible meaning. Not expressed or understood clearly even when all the information is present.

VUCA is disruptive. Organizations assess VUCA conditions or situations to gain insight and foresight when strategizing approaches to mitigate and manage their next steps for their organization or business to ensure the greatest possibility of success.

The Christian community the apostle Paul writes to lives in a crazy death-ridden first-century Roman VUCA world. Their vision of a new creation where life would flourish was dimmed by the ever-present and overwhelming power of death and chaos in their lives. Their response was to withdraw, insulate, and isolate themselves from the crazy world because of their fears.

Paul writes to encourage and counsel the faith community in Rome to hold on to the hope that God is at work in the midst of their struggles and longings, creating, redeeming, and transforming the crazy VUCA world they live in.  God was now the center of their lives through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. No longer condemned and held in bondage by sin and or the fear of death, they were free to really live life to the fullest despite their circumstance.

The Roman Christians already had the power of God to remain in the struggles with courage and freedom undergirded by faith in God and hope for tomorrow. Their struggle is not meaningless. With God and for God, their struggle for a new creation has meaning and purpose.

Paul Tillich (Shaking the Foundations) describes waiting in hope for the new creation that we already possess as children of God this way: “But, although waiting is not having, it is also having. The fact that we wait for something shows that in some way we already possess it. Waiting anticipates that which is not yet real. If we wait in hope and patience, the power of that for which we wait is already effective within us. He who waits in an ultimate sense is not far from that for which he waits. He who waits in absolute seriousness is already grasped by that for which he waits.”

What the new creation will look like is unknown. But we can actively wait for the emergent new creation in hope. Like the first-century Christians living in a VUCA world, we too can trust in the power of God that is at work in the world through known and unknown ways. In the meantime, there is pain and troubles – birth pangs – but those pains and troubles are outweighed and overcome by the hope of a new creation that lies before us and which we already possess. The Holy Spirit enables us to imagine a different world, a new creation moving in the direction of ultimate redemption and healing. As such, we can look with hope beyond our own VUCA world and freely live life with a conviction and courage in the power of the Holy Spirit and in the knowledge that nothing, not even a crazy death-ridden VUCA world, could ever separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:31-39).

God is wise and good, making provision for the moments when we would experience weakness of courage, faith, or hope. God sent the Holy Spirit into the world to keep us connected with God through prayer, the conduit of God’s grace in our time of need (Phil. 4:4-6). May we seek, find, and experience the interceding presence of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives, renewing us at those times when we groan and begin to lose hope in the new creation amid the temporality of our VUCA world.

Prayer for the Presence of the Holy Spirit

Come, for you continue always unmoved,
yet at every instant you are wholly in movement;
you draw near to us who lie in hell,
yet you remain higher than the heavens.
Come, for your name fills our heart with longing
and is ever on our lips;
yet who you are and what your nature is, we cannot say or know.
Come, Alone to the alone;
Come, for you, yourself are the desire that is in me.
Come, my breath and my life.

(Simeon the New Theologian, in K. Ware, “The Holy Spirit in the Personal Life of the Christian,” in Unity in the Spirit [Geneva: WCC, 1979], pp. 139–69)

 

Spiritual Moms

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Scripture: Psalm 1 Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers, but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law, they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper. The wicked are not so but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore, the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

Reflection:

The message of the Psalmist is that happiness, or blessedness, does not come from doing what we want to do. Instead, happiness comes from doing what God wants for us to do. That is, we find happiness by doing the will of God. To know the will of God requires constant meditation and discernment – day and night (v.2).

It takes a spiritual guide to introduce us to the path of true happiness with God and in life. My first guide in the Christian life was my mother, Olga. Mom was my One Class Sunday School teacher in my early years.  She served as the church’s Christian Education, Vacation Bible School, Christmas and Easter play director. She is still active with the United Methodist Women, and in the life of the only church she’s been a loyal and faithful member of since 1960, First United Methodist Church in Rio Grande City, Texas.

Mom has been an intercessory prayer warrior for me all my life, and she still is. She is with me in spirit, even though miles and miles separate us. Mom introduced me to the pathway of happiness in God.  She nurtured me with spiritual grace, and by her witness, led me toward the path of blessedness that comes by doing God’s will. She looked well to the practical and spiritual ways of her household. I call her blessed (Proverbs 31:28).

I had the blessing of a mother who lives her faith in such a beautiful and compelling way that I too followed the path of faith. Perhaps you had or can remember an extraordinary woman (mom, stepmom, aunt, grandmother, great-grandmother, Sunday school teacher, neighbor, or other) in your life that nurtured you, affirmed you, loved you and served as your spiritual mother in the faith. If she is living, call her and thank her for the showing you the love of God in word and deed and for leading you to faith in Christ. If she is no longer living, say a prayer of thanksgiving for her life and witness. Afterall, she did the will of God by sharing faith, hope, and love with you and the world.

Prayer:

God of Provision and Unconditional Love,

On this day when we acknowledge the importance of motherhood among us, we first give thanks that you are a loving parent to us all. From your being all life was born, and in your bosom, all creation is nurtured. You have formed us in your image as your children and gathered us together as a brood under your wing. You have united us as kindred members of one human family, and we are grateful to be your offspring together. We celebrate your divine love, reflected in human expressions of motherhood.

We give you thanks for the mothers among us and ask that you strengthen them in their daily tasks. Grant them wisdom in the lessons they teach, patient in the discipline they foster, and persistence in their promotion of decency and compassion, both by word and example. May they be given the honor and thanks they deserve but often do not receive.

We thank you for all motherly figures: grandmothers, aunts, sisters, wives, step-mothers, foster mothers, guardians, babysitters, teachers, health care providers, neighbors, friends, loved ones, and many others, who practice self-sacrifice and embody compassion to all who are privileged to be in their influence. Grant them vigor to carry on their work, and the satisfaction that the holy privilege of their task affords.

We acknowledge to you, O God, that even amid our grateful celebration, many of us come with restless spirits, reluctant to name the difficulties of this day.

For some, this day brings the sorrowful awareness of their own inability to conceive biological children. Draw your tender spirit near their feelings of self-betrayal, impotence, and grief, and remind them that those who struggle with infertility have always shared a special place in your heart. We pray for those who have suffered miscarriages, those fatigued by fertility treatments, and those struggling through the process of adoption. May they remember that in your power and through your church, they can still leave a lasting legacy beyond themselves.

For some, this day is marked by loneliness and grief, as they spend this first Mother’s Day as a widower, an orphan, or a parent who has lost a child. To those who today live in the wake of the death of a loved one, grant glimpses of the resurrection. Bring to them a steady restoration of their broken hearts.  Allow them to live into their future with hope, and empower them to carry out the legacy of lessons instilled within them.

For some, this is a day that surfaces ongoing tensions that exist within our personal relationships and family dynamics. We ask for healing from the wounds of our past, a path of forgiveness for wrongs both experienced and committed, and the rebuilding of trust forged in honesty, authenticity, and love.

We give you thanks for the wide spectrum of motherhood represented among us today: new mothers and young mothers whose children are in their most tender years; mothers of grown children who transition into empty nests and a new chapter of self-discovery; mothers and grandmothers of advanced years, whose twilight of life is marked by frailty of body but a potency of spirit. Theirs is a cumulative reminder that though our lives are marked by transition and change, your nurture and affection for all your children remains the same.

Therefore, remind us to live with child-like faith, curious to every wondrous mystery, attentive to your every instruction, obedient to your every command, and willing to share with every one of your children. We give you thanks, O God, who is a loving Mother and Father to us all, and in whose name we pray,

Amen.

Prayer for Mothers provided by Discipleship Ministries, The United Methodist Church

 

 

 

Out of the Wilderness

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Scripture – Acts 8:26-40

Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet, Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.”

So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He replied, “How can I unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep, he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.”

The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or someone else?” Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?”

He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

Reflection:

Many people find themselves in a spiritual wilderness. The truth about God is out there, somewhere. They search and yearn for God, visit sacred places in hopes of finding God, listen to preaching, and read the Bible, but still feel like outsiders to the life in God they desire. God remains distant, unrelatable, a puzzle. God’s prevenient grace is ever present with them, but they can’t sense it or receive it.

Such was the case of the Ethiopian eunuch, a powerful chief treasurer of the wealthy kingdom. He traveled over 2,200 miles through harsh wilderness roads by chariot to worship in Jerusalem. On the way back to Ethiopia, he’s going on a wilderness road in his chariot, reading an Old Testament passage from the book of the prophet Isaiah. He doesn’t understand it or make sense of what he is reading He needs someone to interpret it for him. Then, along comes Phillip. Phillip guides the eunuch to understand the Scriptures; he proclaims the Jesus of the Scriptures and Lord of life to the eunuch. Phillip then baptizes the eunuch into the faith and fellowship of believers and sends him on the way back to Ethiopia as an ambassador for Christ to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

The Church of today needs more Phillips in our schools, workplace, and communities which can lead people out of their spiritual wilderness. That is people who can answer the questions of others that find themselves in a spiritual wilderness. They can point others to Jesus’ saving, healing, liberating, and indwelling significance. The Phillips of today are sensitive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. They are willing to cross boundaries (ethnic, racial, cultural, geographic, political, social, economic, etc.). They know and can handle the Scripture with confidence and can interpret it in a winsome way.  They can talk about Christ in a personal way because they are in a relationship with him. And, they can lead others to give their lives to Christ.

Prayer

“People Need The Lord” by Steve Green

Every day they pass me by I can see it in their eye
Empty people filled with care Headed who knows where
On they go through private pain Living fear to fear
Laughter hides the silent cries Only Jesus hears

[Chorus:]
People need the Lord People need the Lord
At the end of broken dreams, He’s the open door
People need the Lord People need the Lord
When will we realize People need the Lord

We are called to take His light To a world where wrong seems right
What could be too great a cost For sharing life with one who’s lost
Through His love, our hearts can feel all the grief they bear
They must hear the words of life Only we can share [Chorus]

 

He Leads Us!

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El Buen Pastor United Methodist Church stained glass window, Edinburg, Texas

Scripture: Psalm 23

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.

Reflection

I will always be grateful for the amazing ten years I pastored El Buen Pastor United Methodist Church in Edinburg, Texas before I was newly appointed to serve a cross-conference appointment as the Southwest Texas Conference New Church Developer in San Antonio. The translation of El Buen Pastor from Spanish to English is, The Good Shepherd. The magnificent stained glass window pictured above, a classic artistic portrayal of Psalm 23, stood as a spiritually formative focal point at the front and center of our sanctuary. The dominant image of a gentle shepherd carrying and caring for a young and helpless lamb certainly helped shape the self-image and missional understanding of the loving and nurturing congregation for they understood themselves by and large as sheep to be cared for, rather than as leader shepherds of those in their familial and social networks of relationships.

One day, when I was praying about how to lead and help turn the congregation missionally outward, I re-read Psalm 23. This time, I was drawn to verse 3, “He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.” It struck me that Psalm 23 is at its core a missional psalm. It is written from the perspective and experience of a sheep confidently looking to his leader shepherd for his missional leadership, direction and assignment, accompaniment, protection, and missional success. Interpreting Psalm 23 with a missional perspective transformed the way our congregation understood and practiced our ministries our nurture, outreach, and witness. After all, we now understood our mission as preparing and sending confident Christian shepherd leaders into the dark valleys of the world for the sake of the Lord’s name and to proclaim the favor, goodness, mercy, and love of the Lord.

The sheep in Psalm 23 testifies that in his experience, the shepherd is a good and trustworthy leader worthy of subordinating oneself to and obeying, even when the shepherd sends the sheep through the darkest valleys for the sake of shepherd’s reputation/name (v. 4). The sheep accepts the shepherd’s missional assignment, and with boldness and fearlessness, he heads out into and through the darkest valleys fraught with dangers, toils, and snares because he has been set apart – anointed – for the mission. When the mission is over, the shepherd refreshes and restores the sheep for the next mission (v. 1-2). Over and over again, the sheep experience the goodness and mercy of the Lord while on assignment and mission. He trusts that the shepherd’s goodness and mercy will continue forever (v. 6).

Next time you sense the leading of the Lord to enter into a challenging situation  – a dark valley – for the sake of the Lord’s reputation or name, read and pray Psalm 23. Seek the assurance of the Lord’s leading, direction, protection, and care the psalmist proclaims and invites us into.  When you find the shepherd’s assurance, head out with boldness and trust.  Paz.

Prayer

I arise today through the mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through the belief in the Threeness, through the confession of the Oneness, of the Creator of creation. Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man [person] who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.

The Breastplate Prayer is attributed to St. Patrick of Ireland

 

 

Peace be with You

THIRD WEEK AFTER EASTER

duccio_doubting_thomas_2-1-e1454807042795-960x250Reassuring Thomas (Fragment), 1311 by Duccio.

Scripture: Luke 24:36b-48

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you–that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance and forgiveness of sins are to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.

Reflection:

I checked my silenced cell phone for messages after this week’s Monday morning meetings at the conference office and discovered that had I missed three calls from my 27-year-old son who is a pastor at a UM church in San Antonio. Several voicemail notifications showed on my phone screen, but I did not bother to listen to them. Instead, I called him immediately thinking that he either had some good news and could not wait to share it with me or there was an emergency he was calling about.

My son shared that he was calling me earlier to ask for prayer and guidance as he raced to the church to minister to the surviving family of a long-time member who was in a tragic and fatal auto accident as she was turning into the church parking lot for a Monday morning bible study. The family members had all gone their separate ways by the time we spoke. We have had several conversations during the week to process his experience. He called yesterday to share some of his thoughts on the sermon he is preparing for the memorial service this Saturday morning. I’m sure the Lord will give him the right words of comfort and assurance the family needs to hear in their time of need.

The faith of the family of the deceased in Christ’s promise of eternal life has left an indelible impression on my son who has been around the deaths of friends, several church members, and students. He shared how the family while grieving, expressed gratitude to God for the life of their loved one. He said, “Dad, I was expecting to minister grace to the family in their time of sorrow and loss, and instead their faith in the resurrection and eternal life ministered grace to me.” He continued, “The good news of Jesus conquering death through the resurrection is meaningful and real for people of faith. Their witness in the hope of the resurrection and eternal life strengthens my faith.”

The main point of Luke’s post-resurrection appearance story is that the peace of the resurrected Christ drives out doubt and fear. Christ’s peace becomes the basis for the proclamation of the marvelous news of the resurrection to all nations. The disciples found in the resurrected Christ sustaining peace, hope, and joy for their troubled hearts. The family my son ministered to this week found in the resurrected Christ sustaining peace, hope, and joy for their troubled hearts. Like the disciples, we also find in the peace of the resurrected Lord, sustained joy and hope for our troubled hearts. In turn, we desire that our peace, hope, and joy in the risen Christ will find its way into the troubled hearts of people in our communities and in our frightened and disbelieving world.

Paz – Peace