When Faith and Science Collide

Warning, I am about to discuss how faith and a dad’s bias work together. Both present an overall picture of our journey through the rough terrain of a chronic illness. While I admit that I am a United Methodist pastor in the protestant Christian tradition, my writing is not meant to favor any spiritual or faith practice above another. My goal is to find commonality across cultural differences as we journey through the ups and downs of chronic illness

When I attended Iliff Seminary, on the campus of Denver University, a professor came to the class to discuss how those with disabilities read the miracle stories of Jesus differently than those of us who do not face a constant medical challenge. I never thought about this topic. Because my boys have hemophilia, does that mean they struggled with questions of faith?

How can I help them maneuver this complicated territory? Because “MacDonald the Older” and “MacDonald the Younger” have an inherited bleeding disorder, does that mean they must hide in the margins of the church? The ultimate question frightened me; would my children be fully welcomed in my house of worship?

I shuddered to think that the place that I gathered my strength and hope would exclude anyone, especially my stinky boys. I started talking to my oldest, who was thirteen at the time, and he looked at me and said, “Dad, it doesn’t matter.” I assured him that one day, it would, and when the time comes, we will find our answers together. He needs to know that his church welcomes him with open arms, no questions asked.

Miracle stories are not meant to exclude, but to give in examples of a power outside of ourselves, which leads us to heart-healing wholeness. I stopped measuring my life by a skewed standard of perfection and redirected my thoughts to fulfillment. I throw away the lies that people taught me at a very young age and embrace the truth that “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139: 14 NRSV). I, my children, all of us are complete, precisely as we are.

I began to look at the scriptures and realized that while miracle stories pop up throughout Biblical narratives, one thing is clear, the primary purpose of life is not to search for an instant healing, but to be made whole. We are survivors, not because we receive some medical or divine intervention. We are thrivers because we plug into the source, where our souls receive strength. The benefit of finding a place to recharge your battery gives you a chance to think through decisions, take the focus off hemophilia for a moment. Be still and rest.

Another thing I learned about myself is that I am not willing to remain in a group if my children cannot participate as complete human beings. Just because someone does not experience an extraordinary act of God, does not mean they are any less critical in the world. My stinky boys know that nothing will stand in the way of my loving them. Miracle stories or not, the deep foundation of love and trust outweigh anything. The depth of faith, found at the headwaters of love, reaches to the core of our beings.

And so, I finish my conversation with “MacDonald the Younger and MacDonald the Older,” hoping that they know that I love them beyond all measure. I invited my oldest son into a sacred conversation to tell him that his voice matters. Maybe the greatest miracle is not found in an ancient holy text, but the overwhelming joy that these extraordinary men bring to my life. Real miracles are not only left for people to see, but also for people to experience within their souls.

Faithfulness In a Time of Uncertainty

“For even if the fig tree doesn’t blossom, and no fruit is on the vines, even if the olive tree fails to produce, and the fields yield no food at all, even if the sheep vanish from the sheep pen, and there are no cows in the stalls; still, I will rejoice in ADONAI, I will take joy in the God of my salvation. ELOHIM Adonai is my strength! He makes me swift and sure-footed as a deer and enables me to stride over my high places” (Hab. 3:17-19 CJSB).

Though devastation is all around the prophet Habakkuk, he remains steadfast in his devotion to God. He faces some of the worst things that anyone could imagine, but he is not deterred in his faithfulness to the Creator. Destruction displayed itself in full view, and he stood there, helpless to change the inevitable collapse of the culture he knew. Hopelessness could quickly overtake his life, but the light of God shined within the deep resources of his soul. Habakkuk’s commitment to following the Lord spoke louder than any catastrophe could rage against the complete destruction of his world.

I hope to have faith like the prophet, a belief that does not waiver in whatever circumstances I face. May I join with him and stand tall in the assurance that during the storms of life, my God will stand beside me, holding me up to live to see another day. I pray that as our world changes, my faith rests securely in the knowledge that God’s love overcomes any obstacle. Praise be to our amazing God, who sees us through the roughest of circumstances.

Make It Stop!

We are currently reading the Book of Amos, and the only thing I can think of is, “Make it stop!” How many passages must we experience to understand the depth of God’s hurt? I know the Holy One is in pain, and the world must pay for their deliberate choices to turn away from the Creator. I get it, loud and clear. Let us move to the restoration of the people.

I grow uncomfortable hearing God’s mourning, but this is a big deal. The Almighty finally punished His unrepented creation. His wrath is complete and hurls destruction at His chosen people, His beloved Israel. I keep waiting for happiness to show up in writing, but it doesn’t. How long will the Holy One continue to weep and punish those who turned their backs on Him? Please make the heavenly laments cease. We need hope, and we need it now.

In my desperation to read passages that bring me comfort, I need to wrestle with the depths of Divine sadness. I plead for Him to return the people to Jerusalem, where we will praise Him while we have breath in our bodies. “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel.” Return unto me the joy of my salvation. Turn my night into day.

We know what it is like to cry out in desperation. We don’t like to remain stuck in our stuff, and so we move heaven and earth to clear a path to the light. The promise of a new day brings hope in the middle of our sorrow. The grief that keeps us in the darkest of nights makes its claim on our hearts, and we are left with nothing; nothing but a hope that God will right the wrongs and send us forward with the promise of lux perpetua (perpetual light).

But now, like the prophet Amos, we must listen and hear the cries of God. At some point, this will pass, but we learned a valuable lesson in the middle of it all. Divine arms will reach out and gather us in. We will experience wholeness once more, but for now, we lie still, embracing sacred sorrow. He will come again; this, I know.

God Speaks Even in Our Exile

We finished the Book of Daniel yesterday, and something hit me over the head for the first time.  This is not my first time reading the text, yet the message revealed to me is quite clear.  Why have I missed one of the most visible messages concerning the passage?  Maybe my spirit was not ready to embrace the idea that, despite the storytelling of Daniel, God worked in the lives of the people even in the exile.

For those not entirely up to snuff about the Book of Daniel, the setting is in Babylon during the time of the captivity.  God moved in the hearts and minds of at least some of the people, and just like Daniel, Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego, he delivered those who remained faithful to the Divine.  The Hebrew people were not left to their own devices while in captivity.  Their God still searched them out.  They simply needed to call out to the Holy One, and they could receive God’s promise.  Captivity may not have been the ideal way to worship, but at least they were provided with the holy presence of Almighty God.

I further reflected on how the text speaks to me now, here in the 21st century.  There are times when I feel like I am in exile.  When events make me feel like I am forced out of my place of refuge and made to live in a foreign land.  I don’t know how God could find me, but the little glimmer of light that I see reminds me that the Holy One never left me in my exile.  He was there with me; even in the darkest of places.  I turn to the light, and holy hands hold my hands until I am rescued from exile.

Praise be to God that even in the worst of circumstances, we can still find a glimmer of hope; a flicker of Divine presence.  We must look around to see it, but I know it is there.  We must look under the darkest places in our souls to discover that nothing is obscure to the One who gave us life.  Once we find that small light, let us follow it to the brilliance of joy everlasting.

One and Done Refuted

“The righteous cannot live by virtue of (his former righteousness), once he starts sinning.  So if, after I tell the righteous person that he will surely live, he begins trusting in his own (former) righteousness and starts committing crimes; then none of his (former) righteous actions will be remembered; on the contrary, he will die for the evil deeds he has committed” (Ezk. 33:12c-13 CEB).

The question of whether one remains a believer all of their lives, regardless of their actions, is a topic with which many people struggle.  For some faiths the answer is a no-brainer, if you confess and believe in a moment, you will be saved forever.  Other religious traditions respond quite differently than their counterparts; that a “one and done” kind of commitment does not ensure anyone of a lifetime of pardon by the Almighty God.  We must surrender our will over to the care of God, 24/7.

As a true Wesleyan, I believe that the grace offered to us by the Holy One, transforms and radically changes our lives.  The Divine’s offering of grace is the only thing that can save us.  If we could save ourselves, then why would we need Holy help?  God and God alone liberates our souls from bondage.  Our actions do not count when grace comes to live in us.  Holy-hands fashioned our hearts to embrace the calling of the One, who created us in Divine likeness, without human help.

Our part comes when we have a profession of our faith, a realization that Christ is doing something for us that we cannot do ourselves.  We embrace the gift of grace, and in so doing our entire life is changed.  Paul talks about a “circumcision of the heart” (Rom. 2:25-29), a total conversion of faith. People discover the gospel (good news) within us by our actions, demonstrating a new way of life. What we say and do tells the world, “Hey, I am not the same person anymore. I live in the rich gift of God.”

And now to call back my Weslayan heritage, when one confesses, one is expected to live in a life that reflects a change of heart.  Failure to show Christ’s love through our actions results in a turning away from our commitment to God, and our religious communities.  Our works must reflect a new way of existing in the world.  Wesley would challenge a person about the authenticity of their conversion experience if actions did not change after the commitment to Divine leadership.

I want to come back to the text from Ezekiel and hold up this very tough passage.  We see many examples of a call to holy living throughout the entire New Testament.  Perhaps our notions of salvation begin right here, in this passage from the Hebrew Bible.  Grace is given by God, but it is up to humanity to reflect the change.

This is hard stuff because the underlying message is to think through your actions. If you are a true believer, you carry God’s love and message with you into a world that needs to witness the transformative power of the Holy-One.  I hope that we all can embrace the idea that our confession is not the end of the story.  Taking Jesus’ lead, we take the Gospel to the world by demonstrating the love of God and neighbors.  We will show the way to the Father by our kindness and understanding.

Praise be to our Amazing God, who saves us and writes a new way of existing in the world onto our hearts and minds!

From Bad to Worse

This week we finished reading Jeremiah and began the Book of Ezekiel. I thought the former reading grew horribly depressing, but the prophet Ezekiel takes God’s wrath to a whole new level. I never imagined that I would yearn for Jeremiah. While Jeremiah’s writings focused on the people’s actions and about how they fell from God’s grace, Ezekiel discussed God’s wrath in ways that are horrifying at best.

So far, I struggle with God’s actions, which appear vengeful and lack grace. I understand the need to correct bad behavior, but slaughtering innocent children? Really? Why destroy the entire Hebrew race? True, the Hebrew people broke the covenant, but forgiveness, redemption, and love are nowhere around.

So, this is the paragraph that I wanted to bring hope into the conversation, but I can’t. It is as if the people appear trapped in a horrific storm with no end in sight. We know the end will arrive, but when and at what cost?  How many lives must be sacrificed before God’s fury subsides?

Perhaps we are meant to deal with the fury of the divine storm. We hunker down and Endure the raging seas. Some people remain lost in the debris, while others are not. We try to keep those we love safe through the stormy blast.

Most of us know what it is like to feel ravaged and abandoned. The darkness of hopelessness is overpowering. When we cry out in our deepest sorrows, we feel isolated, cut off from the

Divine Healer. It is not a good place, and we find ourselves frightened, unsure of where to go and what to do next. In our brokenness, the only thing we can do is offer this phrase, “Lord, hear our prayer.”

We all experience a season of advent; the time that we lay in wait for God’s presence. “Oh come, oh come Emmanuel, and ransom us from our torment.” And in this very sullen place, the seeds of hope find their way to solid ground. While we cannot see the bloom immediately, our faith (God with us) will rise out of the dirt and into our lives. Praise be to God that advent ends and a new life begins.

A New Covenant

Devastation and heartbreak surrounded Jerusalem. Disaster followed the Hebrew people. God officially claimed that due to the constant disobedience of the favored nation, the covenant broke. And for the first time in the nation’s history, Divine favor did not exist. No one saved the children of Israel; they submitted to the Babylonians and became exiles in a foreign land. Such proved the plight of the chosen seed of God.

I know what it feels like to be abandoned by God.  I look at some of the many struggles in my life and can’t help but wonder, “I should have made a better choice.”  My actions led to God’s overwhelming silence.  Equipped with sorrow, I push God away.  I say, “Forget about a new covenant, I want a new soul.”  I yearn for a way to start all over again while maintaining the lessons I learned.  I cry out, “I want a do-over, God!”

But wait, through the most horrific part of the story, the Holy-One prepares for another covenant, a new way. God did more than speak through a prophet, the Divine burned within the people an opportunity to follow the road of light. Humanity’s innermost part of their spiritual DNA points to a compass leading to God.

Praise be to the One, who gives us the strength to face the struggles of each day. Every morning we can follow our minds and souls to the very throne of God. Let us serve the world, equipped with heavenly guidance. Make this day count by staying on the path of Divine holiness.

Jeremiah and Our Worst Nightmare!

Poor Jeremiah. His words are harsh and very painful to hear, much less speak. Many times in the narrative, Jeremiah pleads with God to find another prophet; the words are too terrible to speak. How could he, a prophet of the Most-High God, tell his community that Israel was no longer the chosen society. Divine favor no longer existed.
There is nothing worse than to feel cold-shouldered by God. Faith is no longer a part of our daily life, and the one in whom we believed turns His face from us. Who will be our deliverer? We are in complete spiritual darkness, and it is so black that we cannot see our hands right before our faces. We find ourselves in the pit of despair. This is our darkest nightmare.
Praise be to God that we can wake up, realizing that our Lord still watches over us. The awful dream is over, and we move down the road, secure in the strength that we are a reconciled people. Our relationship with the Almighty is healthy and vital. We wake up and rediscover the beauty of rejuvenation.
Perhaps the greatest lesson taken from Jeremiah is that the nightmares could be a reality without God’s protection. This absence of light is the fear of the Lord. We must face the world alone. The feeling of abandonment is overpowering, but God’s favor redeems us. Hear the Good News; we are children of the Most-High! The nightmare is over. We continue on our journey to serve the one who led us to the pathway. So, we share the hope that comes from experiencing the darkest of times to embracing the light.

Isaiah, Accountability, and Hope

Today marks the last reading from the Book of Isaiah. God restores the promise after sharing with Isaiah the many ways that the people of Israel chipped away at the covenant until the commitment made between them snapped. God’s wrath poured down over the nation, and in a moment of righteous anger, the Divine arms of safety no longer protected the Hebrews. In their vulnerability, foreign invaders entered the exposed land and took the “chosen” people hostage.

We hear the cries of the Israelites as they were forced out of the promised land and onto distant soil. “What have we done God? Take us back home. This is too much! We promise that we will be faithful, so please don’t abandon us. Have mercy on your people.”

In the end. God reestablished the covenant, but He took the time to repair the fractured relationship.  The Divine would not play the role of the enabler. The Deuteronomic theme (people stop worshipping, God stopped protecting the nation, people lost battles, they cry out to God, He restores the relationship, repeat) would not last. The Divine wanted a relationship built on honesty and trust.

Isaiah is not an easy book to read as God lays out the many ways hope led to betrayal.  It did not happen as a result of one event, but occurred over a series of time: Promises unkept one-by-one, until trust gave way to unfaithfulness. This became a pattern that broke the covenant between humanity and the Creator. The first step in reparation was to admit the times that they failed to be an obedient church.

Isaiah ends with a reminder from God that the covenant was repaired and will never be declared broken by the Holy One. The new establishment of the relationship between the Divine and the Holy One suggests a change in God’s protection to include personal and communal salvation.

May our Isaiah stories hold us accountable for the sins that we commit against one another and God. May the confession of our sins lead us to full restoration. Praise be to God for the chance to remain in the unwavering love of God. Let us continue forward in faith with a renewed sense of identity as children of our amazing God.

Two Questions Answered

Last week we finished the Book of Ecclesiastes. After reading, I think that the author stressed important ideas regarding humanity and its relationship to the Divine. The first is the idea that “To everything, there is a season and I time and purpose for everything under heaven” (Eccl. 3:1). Life is full of twists and turns, and there is no way to avoid change as it makes its way into our lives.
Many times, a tornado rushes in, and we wonder how we may overcome the wreckage in our lives. We cry out, “Why did this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this?” The answer is we did not deserve hate, anger, or shame. Awful situations happen. Perhaps the best question may be, “Since this happened, how have I sought recovery? Who may I turn to in my darkest moments?” True faith is measured not in our blame, but our actions. Can we rise above our circumstances?  Do we hold fast to our belief that God will carry us through times of darkness?
Sometimes change can be positive. Perhaps there is something that wakes out of a spiritual coma, and we dive into uncharted land. Maybe the Holy Spirit furthers us along with a gentle breath so that we may live wholly and fully. There are times that I need a nudge to remind me that I am not to remain comfortable. God spoke to Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy by saying to the great Hebrew leader, “You have circled this mountain long enough, head North” (Deut. ).
The other issue that the author of the Book of Ecclesiastes addresses is God’s creation (I mean everything, good and bad) begins and ends at the same source. The rain that falls on evil people also falls on the righteous. Our indignities directed towards God reflect our lack of appreciation as God caring for all humanity. “We should punish our enemies,” we cry. And so begins our discord into the world of resentment and overwhelming anger. Hear the good news; the Most-High God loves us.
Punishment is not our responsibility. We are designed to find blessings in life and to share the incredible love that God has for all creation. Yes, I wrote the word all. I realize that there are things that happen in life that brings us heartache, but God does not want us to be overwhelmed by such catastrophes. Our work is to walk through the fire to get to the other side. Only then, with holy help, we step out of the shadows and into the warmth of the light.
Praise be to God that we are designed for rich sacred work so that we may live into the graciousness of the Holy One. Through the week stop and look at your life. How might you stop circling the mountain, and head North? Take one step in the direction where your heart leads you, and you will be changed. Trust the Spirit to move in you by taking your mind off of the things that hold you back from engaging in holy worship.

christopherjoiner

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