Not Enough Paper to Go Around

“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.

All Saints Day and the Prodigal Son

This week our Biblical reading included the story of the Prodigal Son found in the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of John. I find it quite interesting that the story of a son who leaves and then returns is paired with the parable of a shepherd leaving the rest of the flock to find the one who is lost. How do these two passages share an overall message of God? Better yet, what do we learn about the character of God?

If understanding both the shepherd and the father as God-like figures, one concludes that God never stops searching for the one who is lost. He does not share his love like a democracy, but for the well-being of the entire flock. No one will ever be left behind, as holy arms will discover us in our moments of complete darkness. We once lost our way, but then the Divine found us and led us back home. Praise be to God for radical love that searches even for one like me!

The story of the father who sees the younger son return from a grueling journey does not cast his child away but welcomes him home. We learn that not only will God never leave us, for on the son’s heart, his father wrote a message of unending hospitality, but he also welcomes us back when we lose our way. Indeed, the son ran back to the father. But where did he get the thought of the possibility of returning home? He saw the treatment of others and knew that hope loomed in his father’s house. His return home did not end in failure and settling for scrappy seconds, but a celebration, complete with a banquet and into the welcoming arms of God.

We learn through these two parables that God wants us to come home. Whether He must look for us or divine arms await our return, we find our place in the presence of the Most-High. So, it seems like the parables placed side by side are not meant to be compared with one another, but to present us with a rich, deep, and broad understanding of the Father’s love for us. We move forward in the hope and knowledge that we are God’s children, cared for, and welcome into the Holy Presence of our comforter, redeemer, and holy parent.

 

 

Merry Christmas in October!

This past week we crossed over from the Hebrew Bible to the New Testament. While I find the Tanakh compelling and rich in substance, as a believer in the presence of Jesus the Christ, I gladly embraced the hope that is so alive in the Gospel of Matthew. My Lord came into the world, and for that, I say Halleluia! The Messiah is born. For that, we offer gratitudes of praise.

One of the many things that compel me to read the Gospel of Matthew is the foreshadowing of the ministry of Jesus. The beginning is a genealogical record proving Jesus’ identity as a descendant of David, therefore establishing a prophetic connection to the Hebrew people. We pick up themes throughout the text like Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecy. His chief antagonists included the Jewish leadership, and by God’s divine authority, Jesus’ teaching is the truth.

The wise men come from the east to worship Him. While this may appear insignificant at first, the idea that people from different faiths and ideologies come to experience the healing nature of Jesus, the Messiah. His leadership allows for a new and revolutionary way in which we observe the Jewish tradition, but begin to share with the Gentiles the good news of God as made flesh in Christ.

We start on our journey through the four gospels, each sharing a glimpse into the brilliance of our God. We are left with the “Great Commission” that Jesus offers as He ascends into heaven. “Therefore, go and make people from all nations into disciples, immersing them into the reality of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20a).

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.

christopherjoiner

Some Thoughts Along the Way

Cazandra Campos-MacDonald

We take our journey with love and hope.

Perseverance Runner

Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.

strugglewell

That marriages in crisis will find Biblical solutions and reconciliation

jefflust

Reflections on leadership and what it means to be the church God intends for the 21st century.