Easter is Here!

There is one sure thing, Easter is here! No pandemic can stop it, and no safe distancing can prevent its occurrence. For Christians, every day is Easter. The Son of the Most-High God offered himself as a living sacrifice for each one of us. In so doing, we are now joint heirs and the children of the Holy One. Praise be to God for His amazing gift of grace!

Yes, indeed, we are not in our building on one of the holiest days of the year. We had to adjust to protect our loved ones. That does not change the fact of what the Lord did in reclaiming humanity for Himself. Just like we experience in the moments of our beliefs, we are new creations. The light enters our souls, and we offer are Father the best seat in the house, in the very core of our souls. He feasts and celebrates our new spirit, our new hope.

Friends, this Easter Sunday is still a day of absolute love and remembrance. We do not need a building to tell us that, for hope is born inside of us. That is the most important thing about the day. I know that things are off-kilter right now, and we long for normalcy. Today should be a day that we get together with the church filled as we celebrate Communion in the physical presence of one another.

But the reality of the world prevents us from following our time-honored traditions. We hear of death every day, and if you are like me, I grow weary of hearing dramatic death announcements on just about every channel. I need some good news, and I need it fast. I don’t care ever to listen to the term “social distancing” ever again in my lifetime.

In the darkest of times, we must remember the light that broke all the barriers down. I must remember this message, “Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. That proves God’s love towards us. In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven. Glory to God. Amen.”

My First Red Hymnal

My First Hymnal

I hold my first hymnal with my name on it. An older couple gave this wonderful gift to me a lifetime ago. I was the music director of Holy Trinity UMC, a magnificent church in the Northshore are on the east side of Houston, Tx. One Christmas, I received this hymnal as a gift. It was all new and shiny and had never been used. I did not have the words to express my appreciation for what lay behind the careful thought of giving me a present that I continue to use for many years. Every time I open the pages of my gift, I smile as I remember the kindness offered to me with such a simple gesture of appreciation.

I think this hymnal is a lot like me now. It doesn’t look as pretty or as shiny as it once did, but it still has all of the beautiful hymns, creeds, worship services, and confessions and pardons of the faith. My red book and I traveled many roads together, and through the years, our lives changed. The one thing that remains the same is that both of us still carry the word of God within us, inviting anyone to look beyond the damage covers to explore the beauty of sacred texts longing to be read and heard.

I think of both the hymnal and myself remembering that through any storms that may occur, there is one thing that never changes; the incredible word of the Most-High God. Take your hymnals and sing to God with every ounce of breath that you have. Sing as if no one hears you, and make a joyful noise. It sets the spirit free to come alive once more and share the Gospel to all the world. Sing, no matter what your cover may look like. You are a child of God. Remember that nugget of truth.

Singing God’s Song in a Strange Land

“How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” (Ps. 137:4 NAKJ).

Sometimes I feel like I am lost and alone. I am one who can be lost in a crowd of people and experience feelings of isolation. Thoughts like, “If these people really knew me, they would head for the hills.” I stand there, trapped, and unable to get out of the room. I must stay and continue to be pleasant.

My guess is that many of us know what it is like to feel displaced. We go through the motions to simply fulfill our obligations so that we can return back to a place of refuge. Our spirits long to find places where we can be our real selves. This search for full acceptance is difficult to do in a world that is more concerned with maintaining the status quo than being authentic.

The people in exile felt the same way. How could they wholeheartedly worship without a place to call home? Their temple, the center of their worship, was in ruins, and now they find themselves in an area that offers no support to connect with the Most-High God. They reach a spiritual crisis at a time when they need the surety of God’s presence.

Perhaps in this moment of trial, God guides his chosen ones to find the answer to their question. Maybe the secret to worship is not looking for an outside place to fill gaps, but within our very souls, we carry the temple within us. The secret chambers of our hearts are where the Holy One dwells among us. This very sacred space is where we begin our journey.

I hope to remember when I am in places of uncertainty, that the temple of God resides in me. That means I am not alone. I can still sing God’s songs in what I consider a “strange land.” My faith requires authenticity, and so a room appearing unfamiliar and distant is a good starting point to share the Good News of Christ. By sharing, I mean letting the light shine from deep within our souls. And if needed, use words.

When the Cabinet Calls

As a pastor in the United Methodist Church, this time of year brings a sense of jittery feelings in the pit of my stomach. We go through our daily routine, wondering every time the phone rings if it is not our District Superintendent calling with an opportunity to provide leadership in a new church for the next appointive year. For some of us, it is the call that we hope to receive (I know what that feels like). But for some of us, the call represents a time of change that is not always welcomed. We sit in a place of blackness, unsure how to tell the people that you love and care for that our time together is coming to an end.

I received one of those calls last week. I did not expect to get as emotional as I did, but part of me wanted to say, “No, I’m not finished here. We are only beginning to get to know one another. Ministry is presenting itself in different ways, the people are happy, and I am happy. Please keep me right where I am.”

As soon as I pour out my heart to God, I hear the most reassuring of voices telling me, “I am so glad that you continue to love the people of my church. It is time to share your gifts in another place. Don’t worry, the people here will continue to thrive because their faith is firmly centered in Christ. Let another pastor share their hope, you have another mission.”

This is what I know, I came to you broken, and you healed my spirit. There is love in places you never dreamed you would go, and God continues to lead us all on this journey. While I look forward to the many opportunities to share the Word in another place, I will always stand and give thanks to you for all of the love you poured out on my family. Peace and blessings to my amazing church. Amen.

Finding Our Way, With Community

Originally published at Hemophilia News Today on April 19, 2018.

I held my son, my firstborn, in my arms. From outward appearances, no one could guess that he had a bleeding disorder. Some moments, I forgot about his diagnosis. Life seemed to be moving at a healthy pace, and my wife and I invited the newest member of the MacDonald clan into our house. We were utterly captivated by him. All seemed right with the world.

The first several months of life with my son, we later learned, were considered a honeymoon period. Since he did not move around an awful lot, he had very few chances of incurring any trauma that could lead to complications (even though he could have a spontaneous bleed). One evening, my amazing young man fell asleep after drinking a bottle. I carried him to the nursery and laid him down on his bed.

As he lay there fast asleep, a wave of panic overwhelmed me. I had no idea what the future would hold. What might happen to him? I wanted to protect him from whatever hemophilia meant. With nothing else left to do, I placed my hand on his little back and tried to send all the good energy that could flow from my hands to his sleeping body. Nothing could happen to us that we couldn’t handle.

When my son turned 6 months old, we began to experience moments when the vocabulary of hemophilia began to introduce itself into our lives. Our first visit to the doctors, nurses, and social workers who made up our treatment facility forged a link in managing “MacDonald the Older’s” medical needs. The entire time graciously welcomed us to the community. Each person provided crucial information that guaranteed us the best possible care available.

We met key members of the bleeding disorder population and received support from many of the mighty men and women who experience and care for those managing hemophilia and other related issues. Our new family proved crucial to our understanding of what my son needed. All we had to do was pick up a phone, and we instantly felt connected to something greater than ourselves. Almost 22 years have passed, and we still consider these incredible men and women our dearest friends.

Early in my son’s life, we learned lessons that continue to carry us forward. We know that family is not defined by those physically related to you, but by people who surround you with joy and hope in all circumstances. My wife and I discovered that we had a strength that we never knew was part of our DNA. We also realized that we are an outstanding team, and together, provide our boys with a force that we didn’t know we possessed.

And so we started our journey through the world of bleeding disorders. Sometimes we found solace in friendships; other times, we relied on one another. No matter what happened or occurred, we were grateful that this beautiful life came into our world. He was born, and nothing else would ever be the same. For that, I look up at the stars and say, “Thank you!”

The Beginning of a New Life

Originally published at Hemophilia News Today, April 5, 2018.

Some moments forever alter lives. Sometimes we celebrate educational goals, while others encounter the excitement of new love. Other times leave us breathless as we attempt to rise again from a catastrophic event, unsure whether we will ever recover. Whatever we experience, our world changes and none of us are ever the same.

In my life, there were several times when I knew that things changed. I remember the very first time I took my wife’s hand in mine. I knew in the briefest of moments that this was the woman with whom I would share the rest of my life. I call it “A Nanosecond of Absolute Clarity.” Almost 30 years since that moment, I still think it is the best thing that ever happened to me.

Three years into our marriage, we decided to have a child. It was as if the moment we agreed to embark on this, our most significant journey, my wife, found out that she was pregnant. We could not believe that we would welcome our first child into our house. We talked to the baby every night and eventually spoke our son’s name when we found out the answer to the long-awaited question regarding his sex. Life appeared to move forward with nothing out of the ordinary. That would soon change.

My son came into the world on a very stormy night in Houston. The lightning danced around the hospital until it found its target and hit a transformer. The electricity, including the air conditioner, did not work. Mr. MacDonald came into the world with 10 boxed fans in the operating room. A generator supplied electrical power and lighting when I heard that fantastic little voice for the very first time. In addition to my youngest son, I still considered it the sweetest music I ever heard.

I knew at this moment that life took an entirely different meaning. No longer would I worry just about my needs, but I now had to worry about my family. My wife and I lay together in her hospital room shortly after the birth of our boy. We discussed the events of the day, trying to process through the change in our lives. As we lay there, a nurse wheeled this little object with amazing lungs into our room. The moment was sacred, set apart just for us.

The next day, I left for work. I knew that my son’s circumcision was scheduled later that morning. I didn’t give it a second thought. It was merely a routine procedure.

Later in the day, I telephoned my wife to check in to see if Mr. Mac happened to be in the room. She explained that the nurses had him as he had some blood in his diaper. Still, there was nothing about which to be alarmed. Perhaps he had some residual bleeding because of the circumcision. I didn’t give it a second thought.

When I returned to the hospital, the pediatrician on call came to visit with us. Little did we know he would be our son’s doctor for many years. He said, “He is still bleeding. I don’t know why, so I asked a hematologist to come and examine him.” We thanked him and looked forward to the bleeding episode to come to an end. We still had a very minimal concern.

The next day I went to work, expecting to hear that all was well at the hospital, and we would bring our son home. As the workday ended, I could barely hide my excitement as I hoped all three of us would leave the hospital and finally sleep in our beds. My wife worked like a warhorse to paint and prepare the nursery. It was time to have the tenant move into his crib.

I arrived at the hospital as fast as I could. A team of doctors with specialties in hematology greeted us. They told us that my son has a very rare bleeding disorder called hemophilia. “Hemophilia?” I didn’t even know what that meant. My next question was, “Will he live?” The doctors assured me that he would live a long, happy life. With that information, I took a deep breath.

I knew that this conversation, this moment, would change my family forever. I didn’t realize until much later how hemophilia would redefine my world. Regular discussions grew to include needles, bleeds, and advocacy. We also learned how to live in a community and give thanks for those many friends who are as close as any family member can be.  Yes, my son’s diagnosis was a moment when my life changed, and for that, I am genuinely grateful.

The End of the Journey

It is hard to believe that we are nearing the end of our journey through the Bible. As we finish with the Book of Revelation, the Apostle John invites us to a ringside seat regarding the end of times. The action is surreal as we face false gods, fallen angels, and the lengths to which dramatic forces will go to hold fast to the world. These demonic beings underestimate the power of God. While chaos battles ferociously for the hearts and minds of divine creation, heavenly hosts respond in righteous anger and match each blow from the enemy with a strength that is far superior to anything that dares to challenge sacred superiority. In the end, God reigns supreme, and creation rediscovers the Divine’s initial intent.
Many know what it’s like to feel like we are in the middle of the apocalypse. We wonder how we will ever recover from where we are; our situation sometimes brings us to our knees, and we feel like we have been kicked right in the stomach. Life feels like it is falling out from under our very feet, and we cry out in the middle of what looks to be the end of the world, our world. The fires of hell overwhelm us to the point that we cannot breathe. We gasp, unsure if we’re taking our last breath.
Hear the good news, God wins! Our protector will always shield us from our foes. We must hold on to our faith during these rough times and rejoice that we know who holds the ending of our story. In Genesis, we discovered this amazing God, who wanted to have a relationship with us, loved us into creation. Over time we were introduced to God’s love and God’s wrath. Through every type of situation known, the one constant remained that heavenly arms reached out to us and continue to do so to this day. Revelation reminds us that our faith leads us to the ultimate victor.
For those of you who participated in the reading for the year, thank you for sharing sacred moments with me as we went on an incredible journey together. May you all go out into the world and share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and through your love, you may change the world one heart at a time. Peace be to you, my brothers and sisters in Christ reading is the beginning of faith. The real action occurs with how you respond to God’s calling on your life. Share the good news with everything you are, and in so doing, the world will know you are a Christ-follower. Amen.

Paul and the Reminder to Keep “First Things First”

It is extremely easy to worry about outcomes. We panic about illness, money, relationships, along with everything else that seeks to take hold of our time. As a matter of fact, my anxiety about different situations can become so large that I lose sight of my faith. It is challenging to keep my eyes fixed on God when there are so many other things that distract me from my relationship with the Divine. Events overwhelm me, and the rug is pulled out from under my feet. I cry out, “How can I sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

The Apostle Paul reminds us that we must remain focused on the One who gives us the power to overcome any obstacle. The peace of Christ opens the door to the reality of God. I am not talking about passivity, but the fuel for courage beyond our own abilities. Faith that can move the biggest stumbling blocks in our path. Paul encourages us to wake up and rely on the living God.

Let us not give way to the chaos that can take control of us in a second, but embrace the loving arms of Christ. We must make a spiritual commitment to discovering our beloved Creator every day. How can we know God’s power when we do not spend time with Him? Our devotion must be laser-focused and not give way to anything that might lead us into darkness.

Grace is free, but it is not easy, for it requires something from us. In the moment of our realization that God saves us from ourselves, we must respond with our whole hearts to the sacred invitation, “Come, follow me.” My prayer this week is that each of our answers to Christ’s call, “Here I am, Lord.” We understand that commitment requires action. Let everything we do reflect the Good News. We are reborn, made alive through our faith in the One who loves us, even in the darkest of circumstances.

Surrounded By Grace

     I must admit, I sometimes struggle with Paul’s theology. His ideas regarding marriage leave me utterly confused, but his reflections are not the subject of my posting today. This week we read the Book of Romans and started 1 Corinthians today. While reading his letters, I can’t help but feel overwhelmed and utterly blessed to be covered by grace. His writings emphasize the gift of God (which is redeeming love) as found in the personhood of Jesus the Christ.

     This love, given to us without price, offers us a connection to the Holy One not seen before the presence of the Messiah. I am overwhelmed with the blessings of God and the hope that we see as written by the Apostle Paul. We see adherence to the traditions of old, with a new expression of covenant living; both with the Divine and with God. We love, not with simple feelings, but with a fierce commitment to honor the Holy One in our living.

     Praise be to God that we find ourselves overwhelmed with Sacred Presence; boldly moving us forward to holiness in thought, word, and deed. Our season of thanksgiving calls us to worship; to give thanks for all that we are given. I am grateful for a reminder that grace flows through us around us and over us. It saves someone like me; yes, even me.

A Circumcision of the Heart

“For the real Jew is not merely Jewish outwardly: true circumcision is not only external and physical. On the contrary, the real Jew is one inwardly; and true circumcision is of the heart, spiritual not literal; so that his praise comes not from other people but from God” (Rom. 2:28-29 CJSB).

Paul speaks of a faith that reaches below the flesh into the center of all compassion, the heart. The beauty of his theology lays the way for both Jew and Gentile to be brothers and sisters, working side-by-side for the glory of the Most-High God. According to Paul, one must press beneath the surface and discover the beauty of a complete surrendering to the Father. We must be made anew. This transformation of faith requires a commitment, a total dedication of the whole body, but most of all, the heart.

At the same time, Paul describes a new way of looking at an old tradition. Two things suggest a unique approach to both Jew and Gentile. To the Jew, he reminds us to observe the traditions which prove essential to the ancient faith. Circumcise your young, but let God’s unlimited grace lead you to the One whom you worship. Gentiles, while not under the law, should focus on a life that calls for observance by a change of life, a circumcision of the heart, a commitment to serve our God faithfully, and wholly.

Praise be to God for the amazing grace that continues to lead us into everlasting glory! We all bow at the feet of the Messiah, longing to be in fellowship with Him. The law and doing works gets us on the right path, but it is the free gift of grace, which is offered by the Divine Giver of Life, that restores our souls and renews our spirits. May we live as faithful servants, always searching for God’s gracious love.

christopherjoiner

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