Job and His So-Called Friends

The epic poem of Job tackles some of life’s most difficult questions regarding the nature of suffering.  The friends (Zophar, Eliphaz, and Bildad) that surround Job represent traditional theology regarding who is to blame when bad things happen.  “If anything is wrong, you have done something to create this chaos.  There is no such thing as innocent suffering.”  Job refuses their ideas and challenges God himself.

We know what it is like when the walls of our house fall on top of us, and we struggle to make sense of why things happen.  We are quick to name a unique defect in ourselves to explain horrible events and circumstances beyond our control.  “What is wrong with me?  It is my fault that my son has this disability.”  We live mired in guilt and resentment.

We may exclaim that there is innocent suffering, but our beliefs and thoughts direct us to self-flagellation.  Ultimately, we resign ourselves to the notion that somewhere along the line, God messed up when the Divine created me.  I am a mistake.  We carry this very ill-conceived idea that we are very flawed in our inner core and run from anything that insinuates that we are as good as anyone else.  We are destined to always fall short of the mark.

Those of us who struggle with chronic illness know this feeling all too well.  From the very beginning of the diagnosis, we blame ourselves.  “What did I do to give this to my child?  God is punishing me because I lived my life so horribly wrong.”  We bury ourselves in a sea of unrealistic assumptions about our innermost being.

Hear the truth as affirmed in the good news of God, we are loved, we are restored, and we are made whole.  There may be many things that are left to holy mystery, a child is diagnosed with some type of illness, our lives fall apart without warning, investments fall upside down.  Whatever may happen, this we know, we are created in the image of God, we are the children of the Holy One, and Christ’s strength will sustain us in every situation.  Praise be to the Most-High God, who fills us with holy light in the face of unspeakable darkness.

Hearing the Torah Again for the First Time

Chapter Nine is a song of praise and a quick history recap about God’s guidance, delivery, and protection of the Hebrew people.  For those who want a Cliff Notes version of the Hebrew Bible, you found the right place.  We rediscover the Holy One as creator, redeemer, and friend.  God’s love is indicated at the very beginning of the story of our planet.

Many of those in attendance heard the sacred accounts for the very first time.  I remember my earliest memories of God.  They helped shape and form me into the person that I am today.  I can only imagine the connection to the Holy Spirit as Biblical passages took on new meaning.  The creator of the universe selected the people of Israel to be chosen, set apart for service.  Their lives changed, for like me in my youth, they heard the words and were transformed.

For a lot of us, we stray far away from the faith of our childhood only to lose sight of our Father in heaven.  “I can’t seem to find my way back to the path!”  In a moment of frustration, we forget who God is in our world.  The purpose of pleasing God is no longer a priority.  Little by little, each lesson from our youth surrenders to the chaos and demands of staying afloat in a world that could sink us to the bottom of the ocean.  God is a fleeting memory.

And then, through divine providence, we discover the path on which our feet touch holy ground.  The Holy Spirit works a miracle through us so that we may rediscover the love of the Most-High God.  And hearing the scripture read again, for the very first time, we are overwhelmed with Divine love.  Praise be to the Living God, who always takes us back with open arms.

Building a Second Temple

The exile is over, and the people of God return home.  Unsure of their next step, they survey the damage left when they were forced out of their homes.  Their beautiful temple lay in ruins.  Rebuilding must begin in every facet of their lives.  Many people returning had no idea what the mighty city of Jerusalem looked like in its heyday.  For now, they feel the beautiful dirt of the earth beneath their feet and thank the Creator that they are no longer in a strange land.

Most of us know what it is like to return from catastrophic events in our lives.  Whether it is health, relationship, or spiritual issues, the consequences are devastating.  We look around and view the damages, knowing that we must pick ourselves up and move forward.  Our amazing God gives us new hope and a will to bloom where we are planted.

For now, standing in our own land, the sun shines brighter, the trees are greener, and the birds sing sweeter.  We reclaim our part of the earth where we are connected to God.  There exists a new found freedom to discover our heart’s desire.  Passion reignites within our souls.  We are made knew with promises yet to be fulfilled.  Hope once again moves us onward.

On this day, I am grateful for the journey to this place.  The one my feet stand in at this very moment.  The trip never promised to be easy, but relying on the One, who supplied the light and strength, it was manageable.  We come back to the promised land, a new people, filled with hope.  Praise be to God, I learned the lessons needed to land me at this moment.

The Good, the Bad, and the Foolish

The Book of 2nd Chronicles is like a roller coaster that soars way up into the sky and descends to great depths.  One king pleases God, while another blasphemes everything sacred to the Jewish culture of ancient Judah.  The only thing that remained consistent was God’s deliverance in times of confession and restoration for those who remained faithful, and the pouring of holy wrath on those who failed to keep His commandments.  Kings set the religious trajectory of the nation, and people followed.

As a pastor, I am well aware of the responsibilities to remaining true to the faith.  My leadership guides the congregation that I serve.  Clergy sets the example for others to follow regarding authentic worship, communal celebrations, and holy living.  Such responsibilities must be approached with awe and a daily commitment to devote each day to the Most-High God.

But, there are days when I stray from the path and fail to observe all the tenets of my faith.  I am not perfect and make choices that do not reflect my decision to turn my life over to the care of God.  Sometimes I get weary and make bad choices.  My leadership suffers, and I find myself trapped in a world of hurt and sorrow.  The Deuteronomic theme overwhelms me and, just like the kings in the books of Chronicles, I am on a roller coaster of hope and regret, joy and confusion, promise and destruction.

Hear the good news!  I can always ask forgiveness and be restored.  Holy love gives us yet another chance to rediscover our amazing God, the Giver of Grace.  Praise be to God for the gift of renewal, for the Divine grants us one more opportunity to be made whole.  We ask forgiveness and seek to make our pathway straight in a crooked desert.

 

 

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

2nd Chronicles traces the lineage of the kings (predominantly in Judah).  We learn about the leaders who listened to God’s directions and those who charted the course that led to destruction.  Time after time, there rose out of the chaos a prophet, speaking truth into the lives of the Hebrew people, but their cries for redemption fall on deaf ears.  Eventually, the situation grew worse and worse, until the Assyrians conquered the north and the Babylonians apprehended the south.

I have many questions concerning the exile.  Did all of the Hebrew people break the covenant?  If not, why were the faithful punished for the abuses of the sinful?  Could not God establish a new covenant with those who love Him?  Where is God in the middle of the exile? “How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Ps. 137:4 NRSV).

While I do not have a solid answer to my questions, I do know what it feels like to be in spiritual exile.  Through some random course of events, something happens that upsets my whole way of living, and I am forced to move from the things that define me.  I am so blown off my feet that I do not even know how to call on God.  How can I sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?

When the dust settles, and the wreckage of my experiences seems to calm down, the only thing left is the path that leads back to my Creator.  I stand up and put one foot in front of the other unsure where the road will take me.  All I know is that I can’t remain lifeless and afraid.  My faith restores my confidence as with each step I grow stronger.

For those who seek hope, who feel like they are in exile, come home.  God will give you rest and restore you back to health.  This renewal of spirit is the foundation of our faith.  We know that we can be redeemed, for we are the children of the Most-High God.

Blessings Beyond Our Wildest Dreams

2 Chronicles begins with King Solomon and his prayer to God. He sought wisdom, so that he could govern the people well. In response, the Almighty answers Solomon’s prayer and blesses him with riches never before seen, nor will ever see on earth. God praises him for his faithfulness and acknowledges his attention to following the Torah.

Many times I hear people pray for things, like money, a car, a house, etc. Is this how God calls us to live? God is not our fairy godmother, but our Redeemer. He says, “I will ask you anything you wish for if you ask it in my name.” Many people assume that means we can ask for whatever we want, and because of our obedience God will sweep his magic wand over us and give us our heart’s desire. I say phooey to that theological nonsense. The God that I worship wants to restore me to loving Him and our neighbors.

So, if we don’t get a new car, then what do we get? God’s desire is to free us from the bonds of sin and death. What better gift than to know inward peace? Our problem is that we can’t make it past the surface level stuff to trust the Divine with our hearts. A new toy is nice, but a peaceful spirit out weighs any little gift.

God’s grace is the gift that keeps on giving. What more do we need? Our lives fit beautifully into the palm of our Savior, and in His presence we find rest. Our conflicted, tortured souls lay beside the cool, life giving water.

My hope is that my prayer be like Solomons; wishing for wisdom so that I may serve the people of the Holy One. May I be a servant at heart. God will give me my heart’s desire, inner peace. All of the rest will be taken care of.

Why We Do What We Do

Continuing in 1 Chronicles, the message of intentionality moves from worship to the entire structure of the community.  Each person serves a function in society.  The Levites functioned as temple workers among the protectors of the gate.  In many ways, they are the first people that welcome others into the city of Jerusalem.  Their songs and words are meant to tell people that they are entering a place that observes the sovereignty of Adonai, the Almighty God.

While we imagine this type of behavior as strange, we must remember that the Hebrew people never differentiated between the sacred and the secular.  Everything is given to them by God, so it is impossible to compartmentalize the presence of the Holy One of Israel.  The Spirit is everywhere and in all things.  The idea that we separate religious life from business life would sound strange to them.

Living in today’s world, it is next to impossible to maintain a connection to the secular and the sacred.  In our society, we celebrate God in so many ways that we could not agree on the proper way to express the Divine.  Our communities are constructed in ways that prevent any one form of expression to take over.  Who would serve as our singers at our gates?

Maybe the importance of this text appears in very inner parts of our souls.  Do you live as if you are two different people?  To ask it another way, are you one way at church only to respond to the world in a completely different fashion?  You say, “Jesus loves you,” in one breath while in another respond to your neighbor, “You are no good and not worth a pound of squash!”  Worship consistently gives way to animosity and resentment.  The sacred disappears.

Hear the good news, God doesn’t want our lives to be cut in two.  Holy hands reach out during worship and in our daily lives.  The transformative power of the risen Christ calls us to live in the world as new creatures.  We carry the message of hope in our daily lives.  I choose to react differently than what I did before, in every circumstance.

To be a disciple, I must lay down my life and follow God.  Failure to respond with joy and kindness leads me down a path that prevents me from showing the world the light of Christ.  How can people move from doubt to faith when we set poor examples of what it means to take up my cross and follow?  Our actions should reflect the inward grace given to us by our amazing Creator.

I hope that we can stand together and celebrate the gifts given to us by God, and in so doing we may find it impossible to separate the secular from the sacred.  Christ is with us twenty-four/seven.  We can not put him on a shelf and go our own and do our personal bidding.  We turn our lives over to the care of God, and all of the rest will be taken care of.

God Comes to Us

The reading today (1 Chron. 14-16) celebrates the ark of the covenant as it is finally placed in Jerusalem.  King David leads the charge to move the symbol of Divine presence into the Holy City.  The celebration is well planned, with the Levites serving as worship directors and musicians to herald God’s coming.  The ark rests in the holy of holies, safe and secure.  All the people rejoiced and gave thanks to God.

The structure of the services proved intentional and full of purpose, to celebrate the deliverance of the Almighty for His specially called people on earth.  Not one action described proved unnecessary and not part of the more extensive expression of thanks to our God. Every act of worship complimented the other.  Each job, each phrase, each note raised praises to heaven.

Liturgy helps us to keep focus and direct everything to the Creator.  Let us bring all of who we are, with one thought in mind, to praise God.  Leave out the stuff that may bog us down and stand in awe of the One, who saved us from a miserable future.  For this moment, our hearts are filled with joy, and the expressions of gratitude ring through the heavens, finding a way to be heard in the darkness of our souls.  May we take up the task of serving the Redeemer each and every day, getting rid of the things that stand in our way of complete and total worship.

Praise be to our God, who restores us.  May we continue on as God’s children, fully embracing the joy found in our relationship, our worship.  May our newfound strength miraculously turn our gaze to the Giver of All Gifts.  And in the middle of holy mystery, we will forever raise up hymns of joy and be changed.

What is in a Name?

The readings from 1 Chronicles could not get any drier if they tried.  This person’s lineage and that person’s lineage interrupt the narrative completely to account for every person associated with Noah, to Abraham, to David, to the fall of Judah.  Why is this lineage account necessary?  Every name mentioned does not appear anywhere else in the Bible.  Who cares if so and so begat so and so.

As I stewed in my quest to find the reason for naming all the different ancestral trees, it hit me.  Yesterday, as I entered the room for my oral defense, the professor who served as my faculty reader announced my full name for the very first time.  Her words affirmed the hard work that went into achieving a life long dream.  She said, “I now welcome you back into the room Reverend Doctor Joe K. MacDonald.”  Carolyn’s words poured over me like rain.  She confirmed a long-awaited goal that required perseverance and determination.

My name is so much more than letters thrown together.  It is a statement of identity and a struggle against impossible situations.  A boy from the projects can overcome statistics and insurmountable odds to alter the course of his family and project much farther into the world then anyone might expect.  We are fearfully and wonderfully made.  With God’s help, we can accomplish anything.  My name is a statement to God’s direction and power.

“What is in a name?”  Hope, plans for a future, joy, anger, forgiveness; these are all a part of the names that we inherit.  Our goal is to serve to lift the glory of God; who we think we are and all.  Let our legacy reinforce the knowledge that we follow the resurrected Christ.  Let us live like believers and not like skeptics.  Praise be to God, who gives us the victory in Christ our Lord.

The Destruction of the Northern Kingdom

Today’s reading proved sad, as the focus of the text (2 Kings 16-18) saw the continued resistance of God’s sovereignty in the Northern Kingdom known as Israel.  Ultimately, we saw the defeat and ultimate exile of the Hebrew people by the Assyrian army.  They resisted the sovereignty of Divine leadership and paid the final price of rebellion.  God could no longer endure another breaking of His covenant with a nation that He promised so much, in exchange for devotion.  “I will lead you.  Trust in me.”  At first, they followed, and all was well. But one by one each king dishonored God by breaking the vow made at the beginning of the journey.

I picture images of a nation which held high prominence in the world, reduced to ashes and rubble.  I imagine sadness as the chosen people of the Most-High God, are now prisoners left without protection.  I can see the darkness come over them as they marched into the area of Assyrian control, only to start a new life, in a new place, with gods that were opposed to what the knew as of right.  Their society was no more.

As we start Holy Week next week, I can’t help but think that the sick feeling the Hebrews had must have been eerily similar in the hearts and souls of the followers of Jesus.  Their Messiah was murdered leaving their faith in shatters.  How could they sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?  There would never be a return to the normal that they used to know.  And so, for three days the disciples walked in darkness.  The Romans destroyed the leader of their society.  Maybe they would go back to their way of life, but nothing would ever be the same.

We know the ends of both of the stories.  In the Hebraic text, the Assyrian king releases the Hebrew people with many returning to the land.  God steps in to call them back into covenant.  The way back was painful, but a new reserve to follow the laws of the Holy One of Israel rebuilt the faith.  Life never was the same, and perhaps a new normal gave way to another approach to being in the world.

There are times that we feel lost in our struggles.  God’s presence seems like a distant memory.  Praise be to God, our story does not end there, but after the discovery of the resurrected Christ.  The man who worked miracles in human souls continues to lead us out of captivity and bondage to restore us to our holy land — a community which guards us and guides us.  Without a doubt, we can stand up and say, “Hallelujah!  We are a blessed people because the Lord, Our God, goes before us and strengthens us.  Amen.”

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.