Who Am I?

Recently, I spent part of an afternoon in a department store.  I wanted to take advantage of sales.  As I continued to glance, my eyes caught a showcase of a beautiful collection of watches.  I thought to myself, “Oh, I would make that watch look good.”  Each magnificent work displayed its unique beauty.

There, in the middle of one of the cases, my eyes fell on a beautiful, gold piece of heaven.  It’s shape and nuance sparkled and appeared to outshine everything else around it.  I stood there in amazement.  Each watch a proud display of its creator.  Fashioned with beauty in mind.

As I stood there, I suddenly became overwhelmed with guilt.  My sons gave me the watch on my arm.  How could I even consider anything else?  As pretty as the shiny bling is, I could never imagine surrendering my gift for the sake of something bigger and brighter.  My big stinky boys gifted me with a present that they chose for me.  All the sudden, the shiny watch was not as bright, nor as inviting.  My watch that I wear is a continual reminder that what I have is so much greater than what I imagine.

God loves us in the same way.  Sure, there are beautiful and shiny things all around us, but God fashioned us into the people that we are, with the gifts that we share.  Be grateful, for all that we have, for we never know the real value of our greatest treasures.  I wouldn’t trade my watch for anything.  So, God would never trade us, because we are His.  And that is enough!

Living Our Faith

Last Sunday I asked the congregation, “You are a new creature in Christ, so what are you going to do about it?”  In asking the question, I hoped to spark an awareness that our faith requires us to not only have as Paul said, “A circumcision of the heart,” but to respond to this new way of being with our actions.  What we do, along with what we say determines our commitment to God.  In other words, we simply can’t say we are Christians and then act like we are anything but children of God.  We must prove it with how we treat others.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, spoke very candidly about the importance of our actions.  While he acknowledged that we can do nothing to earn our salvation, Wesley also stressed the need to mirror the change within by sharing our faith from the inside out.  How we live matters.  The way that we exist in the world proves that we have indeed had a “circumcision of the heart.”  To live any other way would indicate that our transformation lacked authenticity.

As we begin 2017, I pray that people see my change of heart by the way that I treat others.  This is a tough task and should not be taken lightly.  Careful attention towards a change in action requires a commitment to living the life to which God has called me.  I will admit that there are a few relationships with which I struggle.  Yes, I am called to reveal a new heart even in these very tense and complicated situations.

You indeed are a beautiful creation in Christ.  Now take up this claim and show those around you that a new path is being made in the desert.  It is your answer to the calling that God placed on your life.  Pick this task up and carry it forward.  How else will they know that we are Christians than by our love?

Advent and I

As the congregation of my church stood singing carols and decorating the Chrismon tree, I couldn’t help but give thanks for the customs that are part of my United Methodist heritage.  I learned my earliest religious instruction in a tradition that did not observe the church seasons, so I grew up without knowing anything about Advent and Lent.  They were words that I heard for “other” Christians.

When I broke ties with the Southern Baptist church and embraced the United Methodist faith, the one thing that captured my religious imagination was the adherence to the church year.  I celebrated different festivals throughout the different seasons and felt like a new religious language came into being.  My faith experience grew richer and more profound.  The Christmas and Easter seasons became much holier and deeper in joy and meaning as I experienced the awkwardness of Advent and Lent.  What could I add to my life, or give up, that would help me be still and sense the presence of the Lord?

This year, I have asked my congregation to spend this season of Advent in prayer.  I challenge my religious community to be still and let the Spirit of God move within their hearts.  May everyone experience holy transformation. Pray without ceasing, focusing in on the goodness of God.  This call to the Light is our task during the sacredness of the season of preparation.  Be still and know the presence of the One, who delivered you.

And strangely, when I am silent, I do give thanks for my earliest of religious teachers.  Yes, the Southern Baptists.  I give thanks to the mighty men and women of God, who supported me through my very formative years, planting the seed in my heart that God loves even me, a broken and lost child.  God makes it possible so that I can live a life that is meant to be a blessing to others.

My prayer for everyone this Advent season is to embrace light in the middle of darkness. May we all find hope in the midst of despair, and may we celebrate the love and knowledge that our God delivers us from hopelessness.  Praise be to our amazing Giver of Light.  Let us embrace the reality that we are God’s children, and may we live like sons and daughters of the Highest King.

A Moment of Truth

When I stand at the altar to prepare for Communion, there is an innate sense of responsibility that flows through me. I think long and hard about every word that comes out my mouth, as I consecrate the elements, inviting the Holy Spirit to speak into the lives of the congregation.  Each member is asking, pleading, requesting God to speak into their lives.

Everyone in the room comes seeking to be made whole, to take a break from a life filled with chaos.  And so, with all of these things in mind, they come to the table.  And there standing beside the table is me; waiting, hoping, praying for everyone that I see. Each person coming with their language, their way of expressing the deep needs of hearts yearning for wholeness.

As I watch the feast at the banquet, I hope everyone stops long enough to realize the moment of truth that Christ Himself calls to each of them to find that for which they are looking.  May the music of redemption fill their ears as heavenly bells ring out that everyone is loved and desired by our amazing God.  The reality of Holy love is the hope of our faith; it is the headwaters of that which we believe.

Heavenly truth reveals to us that we are never alone, that God’s presence is with us always.  We continue to struggle in a world that challenge us with each new day, the foundation of hope is always the underlying part of the victory that we share in Christ.  Love never leaves us.  Love never shames us.  Love is simply and continuously present.  We only turn and embrace the amazing gift of grace.

Today, I am grateful for the gift of God’s grace as revealed in the invitation to a banquet like none other.  I stand there and participate in the meal, confronting the truth that I am a beloved child of the Most-High God.  This reality is at times incomprehensible and overwhelming.  Such grace is offered to someone like me.  How amazing!

A Time to Remember the Incredible!

Last week I attended a retreat at Sacramento Methodist Assembly.  The camp is located north of Cloudcroft, NM on top of a mountain.  It is truly in the middle of nowhere.  At night the stars seem to be so close that you could reach up into the air and grab a handful.  I have yet to go up the “Holy Hill” and not be mesmerized by the beauty of the land.

On the last night of the retreat, several of my friends and I did something that I had been longing to do since the first time I attended the camp ten years ago.  At about 10 p.m., we hiked away from the lights and sounds of the camp to a place called Serenity Peak.  We took with us luminarias hoping to capture some incredible pictures while we were in our sacred space.  Our journey was not very far, but long enough to transport us into the darkness of the mountain.

As we journeyed on, I started to fear the possibilities of encountering animals, losing my way, or not being able to see my path clearly.  My anxiety started kicking in, and I thought of possibly turning back.  Camp was secure.  I knew where I was going and could go back to my room, safe and secure.  This was too much of an adventure for me.

Gradually, my worries subsided as we arrived at Serenity Peak.  The stars, while brilliant at camp, held a beauty that I could never adequately describe.  While standing in the darkness and gazing upon the majesty of God’s beauty, I could not help but think of the writing of the Psalmist’s declaration, “When I look up at your skies, at what your fingers made – the moon and the stars that you set firmly in place – what are human beings that you think about them; what are human beings that you pay attention to them?” (Ps. 8:3-4 CEB).

I realized that there is beauty in the night.  Something that is set apart from the day, which has its own majesty.  God’s wonder is both for the day and the night, neither being better, just different.  I remember that I must take the time to be aware of the sacredness of the evening, and not only rely on all that is in the light of day.  The holiness of the night allows us to remember to stop and look and enjoy a new way of thinking of things, a new way of being in our world.

And as for the retreat, I took an extra few moments to etch into my mind the incredible picture that will help me through times during the day when life gets very busy.  I can reflect on my journey through the night and all of the lessons that I learned, and be grateful.  Praise be to God for the greater light to rule the day, but also the lesser light to rule the night.  Each one, offering a different response to those we love and to our God.

Today, I am very grateful for getting to spend time with my clergy friends, who are amazing people who strive to make a difference in this world.  I thank God for laughter, for intentional retreat, and for opportunities to share sacred spaces.  We have all been called to embrace our world, filled with the light that guides us.  May we remember our stars, our moments of a holy embrace, and as we give thanks may we continue to be made whole.

Freeing Yourself from Shame

Shame is more than a five letter word.  It can hold you hostage and keep you completely locked within a prison of your making.  For me, I carry shame for things that were not even my fault.  The wounds pierce my soul with pinpoint accuracy, creating systems of thought that leave a long lasting effect in my life.  Shame being the most destabilizing of any ammunition utilized.

To the naked eye, shame is invisible, secretly doing its best work in secret.  I didn’t choose one path in life because I was too frightened about what may or may not happen.  I keep hearing the nagging words “If only I would have….”  The underlying decision at every turn is the shame that continues to carry on in my life.

Please don’t get me wrong.  I love my life.  I am blessed beyond all measure and have excellent resources at my disposal to reclaim parts of my heart that were damaged.  My story is not one of victimization, but of light, healing, and forgiveness.  I continue to look for those places that are still entrapped and rob me of the joy in which I am meant to live.

Surrendering to God means giving up the shame as well.  We cannot hold on to the secret things that hold us back from experiencing the plans that are laid out before us.  Giving up all of our stuff is not easy because it forces us to be vulnerable.  Suddenly, we no longer have control.  God is the one who guides us.

Today I am thankful for my journey.  I am grateful that I have amazing people who walk beside me on my journey, always reflecting the love of Christ which flows through me, around me, and over me.  I pray that I may be the one who helps others come out of the shadows of shame and into the light of God.  Praise be to our Amazing Creator.

Truth in the Nuance

I am a pastor in the United Methodist tradition.  It is no secret that our church is going through a very rough time.  The issue of sexuality, and how we as a church express our faith is a topic that threatens to divide us.  I know that we draw battle lines and seek to defend our personal thoughts and feelings regarding this and many other issues.  I pray for the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with clarity and wisdom as we seek how to move forward as a truly “United” faith.

This past week I preached on the story of Mary and Martha.  My hope was to go past the traditional interpretation of the text, and hopefully, gain new and fresh insights from the story.  While not addressing the issue of sexuality in a very open and explicit way, I saw a key ingredient within the scripture that might lead to a possible way forward in how we are to care and love one another.  This crucial understanding of love is the key element of our faith.

This time, as I read the story, I couldn’t help but pay attention as to where Mary sat.  Her positioning was significant to the underlying truth in the story.  Mary was in a place reserved for men.  Most women in first century Palestine did not sit at the feet of the Rabbi.  Such a place belonged to men.  For Jesus to allow such obvious disregard for the cultural norm of the day suggests a new and unique approach to teaching and being called a disciple.  Could this not be a subtle way of demonstrating that the “Kingdom at Hand” is new and different?  The most marginalized of the society could now be called “disciples.” It became possible for all of us to sit at the feet of the Messiah.  Could we look at this lesson as a way forward in how we treat our GLBTQ brothers and sisters?

My hope and prayer for the church are that we may not shun others from sitting at the feet of Jesus.  We must embrace all of our brothers and sisters in the faith.  To banish them, or send them into exile is to operate contrary to my understanding of how Jesus intended us to live.  We are called to be the hands and feet of Christ.  That includes every one of God’s children.

Yes, we can quote scripture and use the holy text to prove our point.  I want to dive under the surface level and go below the water to discover riches unknown.  Perhaps in a thick and rich search, we may come to love and understand that the Bible not be used as something that proves our point, but that the sacred writing may grab us in holy love and transform us into disciples.  That is my story, and I am sticking to it!

Beaten and Broken (Sometimes)

There are times that I feel a little beaten up.  My struggles may come in the form of unkind words, or actions meant to harm me.  There are moments that I want to rise up and defend myself.  I want to shout, “How inconsiderate of you to say that to me!”  There are other times that I want to say, “Stop what you are doing.  It is painful and completely unnecessary.”

The truth is, we all feel a little broken at times.  None of us are exempt from the reality that sometimes people are unkind.  They wage war against us with words that cut like knives, or actions that shake us to our very core.  We leave the scene with emotional cuts and bruises.  We may be Christians, but our hearts can still break.

In times of pain and suffering, God honors my sadness, but also wants me to move past my woundedness.  We are not meant to live in a constant state of bitterness, but we are to live in the promise of new found life. Christ is where our hope lies.  God’s power revealed to us in ways that only holy love can speak.

Today I am grateful for friends that lead me back to the source of my faith.  Praise be to God that people are in our lives who share the gift of the Father’s unfailing love.  Through the kindness of others, we are transformed to bring the presence of love itself into a world that needs to know that holy grace flows back to us, even in times of trial.

 

First Things First

Last night, I was frantically trying to get last minute things done before I begin an almost three-week travel schedule.  This had to be done, that had to be paid, deadlines for articles for the church had to be finished.  I was scattered and anxious at best.  Could I get all my tasks accomplished before heading out the door in the morning?  There was no room for error.  Bills will not pay themselves!

As I continued to struggle and move about, my ten-year-old son entered the room.  He was excited about a little project that he had just finished.  He created his own music video using a favorite song along with his Lego characters.  He was proud of his accomplishment and wanted to share what he had done with me.

Now, I stressed about what to do.  I was on a very tight schedule and could not leave a thing undone.  As I struggled with how to say no as I kept on working, I stopped right at that moment.  Here was my son, proud of what he was able to achieve.  There was only one thing to do.  I put down my papers, gave my full attention to my son, and praised him for his marvelous work.

After two minutes, I went right back to work, this time with a new attitude and a sense of purpose in placing my priorities back in order.  Sometimes, God reminds me that while my work is important and it is good to focus on the tasks at hand, my family’s needs are always at the top of the list.  I forget that little nugget of truth sometimes.  Thank God, for reminding me to put first things first.

Praise be to our God, that in the middle of the chaos of our lives, we are reminded that the spirit of graciousness and love should be our guiding light.  This is where we draw our strength.  This is where we find divine purpose and calling.  May we continue to remember our blessings, even in the middle of deadlines and life’s daily pressures.

Divide Us, Smide Us!

I am at my first General Conference of the United Methodist Church. I can only say that within 10 minutes of the first general assembly, I was frustrated and very disappointed. I left the room wondering, “What in the world is in store for the future of my church?” Not only can we not get along, but one side is bullying the other side and attempting to stifle any conversation regarding our differences. “God,” I reasoned, “please speak through your people, in spite of your people.”

I am reminded that we all have different versions or sides to a story. Each of us interprets each act of love and hate in our own way. Our language is not the same. To make the assumption that we all speak of God, in the same way, is to grossly misjudge our sense of individuality and personal sacred worth. We should never assume that we have a monopoly on the truth. We are not God, nor are we appointed to serve as judge and jury regarding other people’s perceptions. Our task is to love God and love others.

Perhaps this conference reminds me that I serve an incredible congregation of believers. My prayer is that we will continue to grow in our tiny part of the world, and not allow those who are governed by politics and hatred to spread their doctrines into the doors of our church. May they take their “stuff” elsewhere. As for us, we will hold fast to the truth that we are all loved by our amazing Creator.

The reality is that we are a loving congregation. We rejoice in the miraculous events that happen in the life of our community, and we mourn with one another when unimaginable events knock us to our knees. Though we are different, we are united in our love and passion for God and God’s people. Praise be to the One, who fashions us in His image and creates in us a new heart and a new spirit.

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.