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!

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!

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.

He Remembers!

LasIMG_0245t week was a little too crazy in my life, and so I did not post.  My oldest son moved into his dorm last Tuesday.  I am excited for him and look forward to all that he will accomplish while being a student at the Santa Fe School of Art and Design.  His first week has been filled with anxiety and then joy, as he discovers his capacity to make it on his own.

As my wife and I were helping him unpack, Julian shook a box full of coins in my face.  I asked, “What is that?”  He responded, “Dad, it is the box that Granny gave me.”  That was all that I needed to hear, as I kept my composure long enough to get out of the room.  My son kept a beat up old dilapidated box that my mom gave to him for no reason, filled with pennies.  On the inside of the box was my mother’s handwriting with these words, “Julian, every time I thought of you today, I put a penny in the box.”

Of all of the things that he took with him to his dorm, one of them had to be this box.  It serves as a reminder to him that he was loved before he ever knew his name.  People, angels, and other heavenly beings encircle him to remind of this truth, that he is a child of the Most-High God.  Loved beyond anything he can ever imagine.  All of these important reminders found in a cardboard box.

Julian’s gift reminds me to find an answer to the question, “What am I leaving so that the world may know the incredible love that the Father has for us?”  The answers are not taken lightly.  They build others up, giving purpose to those who need to hear words of comfort and hope.  Store your pennies well!

Walking Around the Fire is Not an Option!

I have to admit that I do not like walking through the fire.  I like to tiptoe around it.  Try to avoid it, and wrap it up in a pretty bow.  Maybe if I ignore the fire, I won’t be burned by the flames.  Of course, while I tiptoe around and ignore what is in front of me, the flame continues to grow larger and larger, until there is nothing left, but ash and smoke.  More often than not, where once there was a possibility of creation, now exists only a clump of mess incapable of sustaining any sort of life.

The hardest part in life is walking through the fire.  Only when confronted with the hottest heat can we breathe onto it refreshing water.  Gushing from the spirit at the wellspring of who we are is a chance, an opportunity to find redemption.  We save the earth, our hearts, our souls, from the ravishes of generations of chaos that burns with fury into the very recesses of who we are.  No, we must move through the hardest part to get to the other side.

And the promise of our faith is this, even though we must walk through the fire and deepest darkness, we are not alone.  That is the promise to which we are divinely appointed.  God is with us.  We need only look at the darkest part of our faith, Holy Week, to see the magnificent claim of divine love that redeems us, that calls us by name.  We are children of the Most-High God.  We are made new, having come through the ravages of the past.  With our amazing creator, we have the power to put out the fire.  But we have to walk through it first, always trusting that the one in whom we trust will deliver us and make us whole.

It’s Easy to Get Stuck

I am grateful for my time in Austin.  While attending Austin Presbyterian Seminary, I was able to walk the campus of the University of Texas.  Ah yes, that beautiful campus with the tower.  As I walked down the stairs of the main building, I was taken back to my eighteen-year-old self who was enrolled as a freshman.  I thought of the many mistakes that I made that would drastically alter the course of my life.  Some of my choices left long lasting marks of shame and regret.  I kept asking myself the age old question, “What happened to that kid?  Why those choices?”

What a frustrating place in which I found myself.  No matter what resolution I could find, it would not replace the opportunities that no longer existed.  And then that horrid feeling of being stuck in my inability to fully resolve the issue kicked in.  What a mess.  I knew that in order to move forward I would have to let go of my insane thinking.  You know, the kind of thinking that allows you, in all of your folly to think that you are capable of changing the past.

All of these thoughts seemed to illuminate from my soul as I looked at the past with eyes in the present.  I began to talk to that 18-year-old boy.  I gave him permission to be himself, that he was more than the scars of his childhood.  I assured him that he would move past the effects of the battle wounds that he inherited, and that he would thrive past his wildest dreams.  He was, and his more than the sum of his failures.

So, after dipping my foot into the healing waters of forgiveness, I turned and headed back to the seminary.  It was time to leave the past behind, and continue forward.  I gave thanks for being able to shine a light on the realization that, while I falter, there is always the promise of a new day.  If my heart learned anything, it was a sense of forgiveness of myself, along with the need to keep moving in a direction that guides me to the eternal light of God.

Praise be to our wonderful Creator, who never allows us to remain in the past.  And blessed are we, as we remember that we are all created in the image of God.  That includes who we were, what we are, and what we will be.  May we carry that promise into a future filled with the riches of our amazing Savior.

A New Start: A New Beginning

Here we are in a new year.  Many of us set new goals, with new expectations in both our personal and professional lives.  Yes, we are given a chance to start over.  We are encouraged to change our way of thinking, our way of managing our lives, our way of approaching problems that have appeared to have no answer.  These are all the hopes and wishes in which we invest as we move forward into 2016.

The problem, however, is that we still bring our baggage along with us.  Many of us, I am pointing the finger back at myself, truly don’t live as if we have a new beginning.  A new start will include some failures, but will never give up until we achieve our goals.  What holds us back are the ways that we cling to the past.  We give up on our resolutions, only to fall back into the very familiar patterns of behavior that we promised to leave behind.  We fail to hold on to the assumption that our fresh start is indeed that, a fresh start.

I could really move from preaching to meddling with the following question: “How does this mirror your faith journey?”  I mean, we start off with incredible energy.  We proclaim to the world that we were not the people that we were before.  We keep this enthusiasm of new life, only to see it fade as we surrender to the pressures and demands of our places in the world.  We continue to drift away, until we wonder where and who we are.

Hear the Good News!  We are a people who have a chance to begin anew every waking day of our lives.  We do not need to wait for something like a new year to initiate change.  Each day for us is a gift, given by the one who encourages you to embrace your life with the passion with which you started the journey.  This is the promise that we are given with each passing moment.  Praise be to God, who gives us the strength to overcome our weaknesses.  May your “New Year” begin today, and may you know the blessings of God, beyond your wildest imaginations.

Preserve Our Memories Well

Recently I was visiting with a wonderful man who served in the military during World War II.  He told me some amazing stories of love, sadness and deliverance.  I finished my conversation with him expressing a feeling of gratitude for the memories that he clings to reminding him of his life and purpose.  He maintains a spirit of joy even at the ripe old age of 95 years old.

Even though I am not his age, I do understand a little something about memories.  I made a commitment this year to write everyday for a year.  At the end of the year I want to look at my writing and see if there are any themes that seem to pop up over and over again.  My goal is to find common ground with Scripture and my own story.  I want to answer the ultimate life question, “Where has God been present in your life?” 

It just so happens that I stumbled upon a small cassette tape that I recorded back in 1994.  I had turned 30 years old and wanted to give my mother a gift of memories.  I wanted to thank her for giving me a loving family and share with her the not so subtle of ways of teaching me life lessons on forgiveness and healing.  Some of the stories that I recorded where not easy memories; however, they were necessary reflections to my growth as a human being.

Listening to these stories 19 years later has brought me a new appreciation for my family and the path that I had to journey on to get to where I am now.  As I listened to my younger voice, I celebrated the lives of those who are no longer with me but were a very important part of shaping my life.  I listened to my own process of forgiveness and healing as told in my own words.  There was something incredibly liberating to hear a recounting of the many stories that gave me a sense of identity.  I appreciated the lessons that were handed to me as I struggled to find my own sense of worth.

I recently preached a sermon on God’s presence in the middle of darkness.  I told of God’s faithfulness and existence in the blackest of times.  This tape reminded me of a time that I came out of the fog and into the light of God.  As my World War II buddy said, “Memories are powerful and important.”

We hold tight to our past as a reminder of a time when God led us to be free of the pain that we carried.  Our faith keeps us safe and our memories serve to remind us of our journey.  The Israelites would never have gone back into slavery, but every year there is a celebration known as the Passover Seder to commemorate what God did in the lives of the faithful.  As he did for those in physical bondage, The Holy One of Israel led us out of bondage.  Theirs was a physical servitude while ours was a spiritual captivity.  There is not a year that goes by that we remember that from which we have been delivered, the one who delivered us (God), and the absolute joy we have as those who have been redeemed.  We preserve and celebrate our memories.  They have shaped us well.

The Land of Milk and Honey

“The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and He brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey”  (Deut. 26:8-9 NRSV).

There are times in our lives in which the promises of the above passage are as real to us as air.  We catch a glimpse of God’s handiwork in our lives and feel like we stand right in the middle of the “land flowing with milk and honey.”  We feel the presence of the Holy Spirit as a real and powerful source of our strength and hope.  The planets seem to be aligned and all is well in our world.  To sum it all up; life is good!
Then there are times when God’s presence seems so far away that we will never get back to the warmth of the heavenly light.  We struggle to stand up as the wind races through our lives and chills us to the bone deliberately ridding us of our joy.  We are hopeless.  The last place that we feel like we are is in a “land of milk and honey.”
Our hope as we struggle is that God’s promises are true and that our faith in His abiding love will pull us from the pit of despair.  I know what it is like to feel separated from God’s presence.  My youngest son was just recently in the hospital.  One day I was sitting with him in his hospital room and I tried to think through how many times he had been hospitalized in the last three months.  I couldn’t remember.  There had been too many times to count.  I lost track.  It is bad enough that my sons have bleeding disorders, but the constant hospitalizations are overwhelming.  It is hard to feel like I am in the “land of milk and honey” when I am sleeping on a tiny mattress in a hospital room.
When I am stressed beyond all measure I reach for something that will sustain me and give me hope.  That is when I discover God’s presence.  I read that God delivered us out of the land of Egypt where we were slaves and had no place in society.  God radically saved us.  This is where the center of my hope springs out like a fountain.  If God saved the people of Israel from the weight of slavery, I will be rescued from my situation.  The “land of milk and honey” may not look as pretty, but on the inside where it really counts I will know the goodness of God.  This promised land’s source is the Spirit of God.  Divine love pours out of us and through our world restoring life to all that it touches.  We are to be the wellspring by which the Heavenly One flows.

 
christopherjoiner

Some Thoughts Along the Way

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jefflust

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