Ah! The Joy of Being Human!

I must admit that I have a fear of being found out.  I try everything I can to hide my weaknesses, and many times I am very successful.  I can do this as along as I do not have to get close to anyone.  I can preserve an appearance of being completely the person that everyone wants me to be.  I can smile, acknowledge that I am great, and keep moving forward.

The reality is that I do struggle and wish I had a better skill set in some areas than I do.  For me, this is a major source of anxiety, the notion of being discovered.  So to combat my feelings, I have learned to wear a mask.  It always has a smiley face on it and gives the generic answer that everyone wants to hear from me.  The thing is, the longer I wear the mask, the further I run from getting close to people.

I have just begun my fifth year as pastor of Rio Rancho  United Methodist Church.  Anyone that has been in one place for a while knows that there comes a time when the mask must fall away, and you must reveal you’re real self.  That includes the strengths and the weaknesses.  It is not an easy thing to do.  It takes guts and absolute faith in God’s mercy.

We are all faced with the issue of sharing ourselves with each other.  Taking a step in building trust is the only way that relationships can develop into something much greater than we ever could imagine.  It is also the diving off point for intimacy.  The reliance on faith is the uncomfortable part of being in a place for a long time.  We grow together, relying on God’s incredible strength to mold us into the people for which the church can become.

True wholeness must include vulnerability, acknowledging that there are parts of us that need developing.  If we can do the work together, we can become stronger.  We can live bolder, and we can be richer in wisdom.  Praise be to God, who calls us to live not just as surface level neighbors, but to join in the richness of relationship.

The Power of a Candle

I will not deny that I am a person who has a reputation for being outgoing and very boisterous.  I draw strength from being in the presence of others.  If you have ever talked to me for two minutes, it is quite evident that I am not a shy person.  I enjoy great conversation had over a great meal with a glass of “iced tea.”

While this is true, I must admit that I find my greatest sources of strength from spiritual practices that are quieter and reflective.  In many ways, it is like a candle that is present in a room.  The flame never makes a sound, but fills the room with light.  Its power is not found in a theatrical production, making its presence known.  It is discovered in a holy stillness, illuminating the room without making one peep.

While I am grateful that God created me to be an outgoing person, I hope that I may continue to learn the lessons that one can glean from a candle.  My testimony does not have to be made known with loud, obnoxious sounds, but simply by being present.  My service should speak louder than words.  After all, this is the very foundation of the ministry of Jesus.  His actions spoke bolder and stronger than anything he said.

My hope is that we may light the candles by being the people of God.  Jesus illumines our path.  We are not required to tell people about the love of the Holy One.  We are meant to show by example.  How we treat others is our testimony.  We have the light within us so that it may shine for others to see the way to the Father.  Praise be to God that we might be the vehicle by which the world will know of the tremendous blessings given freely to us.

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.

When the World Spins Way Too Fast!

Last week I hit the ground running.  My week consisted of running from meeting to meeting, dealing with issues both in the church and beyond, and trying to find some time to write a sermon.  I didn’t even mention fighting for family time.  When each day ended, I felt overwhelmed and unable to feel like I accomplished the tasks that needed to be achieved.

All of the chaos of the week reminded me of what is most important in the life and work of the pastor.  It is maintaining and leading the body of Christ in worship.  I felt stressed because everything that pressed upon my time took me far away from what I was called to do.  While I know that all that I do contributes to the welfare of the church, there are times that I just want to stop the craziness and refocus my attention on the One who called me into ministry.

We all have the kind of weeks that I described.  Our children get sick, we have to manage people who are not so good at managing themselves, or we must press on due to a diagnosis that we didn’t expect to hear.  It is difficult, to say the least.  Whatever the issue may be, we must set our eyes on Christ, who leads us through the chaos, and continues to create beauty.

Praise be to God, who leads us through the rough times.  I remember reading a passage by a writer who once said, “God never promised to stop the storm that a rough sea may bring.  He promised to calm the storm in us.”  This is where the greatest of work is done.  It is performed in the heart.

May we embrace the message of hope that is found in God, and be comforted.  We are children of the Most-High God.  Let us live like it, and remember whose we are.  Through this, we will claim the promise of a peace that passes anything that we can ever hope to understand.

Blessings in a Crazy Week

Last week was an adventure in survival.  I had a paper due for a class I had taken, my wife had back surgery, I flew out of town and back for a meeting, and preached on Sunday morning.  By Sunday afternoon, I was passed out on the couch.  I had nothing left in the gas tank.

Life is like that.  There are times that we just coast through, but more often than not schedules are rarely predictable.  Such is the life of a pastor.  The only thing that we can do is be present in the moment.  Anxiety can sometimes take over, and I can easily forget to simply breathe and enjoy where I am at the moment I’m there.  Now is what counts.

As I rattled off my busy schedule, I didn’t talk about the blessings that came my way as a result of my crazy time.  I celebrated another academic course completed.  I gave thanks that my wife had a very successful surgery.  I met new friends, and spent a few moments with some great friends.  My flights, while adventurous, got me safely to and from my destinations.  Sunday morning was filled with celebration and joy.  These are the wonders that come with a busy and fulfilled life.

I give thanks to God this day for the gift of servanthood, that I was asked to take part in a consumer panel in the bleeding disorders community.  I am grateful that I can connect with a community who longs to hear my story, and the story of my family.  I was honored to hear other’s journeys, and the strength and hope that they find on their paths.  Their stories are an amazing tapestry of an incredible society of men and women who struggle to make their lives rich and meaningful despite the presence of a bleeding disorder.

I think it is safe to say, that we are a part of many different cultures and societies.  It was great to be reminded that I am a part of the hemophilia community.  I struggle, just as those around me, to find normal in a world that involves daily infusions, hospital visits, and a medicine closet packed full of medical equipment necessary to give my children a chance at their best lives.

My hope is that through all of the chaos we may remember to find the beauty in the moment.  Let us never throw away a single second.  Let us give thanks for what we are given.  Praise be to God, who never ceases to amaze his children.

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.

The Beauty of the Sacred

My preaching text this week is John 12:1-8.  It is one of the few passages in the Gospel of John that is mentioned in the other Gospels.  It is the story of Mary washing the feet of Jesus with oil and then drying them with her hair.  There is a certain intimacy and holiness that comes out of this tender moment of reverence.  The power of the story is in the nuance.  No one else but Mary, a female disciple, dares to treat the savior of the world with such compassion and devotion.  The event is holy and set apart.

I am led to Mary’s observance of divine adoration and of her brazen and faithful devotion to her Lord.  Her attention could have carried her away to any other chore in the room, but she chose to fix her eyes on Jesus.  She could have tried to carry on a conversation with her brother, Lazarus.  He seemed to be doing nothing other than lounging around the house.  Or, she could have helped Mary prepare the finishing touches of the meal.  Perhaps she could have calmed Judas down and attended to the needs of the other disciples gathered in her house.  She did none of those things.  Instead, she worshipped at the feet of her master. 

The moments that Mary shared with Jesus are the times I long to experience.  I mean those moments that seem to transcend time.  We wish sacred encounters, much like the one in the Gospel reading, would never end.  There is a connection with God, an enlightenment beyond our understanding, and a transformation that allows us to glimpse all that we are created to be.  We sit at the feet of our Savior, and are content with just being in His holy presence.

We are called to embrace these unexpected moments of faith, drowning out the naysayers who want to do nothing but diminish our time.  But if we are faithful, God will indeed reveal himself to us.  He will speak.  Maybe not in the way we ever would expect divine words to come to us, but He will let His presence be known.

What do we do with such a gift?  With which character do you best identify?  Could it be Lazarus, who does nothing but observes the scene?  How about Judas, who can’t seem to get past his earthly desires?  How about Martha, who once again is at the heart of preparing a meal for a bevy of guests?

For me, I would hope to be like Mary.  The one who fell at the feet of her Lord, and did nothing but worship.  Despite cost.  Despite what others may say.  Her heart and soul were with her Savior.

At the feet of Jesus.  What better place to be?  This is where a disciple is called to serve.  This is where hope and faith converge.

Lent is the Season of…

When I left my childhood faith and embraced the United Methodist tradition, one of the many practices that I never observed until converting was Lent.  I just thought the season was reserved for Catholics, and I didn’t give it a further thought.  I also assumed that Lent was just about giving up things.  Little did I realize that the observance of a “Holy Lent” would become a very important part of my faith practice.

I first approached my first Lenten season with fear and trepidation.  I thought to myself, “This is a dreary and depressing season.  Who in the world wants to observe this time of the year?”  Everything seemed to suggest mourning and sadness.  I was uncomfortable and did not like the tone of the church.

As I grew in my faith, I found that Lent offered me a way to rediscover the very basics of my belief in God.  I learned the importance of remembering my mortality and searching the very depths of my soul for the things that brought me closer to death.  I kept asking myself, “What separates me from my creator?”

Over time, my practice grew to include things that I could add to my day to remind me of God’s love and kindness.  Last year I added a commitment to writing a blog each day, this year I will pray the daily prayers of the Office of the Divine Hours.  Whatever I chose, I hope to increase my awareness of the presence of the Holy One, and to once again offer myself to His service.  I pray that I may grow in the love and knowledge of Christ, and develop something far beyond a faith practice.  I hope to begin a life commitment.

Praise be to God, who constantly reminds us of His love for us. 

christopherjoiner

Some Thoughts Along the Way

Cazandra Campos-MacDonald

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Perseverance Runner

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

strugglewell

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jefflust

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