God Speaks Even in Our Exile

We finished the Book of Daniel yesterday, and something hit me over the head for the first time.  This is not my first time reading the text, yet the message revealed to me is quite clear.  Why have I missed one of the most visible messages concerning the passage?  Maybe my spirit was not ready to embrace the idea that, despite the storytelling of Daniel, God worked in the lives of the people even in the exile.

For those not entirely up to snuff about the Book of Daniel, the setting is in Babylon during the time of the captivity.  God moved in the hearts and minds of at least some of the people, and just like Daniel, Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego, he delivered those who remained faithful to the Divine.  The Hebrew people were not left to their own devices while in captivity.  Their God still searched them out.  They simply needed to call out to the Holy One, and they could receive God’s promise.  Captivity may not have been the ideal way to worship, but at least they were provided with the holy presence of Almighty God.

I further reflected on how the text speaks to me now, here in the 21st century.  There are times when I feel like I am in exile.  When events make me feel like I am forced out of my place of refuge and made to live in a foreign land.  I don’t know how God could find me, but the little glimmer of light that I see reminds me that the Holy One never left me in my exile.  He was there with me; even in the darkest of places.  I turn to the light, and holy hands hold my hands until I am rescued from exile.

Praise be to God that even in the worst of circumstances, we can still find a glimmer of hope; a flicker of Divine presence.  We must look around to see it, but I know it is there.  We must look under the darkest places in our souls to discover that nothing is obscure to the One who gave us life.  Once we find that small light, let us follow it to the brilliance of joy everlasting.

A New Covenant

Devastation and heartbreak surrounded Jerusalem. Disaster followed the Hebrew people. God officially claimed that due to the constant disobedience of the favored nation, the covenant broke. And for the first time in the nation’s history, Divine favor did not exist. No one saved the children of Israel; they submitted to the Babylonians and became exiles in a foreign land. Such proved the plight of the chosen seed of God.

I know what it feels like to be abandoned by God.  I look at some of the many struggles in my life and can’t help but wonder, “I should have made a better choice.”  My actions led to God’s overwhelming silence.  Equipped with sorrow, I push God away.  I say, “Forget about a new covenant, I want a new soul.”  I yearn for a way to start all over again while maintaining the lessons I learned.  I cry out, “I want a do-over, God!”

But wait, through the most horrific part of the story, the Holy-One prepares for another covenant, a new way. God did more than speak through a prophet, the Divine burned within the people an opportunity to follow the road of light. Humanity’s innermost part of their spiritual DNA points to a compass leading to God.

Praise be to the One, who gives us the strength to face the struggles of each day. Every morning we can follow our minds and souls to the very throne of God. Let us serve the world, equipped with heavenly guidance. Make this day count by staying on the path of Divine holiness.

Our Songs of Ascent

Psalms 120-134 are known as the Psalms of Ascent. The title possibly refers to physically climbing the outer stairs of the temple to reach the center square. Songs reflected melodies that started low and gradually got higher with each idea sung. The primary focus reflected God’s elevation and our constant desire to reach up for His guidance.

Our world teaches us to keep our head to the grindstone and get the job done.  While it is important to be productive, the Creator of the Universe wants us to look up and remember to give thanks for our deliverance.  Just as God calls us from the pit of despair, “ADONAI, I call to you from the depths; hear my cry, Adonai!  Let your ears pay attention to the sound of my pleading” (Ps. 130:1-2 CJSB), we are to acknowledge the hope and assurance found in those who are faithful.  The Psalmist expresses a strong dependence and commitment to God’s protection when he proclaims “Those who trust in ADONAI are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved but remains forever” (Ps. 125:1 CJSB).

This week I invite you to join me in taking moments to reflect on God’s deliverance in your own lives.  What ways do you stop and raise your head to offer the Holy One your joys and concerns?  Please feel free to share your moments of divine revelation with me by posting a response.  Allow the blessings of God to overwhelm you as you recount all that the Lord has (and continues) to do for you.

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!

Count Your Blessings

Today is my birthday.  Each year, I give thanks for one more moment, one more second here on this planet.  So, by all accounts, I consider myself a blessed man.  Today I am thankful for:

  1. My wife who continues to love me with a fierce loyalty that knows no ending or beginning.
  2. My sons who are grateful that I happen to be their father.
  3. A career that is filled with many affirmations and challenges.
  4. A life path that is definitely not what I would expect, but for which I am grateful.
  5. People that I call friends that actually know me and love me in spite of myself.
  6. A chance to work hard with a goal of achieving a hard earned Doctorate.  I set the educational standard for my family.
  7. Incredible opportunities to share my passion for making music.
  8. The gift of having amazing teachers in my life who illuminate my spirit with wisdom.
  9. Hope that continues to motivate me to be the best that I can be.
  10. Strength for overcoming every obstacle that stands in my path.  Here’s to being made whole.

We never know how many years are given to us while we live on this planet.  Every blessed day is a chance to make things right; to reach beyond our own understanding.  Time is the gift of heaven.  Life is passionate, and pain is temporary.  We honor each other by the amount of time that we give to one another.

I am grateful for the community around me.  It is with these beautiful people that I understand what it is like to be the person that I am created to be.  Praise be to God for you, for friends, for community.  It is within the recesses of our deepest souls that Christ dwells within us, giving us strength for the journey that lies ahead. Let us travel together, seeking power from the One who strengthens us.

 

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.

The Best Necklace in the Whole World

I was eleven years old, and my mission in life was to by my mother the best birthday gift possible.  Her birthday was coming up, and I was desperate.  My grandparents took me to a shopping mall in Houston, and I was determined that I would not leave empty handed.  There had to be something in one of the many stores.  I had a whopping $15 in my pocket, and I was ready to do a little retail damage.

As we went into one of the many stores that night, there was something that caught my eye.  I saw a bracelet that shined like I had never seen anything shine in my life.  I walked over to look at this incredible work of art.  Surely it was way too far out of my league.  I was shocked to learn that it only cost $12.  At eleven years old, I wasn’t aware that rhinestones were not the same as diamonds.  The necklace was simply a beautiful piece of jewelry and that it was just what I wanted to give to my mother.

I eagerly asked the salesman to wrap up my trinket and was excited that my mom would wear it soon.  A feeling of pride swept over me as I paid for the rhinestone necklace.  This gift was my idea.  My mom would wear the best jewelry that the store had to offer (or so I thought).

When it came time to open the box, my mother immediately placed the jewelry around her neck and proclaimed it to be the most beautiful gift that she had ever received.  I thought she looked like a queen.  It was even better than I expected.  I was very happy with myself, for I gave my mother the best necklace in the whole world!

As the years went by my mom would talk about her special present and smile.  I was a little embarrassed as I reflected on my younger self. I know that as an adult, my childhood self did not know the difference between fake jewelry and the real thing.  All I knew is that my mom deserved the best that I could give.

Five years ago, almost to the day, my mother died.  I still think of her and miss her.  I am thankful for the friendship that we forged in my adult years.  Not long after she died my sister and I began the arduous task of sorting through her things.  I stumbled upon a jewelry box and opened the top.  In the box was a beautiful diamond and right next to the amazing stone was a little bag.  I unfastened the top of the bag and to my amazement, the little rhinestone necklace that I bought so many years ago fell onto the table.

I immediately teared up as I remembered that brave little boy, eager to give the best that he had so that his mother would smile.  All of the sudden the costume jewelry increased in value and surpassed that big old diamond.  My necklace contained all of the love that an eleven-year-old heart could muster.  Nothing is more priceless than the intention of the heart.

Today I am grateful as I remember my mother this week, and the legacy that she gave to me.  I honor her memory every day of my life, as I hope to be the best husband, father, brother, friend, pastor, and the person that I can be.  I believe that she is with me each and every day and that her memory continues in love shared with those in need of hope and renewal.  Praise God for Ruby Jensen, and her spirit of compassion and joy.

 

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

As I prepare for All Soul’s Sunday, I remember the incredible men and women that left a lasting legacy on my heart.  I must admit that the Service of Remembrance is one of the most sacred of the church year.  There is a feeling of comfort and holiness as we invite our brothers and sisters in the faith to join voices in giving thanks for the many saints that went before us.  We thank them for their teachings, for their presence in our lives.  We are better because they lived.

One of the many men who had a profound impact on my life was my grandfather.  Edwin Lance Jensen lived a life that many would consider remarkable.  He survived the Great Depression, the early loss of his mother, homelessness, a world war, and the loss of a child.  I knew him for 18 years.  Unfortunately, he died at the young age of 60.

My grandfather was the most significant male role model that I had growing up.  I learned patience, perseverance, and endurance.  This tough talking, rough around the edges kind of man took the time to teach me the many life lessons that I needed to know.  I look back and still consider him one, if not the most intelligent man that I ever met.

One of my fondest memories of him was an event that happened during my senior year of high school.  I prepared to leave for school when all of the sudden I heard a thunderous crash right outside my house.  A lady hit my parked car.  My grandfather ran outside, all 6’4″ and 300 pounds of him to check on the person who was involved in the wreck. Making sure she was safe, he invited her in to have some coffee while we handled the day to day stuff involving my car.  I like to think that a mechanic fixed the car, and the lady found peace, all because of my grandfather’s kindness.

Many years after Edwin’s death, I was in an old bookstore sorting through different titles that caught my eye.  One of them was about the presence of angels.  I looked inside of the book and the question, “How do we know that we are in the company of angels?” peeked my curiosity.  I had to continue, the words called to me.

As I read the answer to the question, I found myself weeping, giving thanks for this saucy dirty old man that encouraged me to be the person that I am today.  It said, “An angel is a person who leaves our world better because they were in it.”  Through my tears, I started to laugh thinking about this broken not too old of a man, appearing as one of the many angels who journey through my life.

Through this week, let us stop and give thanks for our angels (sometimes disguised in the strangest packages that we could ever know).  We are bolder and better because of their legacy.  When you think of the special people in your life, remember to stop and give thanks and praise for the people that speak the words that you need to hear at the moment that you need to hear them.  Today we say, “Praise be to God for our angels.”

 

christopherjoiner

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