Love That is Everlasting

“Put me like a seal over your heart, Like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death, Jealousy is as severe as Sheol; Its flashes are flashes of fire, The very flame of the Lord. Many waters cannot quench love, Nor will rivers overflow it; If a man were to give all the riches of his house for love, It would be utterly despised” (Song 8:6-7 NAST).

I have to admit that this is one of my favorite Biblical passages. The image of a seal over the heart is one of tenderness and complete adoration. The writer, which is described in my translation as the “Wife to her Husband,” captures the desire that there is a commitment to pure and holy love that is binding and is desired. The idea that it is the woman who is the example of what humanity desires in a relationship with God empowers more voices than the traditional masculine description of a relationship with God.

This image of the bride longing for the devotion of her husband is a wonderful depiction of our longing for God. The way that God compels us to commit our lives to the care of the Divine moves us to complete oneness with our creator. We long to be set on the breast of God. We hope to be protected.

We are further given the example of the vastness of love. In reading this text with modern day eyes, I cannot help but notice the description of love as being parallel to Paul’s writing in 1st Corinthians. “Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant” (1 Cor 13:4 NAST). Perhaps Paul’s description of the nature of love is an exegetical study of Song 8:6-7. (That may be a good research project for future endeavors.)

Well, all of this is wonderful, but what does this text have to do with me in the current day? It is simple. Through the noise of what voices all around us say is the right thing to be or do; there is something within us that desires to be shielded by our Creator. I need that protection from a world that constantly tries to define me in ways that are insulting or belittling.

God is my protector. I crave a relationship with God as much as I desire water. May we all yearn for a relationship with the one who radically seeks us out to be in full relationship. Let us drink from the fountain of living water and be sheltered and renewed. Let us all be changed.

It’s Nice to Remember the Beginning of the Journey

I am in Houston and visiting my family and friends. My mom and sister live in my house in Houston and my boys and I are staying in my old home. I must admit that I miss my house however; I do not miss the weather in Houston. The humidity is horrible. I also realized that there are two things in my life that I need to sustain me. One is mountains and the other is stars. You can’t find those two things in Houston.

Being here I am surrounded by memories of the beginning of my journey away from a life that I considered fruitless and unproductive. When I left Houston I felt like I was running away from failure and a life of settling for second best. It was only when I started seminary that I realized that I was actually running towards the calling which God placed on my life. The concept of running soon gave way to a notion of purpose.

When I first moved to New Mexico there was a little room that I stayed in at my church. I felt completely safe from everything and everyone in that room. I was afraid of being found. I quickly discovered that my life was based on fear. I had mixed feelings of being afraid of the past and excited about the possibilities which were before me.

It was in that little room that I discovered the promise of Psalm 139. God was present with me in that little room. My running would be used for the glory of the one who I know as the unknown God. It was in that little room that I discovered the source of my strength which would encourage me and sustain me through one of the most frightening times in my life.

Today I am thankful for that little room. I am thankful that God radically searches me out for a relationship. No matter where I choose to hide, I can never out run God. It is great to remember this wonderful promise. This “vacation” is more about gratitude and less about rest.

Rest

This morning I seem to be scrambling to find my way back to a schedule that includes time to write and research. For some insane reason, I am finding it very difficult to get motivated. I who set out to finish my master’s degree now have it. I ask myself, “What’s next?” Where do I find that spark of passion that moves me forward?

Perhaps this is my time to rest for a little while. I mean, summer is about renewal right? That includes me as well. When I think about resting, I acknowledge that my schedule for the last several years has been anything but restful. For the last three years I attended school year round by driving two or three hours to an airport to fly up to Denver. This occurred on a weekly basis. By the end of my studies, I did not want to see another airplane for a long time.

Rest did not come to our family immediately after seminary. My youngest son was hospitalized for most of the month of June. His port-o-cath became infected and needed to come out. While we were in the hospital he received a pic line. While the surgeon placed the pic line he accidentally hit an artery. Because of this, my son’s arm has been very painful. Yesterday was the first day since coming out of the hospital two weeks ago that he has not been in pain.

It made me wonder a little deeper about the issue of rest. I know that my struggles are only for a small season in my life. What about those who must face health and wellness issues on a daily basis? Is rest limited to those who do not struggle for more than a certain amount of time? I can honestly say that I don’t believe that to be true.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28 NRSV). Look closely. There are no conditions that we must maintain to achieve this rest. We simply have to be present to receive the gift of peace. Unfortunately, I get very distracted and lose my sense of connectedness with the Divine. We have to show up. That means being in the moment. That means giving up the worries and struggles that overwhelm us in life. Sometimes we can give those struggles up for good, but at other times, we can give worries up for a moment. We can give them up for a second. Anytime we can surrender to the presence of our God. This is where we will find rest.

Jesus knew that those to whom he preached struggled with major stuff. He even acknowledged it. He simply invites all to come and be renewed. Will you take the journey to restoration? I know that I am ready. Peace to all of you.

Seek First the Kingdom

We are finishing up Vacation Bible School at our church tonight. I must admit that I was disappointed with the numbers of the students that we had in attendance. I thought that we had done all of the right things. We advertised and even invited the congregation to help with all of the PR “stuff” to help spread the word. I hoped for at least 20 kids and we wound up with 10.

While I was banging my head against a wall trying to figure out what I did wrong, I was reminded that it is not the numbers that count as much as the actual ministry that is taking place. We had a youth group from a larger nearby town come in and lead the VBS. We provided the place by which the youth program could minister. They, middle school and high school aged students, are doing a wonderful job teaching our younger children about the wonders of God.

One of the boys who regularly attends our church is normally shy. This week, I have seen him come out of his shell and have a great time. It does my heart well to see excitement in the lives of both our guests and the children in our community. This boy reminds me that, even if he were the only child attending the camp, it was worth it for one soul.

I hope I can always remain focused on winning souls and not be so worried about numbers. Perhaps the lower numbers in our church are occurring at this particular moment in time to remind me that it is about ministry to those present. While it is great to have hopes and dreams, it is far more valuable to simply serve God. “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt 6:33 NRSV).

Psalm 68:5 "Father of the fatherless"

As I prepare my sermon for Father’s Day, I am having a rough time writing. My sermon is uncharacteristically based on only one verse. While I do not use the exegetical approach known as text proofing, I am led to Psalm 68:5 “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling” (NIV).

What exactly does that phrase mean? How does one father the fatherless? Growing up, I did not have a biological father living in my home. As a matter of fact, I do not know a single person on my father’s side of the family. That also includes my father. I have no way of contacting him nor do I really know his name.

My mother moved back to her home when she was pregnant with me (She was the oldest of 9 and only 20 when she had me). I lived with 3 uncles, 5 aunts, my mother’s parents, and my sister. We all lived in a three bedroom one bath house with a garage which was converted to an extra bedroom. I did not realize that my home life was considered different until I was in high school. In the chaos of such a tiny space, I discovered the love of family and discovered that God loved even the likes of me.

Perhaps Psalm 68:5 became real to me in the lives of the mighty men who became my mentors throughout my life. I think of my grandfather, who died when I was only 18 years old. I think of his inexhaustible love and knew that I had security throughout my childhood. I think of Alan, the music director at my church where I discovered that I had a talent and a passion for music. I think of Gonzalo my father-in-law, who trusted me enough to allow his daughter to marry me form a family. I think of Pastor W.C., while working for him as his music director, I finally answered my call to ministry. These were only a few of the men who guided me in ways that affirmed my very existence. God, through these wonderful men, became a father to me. I, who was fatherless, had many fathers.

There are men who had wonderful biological fathers. They are powerful and wonderful men who are a result of a love that taught them how to be men. Their fathers left their world newer and better because they were a part of their lives. I sometimes envy these men, because they grew up understanding the love of God so much better than I did. They had a living example of the kind of love a father has for his children in their very homes. Their example was present.

I truly believe that we are on a journey to make the most of our own paths. I believe that our paths all lead to one “prime mover” in the universe. That being is God. While it is easy to look at those who had wonderful biological fathers and be envious, I do not go that route. I appreciate and am very grateful for my own journey. Without traveling on my own road (meeting God on my own terms), I probably would not have met my wonderful mentors.

Father’s Day, to me, is not about celebrating with my biological father. Many people do celebrate with their dads and I am glad that they have that time to rejoice. I celebrate by remembering and giving thanks for the many men who shaped my thoughts on life, family, and God. It is through their actions that Psalm 68:5 becomes a living and breathing part of my life.

Rebuild the Wall!

I have challenged my congregation to read through the Bible this year. As such, I am preaching through the Bible. We will have Christmas in August. Until then, we are looking at the rich traditions of the Hebrew canon.

The sermon this week came from the Book of Nehemiah. My sermon was structured around the passage 5:6-13. In that passage, Nehemiah rebukes those who are gaining large profits off the backs of those who are less fortunate. I must admit that I was quite shocked by some of the research that I found regarding this passage. I dismissed the interpretations that seemed to evaluate the passage as no more than a way to extract money out of church members.

I focused on the issue of the community, as a whole, being called to rebuild portions of the wall. It would have taken forever for only one small segment of the community to build. The prophet Nehemiah challenges everyone to work together. We must all do our part to renew our churches, both physically and spiritually.

My church is at a crossroads right now. We are small, but full of limitless possibilities. The need to address those things which prevent us from building our sections of the walls of our church are the very things that keep us from growing. I am not talking about simply growing numbers, but also growing hearts.

I challenge myself on a daily basis to search my own heart and see if there are any places that prevent me from allowing God to rebuild those places in my life which need rebuilding. I face this challenge as I search for God in simple quiet moments. I listen for that still small voice which encourages me to live beyond anything I could ever imagine.

In the Beginning

June 1, 2010 Tuesday
“In the beginning God created….” I never stopped to think of the implications of that first little phrase of the Hebrew Bible. Yes. I get that God created the heavens, earth, plants, animals, people, but I don’t believe that God’s creation stalls at the beginning of an ancient text. The truth is we have many beginnings in our lives. I am starting out on a new journey having recently finished my MDIV. I could tell you all of the ways that God “created” in my life as I journeyed through numerous papers, flying back and forth from Albuquerque to Denver to attend classes. Yes, there are numerous “beginning” stories in my life.
I want to focus on the newest of all beginnings in my journey. On Friday evening, I will be commissioned as a provisionary elder in the United Methodist faith. I will be considered provisional for three years. After that period of time, I will become and elder in full connection. In a way it is like receiving tenure.
This new “creation” in my life is a bit overwhelming and a tad scary. It is at the beginning of this journey, which could be riddled with self doubt and fear, God steps into the picture and creates. I begin my narrative immediately linking it to the Biblical narrative. The God, who created the world, creates a new beginning in me.

Strength in the time of Chaos

“Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, and makes me tread upon the heights” (Hab. 3:17-19).
When one has a child that is diagnosed with a medical issue, in my families’ case, it was hemophilia, the rug seems to be pulled out from under the family. The diagnosis came as a complete shock. My wife and I felt like our world had been taken out from under us. What was supposed to be a happy event, changed into something that was, at first, catastrophic. The only place that we could turn was to God. It was with that diagnosis in mind that I first read this prayer from Habakkuk. Its words were compelling to me as I began to find hope amid chaos. I took Habakkuk’s example and claimed strength in the time of trial as the ultimate place for comfort and reassurance was found in God.
This passage is a beautiful prayer which reinforces the steadiness of God. Judah would face destruction if its economic resources were to be destroyed. Even though destruction would occur if everything that provided sustenance were to vanish, Habakkuk still pledged his devotion to God. Habakkuk claimed victory over destruction because of God’s promise to give him strength during trials.
We have all had our Habakkuk moments when the trials of life became so great that we could not see the good in anything. Life becomes overwhelming, to say the very least. I hope that I can be like Habakkuk in those very tough times. I hope that I can look out over what I perceive as destruction and remember that the one who created beauty out of chaos promised that I will be kept safe.
Habakkuk also reminds me to stop focusing on my problems and turn my eyes towards God. It is when I focus on the presence of the Divine in my life that I remember that I have hope in the middle of darkness. It is through God that I can pull myself out of a bad situation and rely on the spiritual strength given by God. I will run with a power like I have never had before. Strength in the middle of a crisis is what this psalm to God claims.
Years have come and gone since we first heard the diagnosis of hemophilia. We no longer look at the diagnosis as catastrophic, but we find strength in the blessings that we have been given as a result of this little life coming into our world. Yes we have needles in our house, and yes we have a medical closet that could rival some small hospitals, but we have our son who was our gift in the middle of a devastating storm.

BS2615-1 The Bible as seen through the eyes of those with disabilities

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. (John 9:1-3 NRSV).

Deborah Creamer’s interview brought to light that those with disabilities may read certain Biblical passages differently than those without disabilities. Many of you know that both of my boys have severe Hemophilia Factor VIII Deficiency. Basically, there is a clotting shortage in their blood. They must take medication in order to clot. Unfortunately, the only way to be cured of hemophilia is to have a liver transplant. It is a life time disorder and does not change severity. The recessive gene which carries the code is passed along the X chromosome and the mother is the one with the altered DNA. When a child is born with hemophilia, there is a tremendous amount of guilt that many women suffer because of the genetic circumstance.

I discovered the above verses from John and read them with new eyes. As Debbie mentioned in her interview, we tend to generically read many of the scriptural texts. This particular scripture (John 9:1-3) provided tremendous insight into my own life as to the reason behind my children having hemophilia. In some ways this was a source of comfort, but in other ways was a source of anger. Why did my children have to be born so that “God’s works might be revealed in them?” Wasn’t there another way that God’s works might have been shown?

Debbie’s interview reminded me that, like my children, I read the passages on healing with a different lens. My oldest son is 13 years old. I wonder how my son read the passages regarding healing. Does he struggle with some of the questions that Debbie brought up regarding healing? In the interview she addresses several different ways that someone with disabilities may respond to the Biblical text. There are some who dismiss any problems with the text in a generic sense. There are others who call their faith into question. If one is faced with the kind of faith that measures the amount of faith to the amount of healing, there is the potential for enormous damage when healing does not occur.

The interview made me realize that I need to be sensitive to my sons and how they interpret the Biblical passages of healing. I must be able to hear their struggles with the passages in which healing brings wholeness. The Biblical text from John 9:1-3 is a very good beginning to understanding how our fellow believers with disabilities interpret the texts of healing.

christopherjoiner

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