Paul and the Reminder to Keep “First Things First”

It is extremely easy to worry about outcomes. We panic about illness, money, relationships, along with everything else that seeks to take hold of our time. As a matter of fact, my anxiety about different situations can become so large that I lose sight of my faith. It is challenging to keep my eyes fixed on God when there are so many other things that distract me from my relationship with the Divine. Events overwhelm me, and the rug is pulled out from under my feet. I cry out, “How can I sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

The Apostle Paul reminds us that we must remain focused on the One who gives us the power to overcome any obstacle. The peace of Christ opens the door to the reality of God. I am not talking about passivity, but the fuel for courage beyond our own abilities. Faith that can move the biggest stumbling blocks in our path. Paul encourages us to wake up and rely on the living God.

Let us not give way to the chaos that can take control of us in a second, but embrace the loving arms of Christ. We must make a spiritual commitment to discovering our beloved Creator every day. How can we know God’s power when we do not spend time with Him? Our devotion must be laser-focused and not give way to anything that might lead us into darkness.

Grace is free, but it is not easy, for it requires something from us. In the moment of our realization that God saves us from ourselves, we must respond with our whole hearts to the sacred invitation, “Come, follow me.” My prayer this week is that each of our answers to Christ’s call, “Here I am, Lord.” We understand that commitment requires action. Let everything we do reflect the Good News. We are reborn, made alive through our faith in the One who loves us, even in the darkest of circumstances.

Surrounded By Grace

     I must admit, I sometimes struggle with Paul’s theology. His ideas regarding marriage leave me utterly confused, but his reflections are not the subject of my posting today. This week we read the Book of Romans and started 1 Corinthians today. While reading his letters, I can’t help but feel overwhelmed and utterly blessed to be covered by grace. His writings emphasize the gift of God (which is redeeming love) as found in the personhood of Jesus the Christ.

     This love, given to us without price, offers us a connection to the Holy One not seen before the presence of the Messiah. I am overwhelmed with the blessings of God and the hope that we see as written by the Apostle Paul. We see adherence to the traditions of old, with a new expression of covenant living; both with the Divine and with God. We love, not with simple feelings, but with a fierce commitment to honor the Holy One in our living.

     Praise be to God that we find ourselves overwhelmed with Sacred Presence; boldly moving us forward to holiness in thought, word, and deed. Our season of thanksgiving calls us to worship; to give thanks for all that we are given. I am grateful for a reminder that grace flows through us around us and over us. It saves someone like me; yes, even me.

A Circumcision of the Heart

“For the real Jew is not merely Jewish outwardly: true circumcision is not only external and physical. On the contrary, the real Jew is one inwardly; and true circumcision is of the heart, spiritual not literal; so that his praise comes not from other people but from God” (Rom. 2:28-29 CJSB).

Paul speaks of a faith that reaches below the flesh into the center of all compassion, the heart. The beauty of his theology lays the way for both Jew and Gentile to be brothers and sisters, working side-by-side for the glory of the Most-High God. According to Paul, one must press beneath the surface and discover the beauty of a complete surrendering to the Father. We must be made anew. This transformation of faith requires a commitment, a total dedication of the whole body, but most of all, the heart.

At the same time, Paul describes a new way of looking at an old tradition. Two things suggest a unique approach to both Jew and Gentile. To the Jew, he reminds us to observe the traditions which prove essential to the ancient faith. Circumcise your young, but let God’s unlimited grace lead you to the One whom you worship. Gentiles, while not under the law, should focus on a life that calls for observance by a change of life, a circumcision of the heart, a commitment to serve our God faithfully, and wholly.

Praise be to God for the amazing grace that continues to lead us into everlasting glory! We all bow at the feet of the Messiah, longing to be in fellowship with Him. The law and doing works gets us on the right path, but it is the free gift of grace, which is offered by the Divine Giver of Life, that restores our souls and renews our spirits. May we live as faithful servants, always searching for God’s gracious love.

Not Enough Paper to Go Around

“But there are also many other things Jesus did; and if they were all to be recorded, I don’t think the whole world could contain the books that would have to be written!” (John 21:25 CJSB).

As the Gospel of John comes to a close, the above verse is the last one. To sum up the phrase, Jesus completes so many miracles, that there were not enough writing utensils to record everything. We only have highlights (which is more than enough to feed us), while Jesus continued to love the people around Him. Our road map, the Gospels, gives us all that we need to know to follow the Messiah. Love God with everything you are (warts and all) and love your neighbor as yourself. To complete the two commandments requires a change of heart, which leads to redemption and hope.

I believe that Jesus continues to work miracles all around us. We simply must stop and look to find the Holy Spirit alive and well in our day-to-day living. Think of the many ways that God guides you on your path, and recall the healing processes in which the hope of Jesus restored you to wholeness. There are enough miracles we continue to witness that could not fit in a book. The Holy One is deeply connected to us and restores our souls.

My hope for us, as we leave the Gospels and begin reading the Book of Acts, is that we take a few moments to look around and remember, Jesus, is still in the business of healing hearts and restoring minds. Praise be to God that we may stop and give thanks for all that we receive from the Father. Let us stop, observe that beauty of faith, and then go out into the world to make a difference. In so doing, the last verse of Luke is not an ending of the story, but a continuation.

All Saints Day and the Prodigal Son

This week our Biblical reading included the story of the Prodigal Son found in the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of John. I find it quite interesting that the story of a son who leaves and then returns is paired with the parable of a shepherd leaving the rest of the flock to find the one who is lost. How do these two passages share an overall message of God? Better yet, what do we learn about the character of God?

If understanding both the shepherd and the father as God-like figures, one concludes that God never stops searching for the one who is lost. He does not share his love like a democracy, but for the well-being of the entire flock. No one will ever be left behind, as holy arms will discover us in our moments of complete darkness. We once lost our way, but then the Divine found us and led us back home. Praise be to God for radical love that searches even for one like me!

The story of the father who sees the younger son return from a grueling journey does not cast his child away but welcomes him home. We learn that not only will God never leave us, for on the son’s heart, his father wrote a message of unending hospitality, but he also welcomes us back when we lose our way. Indeed, the son ran back to the father. But where did he get the thought of the possibility of returning home? He saw the treatment of others and knew that hope loomed in his father’s house. His return home did not end in failure and settling for scrappy seconds, but a celebration, complete with a banquet and into the welcoming arms of God.

We learn through these two parables that God wants us to come home. Whether He must look for us or divine arms await our return, we find our place in the presence of the Most-High. So, it seems like the parables placed side by side are not meant to be compared with one another, but to present us with a rich, deep, and broad understanding of the Father’s love for us. We move forward in the hope and knowledge that we are God’s children, cared for, and welcome into the Holy Presence of our comforter, redeemer, and holy parent.

 

 

Merry Christmas in October!

This past week we crossed over from the Hebrew Bible to the New Testament. While I find the Tanakh compelling and rich in substance, as a believer in the presence of Jesus the Christ, I gladly embraced the hope that is so alive in the Gospel of Matthew. My Lord came into the world, and for that, I say Halleluia! The Messiah is born. For that, we offer gratitudes of praise.

One of the many things that compel me to read the Gospel of Matthew is the foreshadowing of the ministry of Jesus. The beginning is a genealogical record proving Jesus’ identity as a descendant of David, therefore establishing a prophetic connection to the Hebrew people. We pick up themes throughout the text like Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecy. His chief antagonists included the Jewish leadership, and by God’s divine authority, Jesus’ teaching is the truth.

The wise men come from the east to worship Him. While this may appear insignificant at first, the idea that people from different faiths and ideologies come to experience the healing nature of Jesus, the Messiah. His leadership allows for a new and revolutionary way in which we observe the Jewish tradition, but begin to share with the Gentiles the good news of God as made flesh in Christ.

We start on our journey through the four gospels, each sharing a glimpse into the brilliance of our God. We are left with the “Great Commission” that Jesus offers as He ascends into heaven. “Therefore, go and make people from all nations into disciples, immersing them into the reality of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20a).

When Faith and Science Collide

Warning, I am about to discuss how faith and a dad’s bias work together. Both present an overall picture of our journey through the rough terrain of a chronic illness. While I admit that I am a United Methodist pastor in the protestant Christian tradition, my writing is not meant to favor any spiritual or faith practice above another. My goal is to find commonality across cultural differences as we journey through the ups and downs of chronic illness

When I attended Iliff Seminary, on the campus of Denver University, a professor came to the class to discuss how those with disabilities read the miracle stories of Jesus differently than those of us who do not face a constant medical challenge. I never thought about this topic. Because my boys have hemophilia, does that mean they struggled with questions of faith?

How can I help them maneuver this complicated territory? Because “MacDonald the Older” and “MacDonald the Younger” have an inherited bleeding disorder, does that mean they must hide in the margins of the church? The ultimate question frightened me; would my children be fully welcomed in my house of worship?

I shuddered to think that the place that I gathered my strength and hope would exclude anyone, especially my stinky boys. I started talking to my oldest, who was thirteen at the time, and he looked at me and said, “Dad, it doesn’t matter.” I assured him that one day, it would, and when the time comes, we will find our answers together. He needs to know that his church welcomes him with open arms, no questions asked.

Miracle stories are not meant to exclude, but to give in examples of a power outside of ourselves, which leads us to heart-healing wholeness. I stopped measuring my life by a skewed standard of perfection and redirected my thoughts to fulfillment. I throw away the lies that people taught me at a very young age and embrace the truth that “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139: 14 NRSV). I, my children, all of us are complete, precisely as we are.

I began to look at the scriptures and realized that while miracle stories pop up throughout Biblical narratives, one thing is clear, the primary purpose of life is not to search for an instant healing, but to be made whole. We are survivors, not because we receive some medical or divine intervention. We are thrivers because we plug into the source, where our souls receive strength. The benefit of finding a place to recharge your battery gives you a chance to think through decisions, take the focus off hemophilia for a moment. Be still and rest.

Another thing I learned about myself is that I am not willing to remain in a group if my children cannot participate as complete human beings. Just because someone does not experience an extraordinary act of God, does not mean they are any less critical in the world. My stinky boys know that nothing will stand in the way of my loving them. Miracle stories or not, the deep foundation of love and trust outweigh anything. The depth of faith, found at the headwaters of love, reaches to the core of our beings.

And so, I finish my conversation with “MacDonald the Younger and MacDonald the Older,” hoping that they know that I love them beyond all measure. I invited my oldest son into a sacred conversation to tell him that his voice matters. Maybe the greatest miracle is not found in an ancient holy text, but the overwhelming joy that these extraordinary men bring to my life. Real miracles are not only left for people to see, but also for people to experience within their souls.

Faithfulness In a Time of Uncertainty

“For even if the fig tree doesn’t blossom, and no fruit is on the vines, even if the olive tree fails to produce, and the fields yield no food at all, even if the sheep vanish from the sheep pen, and there are no cows in the stalls; still, I will rejoice in ADONAI, I will take joy in the God of my salvation. ELOHIM Adonai is my strength! He makes me swift and sure-footed as a deer and enables me to stride over my high places” (Hab. 3:17-19 CJSB).

Though devastation is all around the prophet Habakkuk, he remains steadfast in his devotion to God. He faces some of the worst things that anyone could imagine, but he is not deterred in his faithfulness to the Creator. Destruction displayed itself in full view, and he stood there, helpless to change the inevitable collapse of the culture he knew. Hopelessness could quickly overtake his life, but the light of God shined within the deep resources of his soul. Habakkuk’s commitment to following the Lord spoke louder than any catastrophe could rage against the complete destruction of his world.

I hope to have faith like the prophet, a belief that does not waiver in whatever circumstances I face. May I join with him and stand tall in the assurance that during the storms of life, my God will stand beside me, holding me up to live to see another day. I pray that as our world changes, my faith rests securely in the knowledge that God’s love overcomes any obstacle. Praise be to our amazing God, who sees us through the roughest of circumstances.

Make It Stop!

We are currently reading the Book of Amos, and the only thing I can think of is, “Make it stop!” How many passages must we experience to understand the depth of God’s hurt? I know the Holy One is in pain, and the world must pay for their deliberate choices to turn away from the Creator. I get it, loud and clear. Let us move to the restoration of the people.

I grow uncomfortable hearing God’s mourning, but this is a big deal. The Almighty finally punished His unrepented creation. His wrath is complete and hurls destruction at His chosen people, His beloved Israel. I keep waiting for happiness to show up in writing, but it doesn’t. How long will the Holy One continue to weep and punish those who turned their backs on Him? Please make the heavenly laments cease. We need hope, and we need it now.

In my desperation to read passages that bring me comfort, I need to wrestle with the depths of Divine sadness. I plead for Him to return the people to Jerusalem, where we will praise Him while we have breath in our bodies. “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel.” Return unto me the joy of my salvation. Turn my night into day.

We know what it is like to cry out in desperation. We don’t like to remain stuck in our stuff, and so we move heaven and earth to clear a path to the light. The promise of a new day brings hope in the middle of our sorrow. The grief that keeps us in the darkest of nights makes its claim on our hearts, and we are left with nothing; nothing but a hope that God will right the wrongs and send us forward with the promise of lux perpetua (perpetual light).

But now, like the prophet Amos, we must listen and hear the cries of God. At some point, this will pass, but we learned a valuable lesson in the middle of it all. Divine arms will reach out and gather us in. We will experience wholeness once more, but for now, we lie still, embracing sacred sorrow. He will come again; this, I know.

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.

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.