Comfort Me, Oh God!

“You who have shown me great distresses and troubles will revive me again, and will bring me up again from the depths of the earth. You will increase my greatness and You will encircle and comfort me (Ps. 71:20-21 CEB).

The psalmist calls to God, claiming that He is the source from which all things originate. Adonai shows great distress and revives the heart and soul of those who suffer. How can this be? Doesn’t Almighty God want us to be our best selves? Why show us horrible things?

The reality is that free will is part of our gift. We respond (either positively or negatively), and others must live with our choices. When a pebble drops onto clear water, the reaction of the event produces waves to extend far away from the point of impact. Everything in the path of the waves experiences a disruption of peace.

We, as humans, know what it is like to suffer the actions of a pebble. Someone makes a choice and effects many lives. Sometimes it feels like a small rock, while other times it feels like a massive boulder caused a large title wave. Whatever the size of the stone, our actions carry consequences.

With the concept of a free will in mind, the psalmist (David) declares that his allegiance to God does not shield him from events generated from the people around him. The Holy One may show him great distress through the actions of others, but rest assure the God of our understanding will bring restoration to our souls. Others may lead us to harm, but the Creator will deliver us and provide us safety.

To those who are affected by other people’s poor choices, hear the good news, God will deliver us. We find our shelter by holding on to God’s protection. In the shadow of Divine wings, we rise out of any catastrophe that holds us hostage. We face the things that hold us down and break free to experience revitalization. Praise be to God; that we can trust in Him, especially in the harshest of circumstances.

When God is Silent

“Wake up! Get up, my God, my Lord! Defend me and my cause! Give judgment for me, ADONAI, my God, as your righteousness demands” (Ps. 35:23-24 CJSB).

We know that we are children of the Most-High God. As His kids, there is a certain expectation that our Father will protect us from all of our enemies. He will cut them down to size. After all, don’t we provide that kind of security for our own sons and daughters? Someone oversteps their boundaries and we put them back in line. Don’t mess with my children!

If we read several of the Psalmist’s works, it appears that God is silent when David needs His help. Why is the Creator so quiet? He should strike out and punish those who rail against the faithful, who profess allegiance to the one true God. But, it seems as if we cry out in need, only to have our petitions go unanswered. Where is this amazing Deity, when we are at our lowest place? “Stand up! Help me in my defense against the ones who want to take me down. Show them all your power, Lord.”

There is an old saying that “Evil thrives when good men do nothing.” In silence, we allow those with the loudest voices to take center stage, often finding ways to strike us down. In stillness, the light darkens until there is very little sign that hope is still present. The flame of God’s love no longer feels close to us. In despair, we feel utterly alone as we beg once more, “God, please do something.”

In the darkest of moments, we find a glimmer of light; a touch of a hand, writing that evokes a memory, kind words in the most unusual of circumstances. Whatever we see, we remember that we are not alone. Emanuel, God, is with us! The promise of the Creator reiterates a call to remember that we are never abandoned. Praise be to God for the promise of complete protection, even the worst of all possible places.

Psalm 15 – Living in God’s Presence

“ADONAI, who can rest in your tent? Who can live on your holy mountain? Those who live a blameless life, who behave uprightly, who speak truth from their hearts” (Ps. 15:1-2 CJSB).

Practicing hospitality and kindness does not offer me the luxury to sit back and serve as judge over those who aren’t worshiping as they should. Radical love transforms me to be a living witness to the care of my fellow men and women. In other words, my actions dictate my place before God and not my condemnation of my neighbors. According to King David, our hearts must remain open and affirming to all.

I don’t believe that humanity possesses the capability to follow the path without making mistakes. Praise be to God that perfection is not the requirement. We do the best we know with Divine guidance. The most important part of the journey is our willingness to follow God. Our heart’s language reflects our action. If we say we love the Creator, our actions reflect our commitment to live according to His statutes. We stumble from time to time, but if we are faithful, we rediscover the path.

On this day, let us rejoice and seek to love one another as Christ loves us. Some people are easier to live with than others, but we must commit to the highest ideas of ethical responsibility. “This is my command: that you keep on loving each other as I have loved you” (Jn. 15:12 CJSB). Rise above anger and resentment and chose to be a living witness to the one who delivered you. Praise be to God for another day to live in peace with each other.

From Job to Doctors to Psalms

Distinguished Doctors

This week shaped up to be a hectic and beautiful time in my life.  While still maintaining all of my Biblical readings, I graduated with a Doctorate of Ministry degree from The Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.  The adventure into doctor land proved terrific.  While in the process, I discovered some incredible people who shared the path with me.  They are forever friends who continue to bless me and serve as a source of inspiration.  The picture above captures a little of the joy that we share as an incredible team of friends.  Don’t let some of the faces fool you.  There is a lot of wisdom in the souls of the people in the photograph.  We love each other fiercely and support one another through the darkest of times.  They are my tribe, my people.

And now to the end of Job and the beginning of Psalms… Job is a prime example of maintaining faith through the darkest of times.  His friends raised horrible arguments against him while he needed support.  His wife could only respond, “Just curse God and die!” (Job 2:9 NIV).  With friends like this sorry lot of characters, who needs enemies.  Job did not listen but responded out of his absolute allegiance to the Creator.  Everything may come and go in the world, but the God of our salvation remains steadfast, even in the darkest of circumstances.

What we learn from Job is that suffering is not always fair, and when we experience moments of unexpected chaos, we must hold fast to the One, who delivers us and raises our bodies out of the deep waters.  God is our lifeline.  May we never cease to realize the source of our strength.  Praise be to Him who loved us before we were ever born.

Job and His So-Called Friends

The epic poem of Job tackles some of life’s most difficult questions regarding the nature of suffering.  The friends (Zophar, Eliphaz, and Bildad) that surround Job represent traditional theology regarding who is to blame when bad things happen.  “If anything is wrong, you have done something to create this chaos.  There is no such thing as innocent suffering.”  Job refuses their ideas and challenges God himself.

We know what it is like when the walls of our house fall on top of us, and we struggle to make sense of why things happen.  We are quick to name a unique defect in ourselves to explain horrible events and circumstances beyond our control.  “What is wrong with me?  It is my fault that my son has this disability.”  We live mired in guilt and resentment.

We may exclaim that there is innocent suffering, but our beliefs and thoughts direct us to self-flagellation.  Ultimately, we resign ourselves to the notion that somewhere along the line, God messed up when the Divine created me.  I am a mistake.  We carry this very ill-conceived idea that we are very flawed in our inner core and run from anything that insinuates that we are as good as anyone else.  We are destined to always fall short of the mark.

Those of us who struggle with chronic illness know this feeling all too well.  From the very beginning of the diagnosis, we blame ourselves.  “What did I do to give this to my child?  God is punishing me because I lived my life so horribly wrong.”  We bury ourselves in a sea of unrealistic assumptions about our innermost being.

Hear the truth as affirmed in the good news of God, we are loved, we are restored, and we are made whole.  There may be many things that are left to holy mystery, a child is diagnosed with some type of illness, our lives fall apart without warning, investments fall upside down.  Whatever may happen, this we know, we are created in the image of God, we are the children of the Holy One, and Christ’s strength will sustain us in every situation.  Praise be to the Most-High God, who fills us with holy light in the face of unspeakable darkness.

Hearing the Torah Again for the First Time

Chapter Nine is a song of praise and a quick history recap about God’s guidance, delivery, and protection of the Hebrew people.  For those who want a Cliff Notes version of the Hebrew Bible, you found the right place.  We rediscover the Holy One as creator, redeemer, and friend.  God’s love is indicated at the very beginning of the story of our planet.

Many of those in attendance heard the sacred accounts for the very first time.  I remember my earliest memories of God.  They helped shape and form me into the person that I am today.  I can only imagine the connection to the Holy Spirit as Biblical passages took on new meaning.  The creator of the universe selected the people of Israel to be chosen, set apart for service.  Their lives changed, for like me in my youth, they heard the words and were transformed.

For a lot of us, we stray far away from the faith of our childhood only to lose sight of our Father in heaven.  “I can’t seem to find my way back to the path!”  In a moment of frustration, we forget who God is in our world.  The purpose of pleasing God is no longer a priority.  Little by little, each lesson from our youth surrenders to the chaos and demands of staying afloat in a world that could sink us to the bottom of the ocean.  God is a fleeting memory.

And then, through divine providence, we discover the path on which our feet touch holy ground.  The Holy Spirit works a miracle through us so that we may rediscover the love of the Most-High God.  And hearing the scripture read again, for the very first time, we are overwhelmed with Divine love.  Praise be to the Living God, who always takes us back with open arms.

Building a Second Temple

The exile is over, and the people of God return home.  Unsure of their next step, they survey the damage left when they were forced out of their homes.  Their beautiful temple lay in ruins.  Rebuilding must begin in every facet of their lives.  Many people returning had no idea what the mighty city of Jerusalem looked like in its heyday.  For now, they feel the beautiful dirt of the earth beneath their feet and thank the Creator that they are no longer in a strange land.

Most of us know what it is like to return from catastrophic events in our lives.  Whether it is health, relationship, or spiritual issues, the consequences are devastating.  We look around and view the damages, knowing that we must pick ourselves up and move forward.  Our amazing God gives us new hope and a will to bloom where we are planted.

For now, standing in our own land, the sun shines brighter, the trees are greener, and the birds sing sweeter.  We reclaim our part of the earth where we are connected to God.  There exists a new found freedom to discover our heart’s desire.  Passion reignites within our souls.  We are made knew with promises yet to be fulfilled.  Hope once again moves us onward.

On this day, I am grateful for the journey to this place.  The one my feet stand in at this very moment.  The trip never promised to be easy, but relying on the One, who supplied the light and strength, it was manageable.  We come back to the promised land, a new people, filled with hope.  Praise be to God, I learned the lessons needed to land me at this moment.

The Good, the Bad, and the Foolish

The Book of 2nd Chronicles is like a roller coaster that soars way up into the sky and descends to great depths.  One king pleases God, while another blasphemes everything sacred to the Jewish culture of ancient Judah.  The only thing that remained consistent was God’s deliverance in times of confession and restoration for those who remained faithful, and the pouring of holy wrath on those who failed to keep His commandments.  Kings set the religious trajectory of the nation, and people followed.

As a pastor, I am well aware of the responsibilities to remaining true to the faith.  My leadership guides the congregation that I serve.  Clergy sets the example for others to follow regarding authentic worship, communal celebrations, and holy living.  Such responsibilities must be approached with awe and a daily commitment to devote each day to the Most-High God.

But, there are days when I stray from the path and fail to observe all the tenets of my faith.  I am not perfect and make choices that do not reflect my decision to turn my life over to the care of God.  Sometimes I get weary and make bad choices.  My leadership suffers, and I find myself trapped in a world of hurt and sorrow.  The Deuteronomic theme overwhelms me and, just like the kings in the books of Chronicles, I am on a roller coaster of hope and regret, joy and confusion, promise and destruction.

Hear the good news!  I can always ask forgiveness and be restored.  Holy love gives us yet another chance to rediscover our amazing God, the Giver of Grace.  Praise be to God for the gift of renewal, for the Divine grants us one more opportunity to be made whole.  We ask forgiveness and seek to make our pathway straight in a crooked desert.

 

 

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

2nd Chronicles traces the lineage of the kings (predominantly in Judah).  We learn about the leaders who listened to God’s directions and those who charted the course that led to destruction.  Time after time, there rose out of the chaos a prophet, speaking truth into the lives of the Hebrew people, but their cries for redemption fall on deaf ears.  Eventually, the situation grew worse and worse, until the Assyrians conquered the north and the Babylonians apprehended the south.

I have many questions concerning the exile.  Did all of the Hebrew people break the covenant?  If not, why were the faithful punished for the abuses of the sinful?  Could not God establish a new covenant with those who love Him?  Where is God in the middle of the exile? “How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Ps. 137:4 NRSV).

While I do not have a solid answer to my questions, I do know what it feels like to be in spiritual exile.  Through some random course of events, something happens that upsets my whole way of living, and I am forced to move from the things that define me.  I am so blown off my feet that I do not even know how to call on God.  How can I sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?

When the dust settles, and the wreckage of my experiences seems to calm down, the only thing left is the path that leads back to my Creator.  I stand up and put one foot in front of the other unsure where the road will take me.  All I know is that I can’t remain lifeless and afraid.  My faith restores my confidence as with each step I grow stronger.

For those who seek hope, who feel like they are in exile, come home.  God will give you rest and restore you back to health.  This renewal of spirit is the foundation of our faith.  We know that we can be redeemed, for we are the children of the Most-High God.

Blessings Beyond Our Wildest Dreams

2 Chronicles begins with King Solomon and his prayer to God. He sought wisdom, so that he could govern the people well. In response, the Almighty answers Solomon’s prayer and blesses him with riches never before seen, nor will ever see on earth. God praises him for his faithfulness and acknowledges his attention to following the Torah.

Many times I hear people pray for things, like money, a car, a house, etc. Is this how God calls us to live? God is not our fairy godmother, but our Redeemer. He says, “I will ask you anything you wish for if you ask it in my name.” Many people assume that means we can ask for whatever we want, and because of our obedience God will sweep his magic wand over us and give us our heart’s desire. I say phooey to that theological nonsense. The God that I worship wants to restore me to loving Him and our neighbors.

So, if we don’t get a new car, then what do we get? God’s desire is to free us from the bonds of sin and death. What better gift than to know inward peace? Our problem is that we can’t make it past the surface level stuff to trust the Divine with our hearts. A new toy is nice, but a peaceful spirit out weighs any little gift.

God’s grace is the gift that keeps on giving. What more do we need? Our lives fit beautifully into the palm of our Savior, and in His presence we find rest. Our conflicted, tortured souls lay beside the cool, life giving water.

My hope is that my prayer be like Solomons; wishing for wisdom so that I may serve the people of the Holy One. May I be a servant at heart. God will give me my heart’s desire, inner peace. All of the rest will be taken care of.

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.