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.

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.

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 Chance to Give Thanks

Recently I traveled to Carlsbad, California and had dinner at a restaurant overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  All I had on my mind was the promise of excellent seafood.  Living in a landlocked state does not afford me many opportunities to enjoy fresh shrimp and oysters. As my friends and I held a glass of wine up in the air to toast a gorgeous California day, we watched as the sun set over the horizon.  I thought to myself; this is a work of art, a true masterpiece of heavenly proportions.  Thank you, dear God, for allowing me to witness this incredible display of beauty.

And so, with the setting of the sun we are called to remember the business of the day.  We give thanks that difficult moments and situations come to an end, and we also rejoice in our accomplishments.  All, fruitful and challenging, falling under the care of God.  The night comes to offer us solitude, and a chance to rejuvenate our souls for the day that lays ahead.  A little Sabbath in which we open ourselves up to new hopes and new dreams.

We need the night as much as we need the day.  There must be times that we can rest and focus our attention on the things that motivate us, our reason for being.  Sacred times allow us to reconnect with the most intimate parts of who we are.  We feed our souls, the places that are starving to come to light.

The truth is, we cannot be complete beings without both the night and the day.  Each one reminds us that we all have different gifts that we must cultivate in our unique ways.  Our attention to divine healing and wholeness encourages us to give proper attention during the correct time of the day.  Our spiritual nourishment should never appear forced but patiently develop and grown at the right time, in the right seasons of our lives.

Today, I give thanks for our Amazing Creator, who gives us every opportunity to enrich every part of our souls.  God offers us the chance to be made new, each and every day. Praise be to God for this amazing gift of resurrection.  We die to self, only to rise again with the hope of what is to come.  Thank you for both the night and the day, for even, You said, “It was good!”

 

A Time to Remember the Incredible!

Last week I attended a retreat at Sacramento Methodist Assembly.  The camp is located north of Cloudcroft, NM on top of a mountain.  It is truly in the middle of nowhere.  At night the stars seem to be so close that you could reach up into the air and grab a handful.  I have yet to go up the “Holy Hill” and not be mesmerized by the beauty of the land.

On the last night of the retreat, several of my friends and I did something that I had been longing to do since the first time I attended the camp ten years ago.  At about 10 p.m., we hiked away from the lights and sounds of the camp to a place called Serenity Peak.  We took with us luminarias hoping to capture some incredible pictures while we were in our sacred space.  Our journey was not very far, but long enough to transport us into the darkness of the mountain.

As we journeyed on, I started to fear the possibilities of encountering animals, losing my way, or not being able to see my path clearly.  My anxiety started kicking in, and I thought of possibly turning back.  Camp was secure.  I knew where I was going and could go back to my room, safe and secure.  This was too much of an adventure for me.

Gradually, my worries subsided as we arrived at Serenity Peak.  The stars, while brilliant at camp, held a beauty that I could never adequately describe.  While standing in the darkness and gazing upon the majesty of God’s beauty, I could not help but think of the writing of the Psalmist’s declaration, “When I look up at your skies, at what your fingers made – the moon and the stars that you set firmly in place – what are human beings that you think about them; what are human beings that you pay attention to them?” (Ps. 8:3-4 CEB).

I realized that there is beauty in the night.  Something that is set apart from the day, which has its own majesty.  God’s wonder is both for the day and the night, neither being better, just different.  I remember that I must take the time to be aware of the sacredness of the evening, and not only rely on all that is in the light of day.  The holiness of the night allows us to remember to stop and look and enjoy a new way of thinking of things, a new way of being in our world.

And as for the retreat, I took an extra few moments to etch into my mind the incredible picture that will help me through times during the day when life gets very busy.  I can reflect on my journey through the night and all of the lessons that I learned, and be grateful.  Praise be to God for the greater light to rule the day, but also the lesser light to rule the night.  Each one, offering a different response to those we love and to our God.

Today, I am very grateful for getting to spend time with my clergy friends, who are amazing people who strive to make a difference in this world.  I thank God for laughter, for intentional retreat, and for opportunities to share sacred spaces.  We have all been called to embrace our world, filled with the light that guides us.  May we remember our stars, our moments of a holy embrace, and as we give thanks may we continue to be made whole.

Freeing Yourself from Shame

Shame is more than a five-letter word.  It can hold you hostage and keep you wholly locked within a prison of your making.  For me, I carry shame for things that were not even my fault.  The wounds pierce my soul with pinpoint accuracy, creating systems of thought that leave a long-lasting effect in my life.  Shame is the most destabilizing of any ammunition utilized.

To the naked eye, shame is invisible, secretly doing its best work in secret.  I didn’t choose one path in life because I was too frightened about what may or may not happen.  I keep hearing the nagging words, “If only I would have….”  The underlying decision at every turn is the shame that continues to carry on in my life.

Please don’t get me wrong.  I love my life.  I am blessed beyond all measure and have excellent resources at my disposal to reclaim parts of my heart that were damaged.  My story is not one of victimization, but of light, healing, and forgiveness.  I continue to look for those places that are still entrapped and rob me of the joy in which I am meant to live.

Surrendering to God means giving up the shame as well.  We cannot hold on to the secret things that hold us back from experiencing the plans that are laid out before us.  Giving up all of our stuff is not easy because it forces us to be vulnerable.  Suddenly, we no longer have control.  God is the one who guides us.

Today I am thankful for my journey.  I am grateful that I have amazing people who walk beside me on my journey, always reflecting the love of Christ, which flows through me, around me, and over me.  I pray that I may be the one who helps others come out of the shadows of shame and into the light of God.  Praise be to our Amazing Creator.

He Remembers!

LasIMG_0245t week was a little too crazy in my life, and so I did not post.  My oldest son moved into his dorm last Tuesday.  I am excited for him and look forward to all that he will accomplish while being a student at the Santa Fe School of Art and Design.  His first week has been filled with anxiety and then joy, as he discovers his capacity to make it on his own.

As my wife and I were helping him unpack, Julian shook a box full of coins in my face.  I asked, “What is that?”  He responded, “Dad, it is the box that Granny gave me.”  That was all that I needed to hear, as I kept my composure long enough to get out of the room.  My son kept a beat up old dilapidated box that my mom gave to him for no reason, filled with pennies.  On the inside of the box was my mother’s handwriting with these words, “Julian, every time I thought of you today, I put a penny in the box.”

Of all of the things that he took with him to his dorm, one of them had to be this box.  It serves as a reminder to him that he was loved before he ever knew his name.  People, angels, and other heavenly beings encircle him to remind of this truth, that he is a child of the Most-High God.  Loved beyond anything he can ever imagine.  All of these important reminders found in a cardboard box.

Julian’s gift reminds me to find an answer to the question, “What am I leaving so that the world may know the incredible love that the Father has for us?”  The answers are not taken lightly.  They build others up, giving purpose to those who need to hear words of comfort and hope.  Store your pennies well!

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.

 

Divide Us, Smide Us!

I am at my first General Conference of the United Methodist Church. I can only say that within 10 minutes of the first general assembly, I was frustrated and very disappointed. I left the room wondering, “What in the world is in store for the future of my church?” Not only can we not get along, but one side is bullying the other side and attempting to stifle any conversation regarding our differences. “God,” I reasoned, “please speak through your people, in spite of your people.”

I am reminded that we all have different versions or sides to a story. Each of us interprets each act of love and hate in our own way. Our language is not the same. To make the assumption that we all speak of God, in the same way, is to grossly misjudge our sense of individuality and personal sacred worth. We should never assume that we have a monopoly on the truth. We are not God, nor are we appointed to serve as judge and jury regarding other people’s perceptions. Our task is to love God and love others.

Perhaps this conference reminds me that I serve an incredible congregation of believers. My prayer is that we will continue to grow in our tiny part of the world, and not allow those who are governed by politics and hatred to spread their doctrines into the doors of our church. May they take their “stuff” elsewhere. As for us, we will hold fast to the truth that we are all loved by our amazing Creator.

The reality is that we are a loving congregation. We rejoice in the miraculous events that happen in the life of our community, and we mourn with one another when unimaginable events knock us to our knees. Though we are different, we are united in our love and passion for God and God’s people. Praise be to the One, who fashions us in His image and creates in us a new heart and a new spirit.

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.