First Things First

Last night, I was frantically trying to get last minute things done before I begin an almost three-week travel schedule.  This had to be done, that had to be paid, deadlines for articles for the church had to be finished.  I was scattered and anxious at best.  Could I get all my tasks accomplished before heading out the door in the morning?  There was no room for error.  Bills will not pay themselves!

As I continued to struggle and move about, my ten-year-old son entered the room.  He was excited about a little project that he had just finished.  He created his own music video using a favorite song along with his Lego characters.  He was proud of his accomplishment and wanted to share what he had done with me.

Now, I stressed about what to do.  I was on a very tight schedule and could not leave a thing undone.  As I struggled with how to say no as I kept on working, I stopped right at that moment.  Here was my son, proud of what he was able to achieve.  There was only one thing to do.  I put down my papers, gave my full attention to my son, and praised him for his marvelous work.

After two minutes, I went right back to work, this time with a new attitude and a sense of purpose in placing my priorities back in order.  Sometimes, God reminds me that while my work is important and it is good to focus on the tasks at hand, my family’s needs are always at the top of the list.  I forget that little nugget of truth sometimes.  Thank God, for reminding me to put first things first.

Praise be to our God, that in the middle of the chaos of our lives, we are reminded that the spirit of graciousness and love should be our guiding light.  This is where we draw our strength.  This is where we find divine purpose and calling.  May we continue to remember our blessings, even in the middle of deadlines and life’s daily pressures.

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.

When the World Spins Way Too Fast!

Last week I hit the ground running.  My week consisted of running from meeting to meeting, dealing with issues both in the church and beyond, and trying to find some time to write a sermon.  I didn’t even mention fighting for family time.  When each day ended, I felt overwhelmed and unable to feel like I accomplished the tasks that needed to be achieved.

All of the chaos of the week reminded me of what is most important in the life and work of the pastor.  It is maintaining and leading the body of Christ in worship.  I felt stressed because everything that pressed upon my time took me far away from what I was called to do.  While I know that all that I do contributes to the welfare of the church, there are times that I just want to stop the craziness and refocus my attention on the One who called me into ministry.

We all have the kind of weeks that I described.  Our children get sick, we have to manage people who are not so good at managing themselves, or we must press on due to a diagnosis that we didn’t expect to hear.  It is difficult, to say the least.  Whatever the issue may be, we must set our eyes on Christ, who leads us through the chaos, and continues to create beauty.

Praise be to God, who leads us through the rough times.  I remember reading a passage by a writer who once said, “God never promised to stop the storm that a rough sea may bring.  He promised to calm the storm in us.”  This is where the greatest of work is done.  It is performed in the heart.

May we embrace the message of hope that is found in God, and be comforted.  We are children of the Most-High God.  Let us live like it, and remember whose we are.  Through this, we will claim the promise of a peace that passes anything that we can ever hope to understand.

Blessings in a Crazy Week

Last week was an adventure in survival.  I had a paper due for a class I had taken, my wife had back surgery, I flew out of town and back for a meeting, and preached on Sunday morning.  By Sunday afternoon, I was passed out on the couch.  I had nothing left in the gas tank.

Life is like that.  There are times that we just coast through, but more often than not schedules are rarely predictable.  Such is the life of a pastor.  The only thing that we can do is be present in the moment.  Anxiety can sometimes take over, and I can easily forget to simply breathe and enjoy where I am at the moment I’m there.  Now is what counts.

As I rattled off my busy schedule, I didn’t talk about the blessings that came my way as a result of my crazy time.  I celebrated another academic course completed.  I gave thanks that my wife had a very successful surgery.  I met new friends, and spent a few moments with some great friends.  My flights, while adventurous, got me safely to and from my destinations.  Sunday morning was filled with celebration and joy.  These are the wonders that come with a busy and fulfilled life.

I give thanks to God this day for the gift of servanthood, that I was asked to take part in a consumer panel in the bleeding disorders community.  I am grateful that I can connect with a community who longs to hear my story, and the story of my family.  I was honored to hear other’s journeys, and the strength and hope that they find on their paths.  Their stories are an amazing tapestry of an incredible society of men and women who struggle to make their lives rich and meaningful despite the presence of a bleeding disorder.

I think it is safe to say, that we are a part of many different cultures and societies.  It was great to be reminded that I am a part of the hemophilia community.  I struggle, just as those around me, to find normal in a world that involves daily infusions, hospital visits, and a medicine closet packed full of medical equipment necessary to give my children a chance at their best lives.

My hope is that through all of the chaos we may remember to find the beauty in the moment.  Let us never throw away a single second.  Let us give thanks for what we are given.  Praise be to God, who never ceases to amaze his children.

An Unexpected Mark of Greatness!

On Monday of this week, I had the honor of presiding at the memorial service of one of my great aunts.  It was amazing to stand and look out at the members of the congregation that were made up of cousins that I had not seen in many years, along with family members whom I had never met.  All of us were there to honor an amazing woman, and one who lived through hurt and tragedy.  She did not let her very humble beginnings define her.  Instead, she rose up and had an amazing life.  Blessings to you Great Aunt Jessie.  May you feast to your heart’s desire with family who have gone on before you.  May you smile in their presence, and may God’s light perpetually shine on you, providing you warmth for eternity.

After the service, I visited with people with whom I share a DNA connection.  I looked for patterns of behavior, likes, dislikes, even ways to speak.  I searched for anything to affirm my connection with this group of people.  I shared stories, they shared stories.  We laughed, sometimes shocked, but always grateful to be in one another’s presence.  The power of my great aunt’s life was alive in this very room.  A family can rise above anything and find a connection that is unique and compelling.  The discovery of kindred spirits gave way to a lifetime of possibilities, hopes for new friends and new connections.

Today I am grateful for my extended family.  Thank you for giving me a little clearer definition of my own self.  These amazing people, complete with their own life stories, affirm my own journey.  There is nothing quite like being accepted for who you are by people who share the same blood.  There is a sense of home, of complete and total affirmation.  Praise be to God, when we can catch of glimpse of ourselves in a new and unique space.

Today, I sit in my office, absolutely tired.  I notice I sit with a little more pride, a little more strength.  I give thanks for the path on which I travel.  There are a few more people who eagerly great me with a smile and help me move forward.  I am honored to walk my path with new names and faces alongside me.  My hope is that we all find companions for the journey.

The Road that We Did Take

I constantly wonder about the journey that I have taken concerning my life.  Should I have stayed in the music business a little longer?  How far would I have gone if I tried harder?  Am I on the right path for me?  These are the questions that whirl in my head on a consistent basis.

Of course, the answers are muddled.  I mean, do we really know that one road would have brought more joy, or one choice would have brought a deeper sense of being?  Who knows?  The joys, hopes, and dreams that are present are a result of the choices that we did make, the road that we choose to travel each and every day.

As I search for the answers to the questions that I bring to the table, I am confident that my journey was led and directed by the amazing God of All.  I am here in this moment as a result of following the One, who guides me and shows me the path on which I am called to walk and serve.  Other dreams are reserved for another life, but not my life.  The hopes and joys that are available to me now are a result of the gentle guidance of the Divine, loving me through the difficult way and into the waters of comfort.

And as for the joy meter in my life today, this day as a result of the choices that I did make.  I am happy to say that I have a loving wife, who continues to walk this path with me.  Two amazing men who call me their father.  A congregation that every week, teaches me about the greatness of God, and who holy love transforms us all.  All of these blessings are as a result of listening to the presence of the Most-High God, eagerly being transformed into the person that the Holy One created.

Today, I am grateful for my path, and grateful for the many people that surround me, encouraging me to become better, become holier, become more passionate.  Praise be to the One, who gives us the victory in Christ, His son.  My hope is that we take the journey to which we are called.  I hope that we walk boldly, holy, and passionately.  I hope that as we journey, we are surrounded by the light of Christ.

The Beauty of the Sacred

My preaching text this week is John 12:1-8.  It is one of the few passages in the Gospel of John that is mentioned in the other Gospels.  It is the story of Mary washing the feet of Jesus with oil and then drying them with her hair.  There is a certain intimacy and holiness that comes out of this tender moment of reverence.  The power of the story is in the nuance.  No one else but Mary, a female disciple, dares to treat the savior of the world with such compassion and devotion.  The event is holy and set apart.

I am led to Mary’s observance of divine adoration and of her brazen and faithful devotion to her Lord.  Her attention could have carried her away to any other chore in the room, but she chose to fix her eyes on Jesus.  She could have tried to carry on a conversation with her brother, Lazarus.  He seemed to be doing nothing other than lounging around the house.  Or, she could have helped Mary prepare the finishing touches of the meal.  Perhaps she could have calmed Judas down and attended to the needs of the other disciples gathered in her house.  She did none of those things.  Instead, she worshipped at the feet of her master. 

The moments that Mary shared with Jesus are the times I long to experience.  I mean those moments that seem to transcend time.  We wish sacred encounters, much like the one in the Gospel reading, would never end.  There is a connection with God, an enlightenment beyond our understanding, and a transformation that allows us to glimpse all that we are created to be.  We sit at the feet of our Savior, and are content with just being in His holy presence.

We are called to embrace these unexpected moments of faith, drowning out the naysayers who want to do nothing but diminish our time.  But if we are faithful, God will indeed reveal himself to us.  He will speak.  Maybe not in the way we ever would expect divine words to come to us, but He will let His presence be known.

What do we do with such a gift?  With which character do you best identify?  Could it be Lazarus, who does nothing but observes the scene?  How about Judas, who can’t seem to get past his earthly desires?  How about Martha, who once again is at the heart of preparing a meal for a bevy of guests?

For me, I would hope to be like Mary.  The one who fell at the feet of her Lord, and did nothing but worship.  Despite cost.  Despite what others may say.  Her heart and soul were with her Savior.

At the feet of Jesus.  What better place to be?  This is where a disciple is called to serve.  This is where hope and faith converge.

A Change of Perspective

As a pastor, I am faced with deadlines all of the time.  I have to submit my bulletin information on Monday, prepare the rough draft of my sermon by Wednesday (if I want to practice for Sunday), prepare newsletter articles, and the list continues.  I even find a little stress when writing my blog post each week.  All of the sudden, I find that I robbed myself of the joy of some of the most fulfilling parts of my work.  I am left with a sense of being a casualty to the demands of day to day living.  Where can I find satisfaction in looking at everything as a chore?

When I find myself overwhelmed, I take a moment, and simply stop what I am doing.  I remind myself that there is joy to be found in even the most ordinary and routine of duties.  Preparing the bulletin for the next Sunday, allows me to begin the process of focusing on our next day of celebrating the resurrected Christ.  I set my sights on the next project, the next time that I will stand before my congregation and lead my fellow believers in the liturgy of a Sunday morning.  And this preparation includes writing, insights into the Biblical text, and how our narratives merge together with the sacred writings of an ancient people.  Contentment is found in the process, the journey to another feast day.

What seems overwhelming is the reminder that there is a lot of work to be done before we celebrate another Sunday morning.  Preparation becomes my companion, my guide, and not my enemy.  It becomes my sacred time throughout the week.  It just takes a change of perspective; a new way of looking at the journey.  Praise be to God, who gives us the task of creating a weekly work of art for the human soul each and every week.

My hope for all of us this week is that we transcend our thought patterns, and serve with a spirit of hope.  Let us leave the drudgery of completing tasks to another day.  For this moment in time, let us remember that our preparation gives way to the presence of our amazing creator.  I hope that we grasp on to the reality that God gives us ways to remain connected to the joy that sustains us, cares for us, and constantly recreates us each and every day.

A New Start: A New Beginning

Here we are in a new year.  Many of us set new goals, with new expectations in both our personal and professional lives.  Yes, we are given a chance to start over.  We are encouraged to change our way of thinking, our way of managing our lives, our way of approaching problems that have appeared to have no answer.  These are all the hopes and wishes in which we invest as we move forward into 2016.

The problem, however, is that we still bring our baggage along with us.  Many of us, I am pointing the finger back at myself, truly don’t live as if we have a new beginning.  A new start will include some failures, but will never give up until we achieve our goals.  What holds us back are the ways that we cling to the past.  We give up on our resolutions, only to fall back into the very familiar patterns of behavior that we promised to leave behind.  We fail to hold on to the assumption that our fresh start is indeed that, a fresh start.

I could really move from preaching to meddling with the following question: “How does this mirror your faith journey?”  I mean, we start off with incredible energy.  We proclaim to the world that we were not the people that we were before.  We keep this enthusiasm of new life, only to see it fade as we surrender to the pressures and demands of our places in the world.  We continue to drift away, until we wonder where and who we are.

Hear the Good News!  We are a people who have a chance to begin anew every waking day of our lives.  We do not need to wait for something like a new year to initiate change.  Each day for us is a gift, given by the one who encourages you to embrace your life with the passion with which you started the journey.  This is the promise that we are given with each passing moment.  Praise be to God, who gives us the strength to overcome our weaknesses.  May your “New Year” begin today, and may you know the blessings of God, beyond your wildest imaginations.

How Many More Days?

We have a little Christmas calendar, but is in the shape of a clock.  My youngest son is the keeper of the calendar.  Each day he adjusts the hand that signals one day closer to Christmas.  As we get closer and closer to the big day, he gathers more excitement in his voice as he announces that we are one step nearer to Santa’s visit.  We all laugh and encourage him to keep us on track.

MacDonald the Younger’s excitement reminds me of the eagerness that comes with the anticipation of what is to come.  Whether it be the joy of the Christmas season, the possibilities of traveling to new and exotic places, or a planned night out with my wife, I am guilty of being caught up in what lies ahead.  I recapture the energy of my youth.  There is a magic to this time of year.

I continue to think of the idea of joy and happiness and wonder if my life emulates this kind of excitement.  Have I become stale in my faith?  Heaven forbid that I have lost that moment when my life changed, and I surrendered my heart fully to the presence of God.  Have I truly forgotten the feeling of divine peace?  May it never be so.

My hope is that this Advent time will remind me of the joy of being a newcomer to the faith.  As I reclaim the special moment of my conversion, I hope to continue forward sharing the hope that is found in my faith.  Perhaps that is why we celebrate a season of anticipation every year; so that we can embrace and remember the freshness of belief.  This may be the time that hope is reborn, and excitement comes in our recalling of how we were made whole.

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.