Blessed

Over the past month, I have done a ton of traveling.  I am learning why I would never be a good salesperson.  I would get way too homesick.  Each of my journeys brought new and exciting challenges to my life.  From Portland, Oregon, to Austin, Texas, I learned of God’s great love for me in ways that I could never have experienced without taking the journey.

My trip to Portland was incredible because my oldest son was with me.  We laughed and had a good time, in spite of General Conference.  I felt blessed to get to know him a little better as we talked and then sang to our hearts’ content.  He was the gift that was given to me twenty years ago.  How great and wonderful it was to take a few moments and remember the joy of his presence in my life.  For that, I am truly grateful.

While I was in Portland, I spent a couple of sacred moments with a friend of mine that has boldly embraced his life’s journey.  I realized how great of a friend he truly is, and his importance in my life.  We have known each other for over 25 years.  He is the kind of friend that, even though I hadn’t seen him for a very long time, within 5 minutes of conversation it was as if we had never been apart.  I am blessed to have his courageous friendship.

I also had the opportunity, while in Portland, to develop friendships with colleagues that I am just beginning to get to know.  We laughed and talked about the possible directions that the United Methodist Church may go.  We shared meals and conversations over the meals that we promised to hold in confidence, forming new holy spaces with new found friends.  For these times, again, I am blessed.

And through it all, there were the friends from Austin.  I had the opportunity to see a few of my colleagues in the Doctorate of Ministry program at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.  I raised a glass with one of those great friends that have come into my life and has made a lasting imprint.  I will speak more about my amazing Austin friends in a later post, but the fact I experienced their presence in such a far-away place as Portland, only confirms how vast and influential they are in my life.

So, as I unpack my clothes and process the sacred memories that I experienced while traveling, I hope to share the importance of my collected stories throughout my journeys.  The one word that sums up my feelings regarding my travels is that I am a very blessed man.  Praise be to God for all of the people who reminded me that I am loved beyond anything I could ever imagine!

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.

Walking Around the Fire is Not an Option!

I have to admit that I do not like walking through the fire.  I like to tiptoe around it.  Try to avoid it, and wrap it up in a pretty bow.  Maybe if I ignore the fire, I won’t be burned by the flames.  Of course, while I tiptoe around and ignore what is in front of me, the flame continues to grow larger and larger, until there is nothing left, but ash and smoke.  More often than not, where once there was a possibility of creation, now exists only a clump of mess incapable of sustaining any sort of life.

The hardest part in life is walking through the fire.  Only when confronted with the hottest heat can we breathe onto it refreshing water.  Gushing from the spirit at the wellspring of who we are is a chance, an opportunity to find redemption.  We save the earth, our hearts, our souls, from the ravishes of generations of chaos that burns with fury into the very recesses of who we are.  No, we must move through the hardest part to get to the other side.

And the promise of our faith is this, even though we must walk through the fire and deepest darkness, we are not alone.  That is the promise to which we are divinely appointed.  God is with us.  We need only look at the darkest part of our faith, Holy Week, to see the magnificent claim of divine love that redeems us, that calls us by name.  We are children of the Most-High God.  We are made new, having come through the ravages of the past.  With our amazing creator, we have the power to put out the fire.  But we have to walk through it first, always trusting that the one in whom we trust will deliver us and make us whole.

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.

When Souls Collide

This week I had the amazing privilege and honor to be one of ten people in a discussion group with theologian Glaucia Vasconcelos Wilkey.  I walked away from this wonderful experience feeling honored and blessed to have had the opportunity to hear her teach and share her journey.  She is an incredibly powerful woman filled with God’s presence and light.

As our incredible scholar left the seminary, she turned to me and offered me an amazing blessing acknowledging and reaffirming the full authority that God has given me to preach and teach.  She spoke straight into my soul, and I left feeling blessed and renewed.  Here was this scholar sharing a special blessing with me.  Grateful could not begin to describe how I felt when leaving her presence.

There are people that we encounter that leave us feeling better about who and whose we are, simply by being present.  There are no magic words, just a keen awareness of the Holy Spirit.  We are left knowing that the Truth is within us, eager to be free.  Our joy is renewed and invited to be released into a world that needs to know the source of our happiness.

As I reflect on my encounter with the blessed theologian, I hope that I may be like her with everyone that I encounter.  People may be renewed in the presence of divine hope as the Spirit of Truth dances between us all, encouraging us to be the light of Christ for the world.  Praise be to God, who constantly reminds us that we are chosen to share the message of the Gospel. 

A Week of Thanksgiving

It is hard to believe that this Thursday is Thanksgiving.  I am looking forward to some time with family, including great food.  This time of year is extremely sacred to me, because it will mark four years since my mother died.  This season is not sad for me, but it is one that is set apart as holy and special.  I give thanks for not only my mom’s life, but also for the many people who have made my life better because of their incredible legacy.

I remember holidays gone by and am caught up in a sea of emotions.  I think of Thanksgiving in the house in which I was raised, and am immediately swept away with visions of my big family laughing and sharing crazy stories.  I remember that I was a part of the wonderful custom of maintaining the importance of family and friends.  The lessons I learned from past holidays are traditions that I continue to share with my family today.  I hug those closest to me and remind them that they are loved more than they could ever imagine.

Today, I am grateful for a life filled with people who love me and continue to care for me.  I wish only the most incredible blessings to everyone as we all take time out of our chaotic schedules to remember to give thanks to friends, family, and our Creator.  May the joy of this season wash over you and leave you with a hope that you never dreamed possible.  May you lay aside your disagreements and share in the fact that we are all God’s children.

And I can’t let a Thanksgiving season go without saying, “I miss you mom, and I know that your spirit is with me every day.  I continue to raise my children in the light of the love that you gave me.  I know that when I share the feast with the family on Thursday, you will be in the room with all of us, smiling that we all are together sharing a moment of joy.  I love you and thank you for the gift of life.”

Imagination is a Good Thing

We are blessed with the gift of imagination.  It allows us to fill in dots in innovative and creative ways.  We explore, we learn, we grow.  All this from the brain that is hard wired to express our own unique view of the world and the Creator that fashioned us in the image of the Divine.  

We are blessed to be given the ability to live with a passion that moves us and motivates us to have a sense of meaning and purpose in the world.  When we connect spirit to spirit with the Prime Mover, there is nothing quite like it.  We are energized and equipped to have an awareness beyond our own comprehension.  This reality cannot be explained, it can only be experienced.

Beware of those who try to steal your joy.  Run from those who seek to overpower you and attempt to cast judgement on your own unique approach to understanding the world.  These people are wolves in sheeps clothing.  They cast doubt and despair on your joy.  To say that they are dangerous is an understatement.  Be on guard against them, for they will disguise themselves as well intentioned people filled with the spirit of God, only to leave you dazed, confused, and hurt.  You must avoid them at all cost.

Direct your energies to the God of your understanding.  Allow the joy of your unique vision of the Creator to be your primary focus.  This is what will sustain you and bring you joy.  This is the well spring of hope; this author and creator of all that we are.

Today, I am grateful for the people who strengthen me, and encourage me to look beyond the limitations of those who try to steal my joy.  I am grateful for a God who continues to work through me and empowers me beyond my own imagination.  Praise be to God who gives us a renewal of spirit each and every day.  I pray that you may live in the power of God, in your own language, in your own way.  Thanks be to God.

Preserve Our Memories Well

Recently I was visiting with a wonderful man who served in the military during World War II.  He told me some amazing stories of love, sadness and deliverance.  I finished my conversation with him expressing a feeling of gratitude for the memories that he clings to reminding him of his life and purpose.  He maintains a spirit of joy even at the ripe old age of 95 years old.

Even though I am not his age, I do understand a little something about memories.  I made a commitment this year to write everyday for a year.  At the end of the year I want to look at my writing and see if there are any themes that seem to pop up over and over again.  My goal is to find common ground with Scripture and my own story.  I want to answer the ultimate life question, “Where has God been present in your life?” 

It just so happens that I stumbled upon a small cassette tape that I recorded back in 1994.  I had turned 30 years old and wanted to give my mother a gift of memories.  I wanted to thank her for giving me a loving family and share with her the not so subtle of ways of teaching me life lessons on forgiveness and healing.  Some of the stories that I recorded where not easy memories; however, they were necessary reflections to my growth as a human being.

Listening to these stories 19 years later has brought me a new appreciation for my family and the path that I had to journey on to get to where I am now.  As I listened to my younger voice, I celebrated the lives of those who are no longer with me but were a very important part of shaping my life.  I listened to my own process of forgiveness and healing as told in my own words.  There was something incredibly liberating to hear a recounting of the many stories that gave me a sense of identity.  I appreciated the lessons that were handed to me as I struggled to find my own sense of worth.

I recently preached a sermon on God’s presence in the middle of darkness.  I told of God’s faithfulness and existence in the blackest of times.  This tape reminded me of a time that I came out of the fog and into the light of God.  As my World War II buddy said, “Memories are powerful and important.”

We hold tight to our past as a reminder of a time when God led us to be free of the pain that we carried.  Our faith keeps us safe and our memories serve to remind us of our journey.  The Israelites would never have gone back into slavery, but every year there is a celebration known as the Passover Seder to commemorate what God did in the lives of the faithful.  As he did for those in physical bondage, The Holy One of Israel led us out of bondage.  Theirs was a physical servitude while ours was a spiritual captivity.  There is not a year that goes by that we remember that from which we have been delivered, the one who delivered us (God), and the absolute joy we have as those who have been redeemed.  We preserve and celebrate our memories.  They have shaped us well.

I Look to You

“My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy” (Ps. 63:5-7 NRSV).

I admit that while I like the cold, I love more sunlight during the day.  There is an excitement to the impending arrival of spring.  We think of rebirth and the hope of the newness that is to come.  I was sharing my feelings about the night time and how much I enjoy the day when someone in a group in which I was a member pointed out something that I missed right in front of my face.  My friend said to me, “Joe, remember that there is beauty in the night.  You must journey through the darkness to experience the gifts that are present.”

Our Lenten journey reminds us that we were a people who came out of darkness.  We looked at the stars to guide our hearts into the perfect light, the love of Christ.  We know what complete darkness feels like.  It is a place of fear and insecurity.  We, who have been transformed, know that our journey towards the brightness of God began with a tiny light to pierce the dark.  We can call the light a candle, a glow, a star or even a hope.  However the light may come when there is no light, we are never the same. 

This leads to the ultimate question that, since God is present in all things, is there really complete darkness?  Does our journey ever take us into a place where there is an absence of God?   The Psalmist states in Psalm 139 that, “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night’, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you” (Ps. 139:11-12).  We are never in complete darkness because God is present in all things.

I struggle with such a bold statement such as the one the Psalmist presents.  I have seen the harm that some people inflict on other people and I am afraid that I am led to more questions than answers.  If God is present in all things, then why is their suffering in this world?  I am encouraged to step even deeper into the heart and determine how in the world such atrocities exist if God is present in all things.

Unfortunately, humanity does not treat the environment (including ourselves and others) very well.  We see on the news everyday what groups of people inflict on other groups.  We don’t have very far to go to see the dehumanization of countless groups in our world beaten and left for dead.  Hunger takes its toll on innocent people.  Cancer and other diseases spread through the lives of those we love and we look at the text written by the psalmist and ask, “Are you kidding me?  Why would God allow this to happen in the lives of those around us?  Not only is our world dark, but it appears that God is not present in the blackness.”

I believe that the claim that is made in Psalm 139 concerning God’s presence is indeed true.  God truly is in all things.  Our responsibility is to share in the divine love and nurture it.  Our darkness is made light when we surrender to the love of the Great Creator.  In our perception of the darkness the Holy One calls us to focus on Him.  As we do, we come to realize that this overwhelming God transforms our hearts and minds and gives us comfort and peace.  What once was a dark place has now become light.

An assuredness of God’s presence is what gives us hope in the middle of the darkness.  When all else fails, there is one small light to break through the darkness of cancer, or the blackness of hunger and abuse.  There is no darkness, for God is in every space and place imaginable.   We embrace the light to guide us back to the incredible light of the Father.  God’s warmth is already here.  Will you recognize it and embrace it, or will you live in darkness and fear?  The choice is yours.
christopherjoiner

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