A Season of Thanksgiving

My church has claimed the four weeks before Advent as a Season of Thanksgiving.  With that said, I had a very small encounter today that left me with a feeling of absolute gratitude.  I visited my five year old son at school and was overwhelmed by the fact that he said that I made his day.  I knew at that moment that I was very blessed.  I made my son’s day by showing up and being present in his life.

When I taught in the public school system, one of the most satisfying parts of my job occurred when I was visited by old students.  More often than not, the conversation always came back to the importance of the choir program in their lives and how being a part of such a group made a difference.  There was nothing greater than to hear that, for a moment in their lives, the worries of the day were replaced with a willingness to surrender to the act of creating something that was bigger than who they were as individual people.  That was the joy of teaching. 
I call the experiences of my former students “encounters with the sacred.”  There is an incredible sense of belonging to a community where one is welcomed and encouraged to share talents and ideas that will further the development of the self.  Awareness of the soul comes in the state of practicing the idea of love.  That is our common bond that crosses rivers of hate and shame.  Our love for each other invites us to be more than who we are.  We are motivated to grow and live beyond our wildest dreams.
The situation with my son made me start to wonder about all of the other “little” things I could do to share in an attitude of gratitude.  In all honesty, the most important thing that we all crave is the acknowledgement that our lives matter.  It is the love for each other that will carry on long after we leave this planet.  The concept of love is so important that Jesus himself spoke of it as the greatest of commandments.
I appreciated the hug that I received and the absolute joy that “MacDonald the Younger” felt as I visited his class.  These will be memories that I will remember many years from now.  How blessed we are as humans to possess a soul which thrives and celebrates the legacy that we leave with each other.  We are hotwired for relationships.  Love is in the fabric of who we are.
In the spirit of whose we are, let us continue the journey of thanksgiving.  The psalmist even said that “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall always be on my lips” (Ps. 34:1 NRSV).  Let us be ever mindful of the faithfulness of our God.  It is within God’s continuing acts of love that I know that I am so much more than I ever thought that I would be.  The good news is that I am not everything that I will be.

Let Us Continue the Work!

While we were in Florida we stayed at a place designed for those who are awarded a Make a Wish trip.  The name of the place is called Give Kids the World.  It is an incredible place designed to meet the needs of all those who come to seek a little peace, rest, and relaxation.  The Village (as it is affectionately called) is a resort complete with individual villas for each visiting family.  There are opportunities to eat, swim, eat, horseback ride, eat, ride a train, eat, putt-putt golf, and eat some more.  (Did I mention eating?)  My favorite place was the ice cream shop.  While I was in Florida I had a sugar free vanilla shake every day.  The ice cream shop was sacred ground.
There are approximately 1,500 volunteer positions that are filled each and every week of the year.  That may sound like a staggering amount of people to manage, but we were told that there is never a shortage of people who offer their time and talents to The Village.  Everyone involved does an incredible job to create a special time for the many Make a Wish families who stay in one of the villas.
These people, or angels, volunteer to ensure that all have a good time.  The ones who sacrifice so much of themselves are incredible examples of the workings of God.  No matter what the weather, the mood, or any events, the work of God continues.  Love never stops.  It endures and continues onwards and upwards. 
We can be as effective in our world as the volunteers at The Village are effective in Florida.  The work of God must continue in our own situations.  We must act regardless of the circumstances.  Whether we are ill, busy, or exhausted, love must shine through us.  That is the only way that our world can see the incredible gifts which God offers to humanity.  With love we can move mountains.
I took more from The Village than I ever gave back.  I learned the importance of continuing the good works that are in me.  These are the things that last.  Continuing the works of God forms the basis of my faith.  My faith in the everliving God restores my soul as rivers of living water flow out of my innermost being.  What I do for humanity displays my oneness with the Creator.
Let us continue to make a difference in our world.  We are called to be a people of the light.  We are to live in the presence of God.  Where there is no light, we are called to bring the presence of hope.  In hope there is God.  In God there is only light.  Let us be the vehicle by which the love of God shines into our world.

I Do Not Cease Giving Thanks

“I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers” (Ephesians 1:15-16 NRSV).

It is amazing to me how God continues to move in my life. I prepared my upcoming sermon early as I would be at Annual Conference this week. I thought that I had finished the task that needed to be done and was off to Glorietta, New Mexico without any worries. My focus was to be placed on my interview for ministry and doing the business of the connected church.

My family stayed back in Truth or Consequences. I do not travel well without the whole family being together. I am in a wonderful area of New Mexico, but it is not the same without my two stinky boys and my wife. Without their presence there is something missing. I have a sense of loneliness that is sometimes overwhelming.

Knowing that I really miss my time with my family, this short phrase that is mentioned above kept coming to my mind. I took some time to review my writing and double checked to make sure that I had a complete sermon ready to go. In a moment I realized that my own life reflected the message which was laid on my heart to preach this coming weekend. This is my love letter to my wife and children. My personal narrative of love and joy merged into Paul’s writing.

I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.” This passage is such a short and simple sentence with passion behind every word. It is the commitment of love. The connection that we share in my house is one that promises that I may not like what you do 100% of the time, but I will never stop giving thanks for you. This love is impossible to measure or fully explain. It is simply present.

It is my love for my family which I easily translate to my love and understanding of God. This radically transforming presence of the Divine is revealed in my life on a daily basis. This love that demands my entire participation regardless of how I feel or what my circumstances may be. This love is vital to my life and empowers me to continue to become something that I never imagined possible.

May you be filled with gratitude and never stop giving thanks for those who are closest to you. It is within the act of loving each other that our God is revealed in our lives. We take the love that we share with those who are closest to us and share that love as Christ did with our community. May the world see and know us by our love for it is in loving that we encounter the risen Christ.

I Thank My God for You

This week my sermon is based on 1 Corinthians 1:1-9. I am always drawn to Paul’s opening statements, particularly “I thank to my God always for you” (1 Cor. 1:4 NRSV). While the phrase is wonderful and is great when referring to those people to whom I enjoy the company of their presence, I must admit I fall short of being able to make this proclamation of joy when I deal with those I find challenging. In fact, many times I lack the ability to feel “thankful” for difficult people. (I hope I am not the only one who struggles with this issue).

This is where faith comes into the picture. When asked directly which commandment is the greatest, Jesus said something like this, “Look. Let me sum up every commandment you have ever been given. Love God, and love each other. If you do these two basic things, you will follow every other thing God has asked you to do.” In other words, love must be a verb as well as a noun. We are called into action to worship the Divine.

This action word of which I speak challenges us to connect with something bigger than ourselves. We are to represent God, even when we don’t feel like it. This includes embodying the nature of Christ to those people whom we would rather not speak to as well as those people whom we do not like. I know this is easier said than done, but why not attempt to do what the Master said?

As we put the verb into action our understanding of the noun will grow. The verb moves us to extravagantly worship the noun which is the creator of the universe. Will you be the one in which the love of God, through your deeds, transforms the world, or will you be content to let the one to whom we give praise remain contained without purpose and then make the choice to simply sit back and do nothing? The choice is yours. Say yes to the verb, and then do it. Love each other and in the middle of what you do, the presence of God will fill you with peace.

True Love

We have moments when God reveals God’s self to us in ways that sometimes are very subtle and sometimes knock a person to their knees. I recently had an encounter with the Divine on a day when I least likely expected one. I know a couple who live in a retirement home. They have a lot of illness between them and so they do not live in the same room, but whenever I visit the home I always see them together. They are a remarkable pair who I have come to admire.

She has Alzheimer’s disease and the manifestation of her illness is progressing very rapidly. As typical of the disease, there are some good days and some bad days. Through it all, her husband has been there for her every day. Both of them are well into their nineties and have been married over seventy years. Their story is an amazing chronicle of love, commitment, and honor.

I received word that this dear sweet lady had a stroke and was not expect to recover from her condition. Immediately hearing about the issue, I visited her in the nursing home. Her husband came into the room and we began to talk. I watched him and how he tenderly held her hand and was concerned that his wife knew that she was not alone. He was there just like he had been so many times before.

I sat and watched this holy exchange. I watched the vows of marriage being fulfilled and carried out in a way that took my breath away. Their hands joined together served as a reminder of their love and the glue that connected them together as a single family. I was honored to be in that room. I was touched to be a living witness to this special kind of covenant. I left thinking that this is the promise that I made to my wife. I want to be the person that will hold my wife’s hand and she hold mine.

I was made freshly aware of why I am a minister of the Gospel of Christ. I am invited into those places in people’s lives when the presence of God is so real that you can almost touch it. I am privileged to be a part of the lives of those who call me their pastor. I am allowed to stand in the presence of those around me and to share the message of salvation. Sometimes it is delivered with words, while other times it is delivered in silent witness.

As we celebrated Epiphany this past week, I am grateful that God allowed me to have my own realization. I am grateful for the lives of this couple and the honor to be a witness to their commitment to their God, and to each other. May we all be living Gospels to those who are in need of the Word which came for us, sacrificed for us, and lives within us.

AMEN.

christopherjoiner

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