Who Am I?

Recently, I spent part of an afternoon in a department store.  I wanted to take advantage of sales.  As I continued to glance, my eyes caught a showcase of a beautiful collection of watches.  I thought to myself, “Oh, I would make that watch look good.”  Each magnificent work displayed its unique beauty.

There, in the middle of one of the cases, my eyes fell on a beautiful, gold piece of heaven.  It’s shape and nuance sparkled and appeared to outshine everything else around it.  I stood there in amazement.  Each watch a proud display of its creator.  Fashioned with beauty in mind.

As I stood there, I suddenly became overwhelmed with guilt.  My sons gave me the watch on my arm.  How could I even consider anything else?  As pretty as the shiny bling is, I could never imagine surrendering my gift for the sake of something bigger and brighter.  My big stinky boys gifted me with a present that they chose for me.  All the sudden, the shiny watch was not as bright, nor as inviting.  My watch that I wear is a continual reminder that what I have is so much greater than what I imagine.

God loves us in the same way.  Sure, there are beautiful and shiny things all around us, but God fashioned us into the people that we are, with the gifts that we share.  Be grateful, for all that we have, for we never know the real value of our greatest treasures.  I wouldn’t trade my watch for anything.  So, God would never trade us, because we are His.  And that is enough!

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 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 completely 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 being 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.

Truth in the Nuance

I am a pastor in the United Methodist tradition.  It is no secret that our church is going through a very rough time.  The issue of sexuality, and how we as a church express our faith is a topic that threatens to divide us.  I know that we draw battle lines and seek to defend our personal thoughts and feelings regarding this and many other issues.  I pray for the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with clarity and wisdom as we seek how to move forward as a truly “United” faith.

This past week I preached on the story of Mary and Martha.  My hope was to go past the traditional interpretation of the text, and hopefully, gain new and fresh insights from the story.  While not addressing the issue of sexuality in a very open and explicit way, I saw a key ingredient within the scripture that might lead to a possible way forward in how we are to care and love one another.  This crucial understanding of love is the key element of our faith.

This time, as I read the story, I couldn’t help but pay attention as to where Mary sat.  Her positioning was significant to the underlying truth in the story.  Mary was in a place reserved for men.  Most women in first century Palestine did not sit at the feet of the Rabbi.  Such a place belonged to men.  For Jesus to allow such obvious disregard for the cultural norm of the day suggests a new and unique approach to teaching and being called a disciple.  Could this not be a subtle way of demonstrating that the “Kingdom at Hand” is new and different?  The most marginalized of the society could now be called “disciples.” It became possible for all of us to sit at the feet of the Messiah.  Could we look at this lesson as a way forward in how we treat our GLBTQ brothers and sisters?

My hope and prayer for the church are that we may not shun others from sitting at the feet of Jesus.  We must embrace all of our brothers and sisters in the faith.  To banish them, or send them into exile is to operate contrary to my understanding of how Jesus intended us to live.  We are called to be the hands and feet of Christ.  That includes every one of God’s children.

Yes, we can quote scripture and use the holy text to prove our point.  I want to dive under the surface level and go below the water to discover riches unknown.  Perhaps in a thick and rich search, we may come to love and understand that the Bible not be used as something that proves our point, but that the sacred writing may grab us in holy love and transform us into disciples.  That is my story, and I am sticking to it!

One Day You Will Know

This is written to my amazing son, who is celebrating his 20th birthday today.

One day, you will know that every night I tell you that I love you, that I mean it with my whole heart.  There are no other words that I speak with truth in my day that are more heart-felt, than stopping by your room before going to sleep.

One day, you will know that when I hear you sing, there is no other sound that is better in my ears.  I am so proud that you are following your passion.  Hold it close to your heart, and allow the world to be blessed because of your abilities. With each passing year I see in you greatness.  I see with the eyes of a dad, always hoping and praying that you are happy beyond your wildest dreams.

One day, you will know that when I tell you that you changed my life, that I am so grateful for the life lessons that I continue to learn from you.  I became the father that I never had when you entered the world.  I have learned how to exist in the world in a way that I could never imagine before knowing you.  While I have struggled and endured some very dark times, just hearing you call me padre heals me.

One day, you will know that when I say Happy Birthday, I really say it as a prayer to God, thanking the Creator that you are my son!

One day, you will know…

 

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!

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.

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.

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.