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.

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 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.

On the Road Again

Yesterday my youngest son, my wife, and I packed the car and headed to Dallas. We will be there attending the National Hemophilia Foundation’s annual conference. I am looking forward to seeing old friends and learning information that could prove useful to the daily maintenance of both of my son’s bleeding disorders. I am excited that my youngest will get to meet and spend time with children his age that live around the country. Each participant is affected in some way with chronic bleeding and the many complications that can occur.

Already, I have been blessed with several opportunities to visit with good friends who have had a profound influence in my life. Conversations moved from the outrageous (no one laugh at that idea) to the profound. All things came back to the fact that I am a blessed man for having known these incredible people. When I speak with them, I see the movement of God in their lives that challenge and encourage me to love bolder, live wiser. They are amazing people.

While I have enjoyed the first few days of our journey, I really miss my “big stinky boy” being with us. We see a word, or hear a song and think of him. His absence speaks loudly without a word spoken. Life happens, and while he is not with us, I think of him and offer a prayer up for his safety and his peace of mind.

I miss “MacDonald the older” the most, simply because he gets my quirky personality. He is my son after all. He understands (or should I say tolerates) my strange approach to life. I never dreamed that anyone would be able to handle that kind of craziness, but he does. It is an amazing thing.

Today, I am most thankful for the opportunities to visit with friends who make the world a better place, because they are a part of my world, and my vocabulary. May God be with us all as we journey forward through life’s ups and downs. May we surge onward with the confidence of the children of God. Praise be to God.

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.

A Memory That Makes My Soul Smile

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Recently I was sharing a story about the time that Cazandra told me that we were going to have our first child.  I related the story to a fellow staff member at my church.  As I shared with her the story of how I told my mom about this new journey that we would begin together, I felt overwhelmed by a flood of emotions. 

I was taken aback by how I was feeling in retelling that story.  What caused me to connect so profoundly to the announcement of my son’s impending birth?  Was there something that I had not recognized about the dramatic changes that my life was about to experience?  Why now?  Why so emotional after all these years?  He wasn’t born yesterday.  His eighteenth birthday is still a few months away.  Maybe the realization that he will be an adult is leading to a heighten feeling of nostalgia regarding his life.

Perhaps it could have been a quick moment to remember my mother.  I know that she loved my children well and was a fantastic grandmother to boot.  Maybe my emotional response came from a place of sadness as life goes on without my mother’s physical presence.  Her silence speaks loudly into my life.  One of the most important places in which she speaks is her absence in my children’s lives as they will not be able to build new memories with their “Granny.”  I know my mom still lives on in spirit, and I know that the joy and love that I share for my son are interwoven with the love that I have for my mother.

And as for me, I went back to my office and gave a prayer of thanksgiving for that big stinky boy that I have been honored to raise.  I gave thanks for his presence in my life and will continue to thank my God for this particular person that I call my son.  His talents are great and his heart is even greater.

There are people, places or things that connect us to the most intimate part of ourselves.  The part that reflects upon the greatness of God.  My son is the reminder of the Divine love that I have in my heart and the overwhelming gratitude to God for being trusted to raise him.  I try to make sense of how I was qualified to raise a child and I must say that I agree with the Psalmist when he says, “That kind of knowledge is too much for me; it’s so high above me that I can’t fathom it” (Psalm 139:6 CBE).  Whatever the reason may be, I am eternally grateful.

And as far as the picture, this is him in his element:  His love of the theater shines through his eyes despite the green makeup.  He played the title role in Shrek at his high school.  His voice is so much better than mine.  He has a nice beautiful tone that just flows naturally from his mouth.

To watch him on stage is pure joy.  I am so glad that he is able to follow his passion.  Onstage Mr. MacDonald is fearless.  There is no doubt where he should be.  How blessed am I to watch my child delight in his calling.

Today I am filled with gratitude for the love that is now and for the love that I have had.  I eagerly look forward to the future and the amazing things that await my son as he continues to astound me along this journey.

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.

A Psalm of Hope

I just purchased a new computer and started looking through some of my files to determine whether or not I should put some of the documents on my hard drive.  As I was reviewing past assignments I stumbled across a Psalm that I wrote for one of my favorite classes that I took in seminary.  I’m posting it in the hopes that it will be a blessing in your life at it as it has been in mine.

A Psalm of Hope

            I will praise the Lord with all of my heart, and all of my soul.

            I will stand amazed at the wonder of His works.

            I will bless the Lord for the gift of music.

            The gift of song encompasses and surrounds me.

            It lifts my spirits up to the very presence of the creator.

 

            In my times of distress, it is the Lord’s song that reverberates through my being.

            That song, that allows me to sing its melodies. Even in a strange land.

            How wonderful are you my Creator, that You would fill me with hope.

            I prayed for refuge and found the promise of new life.

            My hope is built within Your river of overflowing love.

 

            My songs spring from my spirit.

            They exalt You from the inner workings of my being.

            You have set me apart with hope.

            I praise You for the greatness of joy.

            Praise to the Lord, the giver of life!
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.