He Remembers!

LasIMG_0245t week was a little too crazy in my life, and so I did not post.  My oldest son moved into his dorm last Tuesday.  I am excited for him and look forward to all that he will accomplish while being a student at the Santa Fe School of Art and Design.  His first week has been filled with anxiety and then joy, as he discovers his capacity to make it on his own.

As my wife and I were helping him unpack, Julian shook a box full of coins in my face.  I asked, “What is that?”  He responded, “Dad, it is the box that Granny gave me.”  That was all that I needed to hear, as I kept my composure long enough to get out of the room.  My son kept a beat up old dilapidated box that my mom gave to him for no reason, filled with pennies.  On the inside of the box was my mother’s handwriting with these words, “Julian, every time I thought of you today, I put a penny in the box.”

Of all of the things that he took with him to his dorm, one of them had to be this box.  It serves as a reminder to him that he was loved before he ever knew his name.  People, angels, and other heavenly beings encircle him to remind of this truth, that he is a child of the Most-High God.  Loved beyond anything he can ever imagine.  All of these important reminders found in a cardboard box.

Julian’s gift reminds me to find an answer to the question, “What am I leaving so that the world may know the incredible love that the Father has for us?”  The answers are not taken lightly.  They build others up, giving purpose to those who need to hear words of comfort and hope.  Store your pennies well!

Ah! The Joy of Being Human!

I must admit that I have a fear of being found out.  I try everything I can to hide my weaknesses, and many times I am very successful.  I can do this as along as I do not have to get close to anyone.  I can preserve an appearance of being completely the person that everyone wants me to be.  I can smile, acknowledge that I am great, and keep moving forward.

The reality is that I do struggle and wish I had a better skill set in some areas than I do.  For me, this is a major source of anxiety, the notion of being discovered.  So to combat my feelings, I have learned to wear a mask.  It always has a smiley face on it and gives the generic answer that everyone wants to hear from me.  The thing is, the longer I wear the mask, the further I run from getting close to people.

I have just begun my fifth year as pastor of Rio Rancho  United Methodist Church.  Anyone that has been in one place for a while knows that there comes a time when the mask must fall away, and you must reveal you’re real self.  That includes the strengths and the weaknesses.  It is not an easy thing to do.  It takes guts and absolute faith in God’s mercy.

We are all faced with the issue of sharing ourselves with each other.  Taking a step in building trust is the only way that relationships can develop into something much greater than we ever could imagine.  It is also the diving off point for intimacy.  The reliance on faith is the uncomfortable part of being in a place for a long time.  We grow together, relying on God’s incredible strength to mold us into the people for which the church can become.

True wholeness must include vulnerability, acknowledging that there are parts of us that need developing.  If we can do the work together, we can become stronger.  We can live bolder, and we can be richer in wisdom.  Praise be to God, who calls us to live not just as surface level neighbors, but to join in the richness of relationship.

Remember To Come Home

In just a few short weeks our family will experience a drastic change. My eldest son will be going off to college and leaving the nest.  While he will only be a 45-minute car ride away, it could be thousands of miles for all we care.  Our home will change and be different. We will miss his presence.  Prayers are the only thing that we can offer him as he begins this part of his journey.

So, with his leaving nearing its time, I am trying to think of any last words that I need to impart to my twenty-year-old son.  What can I tell him that he needs to know?  Will he be equipped to live in the big bad world?  Many of you know what I am talking about because you have had the same doubts, worries, and struggles for your children.

I took him to his favorite restaurant today, the Burrito Express.  We were eating the best Tex-Mex food in the state of New Mexico, when I looked at him and said, “You know that if times get tough, you can always call me, and I will come to you, or you come to me.  You know that, right?”  He replied, “Of course dad.  I know you are there.”  I stopped the conversation for fear that I would make a fool of myself in the middle of the diner.

It is crucial that we know that there is a place to which we can return, somewhere that we can be our real selves.  When I kept repeating myself to my son, I realized the same is true for all of us.  We need to know that our Heavenly Father sends us clues throughout the day to remind us that we are loved and fully embraced when we return home. We find our hope in the realization of the divine presence of the Almighty, the faith that God will carry us, and hold us in His arms.

Praise be to God, for all of the gifts lavishly given to us.  I pray that my son will always remember that he can come home, especially when the world gets rough and uninviting.  This is my prayer for my amazingly talented young man.  I wish him blessings of peace and a life that knows abundant joy!

The Power of a Candle

I will not deny that I am a person who has a reputation for being outgoing and very boisterous.  I draw strength from being in the presence of others.  If you have ever talked to me for two minutes, it is quite evident that I am not a shy person.  I enjoy great conversation had over a great meal with a glass of “iced tea.”

While this is true, I must admit that I find my greatest sources of strength from spiritual practices that are quieter and reflective.  In many ways, it is like a candle that is present in a room.  The flame never makes a sound, but fills the room with light.  Its power is not found in a theatrical production, making its presence known.  It is discovered in a holy stillness, illuminating the room without making one peep.

While I am grateful that God created me to be an outgoing person, I hope that I may continue to learn the lessons that one can glean from a candle.  My testimony does not have to be made known with loud, obnoxious sounds, but simply by being present.  My service should speak louder than words.  After all, this is the very foundation of the ministry of Jesus.  His actions spoke bolder and stronger than anything he said.

My hope is that we may light the candles by being the people of God.  Jesus illumines our path.  We are not required to tell people about the love of the Holy One.  We are meant to show by example.  How we treat others is our testimony.  We have the light within us so that it may shine for others to see the way to the Father.  Praise be to God that we might be the vehicle by which the world will know of the tremendous blessings given freely to us.

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!

Beaten and Broken (Sometimes)

There are times that I feel a little beaten up.  My struggles may come in the form of unkind words, or actions meant to harm me.  There are moments that I want to rise up and defend myself.  I want to shout, “How inconsiderate of you to say that to me!”  There are other times that I want to say, “Stop what you are doing.  It is painful and completely unnecessary.”

The truth is, we all feel a little broken at times.  None of us are exempt from the reality that sometimes people are unkind.  They wage war against us with words that cut like knives, or actions that shake us to our very core.  We leave the scene with emotional cuts and bruises.  We may be Christians, but our hearts can still break.

In times of pain and suffering, God honors my sadness, but also wants me to move past my woundedness.  We are not meant to live in a constant state of bitterness, but we are to live in the promise of new found life. Christ is where our hope lies.  God’s power revealed to us in ways that only holy love can speak.

Today I am grateful for friends that lead me back to the source of my faith.  Praise be to God that people are in our lives who share the gift of the Father’s unfailing love.  Through the kindness of others, we are transformed to bring the presence of love itself into a world that needs to know that holy grace flows back to us, even in times of trial.

 

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!

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.

christopherjoiner

Some Thoughts Along the Way

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