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.

It’s Easy to Get Stuck

I am grateful for my time in Austin.  While attending Austin Presbyterian Seminary, I was able to walk the campus of the University of Texas.  Ah yes, that beautiful campus with the tower.  As I walked down the stairs of the main building, I was taken back to my eighteen-year-old self who was enrolled as a freshman.  I thought of the many mistakes that I made that would drastically alter the course of my life.  Some of my choices left long lasting marks of shame and regret.  I kept asking myself the age old question, “What happened to that kid?  Why those choices?”

What a frustrating place in which I found myself.  No matter what resolution I could find, it would not replace the opportunities that no longer existed.  And then that horrid feeling of being stuck in my inability to fully resolve the issue kicked in.  What a mess.  I knew that in order to move forward I would have to let go of my insane thinking.  You know, the kind of thinking that allows you, in all of your folly to think that you are capable of changing the past.

All of these thoughts seemed to illuminate from my soul as I looked at the past with eyes in the present.  I began to talk to that 18-year-old boy.  I gave him permission to be himself, that he was more than the scars of his childhood.  I assured him that he would move past the effects of the battle wounds that he inherited, and that he would thrive past his wildest dreams.  He was, and his more than the sum of his failures.

So, after dipping my foot into the healing waters of forgiveness, I turned and headed back to the seminary.  It was time to leave the past behind, and continue forward.  I gave thanks for being able to shine a light on the realization that, while I falter, there is always the promise of a new day.  If my heart learned anything, it was a sense of forgiveness of myself, along with the need to keep moving in a direction that guides me to the eternal light of God.

Praise be to our wonderful Creator, who never allows us to remain in the past.  And blessed are we, as we remember that we are all created in the image of God.  That includes who we were, what we are, and what we will be.  May we carry that promise into a future filled with the riches of our amazing Savior.

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 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.

How Many More Days?

We have a little Christmas calendar, but is in the shape of a clock.  My youngest son is the keeper of the calendar.  Each day he adjusts the hand that signals one day closer to Christmas.  As we get closer and closer to the big day, he gathers more excitement in his voice as he announces that we are one step nearer to Santa’s visit.  We all laugh and encourage him to keep us on track.

MacDonald the Younger’s excitement reminds me of the eagerness that comes with the anticipation of what is to come.  Whether it be the joy of the Christmas season, the possibilities of traveling to new and exotic places, or a planned night out with my wife, I am guilty of being caught up in what lies ahead.  I recapture the energy of my youth.  There is a magic to this time of year.

I continue to think of the idea of joy and happiness and wonder if my life emulates this kind of excitement.  Have I become stale in my faith?  Heaven forbid that I have lost that moment when my life changed, and I surrendered my heart fully to the presence of God.  Have I truly forgotten the feeling of divine peace?  May it never be so.

My hope is that this Advent time will remind me of the joy of being a newcomer to the faith.  As I reclaim the special moment of my conversion, I hope to continue forward sharing the hope that is found in my faith.  Perhaps that is why we celebrate a season of anticipation every year; so that we can embrace and remember the freshness of belief.  This may be the time that hope is reborn, and excitement comes in our recalling of how we were made whole.

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.

The Land of Milk and Honey

“The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and He brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey”  (Deut. 26:8-9 NRSV).

There are times in our lives in which the promises of the above passage are as real to us as air.  We catch a glimpse of God’s handiwork in our lives and feel like we stand right in the middle of the “land flowing with milk and honey.”  We feel the presence of the Holy Spirit as a real and powerful source of our strength and hope.  The planets seem to be aligned and all is well in our world.  To sum it all up; life is good!
Then there are times when God’s presence seems so far away that we will never get back to the warmth of the heavenly light.  We struggle to stand up as the wind races through our lives and chills us to the bone deliberately ridding us of our joy.  We are hopeless.  The last place that we feel like we are is in a “land of milk and honey.”
Our hope as we struggle is that God’s promises are true and that our faith in His abiding love will pull us from the pit of despair.  I know what it is like to feel separated from God’s presence.  My youngest son was just recently in the hospital.  One day I was sitting with him in his hospital room and I tried to think through how many times he had been hospitalized in the last three months.  I couldn’t remember.  There had been too many times to count.  I lost track.  It is bad enough that my sons have bleeding disorders, but the constant hospitalizations are overwhelming.  It is hard to feel like I am in the “land of milk and honey” when I am sleeping on a tiny mattress in a hospital room.
When I am stressed beyond all measure I reach for something that will sustain me and give me hope.  That is when I discover God’s presence.  I read that God delivered us out of the land of Egypt where we were slaves and had no place in society.  God radically saved us.  This is where the center of my hope springs out like a fountain.  If God saved the people of Israel from the weight of slavery, I will be rescued from my situation.  The “land of milk and honey” may not look as pretty, but on the inside where it really counts I will know the goodness of God.  This promised land’s source is the Spirit of God.  Divine love pours out of us and through our world restoring life to all that it touches.  We are to be the wellspring by which the Heavenly One flows.

 

The Mountains and Me

Yesterday my family and I made our annual pilgrimage to the mountains. Labor Day usually consists of a mountain stream and great fried chicken. I will tell you now that my wife is an incredible cook. Her fried chicken is second to none!

This year we explored new territory as we settle into our new home in Rio Rancho. Approximately an hour away from my house there are tremendous national parks along with incredible opportunities for hiking up and down valleys and hilltops. We parked the car, ate some good southern food, and began our quarter mile journey down to a place where the mountain stream emptied itself into a beautiful ravine complete with a waterfall.

The water was cold and very inviting. The four of us took off our shoes and began to wade in the water. My toes were so cold that I thought each one would freeze off. I sat on a rock that was at the very top of the waterfall. We were playing near a 100 foot drop into a reservoir below. Of course, my youngest son was not allowed to join me so close to the falls. It was way too risky for him. He just played a little further back in the stream with my wife. My oldest son sat with me near the edge of the falls. All fears and anxieties seemed to give way as we enjoyed gazing into the falling water as it fell upon the rocks below.

I love being surrounded by the beauty of the mountains. The air is crisp and the hiking trails give way to breathtaking views that startle the imagination and reinvigorate the soul. I still sometimes find it hard to believe that I live near such incredible scenery. It is safe to say that where I live today is quite different than the coastline of my youth. When I moved to New Mexico I realized that I needed two things in my life. I must have mountains and stars. Houston did not afford me those necessities.

My faith is expressed in ways that are very similar to how I feel concerning the wonderful mountain landscape. The majesty of God woos me into beauty. Sometimes I am unable to see the wonder that is just around the corner, but I know that if I continue on my journey I will experience a connection to the Divine that I never knew existed. As I draw strength from the One who brings water that will feed my spirit I stand in awe of the endless possibilities. It is at the stream of life that I find renewal of spirit and great joy. It is surrounded by the presence of God that I find hope. God invites all of us to the water to be renewed and made whole.

Peace,   Joe

Spiritual Renewal is Crucial!

I have had a very productive week. I managed to write the first draft of my sermon for Sunday on Thursday afternoon. This came on the heels of working in the food pantry at church and knowing that choir rehearsal was later in the day.
Each day I have taken a self imposed mini retreat. My goal is to spend one hour either doing research and/or writing. So far, I have met my goal.

This week marked my first week not in seminary. For three years my focus has been on a class, a paper, or a project. Every goal I had seemed centered on an academic achievement.

After seminary, I was afraid of losing that spark that drove me to finish my degree. If this week is any indication of what is to come, I should not be worried.

I realized today that one can become complacent and not seek out ways to make life interesting. Actually, I felt that way before seminary. I felt like my professional life was in a big rut and that I was simply going to exist. One of the many gifts I learned while in school is that I do have the ability to make my own choices.

I couldn’t remember when I practiced a consistent spiritual discipline before I went to school. I was not aware that my life depends on maintaining moments of spiritual renewal. For me, a spiritual discipline is crucial.

I am not necessarily talking about a religious commitment, but about some type of reflective study which links me to the divine. It may be in a time of prayer, or writing, or even research. These are times when I block the world out and connect to a sacred space in my life. Seminary taught me how to speak and be in that part of myself which felt “stuck.” Allowing time with the sacred reminds me of hope and excitement. I feel alive.

Today, I am grateful for the experience of going to school and being the first person in my family to receive a master’s degree. I also am grateful that I have the opportunity to practice my spiritual discipline in a way that revives me.

christopherjoiner

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We take our journey with love and hope.

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Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.

strugglewell

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jefflust

Reflections on leadership and what it means to be the church God intends for the 21st century.