Living Our Faith

Last Sunday I asked the congregation, “You are a new creature in Christ, so what are you going to do about it?”  In asking the question, I hoped to spark an awareness that our faith requires us to not only have as Paul said, “A circumcision of the heart,” but to respond to this new way of being with our actions.  What we do, along with what we say determines our commitment to God.  In other words, we simply can’t say we are Christians and then act like we are anything but children of God.  We must prove it with how we treat others.

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, spoke very candidly about the importance of our actions.  While he acknowledged that we can do nothing to earn our salvation, Wesley also stressed the need to mirror the change within by sharing our faith from the inside out.  How we live matters.  The way that we exist in the world proves that we have indeed had a “circumcision of the heart.”  To live any other way would indicate that our transformation lacked authenticity.

As we begin 2017, I pray that people see my change of heart by the way that I treat others.  This is a tough task and should not be taken lightly.  Careful attention towards a change in action requires a commitment to living the life to which God has called me.  I will admit that there are a few relationships with which I struggle.  Yes, I am called to reveal a new heart even in these very tense and complicated situations.

You indeed are a beautiful creation in Christ.  Now take up this claim and show those around you that a new path is being made in the desert.  It is your answer to the calling that God placed on your life.  Pick this task up and carry it forward.  How else will they know that we are Christians than by our love?

The Best Necklace in the Whole World

I was eleven years old, and my mission in life was to by my mother the best birthday gift possible.  Her birthday was coming up, and I was desperate.  My grandparents took me to a shopping mall in Houston, and I was determined that I would not leave empty handed.  There had to be something in one of the many stores.  I had a whopping $15 in my pocket, and I was ready to do a little retail damage.

As we went into one of the many stores that night, there was something that caught my eye.  I saw a bracelet that shined like I had never seen anything shine in my life.  I walked over to look at this incredible work of art.  Surely it was way too far out of my league.  I was shocked to learn that it only cost $12.  At eleven years old, I wasn’t aware that rhinestones were not the same as diamonds.  The necklace was simply a beautiful piece of jewelry and that it was just what I wanted to give to my mother.

I eagerly asked the salesman to wrap up my trinket and was excited that my mom would wear it soon.  A feeling of pride swept over me as I paid for the rhinestone necklace.  This gift was my idea.  My mom would wear the best jewelry that the store had to offer (or so I thought).

When it came time to open the box, my mother immediately placed the jewelry around her neck and proclaimed it to be the most beautiful gift that she had ever received.  I thought she looked like a queen.  It was even better than I expected.  I was very happy with myself, for I gave my mother the best necklace in the whole world!

As the years went by my mom would talk about her special present and smile.  I was a little embarrassed as I reflected on my younger self. I know that as an adult, my childhood self did not know the difference between fake jewelry and the real thing.  All I knew is that my mom deserved the best that I could give.

Five years ago, almost to the day, my mother died.  I still think of her and miss her.  I am thankful for the friendship that we forged in my adult years.  Not long after she died my sister and I began the arduous task of sorting through her things.  I stumbled upon a jewelry box and opened the top.  In the box was a beautiful diamond and right next to the amazing stone was a little bag.  I unfastened the top of the bag and to my amazement, the little rhinestone necklace that I bought so many years ago fell onto the table.

I immediately teared up as I remembered that brave little boy, eager to give the best that he had so that his mother would smile.  All of the sudden the costume jewelry increased in value and surpassed that big old diamond.  My necklace contained all of the love that an eleven-year-old heart could muster.  Nothing is more priceless than the intention of the heart.

Today I am grateful as I remember my mother this week, and the legacy that she gave to me.  I honor her memory every day of my life, as I hope to be the best husband, father, brother, friend, pastor, and the person that I can be.  I believe that she is with me each and every day and that her memory continues in love shared with those in need of hope and renewal.  Praise God for Ruby Jensen, and her spirit of compassion and joy.

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

Pictures that Are Works of Art

As a pastor, I am privileged to speak with families as they face very important decisions regarding medical care and end of life issues.  These are some of the most sacred times in which I am honored to share with members of my congregation.  This is hallowed ground and is set apart from any other component of pastoral care.

On Saturday, I went to the hospital to visit someone in the Intensive Care Unit.  Questions surrounding how to proceed with medical needs was at the forefront of the conversation.  At the heart of my visitation, I heard stories of family connections, and past hurts, and past successes.  What came out of his narrative was a picture of a man who struggled to make something of his life, even in the midst of great adversity.  It is an amazing portrait.

I left the room, only to catch another glimpse of another room.  I saw a dedication of a medical team, working to save someone’s life.  At least five or six people medical professionals where giving the best that they had at that moment to make a difference.  Here was a beautiful picture detailing the importance of one life.  This person mattered.

One of the most breathtaking paintings that I saw that day, was something that usually would go unnoticed.  In one of the other rooms, there was an elderly man that was heavily sedated.  His middle aged son was rubbing a salve on his lips because they were dry.  I wanted to enter the room and tell the man that I hope someone will be that kind and understanding to me if I ever wind up in that situation.  I wanted to tell him a million things about his kindness and how it moved me.  I said nothing, knowing that he was serving the elderly man out of absolute love and devotion.  While he was not aware that anyone saw what he was doing, it was witnessed.

These pictures that I was honored to see are masterpieces, all teaching me that the power of God is an amazing work of art.  Love makes its broadest strokes in the hearts and minds of those who serve humanity.  It paints with bold colors, inviting the miraculous to witness our amazing connection to and with the Divine and with the community.

Today, I am blessed and grateful to be able to witness these wonderful works of art.  How profound.  How staggering.  How amazing.  This is the God that we serve.  This amazing One, who leads us in the way of passion and hope.

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.

Vacation Bible School

Today is the last day of Vacation Bible School at my church.  While I am exhausted I am very thankful for the endless possibilities that are available during this unique ministry of the global church.  We are not only sharing the Gospel with little ones in the community, but we are also sharing the story with each other.  The amazing part about this whole ministry is that we all receive and are made aware of the all-encompassing love of Christ.
For the past two years, we have had the joy of being led by the youth group at St. Paul’s UMC in Las Cruces.  The group has come to us and stayed with us and loved our children well.  For that there is no amount of gratitude that can ever be worth their ministry.  They are a wonderful bunch of young men and women.  Their commitment to Christian service is second to none.
Watching the youth take such an important part in the success of Vacation Bible School takes me back to the days that I was in a youth group in Houston.  I always looked forward to Vacation Bible School, because I learned the basic components of my faith as a worship leader.  I learned that everyone, no matter what age, brings some unique aspect about God to the table.  This concept should be nurtured and encouraged to grow.
I also learned how to be a leader among Christ’s people.  Leading others to the Good News is one of the greatest blessings in life.  I learned how to share hope and purpose.  I learned how to be adaptable as lessons did not always wind up as the book said they would.  Just like Vacation Bible School, our lives are constantly evolving and changing.  When this occurs keep focused on God.
It is my hope that the “Youth” from St. Paul’s will look back on their teen years and fondly remember sharing their faith with the children in Truth or Consequences.  I hope that they may grow up and smile as they understand the lessons that they learned will serving in ministry.  May they stay close to a church which is in desperate need of leaders who will remain faithful and committed to the workings of Jesus Christ.
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.