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.

Blessings in a Crazy Week

Last week was an adventure in survival.  I had a paper due for a class I had taken, my wife had back surgery, I flew out of town and back for a meeting, and preached on Sunday morning.  By Sunday afternoon, I was passed out on the couch.  I had nothing left in the gas tank.

Life is like that.  There are times that we just coast through, but more often than not schedules are rarely predictable.  Such is the life of a pastor.  The only thing that we can do is be present in the moment.  Anxiety can sometimes take over, and I can easily forget to simply breathe and enjoy where I am at the moment I’m there.  Now is what counts.

As I rattled off my busy schedule, I didn’t talk about the blessings that came my way as a result of my crazy time.  I celebrated another academic course completed.  I gave thanks that my wife had a very successful surgery.  I met new friends, and spent a few moments with some great friends.  My flights, while adventurous, got me safely to and from my destinations.  Sunday morning was filled with celebration and joy.  These are the wonders that come with a busy and fulfilled life.

I give thanks to God this day for the gift of servanthood, that I was asked to take part in a consumer panel in the bleeding disorders community.  I am grateful that I can connect with a community who longs to hear my story, and the story of my family.  I was honored to hear other’s journeys, and the strength and hope that they find on their paths.  Their stories are an amazing tapestry of an incredible society of men and women who struggle to make their lives rich and meaningful despite the presence of a bleeding disorder.

I think it is safe to say, that we are a part of many different cultures and societies.  It was great to be reminded that I am a part of the hemophilia community.  I struggle, just as those around me, to find normal in a world that involves daily infusions, hospital visits, and a medicine closet packed full of medical equipment necessary to give my children a chance at their best lives.

My hope is that through all of the chaos we may remember to find the beauty in the moment.  Let us never throw away a single second.  Let us give thanks for what we are given.  Praise be to God, who never ceases to amaze his children.

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.

Remembering the Reason for My Journey

My youngest son was hospitalized earlier this week.  He is having another break thru bleed in his right knee.  The complications that he deals with are painful and seem to never let up.  There is no down time in our world when it comes to internal bleeding.  Bleeds happen often and without warning.  Each episode is unique unto itself and comes with its own share of physical and emotional issues.

Despite the hospitalization of my youngest son, this week I had several meetings scheduled with members of the hemophilia community.  I had been asked to motivate people to take part in a first annual Walkathon for the Sangre De Oro Chapter of the National Hemophilia Foundation.  (I will be posting how to participate in our Walkathon in a separate entry on my Facebook page).

As I was preparing what I would say, I was overwhelmed with the question, “Why do I participate in this community?”  I do it primarily to stay informed on the latest treatments and programs related to hemophilia.  Knowledge is power.  The more I know the better I can treat my sons disorders.

Another reason I participate in the Sangre De Oro Chapter is because I remember what it was like to have a newly diagnosed son with hemophilia.  I lived in Houston (a town of approximately 4 million people) and had never met anyone, to my knowledge, who had a bleeding disorder.  I felt alone and completely lost.  My emptiness was transformed into something I could never have imagined by a simple phone call.  It was the voice of another parent who reached out to my family.  Her child had hemophilia and assured my wife and I that we would be fine.  Our son would live a good life.

I was then invited to participate in the Houston area chapter of the bleeding disorders community and began helping out by working events.  With every project I learned more about my son, about hemophilia and I even learned about myself.  My goal was to ensure that no one needed to feel alone again.  I serve the community to help empower families who feel alone.  I want others to experience the message of hope.  I want people to know that they are not alone, and there is a community that longs to embrace everyone who struggles with bleeding disorders.  We want to journey together.

My message of service is so intertwined with my faith.  Our source of strength comes from the Divine promise that we are not alone.  We are called to be much more than we can be as a single entity.  Christ calls us into fellowship with one another.  At the center of our faith community we discover this message of hope and Good News.  At the core of our fellowship, we find the Gospel of Hope.

Faith that has Wings

This week I started a Bible study at my church. I am teaching Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia. As part of the introduction to the letter I discussed the significance of the document. The main question raised was “What was at stake in the theological landscape of the Christian movement?”

As always, I am amazed at the conversation that begins to surface. Paul’s reaction to the concept of grace and the indoctrination of new believers into the Jesus movement addressed a major crisis confronting the young religious order. The issue was how to validate both Jewish and Gentile experiences of faith in the risen Christ.

While my initial question may at first appear to have a simple solution, through a first century lens it was a very different story. How were these two radically different worlds, Jewish believers and Gentile believers, brought together? Eventually, Paul’s answer was to focus on the most important thing. That is the faith as demonstrated in Jesus. Faith can overcome difference.

This is still a relevant question in the religious landscape of today. There are so many faiths which make the claim of absolute truth that the mysteries of God are put in a box. God, according to some, must be completely figured out. Where is the faith in the kind of religious model which claims absolute truth?

Someone once told me that faith occurs in one of two ways. In both scenarios, one comes to the edge of a cliff. At the edge of the cliff God will either build a bridge to the other side, or give us wings to fly. It is important to note that neither the bridge nor the wings are defined. They are simply provided at the right time to get to the right place.

It is my belief, and I know at this point I have veered far from any image given in the Bible, that each bridge and each wing that is created as faith in action is characteristically special to each person and each event. Each experience is real unto itself. Who am I to say that one journey of faith is the same as the other? That is far more than has been revealed about the God of my understanding.

And how does Paul fit into this image of faith? Paul concluded that the Gentile believers need not be concerned about the law. Why would the law matter to someone who never lived under the law? His answer was to embrace Jesus. In this faith there is change, there is healing, there is new life. My hope for today is that we, as the body of Christ, may make room for a faith which is more concerned with the love of God than we are about claiming to have all of the answers. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it” (Psalm 139:6 NRSV).

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