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?

Advent and I

As the congregation of my church stood singing carols and decorating the Chrismon tree, I couldn’t help but give thanks for the customs that are part of my United Methodist heritage.  I learned my earliest religious instruction in a tradition that did not observe the church seasons, so I grew up without knowing anything about Advent and Lent.  They were words that I heard for “other” Christians.

When I broke ties with the Southern Baptist church and embraced the United Methodist faith, the one thing that captured my religious imagination was the adherence to the church year.  I celebrated different festivals throughout the different seasons and felt like a new religious language came into being.  My faith experience grew richer and more profound.  The Christmas and Easter seasons became much holier and deeper in joy and meaning as I experienced the awkwardness of Advent and Lent.  What could I add to my life, or give up, that would help me be still and sense the presence of the Lord?

This year, I have asked my congregation to spend this season of Advent in prayer.  I challenge my religious community to be still and let the Spirit of God move within their hearts.  May everyone experience holy transformation. Pray without ceasing, focusing in on the goodness of God.  This call to the Light is our task during the sacredness of the season of preparation.  Be still and know the presence of the One, who delivered you.

And strangely, when I am silent, I do give thanks for my earliest of religious teachers.  Yes, the Southern Baptists.  I give thanks to the mighty men and women of God, who supported me through my very formative years, planting the seed in my heart that God loves even me, a broken and lost child.  God makes it possible so that I can live a life that is meant to be a blessing to others.

My prayer for everyone this Advent season is to embrace light in the middle of darkness. May we all find hope in the midst of despair, and may we celebrate the love and knowledge that our God delivers us from hopelessness.  Praise be to our amazing Giver of Light.  Let us embrace the reality that we are God’s children, and may we live like sons and daughters of the Highest King.

A Moment of Truth

When I stand at the altar to prepare for Communion, there is an innate sense of responsibility that flows through me. I think long and hard about every word that comes out my mouth, as I consecrate the elements, inviting the Holy Spirit to speak into the lives of the congregation.  Each member is asking, pleading, requesting God to speak into their lives.

Everyone in the room comes seeking to be made whole, to take a break from a life filled with chaos.  And so, with all of these things in mind, they come to the table.  And there standing beside the table is me; waiting, hoping, praying for everyone that I see. Each person coming with their language, their way of expressing the deep needs of hearts yearning for wholeness.

As I watch the feast at the banquet, I hope everyone stops long enough to realize the moment of truth that Christ Himself calls to each of them to find that for which they are looking.  May the music of redemption fill their ears as heavenly bells ring out that everyone is loved and desired by our amazing God.  The reality of Holy love is the hope of our faith; it is the headwaters of that which we believe.

Heavenly truth reveals to us that we are never alone, that God’s presence is with us always.  We continue to struggle in a world that challenge us with each new day, the foundation of hope is always the underlying part of the victory that we share in Christ.  Love never leaves us.  Love never shames us.  Love is simply and continuously present.  We only turn and embrace the amazing gift of grace.

Today, I am grateful for the gift of God’s grace as revealed in the invitation to a banquet like none other.  I stand there and participate in the meal, confronting the truth that I am a beloved child of the Most-High God.  This reality is at times incomprehensible and overwhelming.  Such grace is offered to someone like me.  How amazing!

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!

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!

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.

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.

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.

Are Our Traditions Inclusive?

I once heard a pastor comment on how his congregation “speaks their own language.”  The key to becoming accepted into this body of believers is to understand and use the language of the congregation.  I started thinking about this bold claim and was a little indignant to say the least.  I began to question whether or not this man really understood the people in our church.  What was he talking about?  There was no secret handshake nor was their unspoken ways that we excluded those who would not follow us in our worship.
Well, I began to think a little bit more about what this pastor said and began to realize that he was not very far off the mark.  For instance, many of our congregations say the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13) in our worship.  It has become a tradition that our congregation recites the prayer from memory and assumes that we will hear most of the voices around us saying the text as one body.
What about those who visit who have never been in worship?  This is their first time in a church in years.  Maybe there are those who have never set foot in a church.  How can they join in with us without being considered the “other?”  It is our task to include all to participate in worship.  If that is the case, we need to make sure that we have resources by which all people may fully participate.
How about the prayers of the congregation?  Once again, we are challenged to include the entire body of believers while continuing our established traditions that transcend the word community and develop our sense of family.  We come together to celebrate the risen Christ.  In what ways do we lift up our prayers in worship that seem to exclude new comers?
By suggesting that “first time visitors come back so that they may feel more at home” is a way in which the issue has been previously addressed.  Unfortunately, that does not work in our modern age.  Many times, we have one shot to develop a complete sense of inclusivity in our churches.  Is it possible to provide a platform by which everyone present on a Sunday morning, members and visitors alike, will be able to fully share in the good news of salvation?
I struggle as a pastor to provide the space in which all are welcome.  I utilize media and worship aides to assist everyone who worships with us, but I am still afraid that there are some portions of our worship experience that excludes people who have never participated in our particular church.  The main idea that I want people to take with them is that the Gospel of Christ is for all and not just for those who finally get the language and the unwritten rules of our congregation.  
I am not suggesting that we eradicate those moments in worship that remind us of who we are and what it means to be a part of a particular congregation.  I believe that tradition is very important in helping us to establish our identity.  Liturgy serves to allow us to feel a sense of belonging and a space by which we can call a particular place of worship our home.  I want to honor our history by providing others who visit us the opportunity to call my space their home.  The central message being that Christ came for all and not just those who pray and worship just like us.
As you attend your church this coming weekend be fully aware of times in your service that may appear exclusive to newcomers.  Sit next to someone who appears to be in worship with you for the first time.  As the service continues be that source by which they can be made more familiar with your church’s practices and customs.  Be the one who is that welcoming spirit that delivers the good news of salvation that all are welcome to the table of God.
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.