Hannah and Mary – Six Degrees of Separation

Much of Hannah’s prayer (1Sam. 2:1-10) is very similar in structure and style to Mary’s hymn of praise (Lk 1:46-55).  The first reading begins “My heart exults in the Lord!” while the New Testament account begins “My soul magnifies the Lord.”  Both texts are alike in expressing commitment to the Most-High God.”  We look at the visual imagery used in both writings to capture the greatness of God and the protection of those who follow Him.  We also see the continued deliverance of His chosen ones.

As believers in God, we are included among the holy nation.  Our connection to the One, who loves us and remains passionate to secure our welfare, is an overwhelming expression of our neverending thanks for deliverance.  Let us follow these mighty ancient women of our faith to stay true and filled with the Spirit.  As both mothers made great sacrifices, their awareness of the presence of God so surrounded them and filled them with love, that the only thing they could do was cry out praises.

When is the last time that your soul truly magnified (“to cause to be held in greater esteem or respect” – Webster Dictionary) the Lord?  I think that God is with us 24/7, but the noise of the world drowns out the voice that calls to us more often than we care to admit.  Our Creator wants us to stop, take a breath, and realize that we are filled with love.  I am referring to the presence of the Holy One.  We must remember to listen to His presence in our very core.

I think that Hannah and Mary had the Sacred Presence as part of their very DNA.  They listened for God’s reassurance so much so that the only way they could express themselves was by giving praise to God.  Have you ever been distinctly aware of God’s presence?  Think about the times when you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God called you to share in the goodness of His handiwork within you.  Remember and let your soul “magnify the Lord.”

The Story of Sampson

Today’s reading covers the story of Sampson (Judges 14-16).  The tale reads like something out of a Shakespearean tragedy.  A leader of the people, blessed with outlandish strength, is strong and firm in his commitment to God.  His dedication hits a significant hurdle; women.  Delilah, the secret spy of the Philistines.  She used her feminine whimsy to trick the great man into telling her the secret to his strength.  The guard cuts Sampson’s hair, and the rest is history.

The end of the story sees a blind and distressed former hero disgraced and mocked by those whom he defeated only a short time before.  His shame is replaced by God’s strength when in a last minute valiant effort, he removes the pillars which hold the building up.  The structure falls and everybody, including Sampson, is killed.  Thus ends the story of bravery, sin, perseverance, and finally redemption.

Too often, we find ourselves on top of the world.  Life is great.  And so, we become complacent in our daily walk with God.  “I don’t need anything, because I have everything.”  In our moments of pride, we forget to forge ahead with our spiritual lives.  We live as if we reached a destination without realizing that God calls us to receive power and to minister while we are in the middle of the journey.

When someone comes to steal our strength, there is no way to protect ourselves.  Frightened and feeling abandoned, we surrender our hearts and souls over to those who don’t deserve them.  God seems very far away, and the silence is very deafening.  We sense that we are alone, without a protector.  At that moment, we realize that we are not the God of our story.  We must let go and trust that the Divine presence will reveal itself in all of its strength and glory.

Just when all seems lost, and we are down to our last moments, God appears.  He restores our strength and brings us holy joy.  Sacred happiness illuminates our lives as we experience communion with God.  We are made whole.

A Fall From Grace

Throughout the Hebrew Bible, we see a never-ending circle of actions that fail to correct themselves but always face dire consequences.  The repetition of God’s favor, to the people, leads to sin and they do what is displeasing to the Lord, to God’s decision to not protect Israel, the people confess the errors of their ways, to God ultimately forgiving their sins and restoring their favored position.  The pattern that goes round and round is called the Deuteronomic theme.  We see God’s ultimate judgment when he removes His special protection, and we see the fall of the Northern Kingdom (about 722 BCE), with the destruction of the Southern Kingdom (about 586 BCE).

How could the chosen people fail to see what was at stake?  God showed the people time after time that there were consequences by not following the Torah, the law given to the nation of Israel through Moses directly from the Holy One.  Their very survival depended on observing the covenant.  In a nutshell, do what God asks, and you will thrive.  Turn from Him, and chaos rules the day.  Such a simple request is not rocket science.

Okay, I may easily get my self-righteous nose in the air and say, “At least I am not like ‘those’ people!”  Really?  I am afraid I have way too much in common with those sinners.  There are times that I doubt the protection of God, and abandon the assurance of divine protection and step out of the light.  In my only life, each phase of the cycle finishes with pleading for God’s mercy.  I cry, “Forgive me, Lord, for I have sinned.  Let me come back into your presence.”  Every time I realize my inefficiencies to be the perfect son, my Father welcomes me back into his favor.  Praise the Lord!

I want to offer a little side note.  I return back to God, not to get material things.  A gospel of prosperity does not equal restoration of relationship.  My measurement of faith does not depend on a new car.  When we talk of God’s favor, it is a spiritual fulfillment that holds us tightly, safe from the full wrath of anyone’s harm.  Holy love is not superficial like a magician, but caring and abides in the very depths of our souls.  For God’s protection, I say, “Thanks be to the Creator, the Lord and giver of life.  Amen.”

Boundaries Boundaries Everywhere

Just when you thought it was safe to get over the endless lists of does and don’ts; rule after rule, there is more to the story.  Joshua 15-17 discusses the boundaries regarding borders in the “Land Flowing with Milk and Honey.”  Each tribe knew their piece of the land.  Because God appointed each group to their respective properties, no one could feel resentment against their brothers and sisters in the faith.  The only person accountable was not even a person, the Divine Presence.  If there was a problem, take it up with your maker.

God’s assignment of proper boundaries prevented wars against brothers and sisters.  The people of Israel established themselves as a unified group; one God, one nation.  Each tribe knew their places homelands.  And as the people settled into the new, beautiful land, a sense of harmony and routine signaled an end to warring and cruelty.  At last, the endless wandering in the desert was complete.  They were home.

In life, I know what it is like to frantically find my spot and mark the boundaries with which God has blessed me.  I bump against this line or that line and wonder why I feel like I continue to wage war.  Maybe, if I were to look around at the beauty of my own space, there would be no need to move beyond the boundaries of my private land.

God blessed me with so many things, but I long to have someone else’s toys.  This is insane thinking at its finest.  Honor God with what you have, not what you think you need.  Such thoughts continue to draw me to anger and resentment.

Here the good news!  Christ gave us the land.  Let’s live into our inheritance and cultivate hearts and souls in the places that we call home.  Because we are the sons and daughters of the Most-High God, we share a legacy with one another.  We move into our corner of the world and make a difference to all of those in need.  Our boundaries provide us space to offer the world our God-given gifts.

God Gives Us Purpose

“Joshua said to the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, because tomorrow ADONAI is going to work wonders among you.'” (Josh. 3:5).

This is a newly found verse that called to me in the reading for Thursday.  We are to prepare our hearts and souls today because tomorrow God will be present, bold, and surprising.  We will see it and know that we are loved beyond anything we can imagine.  This is a claim of hope, of faith, and of joy.  Emmanuel (God with us).

I don’t know about you, but there are times that I lay my head on the pillow at night.  I let my mind go into places that it should not, and before you know it, worry overcomes me and will not let me rest in the Father’s arms.  A part of me refuses to close my eyes, frightened at what tomorrow may bring.  Worry, fear, sorrow; they all are real and can grab any one of us in a moments notice.

Just when all seems lost a light pierces its way through the darkness.  The scripture verse found in Joshua compels me to rise up because today will be something like no one has seen before.  We will discover the riches of God.  That is a promise to hold on to; to look forward and find the Holy One.  And with the sign of a new day that yields God’s richest bounties, we give thanks for undiscovered joys.

And so, we move onward to catch a glimpse of You and all of the ways that we remember Your love towards us.  We stop, look, treasure, and bow our heads in worship.  God is love, and out of that holy source pours a fountain of promises and blessings that give us strength during the most difficult of circumstances.  For the hope we find in our tomorrows begins with the joy of today.

God Knows Our Hearts

Once you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you and you have taken possession of it and settled down in it, you might say: ‘Let’s appoint a king over us, as all our neighboring nations have done.’ You can indeed appoint over you a king that the Lord your God selects. You can appoint over you a king who is one of your fellow Israelites. You are not allowed to appoint over you a foreigner who is not one of your fellow Israelites” (Deut. 17:14-15 CEB).

Israel would not see a king for a long time.  The nation would know prophets, judges, even warriors who, under divine leadership, propelled the country into a lasting covenant with God.  There appeared to be no need for a king.  If the Hebrew people listened in the first place, their Creator was the only monarch they needed to continue.  It appears that the covenant was not enough.  And so, even in this last book of the Torah, God knew that the day would come when the chosen people would look around at the other nations and say, “This is not enough.  We need a king.  Everyone else has one, why shouldn’t we?”

At this point, we could get on our moral high horses, point out the flaw in their need for someone to lead other than God, and act as judge and jury.  “What fools they must have been to not fully rely on God,” becomes our battle cry.  We scream condemnation to the top of our lungs as if we are any better than our ancient brothers and sisters.  The need to blend in (we want to look like “those” people) becomes our downfall as the envy in our hearts replaces our willingness to sit still and listen to the leadership of the Most High God.

The story of Israel is not too far off from our own struggles.  We want this gadget, that car, or that job opportunity that will change everything.  Our need to desire what we think will make us whole is so overpowering, that such toxic noise drowns out the commanding voice of God.  Our eyes and ears fix their attention on the possibilities of progress, and the still small voice of God is not heard anymore.

Hear the Good News, even though the voice could not be heard does not mean it left the building.  God’s presence remained the same refusing to let go of our hearts; even in our worst possible moments.  We were the ones who turned away, not our Creator.  This One, who remained steady and faithful refused to let us go.  Holy Love did not enter a covenant with us, only to give up.  It continues to call us, reminding us that we are children rich in love and faith.

May we let go of the “kings” in our lives that hold on to us with one sole purpose; to destroy our faith.  Let us match God’s love with all that we are and all that we will be.  We can remember the one statement of our faith, “Christ died for us while we were yet sinners.  That proves God’s love toward us.  In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven” (UMC Hymnal pg. 12).  With the confidence of the children of God, we say “Amen.”

Go North!

“Finally ADONAI said to me, ‘You have been going around this mountain long enough!  Head north, and give this order to the people.'” (Deut. 2:2 CJB).

We circle the same problems, the same bad relationships, even the same places in a continuous circle to nowhere.  Addiction and other behaviors trap us on a never-ending wheel that seems to speed up the more we resist.  Only God’s intervention can help us break the cycles that lead us to spiritual death.  The only way to move on is to head in another direction.

We know what it is like to hold on to people, places, and things that weigh us down.  No matter how hard we try to swim away, the anchor of pain and regret refuses to let us go.  We look up to God and cry out, “Help me Lord, for I am drowning!”  Left to our own devices, life’s challenges appear too overwhelming.  And so, we continue to circle a mountain of despair.

“Enough!” cries God, “You have circled this craziness long enough!  Free yourself and follow me.”  And hearing the promise of the Divine Presence, we find the courage to forge a new path; a new way of being in the world.  We learned all the lessons possible on this journey, and so we step out in faith to rediscover dreams that once seemed impossible to achieve.  With each step, we become aware that with God, all things are indeed possible.

Today I will try to break free of the troubles that keep me from rising to my highest potential and embrace sacred arms which point me in the right direction.  Each day I am given a chance to reclaim my relationship with God and move away from the circles and spirals of despair.  Holy light illumines my path, and the grace of the One Most High guides me in the right direction.  He, the Almighty leads, and I follow. And so equipped with the love of God, I head North.

Commissioning Our Leaders

Thursday’s reading contained some more laws, but nestled in the pages of Chapter 27 lies the first transition of power, the new leader of the Hebrew people (Num. 27:18-21). In the text, God directs Moses to appoint Joshua as the new person in charge after Moses dies. The priest, Elazar the son of Aaron, the brother of Moses, formally acknowledges Joshua’s leadership, and thus begins the transition of power. A new era in the history of the people of Adonai starts with a blessing.

I remember my ordination as if it was yesterday. All three District Superintendents Donna Tebrink, the conference lay leader, lay hands on me as Bishop Bledsoe spoke the words of holy orders challenging me to “Go and Make Disciples.” The moment proved surreal and sacred, set apart as something to remember. All of the years of hard work, traveling back and forth to Denver every week for three years and continued wondering if I had what it took to lead the children of God to a new land.

We all know what it is like to hear that still small voice and respond, “Here I am. Send me” (Isa. 6:8 ESV). God’s voice is alive, and many times the problems of the world drown out the sound of the divine. Our job is to be still for a brief moment so that we can hear our Savior calling to us, wooing us into a holy relationship. We are called to return to right relationship, to redeem our hearts and minds from the most painful of places.

Commissioning comes in all shapes and sizes, and the road to the laying on of hands is not an easy task. The path is full of twists and turns, but if we stay faithful, we see the celebration of our God’s amazing handiwork. The calling, placed on our lives by God, breathes fresh air into a world that needs to experience hope and joy. We serve our community and our God and live into the reality that with God all things are possible.

Today I encourage you to share your call story. As you share, monitor how you feel as you tell someone how God pulled you up and led you through the murkiest of waters. If anyone would like to share their personal journeys, please feel free to stop by the church and take a moment to tell me what God did, and continues to do, in your life. Such stories are legendary and full of sacred nuggets of God’s blessings.

God Gave Me a Sign!

When Caeleb came into the world, there were some concerns regarding breathing due to a few complications during pregnancy.  Cazandra developed gestational diabetes, and further medical issues increased the chances of health risks for the baby.  To protect both mom and child, her obstetrician suggested hospitalization.  Both Caz and I were a little frightened, but we trusted our medical team.  The dedicated staff of doctors and nurses kept my wife’s best interest in mind.

One night, while I visited the hospital, Cazandra’s water broke and just like that, she faced surgery.  We knew that “MacDonald the Younger” would be delivered by C-section.  While we waited for final instructions, a nurse came into the room and told us that Caeleb had a very strong chance of needing assistance breathing when he made his entrance.  The doctor would most likely deliver the baby and take him out of the room to help him breathe.

I felt a surge of nervousness run through me.  What did the nurse mean?  Problems with breathing?  As my fear began to seep into my bones, I glanced over at an open Bible that my wife placed on her tray table.  Doing a quick scan of the open page, my eye caught a verse that made me freeze in place.  “But I’ll bring my servant Caleb into the land that he explored, and his descendants will possess it because he has a different spirit, and he has remained true to me” (Num. 14:24 CEB).  The room seemed to fill with the presence of God, as I knew that he would be fine.  When the medical assistants took me to see him, they told me that he did not require one breathing treatment.  Somehow, I knew before this process all started that God left me the gift of His word so that I would remember perfect assurance.

I had no clue that our medical future would take us down many roads.  Sometimes we could not see one foot in front of us.  In moments of weakness, I think of the beautiful text from the Book of Numbers, and realize that our amazing God gives us what we need, when we need it.  I sought reassurance, and He led me to faith.

My prayers for this week include remembering, and giving thanks, that God blesses me with a light that transcends all of our difficulties.  Faith replaces doubt, and hope casts out fear.  So, in the middle of all the laws and instructions regarding the building of the tabernacle, there are hidden nuggets to remind us of God’s providence.  And all that the Holy One requires is trust in divine leadership, piercing the darkest of places.

God Leads, They Follow!

The Torah is not for sissies.  The reading proves difficult, and the names get more difficult to pronounce with each passing chapter.  Sometimes I feel like saying, “Help me Obi-Wan Knobie.  You are my only hope.”  Leviticus brought law after law, while the Book of Numbers chronicles in great detail the building of the tabernacle.  I think a carpenter would find it difficult to keep up with God’s instructions.

The text invites us to look past the ordinary part of our reading and into the message God reveals to us through the care that He displays for His children.  Look at the tiny intricacy that our Creator demonstrates when fashioning the place that they came together to have time with Him.  Each piece was woven into the next part, fashioned together with every detail displaying another layer of love that our Father shared with the ancient people of Israel.

God takes the same care in our creation.  Our bodies, temples imagined and formed in the imageo Dei (image of God), display the care put into our own creation.  The psalmist says it best, “I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”  Everything about us longs to connect with the hands that molded us together and ignited the spark of sacredness into our DNA.  We can run away all we want, but we can never escape the real reason we were put on this planet; to love and to serve our God.  Until we embrace our destiny, we will never know what it is like to be whole.

And so, we pick up our tents out of the deserts of our lives and follow the one who led us out of bondage.  We remember the love that held on to us and reminded us that we were in foreign lands until our God delivered us to our right places.  The journey is full of surprises, but nothing can compare to finding our way home.

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.