Building a Second Temple

The exile is over, and the people of God return home.  Unsure of their next step, they survey the damage left when they were forced out of their homes.  Their beautiful temple lay in ruins.  Rebuilding must begin in every facet of their lives.  Many people returning had no idea what the mighty city of Jerusalem looked like in its heyday.  For now, they feel the beautiful dirt of the earth beneath their feet and thank the Creator that they are no longer in a strange land.

Most of us know what it is like to return from catastrophic events in our lives.  Whether it is health, relationship, or spiritual issues, the consequences are devastating.  We look around and view the damages, knowing that we must pick ourselves up and move forward.  Our amazing God gives us new hope and a will to bloom where we are planted.

For now, standing in our own land, the sun shines brighter, the trees are greener, and the birds sing sweeter.  We reclaim our part of the earth where we are connected to God.  There exists a new found freedom to discover our heart’s desire.  Passion reignites within our souls.  We are made knew with promises yet to be fulfilled.  Hope once again moves us onward.

On this day, I am grateful for the journey to this place.  The one my feet stand in at this very moment.  The trip never promised to be easy, but relying on the One, who supplied the light and strength, it was manageable.  We come back to the promised land, a new people, filled with hope.  Praise be to God, I learned the lessons needed to land me at this moment.

The Good, the Bad, and the Foolish

The Book of 2nd Chronicles is like a roller coaster that soars way up into the sky and descends to great depths.  One king pleases God, while another blasphemes everything sacred to the Jewish culture of ancient Judah.  The only thing that remained consistent was God’s deliverance in times of confession and restoration for those who remained faithful, and the pouring of holy wrath on those who failed to keep His commandments.  Kings set the religious trajectory of the nation, and people followed.

As a pastor, I am well aware of the responsibilities to remaining true to the faith.  My leadership guides the congregation that I serve.  Clergy sets the example for others to follow regarding authentic worship, communal celebrations, and holy living.  Such responsibilities must be approached with awe and a daily commitment to devote each day to the Most-High God.

But, there are days when I stray from the path and fail to observe all the tenets of my faith.  I am not perfect and make choices that do not reflect my decision to turn my life over to the care of God.  Sometimes I get weary and make bad choices.  My leadership suffers, and I find myself trapped in a world of hurt and sorrow.  The Deuteronomic theme overwhelms me and, just like the kings in the books of Chronicles, I am on a roller coaster of hope and regret, joy and confusion, promise and destruction.

Hear the good news!  I can always ask forgiveness and be restored.  Holy love gives us yet another chance to rediscover our amazing God, the Giver of Grace.  Praise be to God for the gift of renewal, for the Divine grants us one more opportunity to be made whole.  We ask forgiveness and seek to make our pathway straight in a crooked desert.

 

 

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

2nd Chronicles traces the lineage of the kings (predominantly in Judah).  We learn about the leaders who listened to God’s directions and those who charted the course that led to destruction.  Time after time, there rose out of the chaos a prophet, speaking truth into the lives of the Hebrew people, but their cries for redemption fall on deaf ears.  Eventually, the situation grew worse and worse, until the Assyrians conquered the north and the Babylonians apprehended the south.

I have many questions concerning the exile.  Did all of the Hebrew people break the covenant?  If not, why were the faithful punished for the abuses of the sinful?  Could not God establish a new covenant with those who love Him?  Where is God in the middle of the exile? “How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Ps. 137:4 NRSV).

While I do not have a solid answer to my questions, I do know what it feels like to be in spiritual exile.  Through some random course of events, something happens that upsets my whole way of living, and I am forced to move from the things that define me.  I am so blown off my feet that I do not even know how to call on God.  How can I sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?

When the dust settles, and the wreckage of my experiences seems to calm down, the only thing left is the path that leads back to my Creator.  I stand up and put one foot in front of the other unsure where the road will take me.  All I know is that I can’t remain lifeless and afraid.  My faith restores my confidence as with each step I grow stronger.

For those who seek hope, who feel like they are in exile, come home.  God will give you rest and restore you back to health.  This renewal of spirit is the foundation of our faith.  We know that we can be redeemed, for we are the children of the Most-High God.

Blessings Beyond Our Wildest Dreams

2 Chronicles begins with King Solomon and his prayer to God. He sought wisdom, so that he could govern the people well. In response, the Almighty answers Solomon’s prayer and blesses him with riches never before seen, nor will ever see on earth. God praises him for his faithfulness and acknowledges his attention to following the Torah.

Many times I hear people pray for things, like money, a car, a house, etc. Is this how God calls us to live? God is not our fairy godmother, but our Redeemer. He says, “I will ask you anything you wish for if you ask it in my name.” Many people assume that means we can ask for whatever we want, and because of our obedience God will sweep his magic wand over us and give us our heart’s desire. I say phooey to that theological nonsense. The God that I worship wants to restore me to loving Him and our neighbors.

So, if we don’t get a new car, then what do we get? God’s desire is to free us from the bonds of sin and death. What better gift than to know inward peace? Our problem is that we can’t make it past the surface level stuff to trust the Divine with our hearts. A new toy is nice, but a peaceful spirit out weighs any little gift.

God’s grace is the gift that keeps on giving. What more do we need? Our lives fit beautifully into the palm of our Savior, and in His presence we find rest. Our conflicted, tortured souls lay beside the cool, life giving water.

My hope is that my prayer be like Solomons; wishing for wisdom so that I may serve the people of the Holy One. May I be a servant at heart. God will give me my heart’s desire, inner peace. All of the rest will be taken care of.

Why We Do What We Do

Continuing in 1 Chronicles, the message of intentionality moves from worship to the entire structure of the community.  Each person serves a function in society.  The Levites functioned as temple workers among the protectors of the gate.  In many ways, they are the first people that welcome others into the city of Jerusalem.  Their songs and words are meant to tell people that they are entering a place that observes the sovereignty of Adonai, the Almighty God.

While we imagine this type of behavior as strange, we must remember that the Hebrew people never differentiated between the sacred and the secular.  Everything is given to them by God, so it is impossible to compartmentalize the presence of the Holy One of Israel.  The Spirit is everywhere and in all things.  The idea that we separate religious life from business life would sound strange to them.

Living in today’s world, it is next to impossible to maintain a connection to the secular and the sacred.  In our society, we celebrate God in so many ways that we could not agree on the proper way to express the Divine.  Our communities are constructed in ways that prevent any one form of expression to take over.  Who would serve as our singers at our gates?

Maybe the importance of this text appears in very inner parts of our souls.  Do you live as if you are two different people?  To ask it another way, are you one way at church only to respond to the world in a completely different fashion?  You say, “Jesus loves you,” in one breath while in another respond to your neighbor, “You are no good and not worth a pound of squash!”  Worship consistently gives way to animosity and resentment.  The sacred disappears.

Hear the good news, God doesn’t want our lives to be cut in two.  Holy hands reach out during worship and in our daily lives.  The transformative power of the risen Christ calls us to live in the world as new creatures.  We carry the message of hope in our daily lives.  I choose to react differently than what I did before, in every circumstance.

To be a disciple, I must lay down my life and follow God.  Failure to respond with joy and kindness leads me down a path that prevents me from showing the world the light of Christ.  How can people move from doubt to faith when we set poor examples of what it means to take up my cross and follow?  Our actions should reflect the inward grace given to us by our amazing Creator.

I hope that we can stand together and celebrate the gifts given to us by God, and in so doing we may find it impossible to separate the secular from the sacred.  Christ is with us twenty-four/seven.  We can not put him on a shelf and go our own and do our personal bidding.  We turn our lives over to the care of God, and all of the rest will be taken care of.

God Comes to Us

The reading today (1 Chron. 14-16) celebrates the ark of the covenant as it is finally placed in Jerusalem.  King David leads the charge to move the symbol of Divine presence into the Holy City.  The celebration is well planned, with the Levites serving as worship directors and musicians to herald God’s coming.  The ark rests in the holy of holies, safe and secure.  All the people rejoiced and gave thanks to God.

The structure of the services proved intentional and full of purpose, to celebrate the deliverance of the Almighty for His specially called people on earth.  Not one action described proved unnecessary and not part of the more extensive expression of thanks to our God. Every act of worship complimented the other.  Each job, each phrase, each note raised praises to heaven.

Liturgy helps us to keep focus and direct everything to the Creator.  Let us bring all of who we are, with one thought in mind, to praise God.  Leave out the stuff that may bog us down and stand in awe of the One, who saved us from a miserable future.  For this moment, our hearts are filled with joy, and the expressions of gratitude ring through the heavens, finding a way to be heard in the darkness of our souls.  May we take up the task of serving the Redeemer each and every day, getting rid of the things that stand in our way of complete and total worship.

Praise be to our God, who restores us.  May we continue on as God’s children, fully embracing the joy found in our relationship, our worship.  May our newfound strength miraculously turn our gaze to the Giver of All Gifts.  And in the middle of holy mystery, we will forever raise up hymns of joy and be changed.

What is in a Name?

The readings from 1 Chronicles could not get any drier if they tried.  This person’s lineage and that person’s lineage interrupt the narrative completely to account for every person associated with Noah, to Abraham, to David, to the fall of Judah.  Why is this lineage account necessary?  Every name mentioned does not appear anywhere else in the Bible.  Who cares if so and so begat so and so.

As I stewed in my quest to find the reason for naming all the different ancestral trees, it hit me.  Yesterday, as I entered the room for my oral defense, the professor who served as my faculty reader announced my full name for the very first time.  Her words affirmed the hard work that went into achieving a life long dream.  She said, “I now welcome you back into the room Reverend Doctor Joe K. MacDonald.”  Carolyn’s words poured over me like rain.  She confirmed a long-awaited goal that required perseverance and determination.

My name is so much more than letters thrown together.  It is a statement of identity and a struggle against impossible situations.  A boy from the projects can overcome statistics and insurmountable odds to alter the course of his family and project much farther into the world then anyone might expect.  We are fearfully and wonderfully made.  With God’s help, we can accomplish anything.  My name is a statement to God’s direction and power.

“What is in a name?”  Hope, plans for a future, joy, anger, forgiveness; these are all a part of the names that we inherit.  Our goal is to serve to lift the glory of God; who we think we are and all.  Let our legacy reinforce the knowledge that we follow the resurrected Christ.  Let us live like believers and not like skeptics.  Praise be to God, who gives us the victory in Christ our Lord.

The Destruction of the Northern Kingdom

Today’s reading proved sad, as the focus of the text (2 Kings 16-18) saw the continued resistance of God’s sovereignty in the Northern Kingdom known as Israel.  Ultimately, we saw the defeat and ultimate exile of the Hebrew people by the Assyrian army.  They resisted the sovereignty of Divine leadership and paid the final price of rebellion.  God could no longer endure another breaking of His covenant with a nation that He promised so much, in exchange for devotion.  “I will lead you.  Trust in me.”  At first, they followed, and all was well. But one by one each king dishonored God by breaking the vow made at the beginning of the journey.

I picture images of a nation which held high prominence in the world, reduced to ashes and rubble.  I imagine sadness as the chosen people of the Most-High God, are now prisoners left without protection.  I can see the darkness come over them as they marched into the area of Assyrian control, only to start a new life, in a new place, with gods that were opposed to what the knew as of right.  Their society was no more.

As we start Holy Week next week, I can’t help but think that the sick feeling the Hebrews had must have been eerily similar in the hearts and souls of the followers of Jesus.  Their Messiah was murdered leaving their faith in shatters.  How could they sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?  There would never be a return to the normal that they used to know.  And so, for three days the disciples walked in darkness.  The Romans destroyed the leader of their society.  Maybe they would go back to their way of life, but nothing would ever be the same.

We know the ends of both of the stories.  In the Hebraic text, the Assyrian king releases the Hebrew people with many returning to the land.  God steps in to call them back into covenant.  The way back was painful, but a new reserve to follow the laws of the Holy One of Israel rebuilt the faith.  Life never was the same, and perhaps a new normal gave way to another approach to being in the world.

There are times that we feel lost in our struggles.  God’s presence seems like a distant memory.  Praise be to God, our story does not end there, but after the discovery of the resurrected Christ.  The man who worked miracles in human souls continues to lead us out of captivity and bondage to restore us to our holy land — a community which guards us and guides us.  Without a doubt, we can stand up and say, “Hallelujah!  We are a blessed people because the Lord, Our God, goes before us and strengthens us.  Amen.”

Elisha and the Miraculous

Elisha the prophet was a very busy man.  God’s miraculous powers shown through him and we catch a glimpse of healings that rival any of the accounts in the New Testament.  A woman prayed for a child and received a son.  The son died, and the mother returned to Elisha and through her grief poured her heart out to the prophet.  He heard the woman’s cry and with the power of God, raised her son from the dead.

And let us not forget poor Naaman.  He possessed everything he ever wanted.  He led and commanded the king’s army garnering prestige and a place high in the ranks of the most trusted of leaders of his day.  With all of this success, Naaman contracted leprosy, the very disease that could throw him out of favor with everyone.  Once announced unclean, he would be forced into exile and made to live in a colony with those who suffered from the same disease.  All signs of privilege would fade away.

In desperation, he sends a message to Elisha asking for help.  The prophet answers his prayers and tells him how to get rid of the disease.  Naaman refuses at first, feeling like Elisha was two french-fries shy of his Happy Meal.  Why not bathe in fresh water, unlike the Jordan River?  Upon further reflection, his anger subsides, and he washes in the Jordan River seven times.  God delivers, and Naaman, the brave warrior who just a few minutes ago lost all hope, now was set free.  We witness another miracle offered to humanity through the Divine.

Naaman’s story calls to me because I am afraid that my choices sometimes reflect the struggle that the brave commander faced.  He heard how to be healed, but had trouble following the way of Holy Guidance.  Wash in the Jordan seven times, that’s it.  Then if it is so easy, why do we resist?  Why, when confronted with difficulty do we refuse God’s help?

Perhaps the noise in our heads stands in the way of God’s voice.  Maybe Naaman needed to block out the chaos in his mind, and surrender to the leadership of God.  We can all learn from this example.  Give up the struggle, let go of the chaos, and follow the One, who delivers you.

May you be filled with grace as you listen for directions.  Wait for the still small voice of God to guide us on our journey.  Hear it, embrace it, and follow it.  We will be surprised at what the Holy-One of Israel can do through us.  Praise be to God for another day of life!

Elijah and True Faith

Elijah’s world did not sound much different than ours.  Leadership suffered under foolish choices and turned away from the God of the people.  The nation suffered under civil and political unrest due to “unholy” alliances with foreign powers.  Israel was no longer a people of the Most-High God as many took cues from the ruling parties and turned their backs on the God who saved them.

Enter Elijah, a man of strong faith and a strong commitment to his Lord.  This man, in spite of those around him, continued to follow the teachings of God.  He was the prophetic voice who stepped into the middle of the fray and spoke truth into a society that did not relish honesty.  You might say that they followed what came to be known as the first “fake news.”  Fact morphed into fiction, and the Word of God was the farthest thing from one’s moral compass.  They failed to be an obedient church.

Our example of Elijah’s faithfulness was the one small flicker of light in a world of darkness, but nobody stopped to look at the beauty of the fire.  We know the reality of serving other gods when we let go of what we know is right and surrender to whatever feels good.  Pretty soon, new things lose their sparkle, but the light (very small but steady and sure) still glows.  There is a way back to the One who loves us, just as we are.

Unfortunately, we know what happened to both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms.  The choices they made eventually led to a very hostile takeover of the Assyrians and the Babylonians.  The price for constant rebellion came at a very high cost.  Their defiance led them down a path that led to destruction.

Eventually, the Hebrew people returned to the land and rebuilt their towns.  A recommitment to the covenant with the Holy One helped reestablish the tradition of the followers of the God of second chances.   Praise be to the One, who never gives up on His people.  God remains with us in every situation and continues to encourage us as we walk along the path leading to life.

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.