Our gifts to the world and our gifts to God

“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 25:21 NRSV).

The religious scholars knew that they had Jesus right where they wanted him.  They asked, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” (Matt 22:17 NRSV).  The answer appears to be a very easy answer to the question which the Pharisees asked.  It actually was not easy, it was brilliant.  Brilliant in the sense that Jesus responded in a way that revolutionized thought in the ancient day.  To answer either yes or no would create a sociological and political response that would have shifted the focus from Jesus the Savior of the World, to Jesus the Political Insurrectionist.  The answer to the carefully crafted question left everyone stunned and speechless.

According to those who govern our society, we are to give our taxes for the betterment of our society while according to Jesus we are to give God our hearts.  Now, I know there is just as much unrest in the political arena of today as there was in the time of Jesus.  The issues regarding these unsure and very frightening times are incredibly real and at times overwhelming.

What I am led to in Jesus’ answer is the part where I am to give God “the things that are God’s.”  That is easier said than done; for many times I cannot release the worries and concerns I have regarding the things belonging to the emperor.  We tend to focus primarily on worries like “How am I going to make it to the next pay check?” or “How am I going to find a job?” or “I was going to retire in the next few years, but I no longer have the financial resources.”

In other words, we worry so much about what we are to give to the emperor that we forget about our gifts to God.  Hear the good news (gospel).  We are the gift.  Our hearts are the most important offerings that we make.  Who else brings a living witness to others about the miraculous works of God?  We are the messengers of God’s gift of salvation.  It is our duty to share the Word; it is our gift to each other.

Jesus reminds us to give our leaders and world what we are required to give, but do not let that be our only focus.  Give God what God requires.  The Divine in return blesses the gift and the giver.  We are to pray without stopping, love each other with our whole beings and we are to praise God for all of the wonderful blessings that have come to us.

The Prayer of Peace

Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation.  God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, and makes me tread upon the heights.

  To the leader: with stringed instruments” (Hab. 3:17-19).
There are times in life where everything appears to be going wrong.  It seems that each way we turn we discover yet another obstacle.  Feelings of being overwhelmed and submerged in a sea of discontent overtake us and threaten our joy.  We feel hopeless.

The prophet Habakkuk identifies what it was like to live in a world where joy did not appear to be present.  Habakkuk’s world was about to experience a social and cultural revolution that would rock its very foundation.  There was political unrest as the Southern Kingdom was about to be conquered by the Babylonians.  Habakkuk prophesized this dangerous message of change, but yet there was still civil disobedience to the teachings of God.  It was as if the Covenant was snapped and broken.

We know what life is like in a sea of unrest.  Sometimes chaos reigns supreme and we look for anyway we can to find shelter as the storm rages all around us.  Our faith is tested.  We question the God of our understanding.  “Why all of this at once?  Why me?  Why won’t my life just calm down for at least a few days?”

Habakkuk makes the claim that, although everything around him is destroyed and he has no support, he will continue to praise God.  The prophet reminds us to hold on to your faith in the middle of a storm.  The good news is that storms pass.  Chaos gives way to peace.  The most important thing is that the God who provides strength in the time of joy will also provide support in the struggles of life.

We are to remain consistent in our devotion to God.  Whatever happens, our faith is to be unwavering.  Our devotion is to continue through the most hurtful times of our pain.  Even when we can’t see God’s work being manifested in the world around us that does not mean that faith is dead.  On the contrary, God’s handiwork is still amazingly alive and vital. 

Let us claim the truth of our faith of which the writer of Hebrews spoke.  “God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’” (Heb. 13:5).  God’s faithfulness is steadfast and sure.  Why should our faith in God be any different?  Let us remain faithful and hopeful as we continue on our journey towards perfection.

Let us love one another

As we approach the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I am reminded of a story from my own life that changed me profoundly.  Long before the terrorist attacks I befriended a family.  They were, and still are, kind and understanding.  I enjoyed their company.  My thought is that most people would find joy in knowing my friends.  I can honestly say that my life is better because they were a part of my life.
One horrible day, my friends lost their three year old child in a very bizarre accident.  I have never seen a community grieve like they did for my friends.  On the day of the funeral, I was invited to pray over the body of their small son.  The men in the group began to shovel dirt into the hole which became a final resting place for the body of this wonderful little boy.  My friend assured me that the soul of their little one continues on and eagerly looks forward to a reunion in heaven.
As I spoke with my friends after the funeral, I asked the question, “How are you able to cope with this loss?”  They explained to me stories of their faith and how that faith sustains them through extremely difficult times such as these.  I stood back and felt the presence of God fill me as I gave praise to my Creator.  I wanted the kind of faith of which my friends spoke.  They had an incredible anchor in the time of storm.
My friends were, and still are, members of another faith tradition.  That day there was no talk of who was right and who was wrong.  There was simply the presence of the awesome Creator of us all.  My limited scope of my Christian faith grew that day, for I realized that our God is bigger than anything we can ever imagine.  Something within me felt enlightened in ways I had never before experienced.  I understood that day that I am not meant to judge another person.  I am simply called to love them.  In the middle of love and understanding God dwells within us.  The most important thing is not that we prove to each other who is right or who is wrong.  The main thing is that we love each other as Christ loved us.  Language will take care of itself.  It is the gift of love that will speak to our hearts more clearly and certainly more profoundly.
I use this story of my friends, because up until the point that I revealed to you their religious system, the story could have sounded like any one of our Christian stories.  I am not saying that we are to water down the Christian message of hope and surrender our fundamental beliefs.  I suggest quite the opposite.  We humble ourselves to accept that the Holy Spirit may manifest its Divine presence in any way God chooses to reveal God’s self.  The truth is I had to practice the gift of love to experience the joy of friendship or to grieve with my fellow brothers and sisters in the sorrow of loss.  God was present in my life when I surrendered my lack of compassion and simply loved as Christ loves me.  God’s love was with me, through me, and revealed in spite of me.
I am a Christian with a powerful awareness that I am not called to verbally chastise the world in absolute judgment, but I am here to transform the world with actions of love.  This love inspires me to continue in service to humanity.  As we come to the time of remembering those who lost lives or those who lost loved ones due to acts of terrorism, let us remember that we must move beyond our desire for revenge.  Our weapon and strength is the most powerful one we can muster.  It is the love and radical presence of our Almighty God.  As the Apostle Paul said, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (I Cor. 13:4-7).  Let us continue in our journey towards perfection.

Let Us Continue the Work!

While we were in Florida we stayed at a place designed for those who are awarded a Make a Wish trip.  The name of the place is called Give Kids the World.  It is an incredible place designed to meet the needs of all those who come to seek a little peace, rest, and relaxation.  The Village (as it is affectionately called) is a resort complete with individual villas for each visiting family.  There are opportunities to eat, swim, eat, horseback ride, eat, ride a train, eat, putt-putt golf, and eat some more.  (Did I mention eating?)  My favorite place was the ice cream shop.  While I was in Florida I had a sugar free vanilla shake every day.  The ice cream shop was sacred ground.
There are approximately 1,500 volunteer positions that are filled each and every week of the year.  That may sound like a staggering amount of people to manage, but we were told that there is never a shortage of people who offer their time and talents to The Village.  Everyone involved does an incredible job to create a special time for the many Make a Wish families who stay in one of the villas.
These people, or angels, volunteer to ensure that all have a good time.  The ones who sacrifice so much of themselves are incredible examples of the workings of God.  No matter what the weather, the mood, or any events, the work of God continues.  Love never stops.  It endures and continues onwards and upwards. 
We can be as effective in our world as the volunteers at The Village are effective in Florida.  The work of God must continue in our own situations.  We must act regardless of the circumstances.  Whether we are ill, busy, or exhausted, love must shine through us.  That is the only way that our world can see the incredible gifts which God offers to humanity.  With love we can move mountains.
I took more from The Village than I ever gave back.  I learned the importance of continuing the good works that are in me.  These are the things that last.  Continuing the works of God forms the basis of my faith.  My faith in the everliving God restores my soul as rivers of living water flow out of my innermost being.  What I do for humanity displays my oneness with the Creator.
Let us continue to make a difference in our world.  We are called to be a people of the light.  We are to live in the presence of God.  Where there is no light, we are called to bring the presence of hope.  In hope there is God.  In God there is only light.  Let us be the vehicle by which the love of God shines into our world.

We Are Going to Disneyworld!

This week I am reminded of my mission and calling.  I am meant to be a servant to the world.  I am called to share the Good News to a world in desperate need of God.  That is my calling in a nutshell.  What happens when the tables are turned and those who are called to serve become those who are served?
My youngest was chosen by the Make a Wish Foundation to receive a trip to Disneyworld.  We were amazed at the kindness so wondrously shown to us.  We did not earn it, nor did we seek it out.  It just happened.
As we are preparing for the trip, several questions come to mind.  Are we really qualified to take a trip such as this?  Who are we to accept such extravagant generosity?  Aren’t we supposed to offer the gift and not be the receivers of a gift?
When my wife was pregnant with my youngest son, the end of her pregnancy was very difficult.  She was in the hospital for complete bed rest for the last few weeks of her pregnancy.  While my wife was in the hospital a lady called me from the church that I was serving and simply asked me “How many meals would I need prepared per week?”  I explained to her that I knew how to cook and that we would be fine.  Her response caught me completely off-guard.  She said, “So Joe.  When I am standing before God, and the Almighty asks me if I ministered to people, my response will be no, because Joe would not let me?”  I accused her of not playing fair and made arrangements for the ministry to serve my family.  She was a tough cookie!
Most of our ministry is about serving, but we sometimes forget that it is also about relationships.  There are times in any relationship that we must give richly and deeply from our hearts.  There are also times that we must receive the gift.  My family knows that our Disney gift is God breathed and God led.  There is no other way around it.  Do I then reject the gift that God gives through the ministries of my fellow brothers and sisters in the faith?  I think not.
Today, we prepare to leave.  As we embark on our great adventure, we will always give thanks for what God allows us to share with each other.  Whatever role we are in, caretaker or caregiver, we will lift up the name of Christ.  It is through God that we truly experience life.  In the end it is not about the gift, but about sharing the Spirit.

The Storm, God and Me

To say that there have been storms in my life over the past few weeks is a drastic understatement to say the very least.  My youngest son has been hospitalized for a week now.  He went through surgery last Friday and is now officially on his fourth port-o-cath.  This is the third summer in a row that my son has been hospitalized due to complications from his bleeding disorder within a bleeding disorder.  In addition to hemophilia he has an inhibitor.  Simply put, the medicine that he really needs to take is not effective in treating bleeding episodes.  The storm of hemophilia in the life of my family is not simply a few thunder clouds with a nice refreshing rain.  It is an all out hurricane that seems to creep into our lives and rage at the craziest moments.

Yes, there are winds and rains all around us.  They are not pretty and often cause an incredibly large host of problems.  We all have them.  We all know what it is like to feel like we are in an unfriendly ocean with fierce and often times catastrophic elements that continue to bombard us.  The only thing we can do is find relief that we are in the boat and not thrown into the unsettling waters of life.

The text from Matthew 14:22-33 reminds me of several things.  First, Jesus modeled a connection to God way before he encountered unsettling storms.  “And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up to the mountain by himself to pray” (Matt. 14:23 NRSV).  I must be confident in my relationship with my creator before I ever need to draw on that special source of power.  Communion with God is crucial in building trust and faith.  How can I turn to a faith that I never nurture at a time when I really need a mature and developed awareness of God’s presence?  Without developing oneness with God, I am left without the capacity to weather the storm.  I am like Peter who steps out of the boat only to falter.

After Jesus saves Peter from drowning, both men get into the boat with the other disciples.  After everyone is in the boat, Jesus apparently creates another miracle.  He calms the storm.  This is where I struggle in this pericope.  The truth is that while Jesus calmed this storm, it appears that he does not calm every storm.  Matter of fact I get a little angry and begin to wonder why the storm of the bleeding disorders are not made easier.  I have faith in Christ.  I believe that Jesus is indeed the Son of God.  Why then is my family not getting a respite from the storm? 

While the final portion of the text indicates that the calm brought about a sense of wonder to the disciples, I do not think that the main issue at stake in this story is the fact that Jesus calmed the storm.  I think it is more important that Jesus assured Peter (and us) that the power of God is still present in the middle of chaos.  The presence of tragedy and horrible acts does not mean that God is not present.  In fact, God is present in the middle of the storm in ways that we cannot imagine.  When Jesus first appears to the disciples they did not recognize him.  In fact, “when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out in fear” (Matt. 14:26 NRSV).  It took Jesus’ own words to soothe them along with the miracle of the storm subsiding at just the right moment.

Many times, we do not have the luxury to recognize the miracle that occurs in the presence of God.  We only see the storm.  When the storm remains strong, we begin to question the presence of the Divine in our lives.  Notice that Jesus assures the disciples (Peter included) and tells them to not be afraid.  This exchange of words occurs in the middle of the storm and not on the other side.  Christ is present in the storm and encourages us to remain calm.  The reality of our faith is present in the times of catastrophe as well as in times of joy.

Let Us Cross the Bridge

This past week my family and I attended a symposium in San Francisco.  While the conference was jam packed with wonderful information, we did get a little free time to explore the city.  I was drawn to Fisherman’s Warf.  I could not believe that I was standing on a pier and actually looking at the Golden Gate Bridge in person.  That was definitely something I could cross off of my bucket list.  The other bridge in the harbor was the bridge that connected San Francisco to Oakland.  To keep things straight in my family, we called the bridge to Oakland the Silver Gate Bridge.

The final evening event was a dinner cruise around the harbor.  Unfortunately, we could not travel to the Golden Gate Bridge due to the thickness of the fog.  Instead, we did travel under the “Silver Gate Bridge.”  The temperature was very chilly on the boat.  It was wonderful to have a respite from the horrible heat in New Mexico. It felt, and looked like a wintry day.  This is July.  I was not supposed to be wearing a jacket.

As I stood on the ship and looked at the bridge, I began to wonder about how life would have been different for the people living in the area had there been no bridges to connect one land mass to another.  Life would have been drastically altered.  There would not be a simple jaunt from San Francisco to Oakland. 

Bridges do more than connect things. They provide a way to improve our lives. 
They offer a chance to have a different view, a different perspective.




Our world is expanded as we are able to cross into other places with different ideas and customs.

It all starts by making the pilgrimage to the other side.  We have to take the journey.

Christ is our bridge.  Our relationship to God is restored and reconnected because of the love which is shared through the one who saved us from only our limited view of life.  Our paradigm shifted dramatically.  We connected from our land of selfishness to the land of absolute selflessness.  It takes a bridge by which we can cross into the land of 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.

The Truth Will Set You Free Indeed!

I remember the first time I set foot on the University of Texas campus in Austin.  I was excited, and very nervous, about the next step in my journey.  On the main tower of the campus the words of John 8:32 were written.  “…and you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”  While I liked the words, I had no clue as to what the Bible verse meant.  It would take many years on my journey before the reality of what it means to know the truth seeped into my life.
Truth is a very precarious thing.  Many proclaim to know a generic truth which serves as a stumbling block to actually discovering our own perceptions of the truth.  I love and embrace the fact that Jesus did not say something like, “You shall know the truth and practice it in this way, and believe it in only this way, and…”  Jesus simply said, “Know the truth and let it liberate you.”
While there is one prime source to truth there are many hearts and minds that seek the ultimate realities of what it means to live in the presence of God.  It is like a house which is built out of brick.  While every block functions as part of the main structure of the building, each brick is distinct in its look and placement in the foundation of the house.
When Paul went on to discuss the various gifts that we all share, he likened us to various parts of the body.  Though we serve many functions, we are created with different ways of achieving one goal.  We are to praise our creator.  We are designed for that purpose. 
Our various gifts remind us that we are not all the same.  This truth in which we are to live is meant to be done with a sense of wild abandonment and not fear or conformity.  We are to serve completely and passionately.  Our reality should be aligned with God.  Out of this sense of unity with the Divine source we are to celebrate and be glad.  This truth sets us free.
I have come a long way since the University of Texas.  Along my journey, I have had many experiences that have opened my eyes to the truth within me.  My discovery of God is unique unto me and does not rely on anyone else.  God radically transformed my life and I serve with a sense of comfort that I am an original work of art.  We all are.  I must remember to allow the master artist to paint the truth of beauty and love within me and all of those around me.  I am not called to judge the work of the artist.  I am called to love the artist and the painting.  Know the truth and let it really set you free!

My Prayer for My Son

Today is a day for which I am very grateful.  My eldest son turned fifteen years old today.  Wow!  Where have the years gone?  It seems like yesterday that I fell off of my chair when Cazandra told me that she was ready to start a family.  I remember being completely blown away.

I really feel like my life completely changed with the birth of my big stinky boy.  Little did I know that my entire perception of who I was, and who I continue to be, would be so profoundly different.  No matter what others thought of me, I would be known as Dad. 

The implication of this switch in name is huge.  It reminded me that the love that God shares with me is the example of which I wanted to model in my own family.  Whether I liked it or not, my name would be linked with one who provides shelter and a respite from the world.  I would be looked upon to protect and defend another life.

When I became a dad, I knew the presence of God was with me.  My loving creator wrapped me in His arms and seemed to whisper into the hurt that had controlled my life that my time as an adult had come.  The Spirit spoke by saying, “You are capable of caring for the most important part of the kingdom.  You, Joe MacDonald are capable of mighty things.”

Dads are incredible beings.  We are meant to support, encourage, defend, teach, love, guide and….  While we attempt all of these tasks (sometimes at the same time) we question ourselves.  “Do we have what it takes to continue?  Will he be protected from some of the dark paths which I have walked?”

The answers to these questions are found in God.  In my times of weakness (and believe me there are many) God offers Divine assurance to that still small voice in the pit of my stomach, or in a loud booming voice that brings me to my knees.  I am encouraged to continue my journey and simply love with everything I have within myself.  My role as a father guides me and reminds me to search for the Father.

It is my prayer that my son knows that he is loved more than he could ever dream.  I pray that he knows that he is a wonderful man-child with incredible potential.  I hope that he will passionately follow his life’s journey and develop his God given talents.  It is my desire that, when all is said and done, my son will reflect back on his life and be content with the fact that he achieved his purpose on this planet.  I wish….
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.