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….

The View Is Amazing!

“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?  Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor” (Psalm 8: 3-5 NRSV).
How wonderful and liberating it is to gaze into the stars on a clear night.  In New Mexico, the view is exceptionally breath taking.  There is a wonder to the incredible sunsets and evening skies that are often difficult to describe.  My family and I have taken many photos of the views that surround us, but the pictures can never capture the true essence of how incredible the area is in which we live. 
The writer of Psalm 8 shares the same vantage point.  He is staring into the vastness of the sky and marvels over the works of God in creation.  It appears as if the author shares in a love of nature that surrounds him.  As he stands in amazement, there are several questions that spring up from such wonder.  How can a God who creates such splendor be remotely concerned with humanity?  Better yet, how could God care about a little speck on this planet known as me?
The answer to the question above is what brings me to a humble recognition that the God who designed the world cared for me enough to send His Son to be the atonement for my sins.  I, who can claim the seat for which I was created, can celebrate this wonder with the power of love which is just as bold and magnificent.  I, who looks up at the stars and am captivated by its beauty, know that the creator of this amazing greatness loves me more than my incredible view.  I have the opportunity to be reminded of this great love every time I look up at the stars.  I join with the psalmist in saying “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth” (Psalm 8:9 NRSV).

The Mighty Voice of God

“And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.”  (Acts 2:2  NRSV).

I know that several of my last postings have been about being quiet and listening for the still small voice of God.  Sometimes, when we are still, the voice is not so small.  In fact, the voice can be overwhelming and incredibly loud.  We are lead to journeys of which we could never imagine.  Our entire being is caught up within the presence of the Almighty.  We must act boldly.

I think that one of the most incredible times in my life, in which God spoke loudly, was when my family and I moved from Texas to New Mexico.  We moved from Houston to Deming with about two weeks notice.   We thank God for the assistance of family members who helped pack up the moving van and actually move into our home in Houston.  Cazandra and I could not believe how the pieces of our move came together in a remarkable way.  We knew this wind that blew into our lives so strongly was the breath of God urging us on in ministry.

We are called to step out in faith.  Everyone is not meant to pack up and move away from home like me, but all of us are called to serve the One who created us.  Let us listen for the voice that propels us into action and leads us forward.  Let us make the choice to rise up and rock the boat.  Remember, our actions are an outward sign of an inward commitment.

Today I am very thankful for listening to the One who gives me the strength to continue my journey.  My life is still as busy in a town of 10,000 people as it was in a metropolis of over 4 million people.  The difference is that I have an inner peace that I never had while teaching in Houston.  I know that I am on the path to which I am called.  May you answer the voice of God, whether it is small or crazy large, and be changed.

I Do Not Cease Giving Thanks

“I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers” (Ephesians 1:15-16 NRSV).

It is amazing to me how God continues to move in my life. I prepared my upcoming sermon early as I would be at Annual Conference this week. I thought that I had finished the task that needed to be done and was off to Glorietta, New Mexico without any worries. My focus was to be placed on my interview for ministry and doing the business of the connected church.

My family stayed back in Truth or Consequences. I do not travel well without the whole family being together. I am in a wonderful area of New Mexico, but it is not the same without my two stinky boys and my wife. Without their presence there is something missing. I have a sense of loneliness that is sometimes overwhelming.

Knowing that I really miss my time with my family, this short phrase that is mentioned above kept coming to my mind. I took some time to review my writing and double checked to make sure that I had a complete sermon ready to go. In a moment I realized that my own life reflected the message which was laid on my heart to preach this coming weekend. This is my love letter to my wife and children. My personal narrative of love and joy merged into Paul’s writing.

I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.” This passage is such a short and simple sentence with passion behind every word. It is the commitment of love. The connection that we share in my house is one that promises that I may not like what you do 100% of the time, but I will never stop giving thanks for you. This love is impossible to measure or fully explain. It is simply present.

It is my love for my family which I easily translate to my love and understanding of God. This radically transforming presence of the Divine is revealed in my life on a daily basis. This love that demands my entire participation regardless of how I feel or what my circumstances may be. This love is vital to my life and empowers me to continue to become something that I never imagined possible.

May you be filled with gratitude and never stop giving thanks for those who are closest to you. It is within the act of loving each other that our God is revealed in our lives. We take the love that we share with those who are closest to us and share that love as Christ did with our community. May the world see and know us by our love for it is in loving that we encounter the risen Christ.

We are not orphans

“‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.’” (NRSV John 14:18).

As I prepare for Sunday’s sermon, this one verse from John stands out.  While the author of The Gospel of John introduces a familial relationship with the Divine, the apostle Paul reiterates the notion of being in God’s family and takes up the idea that we are truly more than adopted sons and daughters of God.  The promise of being co-heirs with Jesus gives us a place of prominence in the Kingdom.  God is our father.  As God’s children, we can run into our daddy’s arms and are comforted and restored.  It is in this place of shelter that we are home.
The idea of never being left alone is incredibly powerful.  For me personally, this Biblical text has nothing to do with being a physical orphan.  I have been blessed with two children and a great marriage that has lasted for over 18 years.  The thought of being physically alone does not concern me.  It is the feeling of being spiritually abandoned that grabs my attention.
When we begin a journey with Christ there is a sense of fulfillment.  There is a security knowing that God has entered the deepest parts of our hearts.  As time continues and we sometimes struggle in maintaining a relationship with God, there are times that the feeling of abandonment becomes real.  There is something within our deepest core that cries out of a place of fear.  There is a fear of being alone.  There is a fear of being deserted.  All of the sudden our security in Christ is met with a darkness of the soul.

Christ breaks the wall down by reminding us that we are never alone.  Our creator will not leave us.  There may be times that we feel lonely.  Those times are real and often frightening.  The good news or gospel is that we are never truly alone.  The love of God transcends our emptiness and fills us with light.  We feel the presence of the Divine.  What once was darkness is now bright as the day.

May you be filled with God’s presence as we share brother and sister hood in the family of God. 

Be Still and Know

“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10 NRSV)

Yeah, right! That is much easier said than done. Many times in ministry there is not time to be still. Sometimes people with whom you serve hurt you in ways that take your breath away. I’ve personally have had to deal with several people over the last few days who have attempted to steal my joy. It is during difficult times that I seem to gravitate to Psalm 46:10.

Be – Be present within your self

Be still – Listen to the gift of silence

And know – Be sure within yourself in the knowledge of your faith

I Am God – The one, Yahweh, the great I AM is the one who invites us in to the power of all encompassing love.
Once I stop and become aware of God’s presence the Spirit opens up to endless possibilities of restoration.

May you find peace in the middle of your storm.

Which Came First the Bunny or the Egg?

Growing up in a church that did not follow a liturgical calendar left me in a state of awe as I grew into the United Methodist Heritage. I was quite taken back when my new church continued to celebrate the “Easter Season.” What was that? I thought Easter occurred on one particular day. After we celebrated Easter I thought we would move on to something else. Little did I know that Easter Sunday was actually the beginning of the “season” of Easter in our church.

In many ways, every Sunday of the year is considered a mini-Easter. We celebrate the risen Christ all year round. Our joy is made complete as we share the good news with each other and then share that joy with our community. There is rebirth every week. We have the chance to be made new not just one day or one season of the year, but every day of our lives. It is never too late to celebrate the joy of the resurrection.

Through this Easter season, share with each other your faith. Share with one another how you share the pistus christu (faith of Christ). Talk about how the wonderful love of God has changed you. Tell family members how you share your faith with others.

Where in the world is Jesus? Reflection on John 20:1-18

Where have they taken my Lord? We contemplate the answer to this question. We are led to accept an inherited theology which answers the question for us. We are then challenged to conform to some idealistic way of thinking regarding the resurrection and expected to experience the rebirth of God in the same way. Perhaps another way to phrase the question maybe, “Where is Jesus in the middle of our discovery?”

I do not believe that our faith sustains each of us with a spiritual experience that is already laid out and defined for us. We are not an “assembly line” people of faith. Our spiritual life is made new when we encounter this thing called resurrection. That is, our Lord has come back to us. What once was dead is now alive. Our faith is carried out with our own relationship to this text from the Gospel of John, and how that relationship changes and renews us.

Mary was so caught up in her grief that her Lord was stolen that she couldn’t even identify the man standing right in front of her as Jesus. She couldn’t identify Him until He spoke into her life. He spoke her name.

Many of us identify with this passage. We are like Mary. It is hard to accept the miraculous in our lives. Maybe it’s because we have been wounded to the point that we cannot imagine that such a wonderful event, the spark of the Divine, could ever be revealed in our own lives. Maybe we are so cynical that we can’t even entertain the notion of some divine presence ever revealing itself to the world, much less to us individually. Maybe we are tired of trying to seek God. We have not heard the answer.

Folks, God is alive and in front of you. The Divine can be made known to you in many forms. Maybe you are still in darkness. I am talking a spiritual hell of which you feel that you are trapped. Perhaps you have taken a detour on your path that has taken you to do and say things that you could never have imagined you would do and say. Whatever that is for you, maybe for a second or even a moment, you catch a glimmer of hope. The spark of Divine light rises from the pit of your gut as you begin to hear a still small voice say, “Maybe there is a way out of this.” That is the voice of God.

There are many people who can tell me exactly how and why they came to a moment where they experienced the presence of the resurrected Christ. It was real and alive. It took your breath away. You know that you have given your life over to the care of God. It was amazing.

Maybe there are those of you who are still searching for the promise of a renewal of spirit.
Look around at the people in your life and see living testimonies to the love of God. What were people who were spiritually dead are now reborn.

Now, let us return to the idea of resurrection. Well, I can’t explain it to you. I can present the pages on which the story of our text from John unfolds and tell you that I experience the resurrection on a daily basis. That is my story. That God speaks rebirth into my life every day. The resurrection calls to us. It tells us that Jesus was crucified, died, and rose again for us. The idea of hope and the sense of a second chance pull us in to a relationship with God. We turn to God as the source of salvation. We depend on God and the gift of grace which is freely given to us. The gift of redemption is all about the Divine presence which unfolds itself into the world. The best and only thing that we can do is respond to this message. There is no cookie cutter answer here. It is an individual journey that is between humanity and God.

Be Still and Watch the Beauty Unfold!

Today was a day that began like any other day. We all woke up and ate breakfast, dressed, and watched a little television before hitting the door. I decided to infuse my youngest son without accessing his port-o-cath. After three unsuccessful tries at sticking a vein I decided to access the port. Now, while all of this was going on, my son was kicking and screaming. Who could blame him? I am not particularly fond of being stuck with needles. Let’s face it. Needles are not that fun.

We finally called a home care nurse who proved to be our angel today. She accessed the port and we were on our way. While my wife and I encouraged our son, I could not help but feel like a failure. I am this child’s father. I should be able to access every time I try. It was very hard to admit defeat. Who really wants to be that far out of control?

As I continued to process the morning, I realized that my thoughts were so self-centered. I began to think about the impending week coming up in the life of our church. Next week is Holy Week. Beginning this Sunday, we focus our attention to Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem, which led to the trial and flogging, which led to the crucifixion, which led to the empty tomb.

I had to admit to myself that I was going down a road through which many of us travel. We turn to our egos. I should be much more grateful that this wonderful nurse helped us. I should be grateful that this medicine is provided for us and that my son’s future is very bright. Why then did everything have to be about me and my reaction?

Now please don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that there is not a time to mourn, or a time to grieve. We all must process and journey through things to get to the side of wholeness and healing. The problem is that we can get so caught up in our own “stuff” that we can lose the beauty of a blessing that stares us in the face. This incident with the port reminds me to stand back up when I have been knocked down. Christ did the same for us. When he was knocked down (crucified) He stood back up and defied death itself.

This event with my son reminds me about my relationship with the notion of Holy Week and how we are to progress through the really bad stuff so that we may triumph in the resurrection. Just for this week, I will focus on what Jesus did for me without inviting my reaction to the gift of grace. I will focus on the fact that Jesus could have turned around at any time and said, “I will not continue this. It will be way too painful.” These are things that he did not do. Jesus pressed on. Not only did He press on, but He gave it all that He had. His primary motivation was to do the will of the Father.

Now, as for my five year old stinky boy, he is doing great. He picked up his choo-choo trains and went to daycare. His major concern for the day is what kind of opportunities to play are out there in the wild blue? I ask myself the same question. What kind of possibilities are out there for me to be still and lay witness to the loving messages or grace in my life? What about the constant revelations of faith, hope, and redemption?

Jonah, the Fish, and Us

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications! If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem. It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.” (Psalm 130 NRSV)

I love the story of Jonah and the great big fish. Whether one interprets the story as a parable or as a literal event, there is no denying one fact. In the deepest most isolated area imaginable, God heard the cry of Jonah. Through umpteen million tons of blubber and a raging storm, God heard an incredible cry of dread.

This is the power of Psalm 130. Out of a sense of fear and in the middle of absolute darkness, God hears the voice of His people. God not only hears us, but God forgives us. In the pit of despair, when all seems lost and hopeless, God delivers and restores us. There is hope in a hopeless situation. This is our story. We are freed from darkness to come into the light.

The psalmist did not stop at individual salvation. The very last portion was an appeal to the whole nation of Israel. The individual and communal natures of God’s salvific works depend on the participation of all believers. This implies that the church, comprised of those who have experienced an individual change, must also seek forgiveness as a collective body of believers.

One cannot argue that the church has failed to be perfect in the world. It is very easy to sight many events in our history which would support the claim that the church has at times been anything but holy. However, at its best, the church has and continues to provide ministries which make a positive and lasting impact on our world. We as a church must petition God to forgive us and move forward to learn from our past. This is the only way that we can build our future.

As for that big fish in Jonah, I am sure that it suffered a whole bunch of heartburn and trauma. How could it not? The good news is that Jonah was freed and the fish could swim easily and happily. Our hope is to be freed from whatever pit in which we find ourselves and discover the radical love and joy of God.

christopherjoiner

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