Walk the Walk and Talk the Talk

“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18 NRSV).

When I read this passage I immediately think of the old adage, “Talk is cheap.” The bottom line is this, words are important and words matter. Many people, myself included, have been victim to words that are used like a dagger with pinpoint accuracy to the heart. Once there is a wound the bleeding is tremendous. Words do matter.

In his message to the churches in Corinth, Paul acknowledges that words matter; however, in the case of the cross, our words mean absolutely nothing if not supported with actions. We are called to service. Our interpretation of holy texts and exegetical pronouncements are great, but if such highly intellectual conclusions are not lived out by what we do, then all of the research really means nothing.

We are called to be a people of action. What we do and why we do it must combine to demonstrate the love of Christ to our world. As Christ’s disciples, we must engage the world and lead not only by our words, but by our deeds. If someone is hungry it is far more important to feed them than to lecture and carry on about the wonders of our faith. Through our actions of kindness one can experience the ever present love of Christ. We tap into the power of salvation by letting our lives be a witness to the service of humanity.

It is important to note, as any good Wesleyan minister should, that this does not mean that what we do plays any role in our salvation. Our actions are an expression of that which has changed us from the inside out. God is the one who saves us. Our works flow out of us like a deep flowing well offering the way to everlasting life. We may lead the way to the well, but there is only one who gives the water which sustains us. That one is God. The water which we drink is a free gift offered to all those who thirst. Let us lead others to God so that they may never thirst again. As we lead people to the source, we will experience over and over the radical love that God has for humanity. And in response to that love, God continues to give us a Savior. That one is Jesus. May you experience the Spirit in ways you never knew existed.

I Thank My God for You

This week my sermon is based on 1 Corinthians 1:1-9. I am always drawn to Paul’s opening statements, particularly “I thank to my God always for you” (1 Cor. 1:4 NRSV). While the phrase is wonderful and is great when referring to those people to whom I enjoy the company of their presence, I must admit I fall short of being able to make this proclamation of joy when I deal with those I find challenging. In fact, many times I lack the ability to feel “thankful” for difficult people. (I hope I am not the only one who struggles with this issue).

This is where faith comes into the picture. When asked directly which commandment is the greatest, Jesus said something like this, “Look. Let me sum up every commandment you have ever been given. Love God, and love each other. If you do these two basic things, you will follow every other thing God has asked you to do.” In other words, love must be a verb as well as a noun. We are called into action to worship the Divine.

This action word of which I speak challenges us to connect with something bigger than ourselves. We are to represent God, even when we don’t feel like it. This includes embodying the nature of Christ to those people whom we would rather not speak to as well as those people whom we do not like. I know this is easier said than done, but why not attempt to do what the Master said?

As we put the verb into action our understanding of the noun will grow. The verb moves us to extravagantly worship the noun which is the creator of the universe. Will you be the one in which the love of God, through your deeds, transforms the world, or will you be content to let the one to whom we give praise remain contained without purpose and then make the choice to simply sit back and do nothing? The choice is yours. Say yes to the verb, and then do it. Love each other and in the middle of what you do, the presence of God will fill you with peace.

True Love

We have moments when God reveals God’s self to us in ways that sometimes are very subtle and sometimes knock a person to their knees. I recently had an encounter with the Divine on a day when I least likely expected one. I know a couple who live in a retirement home. They have a lot of illness between them and so they do not live in the same room, but whenever I visit the home I always see them together. They are a remarkable pair who I have come to admire.

She has Alzheimer’s disease and the manifestation of her illness is progressing very rapidly. As typical of the disease, there are some good days and some bad days. Through it all, her husband has been there for her every day. Both of them are well into their nineties and have been married over seventy years. Their story is an amazing chronicle of love, commitment, and honor.

I received word that this dear sweet lady had a stroke and was not expect to recover from her condition. Immediately hearing about the issue, I visited her in the nursing home. Her husband came into the room and we began to talk. I watched him and how he tenderly held her hand and was concerned that his wife knew that she was not alone. He was there just like he had been so many times before.

I sat and watched this holy exchange. I watched the vows of marriage being fulfilled and carried out in a way that took my breath away. Their hands joined together served as a reminder of their love and the glue that connected them together as a single family. I was honored to be in that room. I was touched to be a living witness to this special kind of covenant. I left thinking that this is the promise that I made to my wife. I want to be the person that will hold my wife’s hand and she hold mine.

I was made freshly aware of why I am a minister of the Gospel of Christ. I am invited into those places in people’s lives when the presence of God is so real that you can almost touch it. I am privileged to be a part of the lives of those who call me their pastor. I am allowed to stand in the presence of those around me and to share the message of salvation. Sometimes it is delivered with words, while other times it is delivered in silent witness.

As we celebrated Epiphany this past week, I am grateful that God allowed me to have my own realization. I am grateful for the lives of this couple and the honor to be a witness to their commitment to their God, and to each other. May we all be living Gospels to those who are in need of the Word which came for us, sacrificed for us, and lives within us.

AMEN.

We are living gospels!

Just recently my congregation and I concluded a year-long sermon series in which we read through the Bible. Below is a part of my last sermon of the year 2010, and was addressed to my congregation on December 26, 2010. The focus text was Revelation 22:16-21. I felt like the text is appropriate as we end the year and pray that 2011 is an even better year than 2010. Peace be with all of you.

Here we are at the very end of the Bible. This is considered the final written word of our sacred text. Let me clarify a few things before we continue. As I have said before, there are many theological misconceptions that are out there.

This pericope is no exception. For instance, when John speaks in verse 18, he is not talking about the entire Bible. He addresses this writing, the Book of Revelation, to be the source to which he refers. Some theologies take this verse to indicate that it refers to the entire Bible. I disagree with their conclusions.

When the author of John wrote about this unique vision, there was no Bible. The only thing considered canonical were the ancient writings of the Hebrews. There was no New Testament. Something regarding a New Testament would not come into being for many years. When Paul referred to the gospel, he was not referring to what we know as the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. He was referring to his own experiences. The Gospels would not be written until after Paul wrote his letters. With the religious landscape in Paul and John’s time, there would be no way that verse 18 could have spoken for a complete collection of writings that we know as the Bible.

So, why is this important? I like to say, so what is at stake? Okay, we move on. This is the end. These are the last words that we hear. Look at the writing. It is filled with hope. It is filled with assurance. And it is filled with wonder.

This may be the ending of what we call the Bible, but to us it is just the beginning. Our own narratives are writings within themselves. Our stories continue this one. We are living testaments to the radical transformation of the love of God.

Just as John wrote of his journey, so we write of ours. We have parts of the story that are filled with hope, longing, joy, sadness, redemption, and forgiveness. The printed text is not the end of the Biblical story. It is the beginning of our continued relationship with our Savior.

We started our journey at the beginning in which God created beauty out of chaos. As we continued on our journey, we explored the unique relationship that God had with His chosen people. We discovered the Messiah was brought into the world to save us all. In this good news or gospel, we found the message of hope. May we continue on this journey towards salvation and wholeness.

What are you going to do with your gospel? Will you simply close the book to the Biblical text, or will you chose to be a living example in the day to day living? You are called to keep this text alive. Let it breathe. Let it live. Let the message flow deep into your hearts and bring you freedom. Don’t close the book. Simply continue it.

Find the Manger

Luke 2:1-20
I can only imagine what it was like the night of the birth. Angels were working in the fields. They were doing what they had done for years. Many were going about the business of their ancestors. This was supposed to be a routine evening doing a routine job.

As the shepherds settled into their mundane tasks, they were visited by a celestial band of angels. Something happened. The colors, the lights, the music. It all was magnificent. Words could never describe it. The proclamation which came from above to those below all told of the one who was promised to the world. God in the flesh was present. We are told that the shepherds followed the angels’ instructions and visited the Holy family.

This revelation still occurs in the world today. Somehow, we encounter God and are invited into a relationship which includes beauty and awe. We are led to find that which is sacred and divine. Once we have this encounter with God, nothing is ever the same.

May this Christmas lead you to that which calls you to the sacred. May your manger experience be one that transforms you and redeems you. Experience the form of God within us and through us. Your life will never be the same.

My Christmas Tradition

I don’t know what it was about last night, but I had a profound awareness of God’s presence as my family decorated our Christmas tree. As my wife placed hangers on the ornaments, she pointed out the various people and places that had so generously given us these little gifts of memories. I hung a big figure skate on the tree from my friend Nora thanking me for the gift of friendship. Nora, if you read this, know that I smiled as I placed that skate up on the tree. I considered your friendship a true blessing. We hung the wonderfully decorated ornaments up from churches past. Wonderful jewels of the memories of service.

We moved our way through the storage boxes as we hung ornaments dating back to the first Christmas that my wife and I celebrated as a married couple. Each of our children hung their first ornaments from the respective year of their own births. Of course, the 14 year old hung his near the top and the 4 year old hung his near the bottom. Seeing my boys hang their own proclamations of their lives made me appreciate how we honor the rituals specially created in our family.

I began to appreciate the many years that I have been hanging ornaments on trees dating back to my own childhood. I gave thanks for the times that I hung an item which sparked a message that God’s hope and spirit are alive and well in my home. Family traditions, at their best, invite us to bring the past into the present. Each year we put up a tree, we touch those who have gone before us. We somehow connect to the many Christmases of yesterday.

We naturally celebrate a season of Advent. It is our hope to move forward by looking back on the gifts which we have received in years gone by. This is where we gather strength in our faith. We know that we can move on because we have before. We press on with the promise of what is to come.

Giving thanks for my church

I was reminded of my calling to ministry this week. The husband of one of my parishioners died this past week and my attention was drawn to helping her family come to terms with such a great loss. Most of my days were filled with how I might be of service to the extended members of the body of Christ. In the middle of the chaos of death, I found that there is a sense of peace that passes all that I could ever hope to understand.

There is an acute awareness of life. I refer to family that comes together and shrouds one another in tears and in love. While many of the members of this group were very different than each other, there was one underlying sentiment to which all seemed to agree. The patriarch of the family will be greatly missed. And the age old question of “What does life look like without him?” became the focal point of the week.

I was very appreciative for the church family which rallied around to deliver food to nourish both the body and the spirit. There is a strong statement about our community of faith as we hold each other up and face the ultimate situations which bring us to our knees. We do these things together.

I am grateful for my church which allows me to be a part of the holiest of moments in life. This is one of the many reasons I am compelled to be a pastor. It is to testify to the awareness that God is present in life and in death. In our context we believe that there is hope in a life after death.

I share spaces with people which are sacred. This is my calling. This is my honor and joy.

Great Memories

With all the changes in the life of my family, the idea of beginnings seems to be a recurring theme. I think back to the good ole days at Almeda Baptist Church and the excitement of discovering faith for the first time as alive and vital. I remember the Sunday School classes and wonder how those poor saints put up with me and those like me. I give thanks for those sacred memories and actually trace the beginnings of my calling to ordained ministry as starting in that little church.

I am reliving the feeling of falling in love with music through the talents of my fourteen year old son. His abilities fascinate me and I remember the incredible voices of those who attended the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. I think of choir trips and classical music which spoke into places within my spirit that I never knew existed. Through studying the classics, I discovered God in a more profound way. I remember being introduced to Stravinsky and my first reaction was to run in horror. I wondered how anyone could call the endless disjointed flowing of Latin syllables music.

My skepticism gave way to complete awe. I remember standing on the stage as the choir sang the last movement. The light shined on the stage in a way that brought the throne of God directly to that space. In the matter of three months of working on the “Symphony of Psalms,” I discovered that classical music could not only move me emotionally, but touch that part of me that begged for order and structure.

Today I find myself very grateful for beginnings. I celebrate the moments in which I contribute to the process of creation. I stand at the threshold of chaos and with a breath that is given by the Spirit, create something new and fresh. I design something that had never existed before. Sometimes it is from scratch (ex nihlio), while sometimes it is an open window. Whatever it is, I step into a new space and nothing else will ever be the same.

My Purpose

It has been my experience that there are times in ministry in which I am called on to provide leadership in areas that I have no clue as to how to proceed. Example, I was not trained in seminary how to remove bats from the church. Isn’t that someone else’s job? As the pastor, it is something which I inherited.

Okay, enough with the bat story. What I am trying to say is that our lives reflect the incredible call which God places on our lives. That call involves moving out of our comfort zone and moving into a place which challenges us to listen, learn, and follow. Our journeys are individual and sacred unto us. No one walks in exactly our steps. Our common link is that the one who created us invites us to move along our path with the promise that we will not be alone on our journey.

My journey has been on my mind throughout the challenges and joys of this week. My son auditioned for the All-State Choir. We are anxiously awaiting his results. His story touches me profoundly. As a fellow musician, he is experiencing the joys and concerns of being freshly and newly in love with music. He is passionate and all-consuming with his music making.

I am not sure that this desire will last through the year much less the rest of his life, but I do know I see that excitement about music and I remember myself. There may have been many people who were more talented than me, but there are very few who were more passionate than me when it came to making music.

My wife and I are finding opportunities for my son to explore that part of himself which is compelled to make music. We travel to Albuquerque (a two hour drive from our house) on a weekly basis to provide him with the opportunity to be a part of the Albuquerque Boys’ Choir. He is accepted and celebrated in this venue.

The biggest life lesson that I think I can teach my child is that we are to model our lives as God loves us. I am talking about a radical transformative journey which sets out to take our wounded hearts and lead us to our heart’s delight. I want my child to see in me someone who was not afraid to live into the overwhelming call that God placed on my life. So what if it changes from music to something else, the groundwork by which he seeks out artistic expression may spill over into any part of his life.

And as for the bats in the church, they are gone. I called the chair of the Trustees and we waited until it was appropriate to close up the spaces in the roof in which the bats were flying into the building. One detour down, many more to go. I still claim the beauty of being on the path. That path that guides me and sustains me through the next detour. That path that fills me with passion and purpose to continue forward. My son’s love of music reminded me of my own journey this week.

**For the record, my son made the New Mexico All-State Treble Choir

Faith that has Wings

This week I started a Bible study at my church. I am teaching Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia. As part of the introduction to the letter I discussed the significance of the document. The main question raised was “What was at stake in the theological landscape of the Christian movement?”

As always, I am amazed at the conversation that begins to surface. Paul’s reaction to the concept of grace and the indoctrination of new believers into the Jesus movement addressed a major crisis confronting the young religious order. The issue was how to validate both Jewish and Gentile experiences of faith in the risen Christ.

While my initial question may at first appear to have a simple solution, through a first century lens it was a very different story. How were these two radically different worlds, Jewish believers and Gentile believers, brought together? Eventually, Paul’s answer was to focus on the most important thing. That is the faith as demonstrated in Jesus. Faith can overcome difference.

This is still a relevant question in the religious landscape of today. There are so many faiths which make the claim of absolute truth that the mysteries of God are put in a box. God, according to some, must be completely figured out. Where is the faith in the kind of religious model which claims absolute truth?

Someone once told me that faith occurs in one of two ways. In both scenarios, one comes to the edge of a cliff. At the edge of the cliff God will either build a bridge to the other side, or give us wings to fly. It is important to note that neither the bridge nor the wings are defined. They are simply provided at the right time to get to the right place.

It is my belief, and I know at this point I have veered far from any image given in the Bible, that each bridge and each wing that is created as faith in action is characteristically special to each person and each event. Each experience is real unto itself. Who am I to say that one journey of faith is the same as the other? That is far more than has been revealed about the God of my understanding.

And how does Paul fit into this image of faith? Paul concluded that the Gentile believers need not be concerned about the law. Why would the law matter to someone who never lived under the law? His answer was to embrace Jesus. In this faith there is change, there is healing, there is new life. My hope for today is that we, as the body of Christ, may make room for a faith which is more concerned with the love of God than we are about claiming to have all of the answers. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it” (Psalm 139:6 NRSV).

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.