Rest

This morning I seem to be scrambling to find my way back to a schedule that includes time to write and research. For some insane reason, I am finding it very difficult to get motivated. I who set out to finish my master’s degree now have it. I ask myself, “What’s next?” Where do I find that spark of passion that moves me forward?

Perhaps this is my time to rest for a little while. I mean, summer is about renewal right? That includes me as well. When I think about resting, I acknowledge that my schedule for the last several years has been anything but restful. For the last three years I attended school year round by driving two or three hours to an airport to fly up to Denver. This occurred on a weekly basis. By the end of my studies, I did not want to see another airplane for a long time.

Rest did not come to our family immediately after seminary. My youngest son was hospitalized for most of the month of June. His port-o-cath became infected and needed to come out. While we were in the hospital he received a pic line. While the surgeon placed the pic line he accidentally hit an artery. Because of this, my son’s arm has been very painful. Yesterday was the first day since coming out of the hospital two weeks ago that he has not been in pain.

It made me wonder a little deeper about the issue of rest. I know that my struggles are only for a small season in my life. What about those who must face health and wellness issues on a daily basis? Is rest limited to those who do not struggle for more than a certain amount of time? I can honestly say that I don’t believe that to be true.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28 NRSV). Look closely. There are no conditions that we must maintain to achieve this rest. We simply have to be present to receive the gift of peace. Unfortunately, I get very distracted and lose my sense of connectedness with the Divine. We have to show up. That means being in the moment. That means giving up the worries and struggles that overwhelm us in life. Sometimes we can give those struggles up for good, but at other times, we can give worries up for a moment. We can give them up for a second. Anytime we can surrender to the presence of our God. This is where we will find rest.

Jesus knew that those to whom he preached struggled with major stuff. He even acknowledged it. He simply invites all to come and be renewed. Will you take the journey to restoration? I know that I am ready. Peace to all of you.

Seek First the Kingdom

We are finishing up Vacation Bible School at our church tonight. I must admit that I was disappointed with the numbers of the students that we had in attendance. I thought that we had done all of the right things. We advertised and even invited the congregation to help with all of the PR “stuff” to help spread the word. I hoped for at least 20 kids and we wound up with 10.

While I was banging my head against a wall trying to figure out what I did wrong, I was reminded that it is not the numbers that count as much as the actual ministry that is taking place. We had a youth group from a larger nearby town come in and lead the VBS. We provided the place by which the youth program could minister. They, middle school and high school aged students, are doing a wonderful job teaching our younger children about the wonders of God.

One of the boys who regularly attends our church is normally shy. This week, I have seen him come out of his shell and have a great time. It does my heart well to see excitement in the lives of both our guests and the children in our community. This boy reminds me that, even if he were the only child attending the camp, it was worth it for one soul.

I hope I can always remain focused on winning souls and not be so worried about numbers. Perhaps the lower numbers in our church are occurring at this particular moment in time to remind me that it is about ministry to those present. While it is great to have hopes and dreams, it is far more valuable to simply serve God. “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt 6:33 NRSV).

Our Church Community

This week has been a very stressful yet a rewarding week in the life of my family. My youngest son had surgery on Friday and, as a result of the surgery, has been hospitalized since Friday. We live approximately two hours from the hospital. Needless to say, our lives have been on hold this weekend. My oldest son and I have been spending nights in a hotel while my wife stays with my youngest at the hospital.

I drove the two hour drive to my church this morning and preached. While I was there, it occurred to me that, even though I had the drama of the hospital in my life, my congregation still needs a pastor. That is part of my duty as a servant who has answered the call to ministry. I made a commitment to serve in ministry, and my faith must sustain me so that I can still be the pastor which is needed for my congregation.

Even though I served this morning out of a sense of duty, I felt the presence of the reaffirmation of my calling. Despite what was happening around me, being present in the community of believers gave me a sense of God’s peace. This inner sense of fulfillment strengthens me in times such as these. I mean those times when life tends to become overwhelming.

I kept coming back to an appreciation for my church. It is within the presence of the people of God that I learn that there are many people who love me and support me and my family. This connection to both the presence of the Divine in my single life and my connection to the church as the vehicle which God shares, continues to motivate me and encourage me. This is my strength.

Our sense of connection to one another is vital to our continued development. It is in our relationships with one another that we experience God’s presence. The church, which is a community of believers, gathers its power from those who willingly serve each other to further the kingdom of God. May we be empowered in our affiliations with and to each other as we continue on our journey to perfection.

My Man Job

This coming Sunday I will be preaching on a passage taken from the Book of Job. As I study for Sunday, Job brings about several issues regarding my own theology and how and why I believe what it is that I believe.

From my understanding of Hebraic theology of Job’s time, there were several assumptions that were made in regard to humanities relationship to and with God. The first concept that appears is that if one does the “correct” things and lives the “correct” way that God will bless their lives. Well, that is fine and all, but what happens when catastrophe strikes? Job faced that situation. He was faithful, he was honorable, and suddenly he lost everything.

There are some theologies that are out there in our world which, unknowingly, endorse this kind of attitude. Sentences such as, “If you only pray hard enough…If you only get your life right God will bless you….If you attend 5.76 worship services in a week, God will acknowledge your work.” It hurts me to see pastors which promote this kind of twisted idealism as well as those who follow this type of ideology because they know nothing better.

Both of my children have hemophilia. This is a rare bleeding disorder which prevents clotting of the blood. It is a disorder which is not curable, but mostly treatable. Well, to get back to how this relates to Job, my wife attended a prayer retreat in which the concept that, if one has enough faith, prayers will be answered,” was the main focus of the meeting. The name given to this type of prayer is called theophostic prayers. This means that if she had enough faith, my boys would no longer have hemophilia.

This concept of placing the “sin” on a person because of their “lack of faith” can be very damaging to those who struggle with forgiveness. This was what Job faced. Throughout the Book of Job, there were those who asked critical issues concerning common theology of the day. The main question presented in the text was, “Job, what did you do to anger God?”

The ending of the text is resolved by God restoring Job’s fortune in a way that was double what he had before tragedy struck. God’s message to Job was simple. The most important resolution which God offers is that, the questions regarding who is at fault are not the right questions. The right question to ask is, “Who will be with me during catastrophe?” The answer to the question is God.

Christ would eventually complete the answer to Job’s initial questions in the Gospel of John 9:1-3. “As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. (John NRSV).

My life lesson from Job is to remember that God will always be with me in every situation. That is the most important thing of all.

Happy Birthday Son

Today is a big day in my household. My wife and I are celebrating our oldest son’s 14th birthday. I am not sure where the 14 years have gone, but I do know that my life has never been the same. I think back to the person I was before I became a dad. I was someone who lacked a sense of purpose. I was attempting a career transition that would never give me peace like I thought it would. Eventually, I answered my call to be a pastor.

My son gave me hope. I believe I learned how to be a man through being a father. My father was not present in my life. My genealogy tree is very one sided. I know nothing of my father’s side of the family. It’s as if they never existed. Because of the lack of a father, a part of me felt empty. My son’s birth filled that void. Fatherhood has given me a chance to give to my son something that I never had.

Today, I offer thanks to God for being the provider, protector, and defender, of my strangely talented and wonderful son. Every day he teaches me how to be a better man. I am convinced that we walk with God on our journeys through life and, sometimes, we experience the overwhelming love of our heavenly father. Those moments are what we live for. I am grateful that my journey, while not a very usual path, has taken me to where I am today. Maybe I needed to not know my father. Maybe there are reasons that I will never understand which keep me from communicating with that side of the family. What I do know is that along my way, I have discovered through my son how to give love in a way I never dreamed possible. Happy birthday son!

Psalm 68:5 "Father of the fatherless"

As I prepare my sermon for Father’s Day, I am having a rough time writing. My sermon is uncharacteristically based on only one verse. While I do not use the exegetical approach known as text proofing, I am led to Psalm 68:5 “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling” (NIV).

What exactly does that phrase mean? How does one father the fatherless? Growing up, I did not have a biological father living in my home. As a matter of fact, I do not know a single person on my father’s side of the family. That also includes my father. I have no way of contacting him nor do I really know his name.

My mother moved back to her home when she was pregnant with me (She was the oldest of 9 and only 20 when she had me). I lived with 3 uncles, 5 aunts, my mother’s parents, and my sister. We all lived in a three bedroom one bath house with a garage which was converted to an extra bedroom. I did not realize that my home life was considered different until I was in high school. In the chaos of such a tiny space, I discovered the love of family and discovered that God loved even the likes of me.

Perhaps Psalm 68:5 became real to me in the lives of the mighty men who became my mentors throughout my life. I think of my grandfather, who died when I was only 18 years old. I think of his inexhaustible love and knew that I had security throughout my childhood. I think of Alan, the music director at my church where I discovered that I had a talent and a passion for music. I think of Gonzalo my father-in-law, who trusted me enough to allow his daughter to marry me form a family. I think of Pastor W.C., while working for him as his music director, I finally answered my call to ministry. These were only a few of the men who guided me in ways that affirmed my very existence. God, through these wonderful men, became a father to me. I, who was fatherless, had many fathers.

There are men who had wonderful biological fathers. They are powerful and wonderful men who are a result of a love that taught them how to be men. Their fathers left their world newer and better because they were a part of their lives. I sometimes envy these men, because they grew up understanding the love of God so much better than I did. They had a living example of the kind of love a father has for his children in their very homes. Their example was present.

I truly believe that we are on a journey to make the most of our own paths. I believe that our paths all lead to one “prime mover” in the universe. That being is God. While it is easy to look at those who had wonderful biological fathers and be envious, I do not go that route. I appreciate and am very grateful for my own journey. Without traveling on my own road (meeting God on my own terms), I probably would not have met my wonderful mentors.

Father’s Day, to me, is not about celebrating with my biological father. Many people do celebrate with their dads and I am glad that they have that time to rejoice. I celebrate by remembering and giving thanks for the many men who shaped my thoughts on life, family, and God. It is through their actions that Psalm 68:5 becomes a living and breathing part of my life.

Rebuild the Wall!

I have challenged my congregation to read through the Bible this year. As such, I am preaching through the Bible. We will have Christmas in August. Until then, we are looking at the rich traditions of the Hebrew canon.

The sermon this week came from the Book of Nehemiah. My sermon was structured around the passage 5:6-13. In that passage, Nehemiah rebukes those who are gaining large profits off the backs of those who are less fortunate. I must admit that I was quite shocked by some of the research that I found regarding this passage. I dismissed the interpretations that seemed to evaluate the passage as no more than a way to extract money out of church members.

I focused on the issue of the community, as a whole, being called to rebuild portions of the wall. It would have taken forever for only one small segment of the community to build. The prophet Nehemiah challenges everyone to work together. We must all do our part to renew our churches, both physically and spiritually.

My church is at a crossroads right now. We are small, but full of limitless possibilities. The need to address those things which prevent us from building our sections of the walls of our church are the very things that keep us from growing. I am not talking about simply growing numbers, but also growing hearts.

I challenge myself on a daily basis to search my own heart and see if there are any places that prevent me from allowing God to rebuild those places in my life which need rebuilding. I face this challenge as I search for God in simple quiet moments. I listen for that still small voice which encourages me to live beyond anything I could ever imagine.

Spiritual Renewal is Crucial!

I have had a very productive week. I managed to write the first draft of my sermon for Sunday on Thursday afternoon. This came on the heels of working in the food pantry at church and knowing that choir rehearsal was later in the day.
Each day I have taken a self imposed mini retreat. My goal is to spend one hour either doing research and/or writing. So far, I have met my goal.

This week marked my first week not in seminary. For three years my focus has been on a class, a paper, or a project. Every goal I had seemed centered on an academic achievement.

After seminary, I was afraid of losing that spark that drove me to finish my degree. If this week is any indication of what is to come, I should not be worried.

I realized today that one can become complacent and not seek out ways to make life interesting. Actually, I felt that way before seminary. I felt like my professional life was in a big rut and that I was simply going to exist. One of the many gifts I learned while in school is that I do have the ability to make my own choices.

I couldn’t remember when I practiced a consistent spiritual discipline before I went to school. I was not aware that my life depends on maintaining moments of spiritual renewal. For me, a spiritual discipline is crucial.

I am not necessarily talking about a religious commitment, but about some type of reflective study which links me to the divine. It may be in a time of prayer, or writing, or even research. These are times when I block the world out and connect to a sacred space in my life. Seminary taught me how to speak and be in that part of myself which felt “stuck.” Allowing time with the sacred reminds me of hope and excitement. I feel alive.

Today, I am grateful for the experience of going to school and being the first person in my family to receive a master’s degree. I also am grateful that I have the opportunity to practice my spiritual discipline in a way that revives me.

The Journey Through the Exile

I am now an official commissioned pastor in the United Methodist Church. Up until this point, I served as a local pastor. Being a local pastor meant that I served one church in my annual conference. I could not offer the sacraments outside of my assigned church. Moving from local to commissioned pastor meant that I turned in forms and answered questions and completed my seminary degree. All of these things were read, questions were asked, and I moved on. I may now offer the sacraments at any gathering of which I am a part. As John Wesley said, “The world is my parish.”

I completed the first part of the process to full ordination. Hopefully, after a three year provisional period which includes more answers to questions and additional forms, I will be ordained as an elder in full connection with the church. The list seems to never end. I finish one set goals only to discover there are another set of goals. I keep wondering if I will ever complete the journey.
Despite the many hoops through which I am required to jump, I have enjoyed this journey into answering the calling which God placed on my life.

Last week I preached from the Book of Ezra and discussed the issue of exile. The biggest question with which I struggled was the question, “Why did God allow this to happen?” While I dismiss any notion that God simply stands aside and allows bad things or events to happen, I cannot get away from the fact that God acts in the middle of horrible circumstances.

Many times in my life, I have felt as if I was in a spiritual exile. I felt as if life, and God for that matter, had been unfair and I was left wandering through the wilderness. As I struggled in exile, God came to me and guided me through the desert. I have learned to be grateful for the journeys that I must take through the wilderness so that I may be led to the streams from which living water flows.

In the Beginning

June 1, 2010 Tuesday
“In the beginning God created….” I never stopped to think of the implications of that first little phrase of the Hebrew Bible. Yes. I get that God created the heavens, earth, plants, animals, people, but I don’t believe that God’s creation stalls at the beginning of an ancient text. The truth is we have many beginnings in our lives. I am starting out on a new journey having recently finished my MDIV. I could tell you all of the ways that God “created” in my life as I journeyed through numerous papers, flying back and forth from Albuquerque to Denver to attend classes. Yes, there are numerous “beginning” stories in my life.
I want to focus on the newest of all beginnings in my journey. On Friday evening, I will be commissioned as a provisionary elder in the United Methodist faith. I will be considered provisional for three years. After that period of time, I will become and elder in full connection. In a way it is like receiving tenure.
This new “creation” in my life is a bit overwhelming and a tad scary. It is at the beginning of this journey, which could be riddled with self doubt and fear, God steps into the picture and creates. I begin my narrative immediately linking it to the Biblical narrative. The God, who created the world, creates a new beginning in me.

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.