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.
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.
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.
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!
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….
“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).
“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 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.
“‘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 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.