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.

Strength in the time of Chaos

“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” (Hab. 3:17-19).
When one has a child that is diagnosed with a medical issue, in my families’ case, it was hemophilia, the rug seems to be pulled out from under the family. The diagnosis came as a complete shock. My wife and I felt like our world had been taken out from under us. What was supposed to be a happy event, changed into something that was, at first, catastrophic. The only place that we could turn was to God. It was with that diagnosis in mind that I first read this prayer from Habakkuk. Its words were compelling to me as I began to find hope amid chaos. I took Habakkuk’s example and claimed strength in the time of trial as the ultimate place for comfort and reassurance was found in God.
This passage is a beautiful prayer which reinforces the steadiness of God. Judah would face destruction if its economic resources were to be destroyed. Even though destruction would occur if everything that provided sustenance were to vanish, Habakkuk still pledged his devotion to God. Habakkuk claimed victory over destruction because of God’s promise to give him strength during trials.
We have all had our Habakkuk moments when the trials of life became so great that we could not see the good in anything. Life becomes overwhelming, to say the very least. I hope that I can be like Habakkuk in those very tough times. I hope that I can look out over what I perceive as destruction and remember that the one who created beauty out of chaos promised that I will be kept safe.
Habakkuk also reminds me to stop focusing on my problems and turn my eyes towards God. It is when I focus on the presence of the Divine in my life that I remember that I have hope in the middle of darkness. It is through God that I can pull myself out of a bad situation and rely on the spiritual strength given by God. I will run with a power like I have never had before. Strength in the middle of a crisis is what this psalm to God claims.
Years have come and gone since we first heard the diagnosis of hemophilia. We no longer look at the diagnosis as catastrophic, but we find strength in the blessings that we have been given as a result of this little life coming into our world. Yes we have needles in our house, and yes we have a medical closet that could rival some small hospitals, but we have our son who was our gift in the middle of a devastating storm.

J.B. and Job

The ending of the Book of Job, 42:7-17, contrasts sharply to the ending of the play J.B. written by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Archibald MacLeish. While the play claims that the end of the story will occur, it does not present a completely tidy ending. The end of the Book of Job provides a very happy ending in which Job is restored to an even better place. The theology of Job stresses the importance of maintaining a personal relationship with God. This relationship endures suffering and pain. Throughout the tragedies of life, Job remains faithful.

In MacLeish’s play, it is Nickles (who is Satan) that returns to the story. His ending dialogue with J.B. suggests that humanity can be pushed to the brink of despair. He is proved wrong as we learn that Sarah, J.B.’s wife, came back. Nickles is forced to surrender his lowered expectations of humanity. Perhaps the premise of the return of Satan was to continue to speak hopelessness in the midst of hope. In the Book of Job, Satan’s voice is muffled quickly and is not present in the speeches of the other characters including the wisdom literature of God and Job’s own proclamation of remaining true to God’s path.

MacLeish unleashes Satan’s voice from the very beginning to the very end of the play. Perhaps this voice might emphasize Job’s struggles in a more human light. Our minds are constantly bombarded with messages of conflict and frustration. Nickles’ voice reminds us that there is still struggle in our enlightenment. There is confusion in our hope.

Another key issue regarding the ending of both the play J.B. and Job is the role of the wife in J.B. All that is told in the Book of Job is that Job’s wealth and health were restored. Scripture treated the wife as property. The most important role that she plays in the Book of Job is to tell Job to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9 NRSV). In MacLeish’s play she is J.B.’s partner. Her return at the end of play is so powerful that Nickles (Satan) himself must accept defeat. When Sarah is at the door, Nickles leaves. The power of human love overcomes any plague or mind game that Satan can deliver. J.B. concludes that “God does not love. He Is.” Sarah responds “But we do. That’s the wonder” (MacLeish 152). Theologically I do not agree with the concept that God does not love. The whole premise of the Christian faith is built upon the concept that God loved us so much that he sent His son (Jesus).

Sarah’s power is also found in the commitment to her husband. Amid the rubble of life they stand together as a unified force. Together they will sift through the ashes of the city as well as their marriage to discover beauty (as the petals that are present). J.B.’s fortunes were restored to him through the relationship with his wife. There is an analogy at the end of the play that Sarah and J.B. refer to as “the coal of the heart” (153). Coal is energy and when heated produces energy as a source of warmth. Perhaps the struggle to find the heat by which to warm the heart is a challenge for all of us as we find those things that hold us together as a couple, community, and world. It is with a more realistic ending that J.B. offers a message of redemption in a refreshingly new light.

BS2615-1 The Bible as seen through the eyes of those with disabilities

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 9:1-3 NRSV).

Deborah Creamer’s interview brought to light that those with disabilities may read certain Biblical passages differently than those without disabilities. Many of you know that both of my boys have severe Hemophilia Factor VIII Deficiency. Basically, there is a clotting shortage in their blood. They must take medication in order to clot. Unfortunately, the only way to be cured of hemophilia is to have a liver transplant. It is a life time disorder and does not change severity. The recessive gene which carries the code is passed along the X chromosome and the mother is the one with the altered DNA. When a child is born with hemophilia, there is a tremendous amount of guilt that many women suffer because of the genetic circumstance.

I discovered the above verses from John and read them with new eyes. As Debbie mentioned in her interview, we tend to generically read many of the scriptural texts. This particular scripture (John 9:1-3) provided tremendous insight into my own life as to the reason behind my children having hemophilia. In some ways this was a source of comfort, but in other ways was a source of anger. Why did my children have to be born so that “God’s works might be revealed in them?” Wasn’t there another way that God’s works might have been shown?

Debbie’s interview reminded me that, like my children, I read the passages on healing with a different lens. My oldest son is 13 years old. I wonder how my son read the passages regarding healing. Does he struggle with some of the questions that Debbie brought up regarding healing? In the interview she addresses several different ways that someone with disabilities may respond to the Biblical text. There are some who dismiss any problems with the text in a generic sense. There are others who call their faith into question. If one is faced with the kind of faith that measures the amount of faith to the amount of healing, there is the potential for enormous damage when healing does not occur.

The interview made me realize that I need to be sensitive to my sons and how they interpret the Biblical passages of healing. I must be able to hear their struggles with the passages in which healing brings wholeness. The Biblical text from John 9:1-3 is a very good beginning to understanding how our fellow believers with disabilities interpret the texts of healing.

bloodwinewally

Supernatural Sites

Sacred Flow

Yoga. Community. Collaboration.

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.