Our Songs of Ascent

Psalms 120-134 are known as the Psalms of Ascent. The title possibly refers to physically climbing the outer stairs of the temple to reach the center square. Songs reflected melodies that started low and gradually got higher with each idea sung. The primary focus reflected God’s elevation and our constant desire to reach up for His guidance.

Our world teaches us to keep our head to the grindstone and get the job done.  While it is important to be productive, the Creator of the Universe wants us to look up and remember to give thanks for our deliverance.  Just as God calls us from the pit of despair, “ADONAI, I call to you from the depths; hear my cry, Adonai!  Let your ears pay attention to the sound of my pleading” (Ps. 130:1-2 CJSB), we are to acknowledge the hope and assurance found in those who are faithful.  The Psalmist expresses a strong dependence and commitment to God’s protection when he proclaims “Those who trust in ADONAI are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved but remains forever” (Ps. 125:1 CJSB).

This week I invite you to join me in taking moments to reflect on God’s deliverance in your own lives.  What ways do you stop and raise your head to offer the Holy One your joys and concerns?  Please feel free to share your moments of divine revelation with me by posting a response.  Allow the blessings of God to overwhelm you as you recount all that the Lord has (and continues) to do for you.

Gripe, Gripe, Gripe!

God delivered the people of Israel and what do they manage to do? Gripe about their circumstances. Never mind that Moses, with God’s help, led the people out of bondage. Everyone safely crossed the sea and witnessed one of, if not the most remarkable miracles ever known. They wanted steak, and they wanted it now. Many complained that it would have been better to stay in Egypt than die in the wilderness. In short, gratitude was not the leading practice of the day.

The undercurrent that I hear in the Exodus chapters is fear. How will I survive? Where can I eat? What if?…… While the natural propulsion is to read with complete shock, I don’t believe we are that different than the ancient Hebrews. We witness God’s incredible presence over and over again, only to return to a place of skepticism.

God calls us to come out from under the rocks that leave us hidden from the world, captured by fear. Let the Holy One feed you and give you living water to quench your thirst. We may be in the wilderness sometimes, but the God who delivered us from slavery still leads us to green pastures and quiet waters.

Today, may I continue to walk in the light and celebrate the joy of the Lord, who is my strength. No griping allowed, only shouts of hope. Let us remember to search for the Lord with our whole heart and soul and as we seek out God, may our heart remain set on the riches in which we give thanks. Praise be to our amazing God.

God, the Creator of All

“God answered him (Moses), ‘Who gives a person a mouth?  Who makes a person dumb or deaf,  keen-sighted or blind?  Isn’t it I, Adonai?'”  (Ex. 4:11 CJB).

Those of us who either have or are caregivers for those with chronic illness know what it is like to feel as if we are the cause of our loved one’s affliction. We said or did something wrong, and because of our sins, our punishment is relegated to those closest to us. Guilt overwhelms us and leaves us spiritually paralyzed. We ask ourselves, “What have I done God, that my dear one must face every day with his/her affliction?” This question reverberates over and over in our brains until we cannot hear the truth that everyone is created in the image of God.

I’ve moderated many groups of those with bleeding disorders. Because the genetic marker is on the X-chromosome, hemophilia is passed through the mothers DNA. Newly diagnosed families handle the shock in different ways. It is my experience that a mother feels a tremendous amount of guilt while a father is frustrated because he cannot fix the problem. It is out of his control.

Enter the fantastic verse from Exodus. While Moses attempts to make every excuse known to man why he should not be the one who returns to Egypt to free the Hebrew people from slavery, God says, “Hold up Moses! What is going on with you? I made everybody, including those who have every kind of disability. I even created those with every type of chronic illness known and unknown (I insert the word hemophilia).

Hear this, let us be very careful in who we call whole and healthy. To God, there is no difference between any of us. The Creator did not make a mistake when we were fashioned together in the womb of our mothers. Everyone one of us is made in the imageo Dei (image of God). As such, we are all perfectly designed. Each of us created with a spirit longing to sing praises unto our God.

This day, let us live with purpose knowing whose we are. Seek out the God of our understanding and sit in silence, giving thanks to the Creator. Chronic illness may change how we live our lives and relate to the world, but they can never keep us from living out our purpose in a society that cannot fathom how we can live in a state of joy always and everywhere, giving thanks to our amazing God. Amen.

Really Listen for the Truth

As a pastor, I am privileged to a wealth of information.  There are times that I just shake my head and keep moving forward.  No matter what I hear, I try to listen for the truth that is sometimes buried deep within the stories that people tell.  Through the deep level of hurt and sadness, there lies the mustard seed of our deepest wants along with our deepest needs.  The challenge that I face as a pastoral caregiver is to encourage people to tap into these deep places.

Too often we stop, afraid to travel to the headwaters of our souls.  Many of us are afraid of what we may find.  This is an allusion because all of us who have boldly made the journey find freedom at the realization of our true selves.  I am speaking about our most authentic selves.  That part of us that includes the divine spark of ingenuity.  The space that the very core of who we are and what we believe exists.

We know the time that we tap into the special places in our hearts.  Something within us comes to life.  The gospel of our lives transforms us and strengthens us.  We find a renewed spark of hope, and a commitment to remain faithful to the truths that have been shared by the Divine.

There is a part of us that is not wounded by pain.  It is bathed in light and provides strength.  Sometimes it is masked by layers upon layers of hurt, shame, regret, etc…  Once discovered, the possibilities are endless.  We must remain diligent to rediscover who we were created to be.

Today, I am thankful for the journey.  I am grateful that I boldly travel into the deeper resources of my soul to discover my truest self.  My hope is that we all may walk on towards healing and wholeness so that we may claim the promises revealed to us by our Creator.  Praise be to God, who gives us the victory.

Miracles Are All Around Us!

I could write about the wonderful class that I just finished at Austin Presbyterian Seminary, but then I would also have to write about the amazing friendships that I developed while I was in Austin.  I could write about the incredible fact that my son is turning nineteen years old tomorrow, but then I would also have to write about the amazing gift of being a father.  With so many amazing things going on around me, I think I can sum them all up in a simple little word; miraculous.

It is a herculean feat that I am even enrolled in a doctorate program.  Boys with my demographic background are lucky to get a high school diploma.  How blessed am I to not adhere to such low expectations.  I serve a God that whispers incredible strength into my soul and says to me, “You are not finished!  Continue to reach for heights beyond anything or anyone.  I created in you a desire to live out your life, complete with passion and joy.”

And the friendships that I am developing at the Seminary…well, let’s just say that they are the kind that one hopes for throughout one’s life.  These amazing people that have made it clear that I am loved unconditionally.  Those words can be said, but when they are spoken with heart and truth, they are game changers.  It is indeed what I call miraculous.

Then there is my son, that is one of the greatest gifts (my youngest son included) that I could have ever been given.  He is an amazing young man with incredible amounts of talents.  I never knew how to identify a miracle in my life, until I saw his face.  That incredible face, that looked on me immediately, and I knew that I was standing in the presence of a divine gift from God himself.  How blessed I am to have this one human being change my life in ways that I could have never imagined.  And it all took one little word; daddy.

Today, I am humbled to see the miraculous all around me.  I see it in my family, my friends, my calling into ministry.  Praise be to God who continues to mold me and places signs and miracles all around me to remind me that I call someone mein vati.  My daddy.

Gratitude

Gratitude…what a simple little word with incredible depth. There is no other way to describe the moments when I am overcome with thanksgiving for my journey. Sometimes I have climbed some very large mountains, while at other times I simply walk in quiet pastures. While the scenery may change at a moment’s notice, the presence of God is with me, always encouraging me to continue down the path.

The past few weeks have proven very rough. Sometimes, there have been mountains that appeared to be too high, or too impossible to climb. The good news is that I reached the summit and continued my journey. Each challenge has been met. Each experience a chance to grow in grace.

And through it all, there is an incredible awareness of gratitude. Thanks to the friends who remind me that I am a part of something so much bigger than I could imagine on my own. Grateful for colleagues who support me and encourage me to continue to grow and become the pastor and person that I want to be. And most of all, a family who believes in me and encourages me to continue to reach for the stars.

Today, I am thankful for the presence of the Divine, as I am filled with strength and purpose. Thanks be to the One who is my creator, who designed me to be the person that I am, complete with joy and hope. Praise be to God, who fashions us in His image. My hope is that we all might remember that we are created to be who we are and not anybody else. We are enough! End of story.

More Travel?

Last week I was in Glorietta, NM attending the New Mexico Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. I went home on Friday and flew to Austin, Texas to take my third class in my Doctorate of Ministries studies. While I enjoy traveling, I am a home body at heart. There is nothing more enjoyable to me than to be at home working on projects around the house. The last thing I wanted to do this morning was get on a plane.

While it is exhausting, I am reminded that the journey is worth it. Through all of the struggle and stress, the prize is in sight. It is just a matter of continuing forward and not stopping. That is the key to our struggles. We must journey on.

As we continue down the path, we learn to appreciate the marvels of God that surround us. It can come in the form of a friend who sends a text to let you know that he/she is thinking of you, a friend who strikes up a conversation that reminds you how important that you are in their world, or a colleague who hand picks you to be their partner for a class project. In whatever way God chooses to reveal God’s self in your life, you must be present on the journey to notice the still small voice that is holy and divine.

Today, I am thankful for friends who reveal themselves in mysterious ways in my life. I give thanks to a God who reminds me that moments with special people are separate and holy. It all starts as a part of the journey. Let us remember to give thanks to the One, who created us and gave us the heart to be a part of a wonderful family.

The Joy Killers

There are people that we meet along the path that, if not careful, will attempt to rob us of our joy.  We are left with a feeling of discouragement and absolute defeat.  We must be careful to keep the light of God vital and alive in spite of what is going on around us.  While this is difficult today, it is necessary.  The message that we have to share with the world is way too crucial and way too important to let anyone capture our hearts and leave us injured and isolated.

When this happens, and believe me it happens, I first want to leave and simply not engage.  I want to escape to a safe place.  This is where God picks me up and gives me the strength to overcome the noise of those who try to steal my voice.  I am to rise up and proclaim the gospel (good news) of what God has done in my life.  I must remember that my life matters.  God will speak through me.

Today, I am thankful that I can continue down a path that reminds me that I am loved beyond my wildest imagination.  That, even though I experience a setback, I will still be invited to continue on the path.  I know that there will be “Joy Killers” along the way.  I must not let them take that spark of divine excitement that gives me hope.

May we find safety in the knowledge that no matter what obstacles that we face, our God will give us strength for our journey.  We are simply called to move forward.  The rest will be taken care of by the one who gives us hope.  Let us embrace the lessons that we learn as we travel our path one step at a time.

When Souls Collide

This weekend I had the opportunity to sing with my big stinky son.  I love to make music with him, because I know that he gets me.  We sound alike and our phrasing is similar.  Several of the members of the congregation told me that they couldn’t hear the difference between our sounds.  We blend that well.  It is amazing and something that I can’t share with anyone else on the planet.

Okay, now on to what made my day.  I got home from church and started to make myself a plate for lunch.  My son came out of his room and said, “Dad, I really like singing with you.”  At that moment, I was left speechless.  I don’t think that he had any idea how much that one little phrase meant to me.

There is something about sharing a part of who you are with someone else.  For me, on this day, it was my son and the gift of making music.  It is overwhelming and quite inspiring to know that there is a sacred space that he and I share together.  I cherish it and call it a holy space, because it is wonderful and set apart.

And after hearing him acknowledge his joy, we immediately set our sights on the next selection that we will sing.  It is an honor to share my first love with him.  The art of making music.  This is the gift that I share with my family.  Creating beauty out of nothingness.  Breathing melodies and harmonies into existence as souls share in the incredible acclamations of life and love.  Praise be to God, who gives us the victory in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

My Greatest Work of Art

Yesterday Cazandra and I decided to watch one of our favorite movies, the Cider House Rules.  Both the movie and the book are amazing and deal with issues of abandonment, family, and true calling.  It is storytelling at its finest.  I was drawn to something that the character Dr. Larch writes to Wilbur in a letter.  He writes, “You are my greatest work of art.”

What an amazing statement to make to and about someone.  I sat with that sentence for a while.  As I kept answering the question in my head, my camera lens kept shifting wider and wider.  I couldn’t quite capture the answer to the question, “Who is my greatest work of art?” in one broad sweeping acclamation.

I could easily say my children.  That would be safe and easy, and truthful.  What about my wife and the life that we have shared for over 26 years?  Surely, she would have to be a part of my answer.  Then, what about the many students I taught, or the many people that I directed as a minister of music?  What about family and friends?  What about performing?  What about being in the role of pastor?

My greatest work of art had to include all of my experiences.   Perhaps the paintbrush included the times that divine love and purpose transcended the craziness of everyday life and revealed itself in profound ways.  I am talking about the special moments that redefined the course of my life.  Moments like kissing my wife for the very first time, finding out that my sons were coming into the world, secrets shared in confidence, making music that left me breathless, discovering that it was okay to be me and to live in this world as my complete self.

I think our lives are the true masterpieces; our creations, that give thanks and ultimately point to the Creator.  Thank God that we are given these gifts.  The incredible awareness that love itself seeks to make the world better through our acts.  This is breathtaking.  It is indeed miraculous.  It is a masterpiece.

I hope that you move forward in your journey with the hope and knowledge that God is creating something that is rich and profound in your spirit.  It is perfect.  It is complete.  It is life changing in its scope and design.  Today, I say thank God for the incredible masterpieces that are being revealed in all of us!

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.