The Last Day Before My First Day!

As Holy Saturday draws to a close I feel as if I am walking through a door to begin another adventure. My Lenten obligation is fulfilled with the writing of this blog entry. Forty days of writing have been lessons in commitment and overcoming fear. While sometimes I felt overwhelmed by continuing to put my thoughts into written words each day, I leave the season of Lent with a sense of purpose and gratitude.

Before the season started it would take me literally hours to post a blog. I would check my writing over and over again for errors, expressions, or anything else that caught my eye. It got to the point that it became too exhausting to write an entry. I didn’t have enough hours in my day to proof my work and get other tasks accomplished. Writing each day gave me the freedom to express myself without having to be so incredibly critical of what I put on paper.

I am not saying that my work was not well thought out. I made sure that I had a purpose for creating an entry each day. Through this journey I was open to where the Spirit led me. There was a surrender to the presence of the Holy Mystery, as it revealed something within my spirit each and every day. There were only a couple of times that I struggled to put something down. Most days were filled with a divine guidance and a joy for living.

Now this daily journey is coming to a close, but the lessons that I learned throughout the season enhance my walk and my faith. I know that I will not be able to continue writing every day, but I will be sitting down to put pen to paper much more often than I had before Ash Wednesday. Praise be to God, who still guides us and teaches us throughout our lives. We grow by moving forward and not remaining idle.

So, I leave this space by walking through a new door. I do not know what opportunities are ahead of me, but I do know who guides me. I look forward to seeing what my new space will feel like. What will the new part of this road look like? There is only one way to find out the answer to the question. That is by moving forward.

Today, I am grateful for the journey through Lent to get to Easter. I travel embracing the life lessons that will be revealed as I continue down my path. This is my hope. This is my joy. This is my strength.

Resurrection on the Darkest of Days

Today is a day that our church traditionally focuses on the death of Jesus. Our church service is usually called the Service of Darkness. There is typically little, if any, light in the sanctuary. I am drawn to it because it is one of the very few services where we worship in a more contemplative style. The quiet is very loud as we observe the darkest part of our tradition. We remember the times that we have failed to be a people of faith. Remembering these bleak times, we ask forgiveness.

It is with my thoughts looking toward the darkness that I was asked to preside at a memorial service this morning. We celebrated the life of an amazing man. It was a beautiful day here in Rio Rancho and the sun seemed to glow especially bright. As I began the memorial service this morning I thought of the paradox between the mood of the day as it gave way to the observance of death in the evening.

In the morning, I quoted scripture reminding the mourners of the hope of resurrection and the life to come. I spoke of the same death that I would observe in the evening. This one that is God’s gift to the world. With 21st century eyes, I know what happens after the death. There is life and a divine renewal of hope and spirit. We didn’t have to act like it hadn’t happened. Like Paul Harvey, we know the rest of the story.

Those that attended the memorial service needed to hear the rest of the story. They needed the words of hope in that moment. It couldn’t wait until Easter. Unlike our ancient predecessors, we are able to offer the words of the Gospel when everything around us is dark and uninviting. Praise be to God for the gift!

My hope for today is that we not wait to share the good news of God for a particular moment, but we are actively sharing now. I hope that we take the message of love to a world that is starving to hear something that brings strength in times of weakness. Let us remember to continue to live as Christ’s disciples. We can change the world by bringing the light of joy and peace into the darkest of places.

We Will Conquer Rome

I just returned home from our Maundy Thursday service. We presented the Living Last Supper as we did on Palm Sunday. I heard a line that really touched me this evening. One of the disciples said the phrase, “We will defeat Rome by out-living and out-loving her.”

I was reminded that divine love can overcome anything. I am not talking about the kind of love reserved for emotions or desperate signs of affection (though God can use these things to make His presence known). I am talking about the kind of love that radically forms and transforms the deepest parts of the human spirit. The type of love that realizes itself by actions. When a person loves as Christ loves there is a resolve to be present and to express kindness.

I believe that the heavenly notion of love is most often watered down and resigned to just a “word” that sounds pretty. The reality is that sometimes love is not very pretty. It weathers the storm and survives the rough seas that we experience in our lives. Christ’s love is powerful and is the strongest expression of divine hope that is humanly possible.

Tonight I was reminded of the might and goodness of a holy commitment to the Creator. It goes the distance and radically moves us into faithfulness. Love will move the mountains of regret and anxiety that can sometimes cloud our vision. It is sturdy and confident. Love will overcome the struggles that we face.

Praise be to God for the gift of love. Be transformed by its strength. Be led by its kindness. Be made whole.

Today’s Reminder

Most days I go about my business and get caught up in the routine of my schedule.  Now don’t get me wrong.  My activities throughout the day are anything but routine.  Most days I have to roll with the flow.  I am talking about routine being how long I am away from home, when things are due for bulletins and newsletters, the time for visitations.  These are the things that happen every week.

Then there days like this one, when I am hit over the head with a sudden awareness of how much someone means to me.  I am talking about my big stinky boy.  The one who will be 19 in June.  As a parent, I want nothing more than his happiness.  I will move heaven and earth to help him find the thing that brings him joy.

When he came into the world I remember holding him in my arms.  He was screaming like crazy.  I started singing a song that I sang to Cazandra’s belly just about every day she was pregnant.  Immediately, when he heard my voice he stopped crying and started looking around the room.  I will never forget that moment.  It still takes my breath away.  I felt a connection to another person like I had never had before that second.  Looking around the room at Cazandra and then Julian I knew that I was blessed beyond all measure.  Praise be to God that even someone like me could know absolute joy!

Whatever it was that took me back to that moment in the hospital today, I am grateful to remember my son’s presence in my life.  I pray that he becomes the person that he was created to be and live into the passions that were planted deep within his soul.  I hope that he will always know that there is a divine presence in his life that will always be his source of strength and hope.  I thank him for the many lessons that he taught me about what it truly means to become a man.

Today, I thank God for the ability to stamp a moment in time in my spirit; to remind me of my most incredible moments of awareness when the Holy Spirit speaks brilliantly into my life.  I am grateful that I still want to add a little phrase to Psalm 139:14, “I give thanks to you that I was marvelously set apart” (CEB).  The phrase I want to add is this, “But look at my boy!”

I ask you, today for whom are you the most grateful?  Share with them right now.  Let them know how important they are.  Let them know that they matter.

Staying One Step Ahead

I looked back over a few of the posts that I have recently written and laugh when I realized that I have fallen into the trap. It is a necessary trap, but still a trap. As a church leader, I must plan ahead when preparing for each of the seasons observed by the church. Actually, we are usually talking about this Easter immediately after last year’s Easter celebration. We must stay well ahead of the game to prepare the best celebrations and observances possible. Sometimes, the excitement of the current season is usurped by focusing on events that are way ahead of us.

I hope to remember the excitement and joy of this season and not simply be caught up in projecting into the future. While it is crucial to plan what will happen, I must remember to not forget the present. It is here, right now. My task is to celebrate the joys that each season brings. The only way to experience it, is to be aware of the moment.

Today I hope to not let the plans for the future rob me of the present. May the journey through this last week of Lent be special and not something that was simply planned months ago. I want to be connected to the journey to the cross and finally to the joy of the Easter season. This can only be achieved be remaining focused on the now.

This Holy Monday, we make our way through the week by remembering the love of God and the road that Jesus took for us all.   May this time be a season of renewal in our souls as we move through the week. I hope that each day will bring us closer to the amazing one that we call the Messiah. Praise be to God who gives us the victory.

Facing the Darkness

I know that my last few posts have been a little darker than normal, but t’is the season. In the Christian tradition we are entering the most sacred time in our faith. Sunday will begin the week known as Holy Week. We will end the week with the time known as the Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday). Our eyes move beyond our own spiritual commitment and on to the sacrifice of God. We remember the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

I have celebrated many a Holy Week, but I continue to struggle in fully comprehending the nature of love as God shared with humanity. And the answer to the big why question (Why do we remember the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus?) is pretty simple: We remember the Triduum out of divine love for the highest order of creation. Holy love came to us to reclaim the core of our identity.

The thought of all of this is overwhelming. I know that my words fail me every time I try to answer the “big why” question. Perhaps it is best by not seeking out a definitive answer. Maybe it is best to simply live every day in gratitude for the One who gave us life. It could be that our words will always fall short in answering such a large question, but maybe our works are our response to the giver of the wonderful gift that was given unselfishly to us.

Today I am grateful for the Passion of Christ. The one who taught me to face the darkness, because on the other side there is light. My journey may take me through the darkest of places, but I know the perpetual light of God will see me through those times until I am on the other side of my struggle; embracing the holy light of the One who leads me. This is the core and basis of my faith. This indeed is my strength. Praise be to God, who gives us the final victory!

The Art of Changing

I once heard a favorite pastor of mine ask a congregation, “Is it truly possible to change, or do we simply rearrange the chairs on the deck of the Titanic?”  I initially laughed at my friend’s question, but started thinking about what was being asked.  To keep it in a Wesleyan perspective, do we truly change when our heart is “strangely warmed?”

There are people that I know that swear to a radical shift in ideas and focus.  I know that there are people who truly experience an amazing transformation. Many come to a place in their lives where they profess that change has occurred, yet spend a rather large amount of time attempting to convince themselves that something really occurred.  They boldly proclaim that Jesus is the one who has changed their hearts, yet live in doubt and fear when faced with life’s many issues.

What is the change that occurs?  We can give the religious hard line answer that, “Jesus changed my life,” but how are we living like he really made an impact on our thoughts and actions?  I believe that when true change occurs there is a shift in our way of thinking.  I do not believe that we get a little “Jesus Juice” and start living our lives as if we are completely different people.  Little by little we exchange our old world view and our reactions to it, for an approach that is life affirming and life giving.

Change is not achieved in one single moment.  It takes a lifetime.  I think this is what it means to move forward towards perfection (Again another Wesleyan statement).  And as we continue through our journey, there is one thing that we know to be true, the God of grace will forgive us.  This leads to the stumbling block to true change; accepting the gift of grace.  I mean at the heart level.  If we don’t accept the idea that God will love us into perfection, then are we truly changed?

I don’t want to live as if I am simply rearranging the chairs, I want to share a message of hope and love.  I want to let people know that this incredible God of all things changed my heart and life; from the inside out.  I want to live as one who has accepted and holds dear the notion of divine love and amazing grace.  Praise be to God, who gives us the victory!

When We See the Bottom

There are times when I feel like I am sinking into a well.  No matter what I do I can’t seem to stop the free fall.  The truth is, life can sometimes be overwhelming.  We all know what it’s like to struggle and face obstacles.  I think this is part of being human.

I believe that what saves me from absolutely hitting the bottom is the elasticity of the love of God.  I am talking about the amazing power of the Holy One; who will save us from a feeling of hopelessness.  The one who offers us shelter when the winds and waves of life seem too strong and too deep.  This is the good news of our faith.  The same Jesus who walked on water opens his arms to rescue us from drowning.  The storm will eventually subside, but we will be comforted through the roughest parts.

This is where the rubber meets the road in my faith.  I believe that the amazing presence of the Holy Spirit claims me in the middle of all my stuff and offers me security.  This is the basis of my hope, and one of the most intimate parts of my understanding of God. I will not be alone in my journey.  That is the best of news.

Today I am thankful for a God who promises to catch me when I fall.  I am grateful for the strength of relationships that breathe life into my soul.  May we continue to draw strength from each other.  Let us share the hope of God with a world that is desperate to hear the Good News of salvation.  Praise be to God, who gives us the final victory!

Stepping Out of the Box

Today was a little uncomfortable for me. Not in a bad way. Today, in my sermon, I made my feelings known regarding a theological issue. I try to avoid going too far away from center on just about every Sunday, because I know that we have people on each side of the aisle. Our church does an amazing job of accepting people as they are. We are a diverse congregation. I think that is a great strength. So, in respect to my conservative and progressive friends, I try to preach the truth of the Gospel in a way that all can hear and understand right where they are. It is a slippery slope, but I think I maintain a balance pretty well.

Today, I discussed the new covenant found in the 31st chapter of the Book of Jeremiah. The basis of my theological assumption was found in the 34th verse: “They will no longer need to teach each other to say, “Know the Lord!” because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord; for I will forgive their wrongdoing and never again remember their sins.” I stressed the inclusive nature of the phrase. The text says “all” and not just a specific group. Thanks be to God, my sermon was well received.

The Christian tradition has a past that at times excludes people. I called that to mind and basically said, “Who are we to judge? That is God’s work and not ours.” We play judge and jury in many different ways. I could write a list of how others minimalized my voice, but that is not the point. The main thing that cries out from this holy covenant is that God no longer remembers any wrong doing, so why should we?

Today, may we remember that this covenant is made for “all” and not just for “some.” We must leave space at the table and allow God to determine who is in and who is out. That is how we are to live and be in this world. Let us focus on being grateful that we are called to the Supper and we are not left to our own devices. Praise be to God who gives us the final victory!

The Shame Game

I am currently reading a book that addresses the nature of shame.  I must admit that this issue is one that I have struggled with for most of my life.  I was raised with a belief that I should be ashamed of who I am because I am not athletic.  All of my interests were directed towards creativity and the performing arts.  As a little boy growing up in the South, this was an abomination.  The message was perfectly clear; something was wrong with me.

I embraced the shame of my particular situation and learned how to mask it.  I survived by learning how to deflect the shots aimed at my heart.  My truth became something that I held fast to.  I did everything that I could to protect it.  I thought that the people around me never really wanted to get to know me, because if they did they would never like the real me.  This was how I navigated my world.  Shame was the driving force that guided me in most of my decisions.  I felt as if I had no agency.

My healing came as I started to reclaim my voice and allow God to come into those places that I felt that no one could enter.  Slowly (and I do mean slowly) I began to embrace the little boy inside of me that was frightened and ashamed of simply being himself.  The Spirit began to heal those deep wounds and I have grown to appreciate my younger self.  The person who secretly struggled with just about every area of life.

I admire that little boy’s strength that could keep going, even when everything around him was calling him inadequate and useless.  What amazing strength this boy possessed.  His unwavering commitment to never give up.  To keep moving forward.  To never quit believing that the amazing God of the Universe lived within him.

Today I am grateful for being set free of the constant shame that controlled me.  As we invite God into the darkest recesses of our spirits we will began to see the act of creation within ourselves.  We will be changed.  Slowly but surely.  We must be patient and do the work that we are able to do one reveal at a time.  Praise be to God who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ, our Lord!

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.