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!

The Revelation of God

I’m not talking about the big loud thunder crashes, lightning bolts, and dramatic revelations.  I mean the kinds where God may quietly reveal His presence to you throughout the day.  It can be in the form of a phone call from a friend, the kindness of a passing stranger, or even a smell or picture that calls to mind God’s awesome presence.  Some call it a coincidence, but I call it divine intervention.  Whatever it is, we are left with the amazing awareness that something greater than us calls us to be a part of that which is bigger than our own little corner of the world.

Many times in life God has set me on a journey.  Many times I have come to appreciate God’s voice located in the still, small, silent discoveries along the way.  Things that may not appear to be much at first glance, but in the end are just as important as the big things.  They are the wonderful little nuggets of knowledge that we glean from our desire to grow in God’s will for our lives.

We simply have to be open to the quiet discoveries along the way.  Reflect and know that the Creator continues to pour blessings in your life.  While they are subtle, they are incredibly profound and important.  All that is required is a willing heart.

Today, I give thanks for the times where God is undeniably present.  I also give thanks for the times when I must be still and allow God’s love to quietly flow through me and around me.  These times of peace lead to times of strength and confidence in the awareness of spirit.  May we leave ourselves open to God’s breath to speak hope and healing into our lives.

This Thing Called Fear

“Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, 15but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord” (1 Pet. 3:14b-15a CEB).

Yesterday I started by letting my fears be known. Okay, some of my fears. The truth is that fear is such a deeply rooted part of my psyche that I am not aware of its powers and hold over me. It sometimes it leaves me crippled and without a sense of purpose. It comes out in ways that hold my soul hostage and a freeze comes in and leaves my soul motionless.

The Biblical text from the third chapter of 1 Peter addresses those who shared in my struggle. I obviously was not the first person (nor will I be the last) to know what it is like to let fear control different parts of life. The ancient believers struggled as well. There was much of which to be afraid. To be discovered as a believer in Christ in the first and second century Palestine was to risk being imprisoned or even worse, martyred. There was a lot at stake to confess being a follower of the Amazing One.

It is in the middle of chaos that the author of the Book of 1 Peter reminds believers to not fear what everyone around us fears. This implies that there is good fear and there is fear that is not life giving. I am not simply called to dismiss the fact that I am afraid, but to redirect my fear back to God. In other words, as long as I can find strength from God in the middle of the times that put me on high alert, then fear can become a reminder that in the middle of all of this stuff that is hurled against me, God will be there in the middle of it all.

My hope is that you are able to acknowledge the most basic parts of you that is weighed down by fear and all of its negative consequences. I think calling them by name and writing them in a journal is a great way to begin this journey. We come before God authentically and say, “Here it is God; the stuff that I know that keeps me from worshiping you fully. The stuff that keeps me so blind that I can’t even see your amazing handiwork in my life.” Be open to allow the Spirit of God to help you see all of the other things in your life that seem to hold you captive.

Tomorrow I will write about the idea or thought of good fear.

Peace,

Joe

My Mother’s Love

It is hard to believe that tomorrow my mother will be gone for three years.  I find myself thinking about her as the anniversary of her death draws closer.  I miss the laughs, smiles, tears, arguments, etc.  I miss it all.  Those that knew her know what I’m talking about.

I think the most amazing thing that I miss is the security that I had knowing that she was just a phone call away.  I never had a problem that was too big for my mother to help.  Her voice is gone and I miss it deeply.  Even after three years, I miss it now more than ever before.

So, it is with a sense of loss that I had a fantastic dream.  In my dream, I was in a desolate area and a pay phone started ringing.  I answered the phone and it was my mom on the other end.  I started to cry and told her that I missed her.  Getting myself together, I asked her, “What’s it like?”

She responded, “Do you remember the prettiest city that we ever visited?”  I told her that I remembered.

She then said, “It is so much prettier.”  I knew then that she could not leave and that she wanted to stay.  The dream ended with me telling her that I loved her.

No matter how incredible the descriptions are in the Bible, we can never know the beauty that awaits us.  Our own imagination is limited by our humanity.  Every now and then we have wonderful glimpses into what is to come.  And we know that at the end, we will be united with our loved ones and proclaim in unison, “It is so much prettier!”

My Boy’s Mighty Spirit

As I reflect back on my stinky boy’s journey through the long hospital stays and the incredibly large amounts of time traveling back and forth to and from our home, I remember the one thing that seemed to be missing. It was my son’s spirit. He is quick and joyful and full of wonderful amounts of energy. It is impossible to keep up with him.

As the hospital stays got longer I saw that amazing spirit disappear. I did just about everything I could to bring it back. It took time and it took being a cheerleader to keep that energy present. We played games. We talked. We moved heaven and earth to maintain his joy.

We are far removed from those horribly rough times. I have seen the return of the old spirit that my son fearlessly shares. I have seen a joy return that has been missing for quite a while. He is happy and very glad to be where he is right now. He indeed gives thanks for the journey.

As a parent watching and sharing in this journey, I am amazed at the many life lessons that this incredibly boy of mine continues to teach me. I learned from him that the worst possible things can happen, but that little seed of faith that is in the core of who we are can be ignited to bring us comfort during the hard times. Just because the journey becomes hard does not mean that our travels are not worth the effort. We must continue to stay strong and to keep moving forward in spite of the obstacles that seem to stand in our way.

So, today I give thanks for my amazing son who teaches me the greatest of life’s lessons every day. I am grateful that even at my age I am learning the biggest lessons from an eight year old. Praise be to God for him and for the one who fills my soul with so much gratitude that the only thing I can do is to stand and shout, “Hallelujah!”

A Memory That Makes My Soul Smile

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Recently I was sharing a story about the time that Cazandra told me that we were going to have our first child.  I related the story to a fellow staff member at my church.  As I shared with her the story of how I told my mom about this new journey that we would begin together, I felt overwhelmed by a flood of emotions. 

I was taken aback by how I was feeling in retelling that story.  What caused me to connect so profoundly to the announcement of my son’s impending birth?  Was there something that I had not recognized about the dramatic changes that my life was about to experience?  Why now?  Why so emotional after all these years?  He wasn’t born yesterday.  His eighteenth birthday is still a few months away.  Maybe the realization that he will be an adult is leading to a heighten feeling of nostalgia regarding his life.

Perhaps it could have been a quick moment to remember my mother.  I know that she loved my children well and was a fantastic grandmother to boot.  Maybe my emotional response came from a place of sadness as life goes on without my mother’s physical presence.  Her silence speaks loudly into my life.  One of the most important places in which she speaks is her absence in my children’s lives as they will not be able to build new memories with their “Granny.”  I know my mom still lives on in spirit, and I know that the joy and love that I share for my son are interwoven with the love that I have for my mother.

And as for me, I went back to my office and gave a prayer of thanksgiving for that big stinky boy that I have been honored to raise.  I gave thanks for his presence in my life and will continue to thank my God for this particular person that I call my son.  His talents are great and his heart is even greater.

There are people, places or things that connect us to the most intimate part of ourselves.  The part that reflects upon the greatness of God.  My son is the reminder of the Divine love that I have in my heart and the overwhelming gratitude to God for being trusted to raise him.  I try to make sense of how I was qualified to raise a child and I must say that I agree with the Psalmist when he says, “That kind of knowledge is too much for me; it’s so high above me that I can’t fathom it” (Psalm 139:6 CBE).  Whatever the reason may be, I am eternally grateful.

And as far as the picture, this is him in his element:  His love of the theater shines through his eyes despite the green makeup.  He played the title role in Shrek at his high school.  His voice is so much better than mine.  He has a nice beautiful tone that just flows naturally from his mouth.

To watch him on stage is pure joy.  I am so glad that he is able to follow his passion.  Onstage Mr. MacDonald is fearless.  There is no doubt where he should be.  How blessed am I to watch my child delight in his calling.

Today I am filled with gratitude for the love that is now and for the love that I have had.  I eagerly look forward to the future and the amazing things that await my son as he continues to astound me along this journey.

Take Time to Be Holy!

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Today I met with my incredible staff at a restaurant (Gabriel’s) in Santa Fe, NM. The food was wonderful. After a great meeting I was dropped off at the Santa Fe Plaza. My wife is joining me for a wonderful concert of American music presented by the Desert Chorale.

It has been strange being on my own. I have spent my time wandering the streets and visiting the Loretta Chapel and the St. Francis Basilica. No one would have branded me a Methodist in this all Catholic setting. My secret was safe with the exception of the cross that hangs from my neck. No crucifix, my secret is revealed!

When I left the Basilica, I noticed a labyrinth outside of the church. I decided to walk the path and did so in silence. The intricate inner workings of the design took me approximately 30 minutes to walk. As I continued on my journey, I tried to clear my mind of the world around me and concentrate on taking the next right turn on the path. Sometimes there were distractions along the way. The street was filled with cars that filled the air with unnecessary noise. I tried not to let the external chaos overwhelm me as I attempted to listen to my soul.

I prayed for my family; for my sons. I prayed that I would continue along my path to be the person, pastor, husband, father, friend, etc…that I am called to be. I had to concentrate on my journey. While I was walking several people started to follow the labyrinth’s path. They were noisy and did not exhibit a sense of solemnity as they ran up and down the colored bricks that indicated the road to the center of the pattern. It was distracting and at times I wanted to break my silence and simply say, “Please be quiet!” Realizing my response would negate the reason I began this journey in the first place I decided to be quiet and make room for the intruders into my holy space.

Despite everything around me, I finished walking the labyrinth. I walked to the center and then back out to where I began my odyssey. Taking this quick 30 minute journey made me realize that as I continue down my spiritual path I will encounter noise, distractions, and fatigue. All of these outside influences should not interrupt my walk. I should push forward with my eyes focused on the next right step and the next right turn. It is my focus on God that carries me through the challenges that I encounter. I am grateful that I am on the road and that I am a child of the One who guides my path. I hope to have more moments to simply be still and focus on God.

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