A Summer Treat

WP_20150629_001

This picture was taken at my sons’ favorite restaurant.  It is called Burrito Express.  Both boys enjoy the wonderful tortillas that are made on the spot.  This restaurant is as close to Tex-Mex that we can get living in Rio Rancho.  We are New Mexicans by choice, but the food from Texas will always be near and dear to our hearts.

Don’t let my 19 year old son’s face fool you.  He had a good time in spite of my request to take a selfie.  I am sure everyone remembers those incredibly awkward moments that you did something out of a sense of obligation.  The expression on my son’s face says it all.  “Dad, please.  Taking this picture is not the highlight of my day.”  While that may be so, the food was well worth it!

What I enjoyed, more than the food, was a chance to connect with my stinky sons.  We sat and ate and laughed about ridiculous things.  These are moments that I treasure beyond words, for they capture the unique camaraderie that I share with these two amazing men.  I hope that this is a summer that they will look back on and smile as they remember that insane picture, the delicious food, and their insane dad, smiling with absolute joy over being blessed with small bursts of time with my amazing sons.

Today, I am grateful for my family, who constantly remind me that when life gets messy and stressful, they are there to be a place of comfort.  I look at this picture and realize that I am very blessed.  I could never have imagined that I would be the father of these guys, much less a husband (In December we will be married for 23 years) to the one who is truly the love of my life.  Praise Be to God, indeed!

A Day of Remembrance and Rest

Today is a holiday to remember and give thanks for those who have served in our Armed Forces. It is with gratitude that I say, “Thank you for your service.” I give thanks for the many members of my family who made a difference in my life. There are not enough words to express my thanks for leaving an incredible legacy to my generation. We must move forward equipped with the gift of hope and passion.

In addition to showing my appreciation for those who served in our military, I am grateful for a wonderful day of rest. There was nothing exciting about the day. It was quiet and peaceful; just the kind of day that is needed every now and then. I claimed sanctuary at home and did some much needed tasks around the house.

I caught myself starting the day feeling a little anxious. How would I make my day count? What will I do to claim success? The answer was, be still and know. Through my anxiety, I simply heard, “Joe, just chill out. Enjoy your day.”

Sometimes it is a little rough to stay still. I am hard wired to get up in the morning and hit the ground running. It seems like there are not enough hours in the day for me to accomplish every task that I want to finish. I think, “If I only had another hour.” I know that if I had another hour I would find a way to use it up, only needing another and another. It seems to not stop.

Today I give thanks for a day of rest. I am grateful to live in a nation that allows me to pursue my heart’s desire. I give thanks for the many men and women who have secured our freedom. May we continue to honor their sacrifices by living our lives with purpose and joy. While we rest, let us remember to direct our lives so that others may see the light of Christ that flows from the deepest parts of our spirit.

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!

A Moment to Remember

Yesterday afternoon I attended synagogue at Congregation Albert, in Albuquerque.  The service was dedicated to the remembrance of those who were victims of the Holocaust.  I was moved by the gathering of people from many faith traditions as I saw people wearing cleric collars and yamakas.  We were all there to stand united against any act of evil that diminishes voices.

The service itself was an ecumenical response to tragedy and hope that can rise out of devastation.  We were at a synagogue, the Cantata was written by a Christian, the poems and melodies were taken from non-Jewish prisoners, and we said a prayer led by a rabbi.  You can’t get more ecumenical than that.  It was breath taking.  Perhaps my favorite memory of the day was a special moment when six Holocaust survivors came forward and, as the synagogue’s children’s choir sang a wonderful melody, the survivors lit candles in memory of the six million victims who lost their lives as a result of Nazi domination.

There was something extremely profound as we gathered together to acknowledge our loss.  Suddenly, the notion of what it means to be a child of God was larger than the confines that we place around religious divisions.  There are situations and conditions that bring humanity together to struggle with what it means to live with one another and give thanks for all that gifts that are given to us.

My hope for today is that we will no longer be bound by our own theological constructs, but open the doors to learn from each other.  Love is born out of the notion that we are all God’s children and as such, every one of us brings special gifts and insights to the table.  The banquet feast is available for all of us.  Let us stop speaking language that does not confirm the reality that we all find truths that strengthen us and bring us hope.  May the holy presence of God move within us to understand and embrace the spirit of ecumenicalism.

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.

It’s All About Practice

As a pastor, I learn lessons about life from just about everyone that I meet. Each person teaches me a little jewel about how to live with God and each other. Some lessons are extremely uplifting and positive, while others are more about what not to do. While sometimes being very uncomfortable, I am grateful for these nuggets of life’s lessons.

One of the greatest lessons that I have learned is the importance of studying scripture. I need to spend time studying holy writings as much as I need air. Knowing the teachings and sayings that illuminated men and women have spoken over the years equips me to call upon divine help in moments of struggle. In order to summon God’s help, I must know what to say. Scripture gives us the words by which we can live and struggle in this world.

I have seen people call upon the name of God without opening a Bible, nor anything else that directs them to the Holy One. To put it bluntly, we must study the Word to be equipped with the Word. It is through study that holy love is revealed to us. How can we identify if God is there, if we don’t know what we are looking for? We must search the sacred text to explore the possibilities of divine intervention. It is like starting on a journey without a map. Sometimes you might get lucky and discover something completely by mistake, but more often than not, you will surely miss the mark. You must have something that gets you from point “A” to point “B”.

Today I hope to discover how God leads me as I continue to study and search for God’s purpose in my life. I hope to not simply “go through the motions,” but continue to live with the presence of the Holy One. Sometimes the map is easy to follow, while at other times it seems like the map has blown away. It is through all times that we set our sights on God. The Divine will show us the way if we let Him. 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!

Hope

I think “hope” is one of the most powerful words in our vocabulary. It moves us forward with the possibilities of what can be. Through this little four letter word “hope” we can see a light at the end of the tunnel. There is a promise that relief will come and we will move forward into a place that is free of some of our current struggles and/or situations. We will have options and choices not known to us in the current moment.

In my faith tradition hope is everything. God’s divine care and providence are as much a part of my life as the air that I breathe. Tomorrow I am preaching on the Hebrew Bible text found in the Book of Jeremiah (31:31-34). I am talking about the new covenant made to the people of God as they attempt to find a new normal in a world that has changed drastically.

In the middle of it all, God comes to the prophet Jeremiah and speaks words of hope and promise. The Holy One will establish a new way of living and being with His people. This will be a covenant like none other. “No, this is the covenant that I will make with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my Instructions within them and engrave them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 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” (Jer. 31:33-34 CEB).

As I write this I remember the journey with my younger son over the last couple of years. I remember those days in the hospital that turned into weeks at a time. I remember staying up with him as he screamed in pain. “When will this stop?” Many of those days and nights the only thing my family could do was hope. I am happy to say that we are living in the middle of that hope. We have made it past a year since his last joint bleed. Praise be to God!

Today I am grateful for the hope found in my faith. This is God’s promise to me found in the very depths of my soul. Praise be to the God who knows us inside and out. The God who loves us beyond our own understanding will illumine our paths so that we can move forward in the promises that were given to us.

The Fear of God – It’s a Good Thing

When I talk about the fear of God I am not talking about the kind of feeling that makes us anxious and recoil in absolute terror. If we had to live in that kind of fear to please God, I am not sure I would be up for the task. This type of fear brings about negative images and certainly not a place that I would like to visit much less in which I would like to live. There has to be another solution or definition for a unique kind of fear.

The shepherds warned us not to give in to this kind of fear when encountering God. Several times throughout the Bible different people are confronted with heavenly beings and the first thing that is said is, “Fear not!” Anxiety is not to be the main emotion when encountering the Divine. How can a person even hear the voice of the Divine if the main energy in the room is one of paralyzing terror?

So, then what does it mean to live in fear of God? Martin Luther suggested that there are several different kinds of fear. Servile fear is the kind of toxic anxious kind of stuff that we try to avoid at all costs. It is the kind that blinds us to any life giving substance. We are held in its grip and surrender to its dark power that overwhelms us. It’s that kind of fear that knocks me to my knees and beats me up until I can’t seem to stand. It is unyieldingly brutal and painfully crippling.

The better understanding of the fear of God is something called filial fear. It is an understanding or acceptance of the power and strength of God in our lives. This type of fear is one that describes our unique relationship with God as our Father. As children of the Holy One we fear that they will not do what is needed to please our parent God, and so our work is done carefully and thoughtfully to present the very best that we have to offer. It is not done in the worry and dread that there is punishment, but out of a necessity to please God.

Healthy fear is born out of our reverence and not out of our places of shame and worry. The more we live into a filial fear of God, we will experience the exact opposite of what we experience when we are driven by servile fear. We will experience joy as our work moves us into a deeper relationship with God. We will know peace as our ministry draws us closer to the Divine.

The author of the Book of Proverbs writes, “The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord; the knowledge of the holy one is understanding” (Prov. 9:10 CEB). Our transformation from servile to filial moves us into the wisdom and holiness of God. This is the beginning of our journey. It is our story as we continue to share in the richness of God’s grace.

Take Time to Be Holy!

ImageImage

 

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.

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.