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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Sabal Palmetto

“After a whirlwind passes by, the wicked are no more, but the righteous stand firm forever.”
Proverbs 10:25 (Common English Bible)

            This official Florida state tree boasts a higher wind resistance than any other palm, according to a research study conducted by Mary Duryea, University of Florida associate dean of research, and reported in an issue of Coastal Living magazine.[i] Consequently, this is one of the trees most favored by landscapers when planting by the shore. Strong Caribbean winds have little effect upon the Sabal Palmetto. They remain, for the most part, unshakeable in all conditions of weather.

            A major theme of Proverbs, and notably of this passage, is that how we choose to live has ultimate consequences. Those who live foolishly are those who have chosen to live according to every desire of their heart. This is a decision to ignore the wisdom of God and God’s direction for living. When the storms of life blow, as they inevitably do for each of us, we are swept away. This is not God’s punishment for ignoring God’s wisdom. Becoming “swept away” by the strong winds that beat against us, from time to time, is the natural consequence of the poor decisions we make. It is no different from the natural consequence of choosing to plant a tree by the shore that has low wind tolerance.

            A poor landscaping choice, when selecting a tree to plant near the shore, is the Washington Fan Palm. This tree scores low on wind-resistance. The selection of this tree to plant near the sea indicates that no care was given to the decision or that the conventional wisdom for landscaping was ignored. The inevitable result, during a tropical storm, is that this tree is likely to be uprooted and swept away. The landscaping will be, as Proverbs states it, “no more.” It is simply a natural consequence of a poor landscaping decision.

            Proverbs announces that God has rigged the universe for righteousness – that is, life that is built upon wisdom shall, “stand firm forever.” God’s ways are not simply a preference that God has for our lives. God understands what makes life work, and what makes life fail. God’s wisdom, shared generously in the scriptures, is simply a gracious invitation to live wisely, that we may endure the storms that come in every life. And when the strong Caribbean winds of hardship and difficulty blow across our path, we will stand firm. That is because our life has been planted on the enduring foundation of God’s wisdom.


[i] Marisa Spyker, “5 Trees to Plant by the Sea: What works (and what doesn’t) when it comes to planting trees by the shore,” Coastal Living, March, 2013.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Vintage Sand Pails

“They call all sorts of people to the mountain, where they offer right sacrifices. It’s true: 
They’re nourished on the sea’s abundance; they are nourished on buried treasures in the sand.”
Deuteronomy 33:19 (Common English Bible)

     A throwback beach toy, vintage sand pails “carry summertime nostalgia in spades,” writes Betsy Cribb in a recent issue of Coastal Living magazine.[i] Cribb laments the loss of the old metal beach pails that have now given away to their plastic counterparts. The first of these colorful metal sand pails popped up on American beaches in the mid-1800s. But it would be another 30 years, when trains made travel to the beach available to a wider population that the little pails skyrocketed in popularity. Cribb writes that early versions were hand-painted in just one or two colors and lacquered for a glossy finish. But chromolithography (a multicolor printing process) enabled toy-makers to crank out pails with detail illustrations in bright, saturated hues. Original metal sand pails are now in demand by a new generation as great decorative and collectible pieces as a plant holder or vintage d├ęcor piece for beach homes and cottages.

     Often, children used sand pails for building sandcastles – some pails included a shovel and a variety of molds with which one could make interesting sand sculptures. Also popular with children was the use of the pails, with contrasting handles, to gather collectibles from the sea and the beach such as seashells, sea glass, buttons, and pebbles. The ocean and the shore presented gifts in abundance for the curious seeker with the determination and energy to scan the water and sand for them. With lighthearted and cheerful illustrations, these metal sand pails offered families colorful, and inexpensive, mini-beach playsets that provided hours of enjoyment for their children.

     Here, in this rich passage from Deuteronomy, God speaks of extracting from the sea’s abundance the nourishment the people required and gathering multiple treasures from the sand. As children on our beaches, running cheerfully with sand pail in hand, collecting from the abundance of God’s varied gifts, God invites us to notice and collect the gifts God has given us. The days of limited resources for God’s people are over. God has a new lifestyle in mind for us. The time of struggle has past and now, as the people settled in God’s promised territory, they would be nourished on, “the sea’s abundance; they are nourished on buried treasures in the sand.” The function of these few verses is to shift the focus from Israel’s behavior to God’s ultimate purpose to bless God’s people.

     And here is the good news! The law of God, with all its demands upon the people, is thus subordinated to the overriding purpose – and desire – of God for his people. God’s love and concern for the welfare of the people is declared in spite of the people failing God and one another. In the end, our disobedience to God will not stop God from blessing us. God simply cannot help but to shower blessings upon those God loves. This becomes an occasion for joy in every aspect of our lives – an occasion for us to respond by coming before God, on God’s mountain, where we present “right sacrifices” that we might share God’s blessings with others.         

[i] Betsy Cribb, “Vintage Sand Pails: The throwback beach toys carry summertime nostalgia in spades.” Coastal Living, July/August, 2017, page 24. 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Plan B

“When they approached the province of Mysia, they tried to enter the province of Bithynia, 
but the Spirit of Jesus wouldn’t let them. Passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas instead.”
Acts 16:7, 8 (Common English Bible)

            From the Riverside Church pulpit of New York City, Harry Emerson Fosdick began a sermon, “Even in ordinary times few persons have a chance to live their lives on the basis of their first choice.”[i] The sermon was preached in 1944 and remains as timely today as it was then. A distinguished preacher, Fosdick’s sermons reached a broader audience than the Riverside Church. Once identified as one of America’s towering religious leaders, pastors from around the nation would travel to New York City to be coached toward more effective preaching in their own pulpits. Quite simply, Fosdick would teach that effective preaching met the pressings needs of the person in the pew. That morning in 1944, Fosdick did exactly that in grand fashion. His starting point was a common human condition – having to do the best we can with our second and third choices in life.

            Fosdick found a natural place to begin in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Acts. The apostle Paul, along with his traveling companions, most urgently desired to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Bithynia, “but the Spirit of Jesus wouldn’t let them.” Declaring the Gospel of Christ from a pulpit square in the middle of Bithynia was Paul’s first choice. Denied his first choice, Paul traveled to Troas instead. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: There was a man of Macedonia standing before Paul, urging Paul, “Come over to Macedonia and help us! (Acts 16:9)” Paul had not planned that! Paul had not intended to go to Europe. It would be a stretch to say that Europe was Paul’s second choice – so focused he was on Bithynia. Paul had not considered a second choice. But a second choice is what Europe became.

            Well, wanting Bithynia and getting Troas is a familiar experience, declared Fosdick. Each of us set our sights on our own Bithynia and there is nothing wrong with that! Perhaps it is pursuing an education at a particular college, aspiring to a particular career, or entering a deeply meaningful and fulfilling relationship with another person. Casting our sights on something purposeful demonstrates hopefulness and energy and joy in living. But for many of us, our expectations are disappointed. Our eyes are directed toward Bithynia and we find ourselves in Troas.

            Paul was not permitted to enter Bithynia, to have his first choice in life and in ministry. And his response to receiving second best is instructive to us. Paul did not slump in defeat and disappointment. Paul was not immobilized by despair. A man from Macedonia came to Paul in a dream and urged him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” And when Paul received this vision, he went immediately to Macedonia, concluding that this is God’s call and claim upon him. In this brief and simple act of obedience, Paul changed to course of the Christian faith! That is because Paul’s ministry in Macedonia set in motion particular opportunities that resulted in nearly two-thirds of our New Testament. Paul believed that if God led him to Troas instead of Bithynia, there must be something in Troas worth discovering.


[i] Halford R. Ryan, “Handling Life’s Second-Bests” Harry Emerson Fosdick: Persuasive Preacher (New York: Greenwood Press, 1989), p. 117.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

God Made a Woman

“And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman
and brought her to the man.”
Genesis 2: 22 (New Revised Standard Version)

God Made a Woman is a mid-tempo ballad performed by Jerrod Niemann that pays tribute to the romantic influence a woman has in a man’s life. Written by three of his friends in the country music industry, Niemann says that this song has a powerful message for all men who are lucky enough to have a girl that makes them a better person. As children, we explore and learn about the great wonders of the world. Once a boy becomes a man, says Niemann, he discovers that the greatest wonder of all – indeed God’s greatest gift – is the love of a woman; “I was searching for something I didn’t even know I was after. Then God made a woman fall for a man. Didn’t have much going, but his life began when she took his hand.”

The great narrative of the Bible begins with a dramatic flash – God formed the heavens and the earth from nothing more than the authority of God’s spoken word. Then, God made man. The wonders continue. God leaned down from heaven and “breathed” God’s own breath into the lungs of the man; the man inhaled deeply and his life began. That had not been done with any other living creature God made. Even now, God’s creative powers did not rest.  God made a woman from a rib God took from the man “and brought her to the man.” At that moment, this country ballad declares, “The sky turned blue, the clouds parted, light shined on a lonely heart. When God made a woman.”

Located here in this extraordinary book of the Bible is a grand declaration. God looks upon the man that God created and noticed that man was alone. And God mutters to himself, “It is not good that the man should be alone. (Genesis 2:18)” God was not enough. Man needed more – more than just a relationship with his creator. In God’s wisdom, love and concern for man, God recognized that man needed a partner to be complete, someone with whom there could be intimacy. “He (God) made the moon, he made the sun. But to me the best thing he’s ever done. God made a woman.”

As this beautiful narrative continues into a third chapter, brokenness abruptly breaks into God’s good creation – a brokenness that continues to touch all of life today. For some, the beautiful union and intimacy of two people is disrupted, by death, by betrayal or divorce. Others never find someone with whom to enter that deep intimacy God intended. The garden where everything was once whole is overrun with the weeds of human desire to live without God. It is here that the drama of God’s work takes a fresh – and undeserved – direction. Man and woman may, at times, walk away from God but God refuses to let us go. The remainder of the Bible is that story – the story of a God that relentlessly pursues us, desiring to work healing in the broken places. We should not be surprised. For we have seen God’s character, “When God made a woman. Yeah, yeah. God made a woman.”


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Bless the Broken Road

“During the journey, as he approached Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven encircled him. 
He fell to the ground and heard a voice asking him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you harassing me?’ 
Saul asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are harassing,’ came the reply.”
Acts 9:3-5 (Common English Bible)

            Originally recorded by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on their 1994 album, Acoustic, the song, Bless the Broken Road, has since been recorded by multiple artist including Melodie Crittenden, Selah, Jamie Slocum, and Carrie Underwood. The highest-charting rendition is by the country music group, Rascal Flatts, who released the song in November, 2004 winning a Grammy Award for Best Country Song. Here is a moving message that describes how the process of getting over a past relationship can eventually lead to a deeper love. Every lost love is described as a star, which, collectively, all point the way to the present love: “Every long lost dream led me to where you are. Others who broke my heart they were like Northern stars, pointing me on my way into your loving arms.”

            I imagine a similar song was sung in the heart of the apostle Paul, a song that remained there until he took his last breath – a song of discovering, on the Road to Damascus, his one true love, Jesus Christ. In the Book of Acts, Paul self-identifies his love for God and his disdain for those who would corrupt the faith as he understood it. Chief among those Paul hated were followers of Jesus. With authority from the highest level of the Jewish faith, Paul traveled extensively, arresting “persons who belong to the Way (Christians)” and placing them in prison. Such was Paul’s passionate hate for Christians we may assume that his faith was one of considerable “brokenness” as he traveled one road after another, spewing out murderous threats against the Lord’s followers.

            During one of his campaigns to eradicate the “Christian menace,” Saul traveled a road to Damascus where “suddenly a light from heaven encircled him.” That road would become the place where Saul’s confidence in his own righteousness would be shattered. Falling to the ground, a voice thunders from heaven, asking Saul why he was following a road of hatred – a hatred of such intensity it aroused fear among the people. “Who are you, Lord?” asks Saul, whose name would become Paul. The reply would forever change Saul, both his name and the direction of his life. The “Northern star” of his passionate Jewish faith directed Saul down a road that was chosen by God to point him into the loving arms of Jesus.

            “This much I know is true,” announces the song, “That God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you.” For years upon years, Saul pursued a passionate love for his God, a love that was misdirected. Saul was lost, yet he kept pushing through, unaware that God was gathering all the brokenness of Saul life for a grand purpose. “I’d like to have the time I lost and give it back to you,” sounds the second stanza. We hear this in Paul’s writings in the New Testament, Paul regarded everything before Jesus as of no value. Yet, “It’s all part of a grander plan that is coming true.” The Road to Damascus would become Saul’s “broken road” where everything would now change. God blessed that broken road and led Saul straight to Jesus. God will do the same for us.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Happy People

 “From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, 
focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, 
all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise.”
Philippians 4:8 (Common English Bible)

            Happy People, a song recorded by the country group Little Big Town, features positive lyrics that both evoke feelings of joy and well-being as it encourages kindness and a positive approach to daily life: “Happy people don’t cheat. Happy people don’t lie. They don’t judge, or hold a grudge, don’t criticize.” Supported by a driving percussion rhythm, the memorable lyrics sound a poignant note of the choices each of us are called to make daily – the choice to collapse beneath the hurt and brokenness that may come our way or the choice to rise above the fray of disappointment and positively move forward as best we can, “Here’s to whatever puts a smile on your face. Whatever makes you happy people.”

            These lyrics offer sound counsel for living. It is the same counsel offered by the apostle Paul to those living in Philippi, “…if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things.” Paul does not address the external circumstances the people may be facing. In fact, those external circumstances are very difficult. There is a constant threat of persecution for their faith and quarrels among the spiritual leaders of the church are tearing at the fabric of their community. Yet, these difficulties, though serious, are not to be determinative for the life of Christians. Followers of Jesus Christ do not “react” toward what is happening all around them – they “respond” positively, confident in the presence of the risen Christ working through them for the reconciliation of the world.

            The difference between “reacting” and “responding” to daily life, and all each day brings, is considerable. Those who “react” give power to the circumstances of life for which they have little control. It is a power that will determine if the day will be filled with defeat or victory, sadness or happiness. The decision is made for us. But those who “respond” to daily life reserve that decision for themselves. For Christians, that decision is grounded in the certainty that, come what may each day, we belong to God. It is that knowledge that creates joy regardless of the circumstances we may find surrounding us.

            Paul asks that we “focus” our thoughts. That is an intentional, purposeful decision, not a reactive one. Paul then proceeds to identify the qualities that are to occupy our minds and shape our character as a people of God: “all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise.” We are reminded that the course of our life need not be directed by what happens to us but, rather, how we chose to face daily challenges. Little Big Town concludes their song, Happy People, “Well life is short. And love is rare. And we all deserve to be happy while we’re here.” Paul wants us to know that the decision is ours.


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Pray Daily

“They all met together and were constantly united in prayer, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, several other women, and the brothers of Jesus.”
Acts 1:14 (New Living Testament)

God invites, but never compels his people to join him in honoring his name and in carrying out his purposes.  We send our R.S.V.P. to the Father’s invitation by praying daily, as the Christians of the first century did.

The earliest disciples didn’t fuss over strategies, their knowledge of the Old Testament, sermons, or the right kind of hymnal.  Rather, after praying, they caught the fire of Pentecost (Acts 2), pushed outward, and literally changed the history of the world.

Luke’s first volume, his Gospel, climaxes with the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ and the praying and rejoicing of the disciples (24:52f)  His second volume, Acts of the Apostles, opens with the picture of the disciples “constantly devoting themselves to prayer” (1:14).

Before the disciples appointed someone to replace Judas, they prayed (Acts 1:24). Before choosing the Seven for the work of hospitality, they prayed (Acts 6:6).  Stephen, the first Stephen Minister, prayed that the sins of those who were stoning him to death would be forgiven (Acts 7:59f).

Daily prayer for God’s work, as well as for our own needs, does not require a special vocabulary of deep understanding of the Bible.  But it does require a willingness to engage the whole person with God, and such an engagement, you will find out, is really what is meant by worship.

If it’s not your habit to pray each day, consider purchasing a collection of prayers for daily use..  A prayer after all, is a prayer is a prayer.  Or, ask someone in the church to write out for you simple prayers that show praise, adoration, and gratitude to God, and that express your desire for the furtherance of his work in your life, in your family, in our church, and throughout the world. 

Years ago, my wife and I adopted the principle of Hudson Taylor, the founder of the old China Inland Mission, on the practice of prayer: “We must learn,” he said, “to move men through God by prayer alone.”  That still holds.  It advances the gospel and builds up the church.  But most importantly, it honors God.

Written by Jim Mignard, a friend of Dr. Doug Hood