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Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Secret of Spiritual Power


The following is from Doug Hood's newest book,
Nurture Faith: Five Minute Meditations to Strengthen Your Walk with Christ

“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength; 
they will fly up on wings like eagles; 
they will run and not be tired; they will walk and not be weary.”
 Isaiah 40:31 (Common English Bible)

     A woman stepped into my office today. With tears and considerable emotion, she asked that I pray for the world. She mentioned nothing specific. She didn’t need to. Another shooting this week on a college campus that left ten people dead. An accidental bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan killed twenty-two people. Hundreds of thousands of people fleeing terrorism, seeking news homes throughout Europe and the United States. These stories drain our strength and cause us to need renewed power.

     In the time that Isaiah wrote these words, his people also faced despair. Threatened by domination by a mighty foreign power, Isaiah’s people needed all the encouragement and strength that a genuine faith in God could bring. So do we. Just as the natural rhythm of life demands nourishing food, exercise and rest for the body, the same condition applies to our souls. Spiritual energies are rapidly depleted by the crises, suffering and fear that consume our attention. Replenishing that spiritual energy is urgently needed. So Isaiah reminds his people – and us – that our sufficiency is of God. We remain weak unless we derive strength from God.

     How do God’s people claim this strength? “Hope in the Lord,” writes Isaiah. The “hope” Isaiah speaks of is not wishful thinking or “hoping for the best.” Here is Isaiah’s call to “trust unfailingly in God.” It is a call to “hold onto God” with expectant dependence. A constant reliance on God, meditating on God’s words and promises in the Bible, generates spiritual power and makes each of us alert for God’s intention to use us mightily for God’s redemptive purposes in the world. Isaiah asks that we attach ourselves to God as a child clings to a parent.

     As in the day of Isaiah, it still takes time to be holy; to be a people set apart for God’s purposes in a world shaken by fear. Schedule time each day for reading the Bible and prayer, for reading devotional literature that awakens the senses to new understandings, and do not neglect moments to simply be still and contemplate God’s love. These things, along with weekly worship in a community of faith, gives release to the inflow of God’s power that renews strength, restores hope, and lifts hearts as on the wings of eagles.

Joy,

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Speaking of Faith


Dr. Hood is on vacation.
This is a repeat of a meditation from his first book,
Heart & Soul, Meditations to Encourage the Heart & Refresh the Soul

“Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it. 
Yet do this with respectful humility.”
I Peter 3:15, 16 (Common English Bible)

I read recently that many people fear public speaking more than death. In multiple surveys that gathered information from thousands of people, death always ranked high among their greatest fears. Yet, in every instance, it is always second to public speaking. The mystery of death seems no match for the terror that is generated from the thought of speaking before groups of people. Make the suggestion that people speak about their faith and the terror quotient rises.

It is true that Peter is not necessarily speaking here about public speaking. Nor is there anything here that precludes that. In fact, Peter isn’t even asking that we initiate a talk or speech before one person or many on the topic of our faith. Simply, Peter is saying that if we are asked, be ready. Be ready to answer any question that may come from others about your faith. This seems a little more manageable.

The question that presses here is, are we ready? Are we prepared to share with another why we accepted Jesus into our life? Why we follow Jesus and try, as best as we are able, to live daily for him?

If we are not prepared to give an answer this may be a signal that we have some soul work to do. Perhaps it has been some time since we gave any attention to our walk with Jesus, any time to our relationship to Christ as one of his disciples. Relationships that are vital and meaningful rarely require much effort to explain to another. Rather, when we speak about a relationship with a spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend or a good friend, that conversation is always marked by energy, enthusiasm and personal anecdotes. Little thought is required.

If you are not presently prepared to answer for your faith then you know what you must do; you must become more intentional about your journey of faith. A deep relationship with Jesus is much like a deep relationship with anyone else. It requires time, commitment and energy. But most would agree that satisfying relationships are worth the effort.

Joy,

Friday, October 26, 2018

Holding Our Life Together


Dr. Hood is on vacation.  
This is a repeat of a meditation from his first book, 
Heart & Soul, Meditations to Encourage the Heart & Refresh the Soul


“…and all things are held together in him.”
Colossians 1:17 (Common English Bible)

It seems that everybody has at least one area of life that isn’t holding together very well.  Maybe it’s at work with the boss or in the home with your spouse.  The trouble area may be with your health, finances, time demands, relationships, drinking, and the list of possibilities goes on and on.  What is certain is that when one area of life begins to unravel, eventually the rest of life will be affected.  Our lives are more integrated than we realize.

Perhaps this is why the Apostle Paul tells us that if Christ is our Savior, then we are to look to him to hold all things together.  In five brief verses, Paul says “all things” five times.  Paul wants us to hear that as all things were created in and through Christ so also will it be Christ who will sustain the whole of creation.

No longer can we say that some area of our lives doesn’t belong to Christ, that it doesn’t impact the rest of us.  We can’t say, for instance, “The trouble is at work, I’ll just leave it at the office.”  Nor can we say, “Nothing more can be done,” and quietly be resigned to whatever will be.  No, Paul is quite clear: all things hold together in Christ.  Jesus Christ is not the Savior of one part of our life and not the others.

Every part of our lives is important to Christ.  If one part of it seems a bit frayed, Christ wants us to give it to him, to trust in his care.  If ignored or neglected, it won’t be long before our whole life unravels.

Joy

Friday, October 19, 2018

New Possibilities


Dr. Hood is on vacation.  
This is a repeat of a meditation from his first book, 
Heart & Soul, Meditations to Encourage the Heart & Refresh the Soul

“It certainly seemed to us as if we had gotten the death penalty.
This was so that we would have confidence in God, who raises the dead, instead of ourselves.”
2 Corinthians 1:9 (Common English Bible)

     It is not unusual to experience, from time to time, a situation that seems completely hopeless. Perhaps a relationship has not developed as we had wished, or our career seems to have stalled, or a chronic illness is beating us down and there is no indication that anything is going to improve. Prayers are offered and patiently – very patiently – we have waited on the Lord. Yet, nothing changes. Paul tells us that in these moments of our life, we feel as though we have received the sentence of death. All that is left is despair.

     Speaking to these moments, Paul tells the church that there is an alternative: we can rely on God. Paul is not here suggesting more prayers or more patience. We may have given sufficient attention to both. What Paul is saying is that God’s preference for us may be resurrection, which can only follow a death. The death of a poor relationship opens the possibility of a new one. A stalled career may indicate God’s call to a new vocation. Even a chronic illness that never improves opens the door to a whole new relationship with God, one dependent upon God’s grace, not health, to celebrate life.

     God is in the resurrection business. Yet, for God to work a resurrection, we may have to release that which we hold so tenaciously to; to let it die. It is then that we receive something so much better than what we were afraid of losing.

     This doesn’t mean we should never struggle to prevent loss, or that we can’t experience grief over something we once held dear. It does mean that we don’t give in to hopeless like those who don’t know God. For if we must finally let go, we know that we can rely on God, the one who raises the dead.

Joy,


Thursday, October 11, 2018

Finding Calm in the Tumult


“Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, 
it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints.”
1 Corinthians 13:4,5 (Common English Bible)

An annual childhood tradition that comes to mind, whenever I read this passage of scripture, is the Atlanta Boat Show. Naturally, as is true with boat shows today, this was an opportunity for manufacturers to exhibit new boats and related products and advance boating as a recreational pursuit. The entire, weeklong event was designed to be attractive to all ages, particularly families with young children. Plastic toy boats and other brightly colored toys were plentiful, all free in the sixties and early seventies, to ensure that children would not become bored as vendors sought to seduce the parents into making a major purchase. Inexpensive and tasty food was plentiful and various recreational activities ensured that this annual event was one not to be missed. My brother, Wayne and I marked our calendars each year for this event.

The one activity Wayne and I looked forward to the most was trout fishing. A rather large, artificial pond was placed inside the exhibit center filled with hungry trout. If you have ever experienced an Alaskan wild salmon run from June through September, you get the picture. You could not drop a fishing line without hitting a trout. And that was the point. For a nominal fee, children could trout fish with a virtual guarantee of a successful catch. That is precisely why this passage from 1 Corinthians reminds me of the Atlanta Boat Show – or specifically, trout fishing at that event; the passage is rich with wisdom and truth. Drop a line anywhere in the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians and you are going to catch something.

There is present today, in our nation, political disagreements that have risen to an unhealthy state – one where the strains and tensions easily throw us into emotional turmoil and which are inevitably fatal to our peace of mind. Each of us is easily upset and friendships, once seemly located on solid ground, seem fragile. Quite simply, we all seem to have become irritable. How, in this trying political climate, can we recover our emotional poise? Is it possible to recover a sense of personal calm in the present tumult? Located in this passage is our pathway. Here, we are asked to change the conversation, to recall our baptism that is placed squarely in the love of Jesus Christ. Politically, we may disagree. Yet, in our baptism we find common ground in the Lordship of Jesus – a Lordship that calls us to withdraw from the noise and tension of daily life and focus our energies on acts of worship and prayer.

The phrase, “it isn’t irritable”, is not offered as a command. It is identified as the natural consequence of turning our hearts and mind and will to Jesus, surrendering all our desires to knowing Jesus and providing our life as a channel for Jesus’ love to flow into all our relationships. Angst and anger in the present political climate of our country is the result of living in a miserably restricted area surrounded only by our own feelings of what is right and protecting our own interest. The natural result is irritability when others disagree – when others live in a different, but equally miserable, restricted area. 1 Corinthians 13 asks that we prevent our world from becoming small by cleaving to Christ, by focusing our thoughts on the deep center of our baptism – the love of Jesus. As we move to that deep center God will restore calm in the midst of tumult.

Joy,





Friday, October 5, 2018

Our Failure With Prayer


“Early in the morning, well before sunrise, 
Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer.”
Mark 1:35 (Common English Bible)

            A little boy once explained to his minister that he didn’t say his prayers every night because “some nights I don’t want anything.” Many of us are like that little boy. Our view of prayer is a limited one, reduced to asking God for something. Certainly, Jesus invited us to take our request to God in prayer. But that is not all Jesus taught – or demonstrated in his own life – about the subject of prayer. The consequence of an inadequate understanding of prayer is felt in our own lack of spiritual power. We are troubled by doubt, by fear, and by a sense of weakness to make any real difference in a world of brokenness and need. We miss much of the strength God would provide us through a more expansive understanding – and practice – of prayer.

            In this teaching from Mark’s Gospel, Jesus had just finished a hard, demanding day meeting the needs of numerous people. Another awaited him. How could Jesus be ready for it? The answer is right here in this one sentence of scripture; “Jesus rose and went to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer.” Conspicuously absent is any record of the content of Jesus’ prayer. In other prayers that Jesus offered, we are told the substance of the prayer. Perhaps the most familiar prayer is the one Jesus offered the night he was betrayed by Judas, arrested, and placed on trial during the night. It is a prayer that is familiar because we have offered it so often ourselves: “Take this suffering from me.” But here, in this account of Jesus at prayer, we are not allowed in on the conversation. All we know is that Jesus got up early in the morning to be alone with God.

            This little verse teaches more about prayer than most realize. Rather than distract us with the actual dialog between Jesus and God, we are left only with the fact that it was important to Jesus to be alone with God. Before another day of ministry, before another day of addressing the great need of the world, Jesus addressed his own need to be alone with God. Regular time alone with God was the source of Jesus’ incredible spiritual power. Here, Jesus teaches us that prayer is more than our formal presentation to God of our various needs. Prayer is a demonstration of a life that is lived with God. Our failure with prayer is that we have reduced prayer to asking rather than understanding that prayer is a real and vital relationship with the divine.

            Mark has one additional insight on the wisdom of prayer before we leave this story. Moving the narrative quickly along, we are told that Simon and the other disciples tracked Jesus down, told Jesus that other people, with their various needs, have gathered looking for Jesus, and that Jesus surprises the disciples by announcing that he is going in the other direction. What is apparent is that time alone with God in prayer supplied Jesus with more than spiritual power. Prayer infused Jesus with fresh clarity and focus upon God’s intention for Jesus. Jesus was now to go to the nearby villages so that he may preach there also. “That’s why I’ve come,” Jesus declared. It is easy to respond to the “asks” of those around us, people asking us to meet their needs. It is the greater wisdom to discern God’s intention for us, in prayer, and to respond faithfully. 

Joy,

Thursday, September 27, 2018

What We Might Be


“But in the days to come…”
Micah 4:1 (Common English Bible)

            Some years ago I was sharing lunch with my mother in Irving, Texas. A woman seated at a nearby table looked at me, grabbed a notepad from her purse, and approached me, “May I have your autograph?” I inquired of her who she thought I was. She named a football player with the New York Giants and, apparently, she was a huge fan. Naturally, I politely told her my name and that I was a Presbyterian pastor serving a congregation right there in Irving. She refused to believe me. With anger and frustration all mingled together in one burst of emotion, she answered, “If you don’t want to give autographs, say so!” and returned to her meal.  She saw something in me that I was not – and never will be. And, I fear, I have cost a Giants player one of his fans.

            God does something similar. God doesn’t mistaken our identity, as the woman in Irving, but God does see in us something so much more than is presently true. With a forward-looking eye, God sees what we might become.  Think of a teacher that goes into a classroom, a class of girls and boys. The teacher lifts his or her eyes away from the present to see women and men. The best teachers understand that, in a sense, they are architects and builders of the people those children will become. It is the teacher’s vision of “what might be” that directs every moment spent with the children. The vision is active in the present, shaping, and molding, and encouraging children to something more.  Yet, for the future to be claimed, each child must be a willing participant in the process of learning. In Jesus Christ, God shares God’s vision for what we might become. It is a work completed by the Holy Spirit as we willingly participate by paying attention to God.

            Our encouragement comes from the rich examples in the Old and New Testament – examples of God’s uncommon work in common people. Moses had a speech impediment but would stand before a king and demand that the people of Israel be set free from their bondage in Egypt. David, a shepherd boy tending sheep, would defeat a Philistine giant, Goliath, rescuing Israel from an enemy. Simon, a name that means hearer,  or one who simply hears, would have his name changed by Jesus to Peter, a rock, upon which Jesus would build his church. And a woman of sin – an outcast child of the city – would be addressed by Jesus as “daughter” and spoken to as if she had already entered the future as an heir to God’s promises. Each story nudges us to come to our present, filled with difficulties and struggle, with a vision of the future, a glimpse of what might be.

            Here, in this brief passage, the prophet Micah lifts his eyes away from the present to the days that are to come. By holding clearly before him God’s promise of more, Micah finds refreshment in the present difficulty. Without the joyful anticipation of something more to come, without the conviction that the God who worked uncommonly in common people in the past continues the same today, Micah would lose his capacity to hold-on, and the spirit of striving would go out of his work. Our vision of the future always determines the behavior and attitudes that we bring to the present. Our dominant thought and hope regulates how we go about our responsibilities today. It is wise to ask what vision pulls us forward? What future do we have in mind? What do we see as the possible consummation of our present work? It is not enough to know what we are doing today. We must draw so close to God that we capture a glimpse of what we are working for – for a glimpse of what we might be.

Joy,