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Thursday, June 17, 2021

Once Upon a Time in Demark ...

Dr. Doug Hood's Nurture Faith is moving.  
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The following meditation was written by Doug Hood's son, Nathanael Hood, a seminary student at Princeton Theological Seminary.


Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” Philippians 3:7, 8(NRSV)
 
There once was a man from Denmark who told a story about a mighty king. The king, said the Dane, was the mightiest in the world. No other prince or leader, knight or peasant dared oppose his will. He clothed his body with rich jewels and lavish robes, and whenever he toured his kingdom he rode in a royal carriage with an armed escort. The king wanted for nothing—no earthly good or luxury escaped him. Yet the king, the Dane explained, was lonely. Then one day, he fell in love. But not with a queen or princess of a faraway kingdom. Not a rich merchant or skilled artist. The king fell in love with a poor maiden from an even poorer village.
 

Now, the king knew he could have anything he wanted. There were none with his wealth, none with his power, none with his strength in battle or conflict. Yet his love left him paralyzed with uncertainty. If he arrived in her village with his rich jewels, his lavish robes, his royal carriage and armed escort, the maiden would surely accept his hand. But would it be for love or fear? Would she spend her life resenting or hating him for giving her no choice? What if she only agreed to marry him because she wanted his wealth, his power, his palace? Yes, the Dane sighed, he could never truly know her love if he came to her as a king. So this threw off his finery and abandoned his entourage. He clothed himself in rags and went to her village alone. It was there, as a powerless, penniless beggar, that he managed to woo the maiden and win her heart.

 
Cherish Christ


This story was told hundreds of years ago by Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, a man whose name tends to glaze over the eyes of laypeople who know nothing about him other than his notoriety as a Philosopher with a capital “P.” But Kierkegaard was one of the oddest philosophers of his age, a gloomy, death-obsessed man who juxtaposed the increasing secularization of Europe’s intelligentsia with a fervent yet unusual faith. He passionately loved Jesus yet passionately detested organized religion, particularly the Danish church of his day and age. In the above parable of “The King and the Maiden” he provides a bold explanation for one of the central scandals of Christianity: God’s choosing to be born human and live and die as one. For Kierkegaard, it was only by approaching humanity as a “beggar” that God could truly win its love and devotion. If God had demanded fealty of all creation—not just God’s covenant people the Jews—as a conquering king, it would require fearful surrender instead of joyful acceptance. Only by exercising free will could humanity establish a relationship with God that truly mattered.

 
But there’s a different reading to this story, one that Kierkegaard perhaps didn’t intend. What if humanity—with all its egotism and excess, selfishness and pride—is the king and Christ the maiden? We certainly see this idea reflected in the story of Paul, a dogmatic Pharisee who abandoned his fundamentalist insistence on rules and regulations after an encounter with Jesus. After finding Christ, he cast off all his wealth and love of legalism for a closer, truer relationship with God. Everything he once held dear in his life he “regarded as rubbish” after his conversion, casting them off as Kierkegaard’s king did his wealth and finery to court his beloved maiden. So too must we all reassess and reevaluate what we cherish in our own lives. Is our quest for wealth and power keeping us from loving our neighbors as we do ourselves? Is our desire for material luxuries or sex preventing us from living the kind of simple, righteous lives Jesus called us to? Are we too busy living as kings to remember that we’ve been called to live as beloved children of the Almighty?
 
Joy,

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Not Waiting for Happiness

The following meditation is from Doug Hood's upcoming book, Nurture Faith: Five Minute Meditations to Strengthen Your Walk with Christ, vol. 2

 

“I’m not saying this because I need anything, for I have learned how to be content in any circumstance. I know the experience of being in need and of having more than enough; I have learned the secret to being content in any and every circumstance, whether full or hungry or whether having plenty or being poor. I can endure all these things through the power of the one who gives me strength.”

Philippians 4:11-13 (Common English Bible)

 

Have you noticed how many people have delayed their happiness? They seem to believe that if they can achieve a little more success, acquire a little more wealth, or marry the right person then they will possess happiness. Happiness, they believe, is what follows effort, and time, and, perhaps, a little luck. It is as though happiness is somewhere out in front of everyone who is industrious enough to pursue it. Happiness is something to grasp, they believe, and their minds remain fixed upon it until they have taken ownership of it. Striving day upon day toward the possession of happiness, what they miss is that the secret of happiness is already present in the lives of those who long for it.

 

Paul’s letter to the Philippian Church provides the secret of happiness – as God’s people, we are to live in humility, looking out for others more than for ourselves. That is a great reversal of the commonly accepted formula for happiness. Essentially, Paul teaches that if we are always chasing after happiness, happiness always remains beyond our grasp. On the other hand, if we occupy ourselves with looking out for others, adding value to other people and promoting their welfare, happiness quietly joins God’s people and takes-up residence in them. Paul is urging God’s people to break free of the tiny little world of themselves and join the great enterprise of God’s work in the world.

 


Here, in the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippian Church, Paul further develops the secret to happiness. Having shared the secret of happiness, disclosed in the activity of Jesus who accepted humility to become like us, for the purposes of restoring us to God, Paul points to a mysterious strength that converges in our service to one another. That strength comes not from any person – or from the community of God’s people – but from the outside. It is God’s strength. There is far more going on when God’s people join with one another for the promotion of the welfare of others. The same Christ who became human to serve now empowers and enables God’s people in their service to one another.

 

Shortly following the death of his wife, J. R. Carmichael entered a nursing home. Yet, if you inquired about him, you learned that he is never in his room. It seems that each morning Mr. Carmichael would shower, dress, eat breakfast, and then move from one residential room to another. In each room, Mr. Carmichael spoke with the resident about their family, read the Bible to them, prayed with them, and told them that he loved them. Then it was off to the next room to do the same thing. Mr. Carmichael missed his wife every day but he never waited for happiness. Happiness found him, as he loved others deeply.


 Joy,

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Leavening Faith

The following meditation was written by Doug Hood’s son, Nathanael Hood,

a seminary student at Princeton Theological Seminary

 

 

And again he said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God?

It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.”  Luke 13:20,21 (English Standard Version)

 

For the first several months of the COVID-19 pandemic, I lived in a part of Brooklyn near one of the worst viral hotspots in the entire country. Not too far from my apartment were hospitals that had to bring refrigerated trucks in to store the bodies of pandemic victims because they were literally running out of space to put them. The entire city shut down and was ordered to shelter in place. These were some of the hardest months of my life, not only because I knew I was risking it every time I went out for essentials like groceries and medicine, but because I found myself unemployed after barely a week of quarantine. With no job and nowhere to go other than my phone for distraction, time began to lose its meaning. Every day and every week was just like the one before. With no end in sight, my emotions began spinning out of control.


 

But then my roommate made a suggestion: let’s make a sourdough starter. To make one, all you need is flour and water. You soak some flour, let it sit somewhere stuffy overnight, add more flour and water the next day, and repeat the process until you have a richly sour and runny paste you can use as leaven to make bread with. It sounds easy, but it isn’t. Any number of things can wreck a starter: using the wrong amount of water or flour, exposing it to too much oxygen, exposing it to too little oxygen, letting it get too hot or too cold, not “feeding” it with fresh flour on schedule, and many more. The point is, making a starter required a level of attention and discipline that cut through the fog of my boredom and despair. It gave me a purpose to set my alarm every morning.




 One of the most controversial of Jesus’ parables is when he compares the Kingdom of God to yeast—or more accurately sourdough starter in the text’s original cultural context. In addition to being one of Jesus’ shortest parables, it’s also one of his most obscure. Scholars have spent millennia trying to parse out what exactly he meant. Some argue it means that a little faith can transform an individual life or whole community. Others suggest that we Christians are the yeast and we’re called to “leaven” the world around us. And still others point out that in typical fashion Jesus inverts something perceived as negative in ancient Israel—while crucial to baking, leaven was frequently viewed back then as something potentially putrid and rotten—into something positive that inherits the Kingdom.


 

But as someone who has now dabbled in amateur baking, I see this parable differently. Note that “three measures” of flour in ancient Israel would be roughly equivalent to forty to sixty pounds. Whoever this woman is, she’s preparing a feast. But before she can feed the masses, she must first make enough leaven, a process that must’ve taken literal weeks, if not months, of patient, diligent work. Our walk with God is no different. It too takes tireless commitment and effort for it to properly ferment into something we can use. Regular worship, Bible study, personal reflection…these are all tools we can use to work the flour of our faith into the living water of God (John 4:10). Only then, after the work has been done, can we find a faith we can use to leaven both ourselves and others. And the results, like my first sourdough loaf in Brooklyn, will be delicious.


 

Joy, 

Thursday, May 27, 2021

How to Be Miserable

The following mediation is from Dr. Doug Hood's upcoming book, Nurture Faith; Five Minute Mediations to Strengthen Your Walk with Christ, volume 2.

“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, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. Love puts up with all things, trust in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (Common English Bible)

 

              The other day I came across a piece written by Earl Nightingale that he titled, How to Be Miserable. He provided remarkable clarity about some of the things I have been wrestling with recently, clarity about self-inflicted misery. Nightingale writes, “The first step to real, professional-type, solid, unremitting misery is to get all wrapped up in yourself and your problems – real or imagined. Become a kind of island, surrounded on every side by yourself. By turning all of your thoughts inward upon yourself, naturally you cannot spend much or any time thinking about others and other things. And so, finally, the outside world – the real world – will disappear into a kind of Hitchcock-type fog.”[i]

 

              Nightingale continues with a stinging observation that the type of person who chooses misery, who turns inward upon himself or herself doesn’t have much in the wisdom department. Otherwise, they simply wouldn’t do it. With the absence of wisdom, they turn inward and discover that there is not much there. There is a kind of vacuum, and they have to embellish perceived, or real, hurts and slights from others or invent things entirely. Negative – and harmful – behavior is then directed outward toward those who have caused them harm. This behavior may simply be for punishment, to cause pain equal to what they are experiencing, or to manipulate others to meet some relational expectation.

 



              Where Nightingale provides an unpleasant portrait of a miserable person, the apostle Paul provides divine knowledge – or wisdom – for fleeing from misery: love others, particularly when that love is difficult. Paul beautifully expresses the very nature of love by its positive attributes – “love is patient, love is kind.” Paul provides additional wisdom by sharing what love isn’t and doesn’t do – “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.” What Paul provides is a different portrait from Nightingale, a portrait of a person who actively participates in the unity and well being of relationships with another.

 

              It is widely embraced that the Christian faith is less to do with right beliefs and more to do with right behavior. A person may have a grasp of the Holy Scriptures that is unparalleled, able to articulate a particular theological position with uncommon clarity and yet remain untouched by God’s transforming power – the transformation that deepens love for God and love for others. Such a faith is a lazy faith because it requires no effort. Love requires effort. Love demands that we struggle against an impulse to turn inward and compile a record of complaints against another. Such love “puts up with all things, trust in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.” It is a love that knows no misery.


 Joy,



[i] Earl Nightingale, “How to Be Miserable,” Your Success Starts Here: Purpose and Personal Initiative (Shippensburg, PA: Sound Wisdom, 2019) 104.

Friday, May 21, 2021

A Cry of Desperation

 

“He lifted me out of the pit of death, out of the mud and filth, and set my feet on solid rock. He steadied my legs.”

Psalm 40:2  (Common English Bible)


Here is a life that many of us understand. Life is characterized as being a “pit of death – a life of mud and filth.” This poignant description betrays that present circumstances did not simply fall upon the one who speaks. “Mud and filth” are not the consequence of disadvantage, not the result of some disaster or illness that comes without personal consent. Rather, this decay of a personal experience of life has been fashioned by intentional choices, one bad choice following another. Perhaps the choices made were hesitant at first, slow and then questioned. But once a descent into careless living began, movement became more swift and confident. Delight in drinking, or gambling, or immoral behavior brought increasing pleasure. 


Then comes the collapse of all self-worth, a reckoning of the internal depravity that begins to reveal itself in physical appearance and behavior. The face can no longer hide the ruin of the interior life. Others clearly see the writing of the unfortunate choices written upon the man or woman. The signs of rot and disorder grow stronger, clearer. Any good or decency that remains continues to diminish until it is nearly smothered as the tyranny of the immoral life assumes command. The individual – both body and soul – once a sweet habitation of all that is good, decent, and holy now entertains what is corrupt and evil. Choices, once deliberate, now are in control. The man or woman is now held hostage in a “pit of death.”


Then comes a cry for help. What once was pleasurable has become agony – what once was pursued has become a master. The cry of desperation is made to Almighty God. Some years ago when my daughter, Rachael, was quite young I overheard her telling other little girls her faith story. With four other sets of eyes mesmerized by the narrative that flowed from her libs I heard, “I was a slave girl in Egypt and Pharaoh was so mean to me. But my God is bigger than Pharaoh and God came one day, beat Pharaoh up, and brought me home.” For a four-year-old girl, this was her understanding of the Exodus story she had heard from her father so many times. The message was clear and certain. She could count on God.

 

The one who shares this faith story in Psalm 40 knows they can count on God. A cry of desperation is made to Almighty God to come, overwhelm the master that holds them captive in “a pit of death” and to bring them home. The cry may be made at the eleventh hour but God comes. God comes without ridicule, without mockery, or taunts of “I told you so.” God simply comes. From the place of captivity of whatever enslavement, whatever addiction that holds a grip upon the man or woman, the hand of God appears. That hand is stronger. Once more, the enslaved is brought home. His or her feet are set on solid ground, strength is returned to the legs and life is steadied. A nightmare of horrible dreams ends.

 

Joy,

Thursday, May 13, 2021

A New Outlook

 

The following mediation is from Doug Hood's upcoming book, Nurture Faith: Five Minute Meditations to Strengthen Your Walk with Christ, volume 2

“Therefore, you are no longer a slave but a son or daughter, and if you are his child, 
then you are also an heir through God.”
Galatians 4:7 (Common English Bible)

When Sara Roosevelt was asked if she ever imagined that her son, Franklin Roosevelt, might become president, she replied: “Never, no never! That was the last thing I should ever have imagined for him, or that he should be in public life of any sort.” Both she and her son, she insisted, shared a far simpler ambition – “The highest ideal – to grow to be like his father, straight and honorable, just and kind, an upstanding American.”[i] An only child, and with few playmates his own age, Franklin viewed his attentive and protective father as a companion and friend. Presidential biographer, Doris Kearns Goodwin observes that Franklin’s optimistic spirit and general expectation that things would turn out happily is a testament to the self-confidence developed within the atmosphere of love and affection that enveloped him as a child.[ii]

The prevailing wisdom today – and imbedded in many approaches to psychological counseling – is that all of life consists of two elements: first, the facts, and second, our way of looking at them. Few of us escape some disappointment, some physical or mental limitation, or some distressing circumstance. It is a fact of life. We have very little control over these facts. Yet, what is largely within our power is how we look at these facts. We may permit these facts to debilitate us, to ruin our temper, spoil our work, and hurt our relationships with others, or we can become a master over their influence. Any cursory examination of Franklin Roosevelt’s life reveals a good measure of challenges, disappointments, and loss. But Roosevelt remained a master over everyone, convinced that there was a larger purpose for his life and nothing would stop his pursuit of that purpose. A positive home environment and the knowledge that he bore a strong and respected family name directed Roosevelt’s outlook.


The Christian faith is a call to a new outlook – a call to a changed point of view on the facts of life. In this teaching from Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia, Paul reminds us that we were once slaves and, consequently, of diminished value. And those who perceive to have a diminished value as a person have a dim view of life. But now, in the person of Jesus Christ, we are no longer slaves but children of God. If children of God, then an heir. Our name has been connected, as was Roosevelt’s, to a strong and respected name. For Paul, this makes a profound difference in how we are to live. We live as members of a royal household.

The deep divergence that commonly separates those who move positively through life from those who don’t lies in their outlook. Jesus’ word for “repent” meant to “change your mind” or “look at things differently”. When Jesus called those who would become his disciples he didn’t ask them to join a church or subscribe to some creed. He asked them to look at the facts differently. The laws concerning the Sabbath we reconsidered. The place of children was elevated. For those caught in the very act of sin, grace prevailed over punishment. Jesus called for a radical shift in how life would be lived – a shift that now recognized that with God on our side any handicap could be overcome and every challenge met positively. When we get a new way of seeing things it is then that we find a new life.

Joy,


[i] Doris Kearns Goodwin, Leadership In Turbulent Times (New York, London, Toronto, Sydney, New Delhi: Simon & Schuster, 2018), 50.
[ii] Goodwin, 43.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Love's Modesty

The following meditation will be published in Dr. Hood's upcoming book,

Nurture Faith: Five Minute Meditations to Strengthen Your Walk with Christ, vol. 2.


"Love is patient, love is king, it isn't jealous, it doesn't brag, it isn't arrogant."

1 Corinthians 13:4 (Common English Bible)

It is reported that Abraham Lincoln once made a speech before a huge audience and was greeted with a loud and long applause. As he was leaving the podium, a man said, “That was a great speech Mr. President; listen to how they enjoyed what you said!” Lincoln, in his usual self-deprecating manner, responded, “I am kept humble by the fact that the crowd would be twice as large if I were to be hanged.”[i] Always modest, never vaulting himself or puffed up, Abraham Lincoln cared little for his own reputation. He did not need to. His love for his country, his desire for useful service characterized by empathy, humility, and respect for opposing opinions made him as large as the monument erected in his honor in Washington, D.C.

“Love,” the apostle Paul writes, doesn’t brag, nor is it arrogant. These two qualities of love are closely related to each other. “Doesn’t brag” refers to outward conduct and behavior; “isn’t arrogant” refers to an inward disposition. Together they characterize someone who is modest, ready to stoop to serve. We think again of Jesus on that dark night that he was betrayed. On their way to the Upper Room the disciples disputed as to who of them was the greatest. Each of them presented arguments for their own claim to the highest honor. The result was that when they arrived to the Upper Room and took their seats, not one of them would stoop to the humble service of foot washing. So Jesus rose from the table, took a towel and a basin, and began to wash the disciple’s feet.



The church in Corinth is experiencing quarrelsome behavior that is dividing the faith community. Various members are elevating themselves, declaring possession of the greater spiritual gifts. The one who has the gift of tongues believed they exercised a gift beyond compare, especially over the more plain and practical gift of prophecy. The same manner of boasting and argument infused the discourse over any number of spiritual gifts. Rather than placing each gift at the disposal of the community, to bless and build, competitiveness became the order of the day. The result of all the boasting was friction and strife. The cure for all that, writes the apostle Paul, is love – a love that has no mark of brag, or swank, or swagger. Genuine love, love that builds the community of faith is modest.

Love never seeks to assert its superiority. The love that Paul desires for the Corinthian Church is one that serves, seeking the welfare of others. That love takes no notice of the worthiness of another. Nor does it seek acknowledgement. Only one concern is present – to serve another in a manner that eases the strain and burden of life. It is a love that is captured by the belief that God continues to be at work in the lives of individuals, reconciling them to God and changing them into something so much more than they presently are. As this demonstration of love takes possession of our souls, what is ugly, and bitter, and broken in our lives is diminished. What increases in our hearts is patience and love that knows no jealously and celebrates the gladness of another.

Joy,



[i] James G. Cobb, “Real Love, Real People…What an Idea!” in Preaching 1 Corinthians 13, ed. Susan K. Hedahl & Richard P. Carlson, (St. Louis, Missouri: Chalice Press, 2001), 108.