Enter your email address to follow Dr. Hood's Blog

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Primary Purpose of the Church

The Primary Purpose of the Church
(Meditation delivered in worship Christmas Day, 2016)

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.”
John 1:5 (Common English Bible)

            Last night I shared in my message that the primary purpose of the Church of Jesus Christ is to proclaim the matchless Gospel of Christ to a world that desperately needs to hear Good News; the Good News of the birth of Jesus Christ and of the love of God.

            Friends, wherever there is fear, the Gospel needs to be proclaimed. And wherever we advance fear, we have failed to grasp the Gospel. Wherever there is hated, the Gospel of Jesus Christ needs to be proclaimed, and wherever we advance hatred, we have failed to grasp the Gospel.

            Wherever people are marginalized, regardless of the reason, whether it’s ethnic, or racial, or whatever the reason, the Gospel needs to be proclaimed. And wherever we advance the marginalization of people, regardless of the reason, we have not grasped the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

            As we go into this New Year, we are called to be disciples of Jesus Christ. And we are called to share one clear message: that God’s love for the world, the whole world, regardless of what nation, of what religion people may have, is unconditional. God loves the whole world and we are to advance that as disciples of Jesus Christ.

            We are to proclaim the matchless Gospel of Jesus Christ and we are to stop advancing fear wherever we see fear. We are to stop advancing hatred, wherever we see hatred. We are to stop advancing the margination of people because they are different from us. We are to stop being afraid as if the powers of this world are greater than God. Nothing is greater than the power of God that has been set loose in this world with the birth of Jesus Christ. Nothing. So cling to Christ, cling to Christ, the light that has come into the darkness of this world, and your fears will be dispelled. No darkness can extinguish the light of Jesus Christ.

            Make no exception. Love your neighbor, whoever that neighbor may be. I’ll say it again, love your neighbor. Proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all that you do. That is what makes us a great people – when we cling to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us share it with the world. Let us stand and sing, “Go Tell It on the Mountain.”


Amen. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

No Place Available

“She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.”
Luke 2:7 (Common English Bible)

     No single incident in Jesus’ life captures more powerfully, and clearly, his reception here on earth: “there was no place for them.” In only moments prior to his birth, the words were spoken, “no place.” In his life, there would be no place in people’s hearts for a meaningful relationship with him. During his ministry, there would be no place for his teachings in the minds of those who heard him. In the synagogue, there would be no place for his prophetic message.  As Harry Emerson Fosdick once observed, “inhospitality was the central tragedy of Jesus’ life.”i

     Today, this remains a difficulty for Jesus, finding a place in our lives. It has been suggested that atheism – the denial of God’s existence – is not the major enemy of Christianity. The major enemy of the Christian faith is the inhospitality of those who will say that they believe in Jesus. Belief is important. It is the beginning place of a vital, life-giving faith. But belief without hospitality, belief without making a place for Jesus in one’s life, results in the suffocation of faith. Faith is nourished and grows in strength by an ongoing, daily relationship with Jesus. Neglect any relationship, fail to make a place for those who love you, and the consequence is the loss of that relationship.

     Some will say that the difficulty is simply overcrowded lives. We have become increasingly busy and there is little “place in our life” left over at the end of the day. Few will question how busy we have become. That would be difficult to debate. The question that presses is, “Busy doing what?” What occupies the place of those hours that we are awake? We find places for the things we really care about. We may say that there is no place for Jesus in our life today. And then we say the same thing tomorrow. We then discover that weeks have passed without any meaningful time with God and God’s Word in the Bible. What is inescapable is that we gave our time to matters for which we cared more deeply than Jesus.

     Tonight is Christmas Eve. What we recall tonight is the birth of the Christ child. Most people know that, believers and unbelievers. But there is something else that happens on this night, something that we would do well not to forget. For the first time, the words, “there is no place” is spoken. There is no place in the guestroom for the family of Jesus Christ; no place for Jesus to be born. Someone once wisely said, “You can’t un-ring the bell.” Well, there is nothing we can do about those words spoken so long ago, “there is no place.” But tonight, as we remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus, we can answer for ourselves, “Will there be a place for Jesus in our life?”

Joy,
____________________

i Harry Emerson Fosdick, “Hospitality to the Highest”, Riverside Sermons (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958), 275.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Fear at Christmas

 “Don’t fear, Zion. Don’t let your hands fall. The Lord your God is in your midst.”
Zephaniah 3:16, 17 (Common English Bible)

     Often today you hear Christians express dismay that Christ is frequently left out of Christmas. While that may be true, there is something that is more surprising – there is a noticeable absence of fear during this season. Not the everyday fears we all wrestle with, the fear of spending far more than our resources permit, the fear that holiday guests will misbehave toward one another when they gather and fear what the New Year holds for aging parents. Naturally, these are important, but not the fears that keep popping up in the Bible around the Christmas story. No, the fears that ripple out from the pages of the Bible have to do with what God is up to and what that means for our lives.

      The fear spoken of here in this passage from Zephaniah has to do with the fear of being punished. The people had no illusion that they were guilt-free. They had broken promises with one another and with God. Simply, they were not the people God called them to be. So when God suddenly shows up, there is apprehension over God’s response. The prophet Zephaniah announces that God has forgiven the people their sins and totally removed their guilt. More, Zephaniah shares a little later in this verse that God comes rejoicing and singing from the depths of God’s love for us.

      Then there is the fear by nearly every member of the original Christmas cast; the fear that God appearing means a disruption of their lives. Pay attention to the Christmas story in Matthew’s Gospel and you see an angel telling Joseph not to be afraid. Read the Christmas story in Luke’s Gospel and an angel tells Mary not to be afraid. Later in Luke’s Gospel, an angel appears to shepherds and they were terrified. There is fear all over the Christmas story. Where is that fear today during the holiday season?

     Seldom is the hardness of the life we have with Jesus frankly acknowledged anymore. Many have conveniently forgotten – or ignored – that the coming of Jesus means that God intends to disrupt our little life plans. Christmas very simply means that we are not on our own anymore to do with our lives as we please. The birth of Christ means that we are called to embark upon a hazardous and straining enterprise, one where absolutely nothing is going to be the same anymore. If this is properly understood, there would be considerably more fear at Christmas throughout the Church. Such fear would demonstrate that the Church really understands what is going on. Perhaps the reason the Church has so few experiences with angels appearing is because there is so little fear. 

Joy,

From Doug Hood’s Heart & Soul, Life Application Edition, now available on Amazon and available in the church in early January.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Christmas Confidence

“But right now, we don’t see everything under their control yet. 
However, we do see the one who was made lower in order than the angels for a little while 
– it’s Jesus!”
Portions of Hebrews 2:8, 9 (Common English Bible)

This Christmas season finds us rather bewildered, facing confusion, uncertainty and fear. The world seems dangerously out of control and political leaders have failed to offer a neat formula that can solve our problems or allay our anxiety. We seem a long way from the promise of Isaiah that instruments of war will become farming equipment. But as Christmas draws near, Hebrews reminds us of a man who lived in a world not unlike our own, and yet, carried with him hope and confidence – Jesus Christ. Specifically, Hebrews tells us that we may not yet see everything “under control” but we do see Jesus!

Harry Emerson Fosdick once commented that in pointing to Jesus, Hebrews does not seek to distract us from realistic facts to a beautiful ideal; Hebrews is simply turning our attention from one set of facts to another fact. Jesus is a fact. He lived and his life left an indelible imprint upon the world. Some may question the nature of Jesus, may question the identity of Jesus as anything more than a mortal, but few question that Jesus lived. Yet, women and men of faith accept Jesus as more; accept, as fact, that Jesus is God’s decisive interruption in history to bring all things “under control”. Jesus is a towering, challenging, revealing fact that casts a whole new outlook on the present groaning of life today.

In this season of Advent – a season of anticipation – those faithful to the Lordship of Jesus see something tremendous occurring in the midst of the daily news: they see the emergence of a disruptive force that will overcome the wild, uncivilized and uncontrolled powers that tear at the world. In the birth of Jesus, God announces that the forces of darkness now have reason to tremble. No, we do not yet see all things “under control” – far from it – but we do see Jesus! And that means that God is on the move.


Our world today is one where fear seems to grow unchecked and uncertainty enlarges upon our consciousness. But God has come in Jesus to change the whole complexion of the world. What is required is that we open ourselves to Jesus in a manner that he can get at us and live in us so that he shapes our thoughts and behavior. One person of faith after another, opening their hearts and minds to receive the transforming power of God, makes all the difference in the world. That is our Christmas confidence.

Joy,

From Doug Hood's Heart & Soul, Life Application Edition, now available on Amazon and available in the church in early January.

Friday, December 2, 2016

What Are We to Do With Our Fears!

“He said, ‘Father, if it’s your will, take this cup of suffering away from me. 
However, not my will but your will must be done.’”
Luke 22:42 (Common English Bible)

            Fear is an area of human experience, which involves us all. Fear shows no partiality. The young and old, the rich and poor, and the wise and simple all play host to fear at sometime in their life.  Some fears are absurd and ridiculous, having life only in the imagination. Others are very real such as losing work, of experiencing failure or growing older and struggling with illness and death. The range of fears visited upon us and the variety of forms it assumes is astounding. Imagined or real, fears sap our energy and vitality, leaving us helpless and hopeless. What are we to do with our fears? Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, struggled with fear. His response provides guidance for meeting and managing this crippling experience.

            Jesus’ initial response is to acknowledge his fear. Asking that “this cup of suffering” be removed is an honest appraisal of his fear. He identifies the presence of fear and looks squarely at it. Jesus’ practice suggests that it is a mistake to take no account of fear or to repress it or to bottle it up. In fact, many psychologists agree that an attempt to drive fears from the mind actually establishes the fear more and more into our subconscious where it festers and the crippling power is increased. Jesus does not bluff himself or others. He is afraid and he shares that fear freely with his disciples and his heavenly Father. Truthful acknowledgement of fears that grasp us is not weakness but wisdom.

            The second lesson Jesus offers is to acknowledge that fears are driven by the desire for self-preservation. Basic survival is primitive and instinctive. It is how any species – including humans – have endured threats that continually confront life. We all want health, joy, and the assurance of security. If there is one thing that we are afraid of more than any other fear, it is the fear that these things may be snatched from us. Jesus is no exception. Here, in the garden that fretful night, Jesus wishes that suffering might be removed from him. At its core, fears demonstrate that we are very much wrapped-up in ourselves. We best manage our fears when we frankly acknowledge that we want to survive.

            Third, Jesus directs us to take our fears to God in prayer, seeking to submit our basic desire for survival to a higher, and a more noble aspiration; the aspiration of pursuing God’s will. Jesus never stated it more plainly than when he said, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves…(Matthew 16:24).” Jesus is asking that we put God above all else, including our own desire to grasp life. In the proportion that we are able to do this, self-centeredness, the cause of so many fears, is diminished. When self-centeredness is diminished, so are our fears. We cannot decide what will happen to us. But we can decide what will happen in us – how we will respond to the fears that visit us. Jesus shows us the way.

Joy,

           

           


             

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Living Positively with Our Handicaps

“So I’ll gladly spend my time bragging about my weaknesses
so that Christ’s power can rest on me.”
2 Corinthians 12:9b (Common English Bible)

Bragging about our weaknesses is uncommon. What is customary – even encouraged – is that we “hide” our weaknesses and present the illusion of a life that is lived in a tranquil manner that is deep and even and unhindered by frailties. One unfortunate result is the deep disillusionment that is experienced when we find our heroes far too human, with frailties and weaknesses like our own. We look for people who seem to have no limitations, no handicaps, no imperfections and we aspire to be like them. In no small manner, people with weaknesses are not considered worthy of our admiration and praise.

Naturally, the danger of finding such a person, a person who is unencumbered by difficulties and imperfections, is to know someone who also possesses considerable conceit. They need no one; they require nothing for their journey through life, not even God. Worse, when understood correctly, their perfection fails to inspire those of us who struggle with handicaps. Another’s perfection can only result in our despair. This is why Paul “brags” about his weaknesses – Paul’s interest is that we praise only God and that we find in his broken, imperfect life reason for encouragement as we struggle with our own handicaps.

Paul did pray multiple times that his handicap might be removed. That is a demonstration of his humanity. It is an honest prayer that we have no doubt prayed ourselves. Yet, our spiritual condition is developed, positively or negatively, from the place of our weaknesses. For many, the first and instinctive reaction toward our limitations is a negative attitude – a rebellion or self-pity. We revolt against our limitations. Such a negative struggle often advances to cursing God. What we fail to see is that disappointment with our imperfection arises from conceit – we expect to be perfect. That is a poor spiritual condition indeed!

Paul’s positive and hopeful response to his weaknesses demonstrates that anyone, regardless of his limitations, can make a spiritual contribution to the world.  History is replete with stories of people who rise up and make great contributions in spite of handicaps. These are the stories that inspire each of us to push through whatever difficulties hinder us and advance our lives and the lives of others. Anyone fortunate enough to have the charm and looks of a prince, excellent physical and mental health and is untroubled by limitations, fails to inspire those who struggle daily under limitations. It is not easy to estimate the spiritual stimulus that comes into human life from handicapped people who have found that Christ’s power is sufficient for them.

Joy,



This blog is taken from Doug Hood’s Heart & Soul, Volume 2, which will be published in the near future.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Allure of a Defeated Life

“I was given a thorn in my body.”
2 Corinthians 12:7 (Common English Bible)

Few things are as unfortunate as to see a woman or man losing heart and all sense of hope, drifting into apathy, and finally despair. When a sense of defeat is permitted to take residence in a life, frustration and inaction are too frequently the result. The face becomes sullen, the head is held low, and the shoulders sag. Bitterness grows, the result of an erroneous belief that life has dealt a raw deal or that others have received better opportunities. Left unchecked, the self-pity sentences them to low levels of achievement. A strange comfort is found in simply giving-up – experiencing a certain allure of being defeated.

History is replete with men and women who have experienced hardship, anguished over setbacks, and struggled with handicaps – physical, mental and emotional. Anyone of them may have been resentful and rebellious – and many have – with bad behavior the consequence. Yet, there are others who rise above the circumstances of their lives, press forward with unbelievable determination and consecrate their lives to the service of others. The apostle Paul stands among them. Paul moved through life hindered by “a thorn in the body” but produced nearly two-thirds of our New Testament.

Rather than giving-up and accepting defeat, Paul labored under his handicap. Naturally, Paul – like any of us – preferred that the handicap be corrected, the difficulty removed. On three occasions Paul asked the Lord for this. But the handicap remained; the thorn wasn’t removed. But Paul’s prayers were answered. “My grace is enough for you,” answered God. With God’s answer, Paul committed himself to do the very best he could do with what he had. His life and ministry was a vessel of hope for everyone he encountered. To his children, Theodore Roosevelt continually cultivated a hopeful disposition – and in doing so charged the atmosphere of his home with hope.

Paul sought to demonstrate in his life that there is no limitation, no misfortune, no burden of sorrow, suffering or loss that the human spirit cannot rise above. He endured much of each. But Paul went deeper than self-discipline and self-determination. Paul triumphed over it all because he sought God. Perhaps this was the finest message that Paul left the church – that when the allure of defeat tempts the heart Paul calls us to that deeper place where our life is open to the grace and power of Almighty God.




This blog is taken from Doug Hood’s Heart & Soul, Volume 2, which will be published in the near future, 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Speaking Wisely

Speaking Wisely

 “Do you love life; do you relish the chance to enjoy good things? Then you must keep your tongue from evil and keep your lips from speaking lies!”
Psalm 34:12-13 (Common English Bible)

It is a rhetorical question, of course. Who doesn’t want to be thoroughly alive, enjoying all the good things that life has to offer, to be lifted above the plane of mere existence? To live a large life, a life of spacious activities and with a grand purpose captures our imaginations. This is a life of abounding energy and possesses a deep awareness of the things that bless – both personally and those around us.

The Psalms offer treasured insight for such a life, insight for embracing a spacious life of blessedness, of extracting the secret flavors and essences of things as we live into each day. Very specifically, we are instructed in the wisdom of many who have traveled before us; we are told to exercise wise government over our tongues. Relationships with one another rise to unimaginable heights as the tongue is disciplined and directed to build, to edify and exalt those who hear us. It is as though life receives its nutriments from careful and blessed speech.

Our speech is too often destructive. Poison-soaked speech first poisons the speaker. “Every word we speak recoils upon the speaker’s heart, leaves its influence, either in grace or disfigurement,” writes that wonderful preacher, J.H. Jowett.1 Where the tongue is untrue the heart is afraid of exposure. Life is diminished. One may also argue that such speech is lazy speech. Where there is no exercise of restraint or government of the tongue; it is free to roam at will. Therefore, urges the Psalms, keep your tongue from evil and speaking lies. The tongue that is held in severe restriction, the tongue that only shapes words that are good and encouraging to others results in quiet and fruitful happiness.

Undisciplined tongues seem to flourish today. And the world is the poorer for it. Yet, our own lives may move to a higher plane simply by a personal revolt from the disorderly conduct of tongues. The best way to affect a departure from the guile and venom that flows freely around us is to exercise one’s self in active good, of words spoken kindly, with pleasantness and grace. The fragrance of our speech will tickle the hearts of others. It may invite them to share in the same wisdom of the Psalms, an invitation to experience a blessed life, full, safe and abounding in good things.

____________________

1J.H. Jowett, Thirsting for the Springs: Twenty-Six Weeknight Meditations (London: H.R. Allenson, Limited, 1907), 188.

This blog is taken from Doug Hood's Heart & Soul, Volume 2, which will be published in the near future.

Friday, November 4, 2016

What Love Requires

“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet.”
Matthew 5:13 (Common English Bible)

            In his biography of John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States, James Traub unfolds the life of a man who was plainspoken, simple in his wants, and a person of deep Christian faith. Adams lived according to principles he considered self-evident and never seemed hesitant to sacrifice self-interest for the sake of those principles. He was only nine years old when the United States was birthed as a nation. As he grew and matured, Adams became imbued with the conviction that the United States was the greatest experiment in government the world had ever known. So complete was his identification with that government, Adams never flinched at either the prospect of death or the, “wreckage of his career, so long as he believed that service to the nation required it.”[i] 

            When Jesus declares, “You are the salt of the earth,” he is not extending to us a compliment, though that is how this comment has become commonly used. What Jesus seeks are people who so identify with the purposes of God that they are prepared to sacrifice anything – including their lives – if service to God’s divine purposes required it. Jesus does not hold back or seek to soften his message; Jesus is warning us that following him comes with the costly expectation that we will be “all in.” Here, in his Sermon on the Mountain, Jesus lays down a challenge. The challenge is to adopt the conviction of John Quincy Adams that does not flinch at the call to be used by God to further the purposes of God’s kingdom.

            This is where Jesus’ message becomes hard. Within each of us are forces that strive for self-preservation. But, if we are not prepared to lose ourselves for advancing God’s work in the world, Jesus is clear, we are “good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet.” Essentially, Jesus announces that if we fail to be driven by the same convictions that drove John Quincy Adams, then the reason for our existence in Jesus’ ministry to the world ceases. We are as useless to Jesus as the dust under our soles. That message was deeply disturbing to some. Little wonder why people left Jesus in droves. What he taught was too demanding.

            No one makes a financial investment if they are not deeply committed to seeing that investment grow. The same is true of relationships. Meaningful relationships are demanding. If there is absent any conviction of long-term value, or a commitment to the well-being of the other, a relational investment isn’t made. Yet, right here in this teaching, Jesus seeks an investment from us. For everyone who accepts his invitation, the investment will be costly. That is why our faith and love for Jesus is crucial. Unless it is nurtured regularly, the cost of what Jesus asks may seem too high. But for those who pay attention to Jesus, they will see that we are called to be “the salt of the earth” because Jesus was first, salt for us – even giving his own life on a cross because our life required it of him.

Joy,       


[i] James Traub, John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit (New York: Basic Books, 2016), xi.

Friday, October 28, 2016

The God Who Carries Us

“Bel crouches down; Nebo cowers. Their idols sit on animals, on beasts.
The objects you once carried about are now borne as burdens by the weary animals.”
Isaiah 46:1 (Common English Bible)

            One of the most moving – an inspiring – moments in any athletic completion is that one where an athlete stumbles and another competitor goes back to offer help. The tone of the moment is transformed from a test of strength and speed to one of mutual humanity, sharing in one another’s frailties. Such moments remind us of something nobler than defeating another in a game of skill, strength, and speed. Competition may push each of us to realize our best potential – and that is good. But more extraordinary are moments that reveal our common infirmities; moments where we strengthen one another in the storms of life.

            This is not so with God; it must not be so. Unfailing strength is the very nature of God. Yet, here Isaiah fashions for us a sharp contrast between gods that are carried and a God that carries us or, as Henry Sloane Coffin once observed, “Between religion as a load and religion as a lift.”[i] In another of Isaiah’s tirades against idols, against imaginary gods, he provides the reader with graphic clarity the gods of Babylon bobbing and swaying in an absurdly undignified fashion on the backs of animals. Weary from the weight of these gods, the animals strain to move forward as the frightened devotees lead the animals to a place of safety away from the invading armies. What a picture; ordinary, mortal human beings struggling to secure the safety of gods! Isaiah intends for this to strike us as absurd.

            Isaiah then contrast this ridiculous image with the living God, the God who bore Israel in his arms from its birth and has carried it ever since. The prophet would have us understand that a burdensome religion is a false religion; that a god which must be taken care of is not a faith that can sustain us. Israel needs, as do we, a faith that takes cares of us. Communion with the God of Israel is a faith that always shifts the weight of life to God, not the other way around. And Isaiah wants us to know that if we ever feel that we are carrying our religion, that if faith has become burdensome, then our gaze has moved from the one, true living God.

            The wonderful teacher of the Christian faith, Paul Tillich, once commented that we are not asked to grasp the faith of the Old and New Testament but, rather, are called to be grasped by it. A Christian’s beliefs are not a set of propositions which we are compelled to accept. That would be a burdensome religion. The Christian faith is an invitation from a living God to come and be held in God’s grasp, to be lifted and carried along through the difficulties of life we must all face. We may struggle at times to free ourselves from God’s embrace, to go through life alone, in our own strength. But sooner or later, we will become as weary as the animals carrying the idols of Bel and Nebo. And when we are depleted, God will be there.

Joy,
                         



[i] Henry Sloane Coffin, “Religion That Lifts,” Joy in Believing (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1956) 8.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Figuring Out God's Will

“Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is – what is good and pleasing and mature.”
Romans 12:2 (Common English Bible)

            Antoine de Saint-Exupery wisely said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” It is ludicrous to suggest that any follower of Jesus lacks the goal of spiritual growth; lacks the desire to become more Christlike than they are presently. Adult baptism and membership in a church are intentional decisions. No one stumbles into the Christian faith. And ask anyone seated in church on Sunday morning if they would like to be a better Christian and I doubt there will be any surprises. There is really only one reasonable answer. Ask that question and I imagine you may receive some strange looks. Common courtesy may prevent an honest answer but stirring in the minds of many would be the curt response, “Do you know the trouble I had this morning to simply show-up at church?” No one stumbles into the Christian faith. And no one stumbles into Christian worship. Naturally, every follower of Jesus has the goal of spiritual maturity.

            The difficulty is that in many faith communities, in many churches, there is so little evidence of Christian growth. Listen carefully to many church members and they sound no different than those who remain outside the church doors. Gossip abounds, grumbling is heard and self-righteous judgement is whispered in every pew. Perhaps each person guilty of such bad behavior desires to be better than this but there is simply no movement in that direction. The reason should haunt each of us. We lack an intentional plan for growth. Antoine de Saint-Exupery is correct, without a plan, the desire for becoming increasingly Christlike is nothing more than a wish. Worse, without a plan for growth, says Paul, the natural consequence is conformity to the patterns of the world.

            If a wish is ever to become a goal, a plan is required. Weight Watchers offers a plan if the goal is to lose weight. Fitness Centers offer a plan if the goal is improved fitness and health. Language video and audio programs may be purchased if the goal is learning a new language. Any goal must be translated into a plan or it simply remains a wish. The same principal applies to spiritual growth. The plan need not be difficult or complex. In fact, the likelihood that a plan will be placed into action increases if it is simple to understand and follow.

            Paul’s words here offer a glorious promise. Identify a spiritual growth plan, remove it from the box and implement it fully and the result will be growing clarity of God’s will. Some people despair because God’s will is often difficult to know. Many times that is because they expect clarity without effort, without following an intentional plan for growth. The trouble is that God’s will for our lives is always inextricably bound to a growing relationship with God. It is never one or the other. Pursue an ongoing relationship with God and God’s desires will become apparent.


Joy,

Friday, September 30, 2016

Jesus in the Everyday

“Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration.”
John 2:2 (Common English Bible)

            Here is a remarkable miracle, and a remarkable story of Jesus. Remarkable because it places Jesus right in the center of Jewish life, during the celebration of a wedding, when he performs his first miracle – the changing of water into wine. Jesus’ first miracle was not healing someone who is sick, casting-out an evil spirit from someone possessed, or raising the dead. Jesus’ first miracle was performed in the midst of an ordinary dilemma that seems, in many ways, embarrassingly inconsequential. During a wedding celebration, the host of the party runs out of wine for his guest. That is the dilemma. But, informs the writer of John’s Gospel, “Jesus and his disciples were invited to the celebration.” And because Jesus was present, he saves the party.

            Before Jesus began his ministry, Satan provided several opportunities for Jesus to exercise his divine powers for the extraordinary. When Jesus grew hungry, Satan asked Jesus to simply turn stone into bread and eat. Certainly, Jesus could do that! Jesus refused. Then Satan suggested that Jesus “show-off” by throwing himself off a mountain, to be caught by the arms of angels. Again, Jesus refused. Jesus isn’t interested in using his capacity for the miraculous for self-aggrandizement or for his own creature comforts. That would miss the point of why Jesus came to earth. Jesus life’s purpose is to live for others.

            This miracle announces that there is no moment of life that we ought to get along without God. It goes without saying that the moments of desperation or grief we all experience need God’s help. But so do the moments of celebration and joy. This early glimpse of Jesus ministry, his presence at a wedding feast, shows Christ most completely at home in any circumstance and occasion of life. Before Jesus would face the darker side of life, this story vividly reveals a happy Christ who knew how to have a good time. This is a side of Christ that is often overlooked.

            Often the church seeks to spiritualize the work of Christ and conclude that he is only in the business of saving souls and renewing lives. The unfortunate consequence is the assumption that Jesus isn’t really interested in the commonplace events of life. Yet, this first miracle story announces something quite different. Jesus went to where life was, even ordinary moments, and brought blessings. Jesus is never out of place. This story catches Jesus being interested in everyday living, and taking seriously everyday conundrums. Jesus was invited to a wedding celebration and he accepted. And his presence transformed the occasion for everyone.

Joy,


Doug Hood’s blog will not post next week. It will return the following week.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Remember

“Don’t forget the covenant that the Lord your God made with you...”
Deuteronomy 4:23b (Common English Bible)

            The word, “remember” has taken on fresh poignancy for the citizens of the United States. Recently, our nation observed the fifteenth anniversary of the terrorist attack in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.  Commonly referenced as 9/11, the entering High School freshman class this year is the first class to begin High School who was born after these attacks. It is all history to them. Why is it important to teach these young students what happened that September day before they were born? Foremost, it is important because it is a critical part of our shared story as U.S. citizens. That single incident has dramatically reshaped the landscape of how we live today. Secondly, the story keeps all of us wide-eyed of what occurs each day around the world and how our lives may be impacted.

            Here in Deuteronomy, Moses asks the people of God to “remember.” Remember their slavery in Egypt. Remember God’s leadership, and care for them, as they traveled from Egypt, through the wilderness, to a new land that will be their home. Remember, because all that history has shaped them as a people; has shaped them as a nation. If they are to have any understanding of their identity, they must remember who they were and God’s mighty acts among them. Just as important, their future is filled with uncertainties – as is any future – and the very act of “recalling” God’s presence and care in the past strengthens them for whatever they would face moving forward. “Don’t forget the covenant that the Lord your God made with you.”

            This is an important reason for our regular worship and personal reading of the Bible. Like the nation of Israel, we also must remember. In those times when our life has reached the depths of disappointment and struggle, it is easy to remember; to remember and call out to God for help. But when life is sailing from one beautiful shore to the next, difficulty is at a minimum and resources to meet any emotional or physical need are abundant, remembering God is difficult. Little by little, a notion expands upon our consciousness that God can be dispensed with. The tragic result is to face the future alone, with only our strength. Eventually, that strength will be insufficient.

            Perhaps a greater concern is that when a nation loses its faith, a sense that each of us belong to something bigger than the present moment, that nation ceases to be a nation at all. What is left is a lot of people milling around with no larger story arc than their own small lives, going nowhere. It is important to remember origins, to remember where we came from and how we got here. This memory dispenses the lie that we made something out of our lives from nothing. Memory becomes the source and impulse to new life; a life full of hope and promise for the future. And the nation that recovers a sense of responsibility, under God, discovers a divine purpose that strengthens the bonds that binds one to another and thrusts it forward into the future with confident expectation.           


Joy,

Friday, September 16, 2016

Holding Onto Faith

“But Jesus overheard their report and said to the synagogue leader, 
‘Don’t be afraid; just keep trusting.’”
Mark 5:36 (Common English Bible)

            Faith is difficult to hold onto when a loved one dies. The Reformed theologian Karl Barth said that people come to church with only one question in their minds: Is it true? The promises of God, the saving power of Jesus Christ, the resurrection from the dead and eternal life: Is it true? This is the most fundamental question of faith. When those same people gather for a funeral service, gather to honor and remember the life of a loved one, the question is even more compelling: Is it true? Can God be trusted when death seems so powerful? Certainly, that is the question that occupies the thoughts of Jairus when he is told that his daughter has died.

            In this poignant story from Mark’s Gospel, Jairus seeks after Jesus; seeks to intercede on his sick daughter’s behalf and ask for her healing. It is an active prayer. Prayer is seeking God – whether for a stronger relationship or to claim God’s power. Jairus is seeking God, through the person of Jesus Christ, and seeks God for the benefit of a sick daughter. Yet, messengers have now shown-up reporting to Jairus that his daughter has died. “Why bother the teacher any longer?” But Jesus overhears their report, turns to face Jairus, and says, “Don’t be afraid; just keep trusting.” Apparently, death doesn’t seem as final to Jesus as it does to us.

            It seems that for many people, the time comes when they simply quit praying, simply give-up on trusting that anything can be different. Either they sense that they can’t have what they want or that the opportunity has past. After their request has been ignored, or denied, they don’t want anything else. God has failed miserably in the role of Santa Claus and they will not consider the possibility that God’s desire for them may be something far better than what they seek. Rather than keeping their eyes wide-open for what God may be doing differently in their lives, they simply stop trusting.

            Jesus seems to suggest here that when trust is lost, what remains is fear. Certainly for Jairus, news of his daughter’s death is cause to abandon hope. And when hope is gone, fear takes-up residence in our lives. But pay attention to what Jesus does in this story; Jesus remains calm: “Don’t be afraid; just keep trusting.” We miss the depth of meaning here if we expect the child will come back to life. What Jesus does is demonstrate a confidence that God still holds our lives, and future, in God’s powerful grasp, particularly when death seem victorious. Whether the child comes back to mortal life is not the issue. Jesus’ calmness exudes a confidence that God will come mightily to care for us if we would but surrender ourselves completely to God’s mercy and care. It is our continuing trust in that promise that strengthens our capacity to hold onto faith.

Joy,


Friday, September 9, 2016

Strength Out of Weakness

“Therefore, I’m all right with weaknesses, insults, disasters, harassments, and stressful situations for the sake of Christ, because when I’m weak, then I’m strong.”
2 Corinthians 12:10 (Common English Bible)

            Now this, of course, is a paradox – the notion that when we are weak, then we are strong. It is an assertion that appears to be contradictory or opposed to common sense. Rationally, we are either one or the other. We can’t be both at the same moment in time. Yet, this is precisely the assertion that the apostle Paul makes to the Christian church located in Corinth. Such an absurd idea would not be worthy of our attention had it not come from the hand of Paul. But here it is! And the early church has declared these words to be the inspired Word of our Lord. So a closer look is demanded.

            Any responsible study of this claim must begin where Paul begins, with the circumstance that drew from Paul this great paradox. He identifies the origin of this thought as a discomfort of “a thorn in my body” that Paul implores God, on three occasions, to remove. Remember, Paul was a man, who sought with considerable vigor, to destroy the Christian faith. Now, with equal vigor, Paul is advancing the faith he once sought to stamp-out. But there is some difficulty, some physical handicap located in his body, that weakens his effort. Paul never identifies the nature of the handicap. The only information Paul feels is relevant is that this difficulty is slowing him down from effectively preaching Jesus Christ. So he implores of God to remove the handicap.

            What is puzzling, at first glance, is God’s refusal to honor Paul’s plea. Appealing once again to the rational, wouldn’t God want Paul to be as strong as possible for the preaching ministry of Jesus Christ? That is certainly the thought process of Paul. So Paul asks for extraordinary strength for the preaching of an extraordinary Gospel. What Paul discovers, however, is that in the mathematical equation of God’s Kingdom, if Paul preached only from his strength, any power of Jesus Christ would be hidden. All people would see is Paul’s strength.

            Paul’s discovery becomes our discovery. Each of us has some weakness. The weakness may be physical, emotional, or social. The weakness may be some irrational fear or brokenness in our lives. And I quite imagine that each of us has prayed the prayer of Paul; has prayed that the weakness be removed. But imagine the logical result if we were made strong in all things – we would have no need for God. At least that would be the notion that would grow upon our consciousness. The tragic result of such thinking would be moving further from God, rather than closer. The truth of the matter is that we will always be incomplete without God. And it is only when we, in our weakness, lean into the power of God, that we become the recipients of God’s strength.


Joy,

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Choose to Be Happy

“Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer.”
Romans 12:12 (Common English Bible)

            The choice is ours. Just as each day we choose the clothes we will wear, we choose the disposition that will clothe our heart and mind. The winds of daily circumstance, whether it is good fortune or disappointment, have no access to matters of the interior life. No one can see what any day may bring in the home or the office, but we can determine that each day will be met with a buoyant spirit. Begin the day with a dark spirit, a sour and unpleasant disposition and usually something will happen to confirm the prior decision to be unhappy. Start the day with a positive tempo in your step and the same law will be at work; something will occur that will give affirmation that all is well, even if the day brings disappointing news. How we begin the day is a choice.

            But the choice must be inspired by the Christian understanding of hope. Used in the New Testament, hope is never wishful thinking. Christian hope, of which the apostle Paul speaks of here, is the deep conviction that we belong to God. A positive promise woven throughout the New Testament is that our heavenly Father has each one of us in his keeping and will be present in the midst of any difficulty. We are never alone. God remains with us, regardless of the circumstances that may swirl around our lives. Begin each day with that knowledge, that God is present with us, and God will lift your vision to the sunnier possibilities available and rescue you from the power of frustrations and defeat.

            It is a great and liberating thing to know that God is with us. It is a knowledge that strengthens our knees and secures our footing. Particularly when the winds of trouble blow, as they must for each of us at some time, we discover that we are able to stand firmly without fear of being defeated. It is a knowledge that frees us from personal concern, and the emotional energy which that effort consumes, so that we may devote all of our strength to reach for life’s highest purposes.

            Occasionally the winds that blow against us are quite strong. A secure footing is important, such as our knowledge of God’s continued presence and care, but something more may be required. As a sailor standing on a boat that is being tossed about, we must grab hold of something. As a Christian, we grab hold of God in prayer. “Devote yourselves to prayer,” writes Paul. Prayer is the abandonment of any other crutch, any other hope, and the clinging to God. It is recalling that God is all that is necessary. Prayer nurtures intimacy with God and it is the surrender into the loving presence of God that results in inexpressible joy. For Paul, prayer is not a matter to be taken lightly. Simply, prayer is integral to the choice to be happy in all circumstances.

Joy,     


Doug Hood’s blog will not post next week. It will return the following week.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Who Is God?

“Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, 
and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Matthew 6:33 (Common English Bible)

            I don’t find many sermons today on the sovereignty of God, that five dollar word that simply asks, “Who is God?” It is an important question. As any good question will do, the question gives birth to a host of other questions: Who owns the earth? Who rules our hearts? To whom does our first allegiance belong? These are the urgent questions for our day. They are the questions that frame the political, economic and ethical conversations we are drawn into on a regular basis. I am, therefore, grateful that the other day I discovered a gem among my library, a sermon by J. Wallace Hamilton: “Who Goes There?”[i] Though it was preached sometime in the 1950’s, it retains a crisp and clear presentation of that great question and solicits our faithful response. 

            Wallace offers a persuasive argument that there is present today a practical atheism in our nation, a denial of placing God and God’s purposes first in our lives. Some will announce a conviction, “nation first,” while other voices will clamor, “team first” or “family first.” What about God? The first step for addressing the unsettledness of our nation, suggests Wallace, is spiritual; returning God to the center of our lives. The way we think and the values that shape our lives are rooted and nourished by the gods to which we give our lives. And nothing will end well for us, or as a nation, until we get the center right. Every loyalty will disappoint us until we give our highest loyalty to God.

            What this means in terms of practical action reaches into every area of our lives. There must be a resolve against the segmentation of our lives; the separation of business, family and the religious dimension. Some years ago, a politician spoke rather harshly about some political comments made by the Pope, arguing that the he should leave politics to the politicians. If the Pope is representative of God’s claims and purposes in the world, there is no area that is off-limits, especially politics. With God at the center, our responsibility is to answer every question as it arises on the basis of God’s sovereignty; on the basis of what God would have us do.

            Among the great sins is the notion that the world is ours; that we are free to do with the world what we will. That notion simply doesn’t square with scripture. The world isn’t ours to serve our needs and do with as we please. That is the great lie that stands in the way of an authentic embrace of the sovereignty of God. Who owns the earth? That answer all depends upon the god that is at the center. The question of God’s sovereignty eventually comes home to each of us. To place God at the center may require a new mind and a new birth. But for those who return God to the center, it is a tremendous experience.

Joy,        
           



[i] J. Wallace Hamilton, “The Sovereignty of God,” Who Goes There: What and Where Is God? (Westwood, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, MCMLVIII), p. 35-47.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Remind, Invite and Inspire


“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who are God’s own possession.”
1 Peter 2:9 (Common English Bible)

            I am fond of the work of John Andrew, formerly the pastor of St. Thomas Fifth Avenue, New York City. One of his sermons delivered in that magnificent and admired church provides a fresh and inspired look at this one sentence from 1 Peter; an invitation to imagine that church from four vantage points: to suggest, to remind, to invite, and to inspire.[i] Now in the midst of our building campaign, to expand and update our church facilities, I draw from three of Andrew’s words as we consider our heritage and future.

            Our church, the First Presbyterian Church of Delray Beach, is located here in this beautiful spot, one block from the beach, to remind us of who we are and to whom we belong. Andrew states it so well, “There is not one of us in the Christian family who does not need the memory jogged on occasion about who we are and whose we are.” Each member of this superb church has been entrusted with a rich heritage of Christian witness in this location. This beautiful church reminds us of that heritage and calls each of us to advance that witness into the future. St Peter makes this point with force in these few words: “But you are a chosen race…” Certainly that begs the question, chosen for what? All of scripture is clear; we are chosen to participate in God’s continued work in the world. This church reminds us of that continuing responsibility.

            The second task we are here to perform is to invite. We must identify winsome and compelling opportunities to attract and convince people who move into this community to join us. This is done by uplifting Christ in such a way that people long to know more about him and, eventually, to love him and dedicate their lives to him. A warm welcome on Sunday morning and a smile can work wonders in a beautiful place like this. But this is then followed by the rich experience of beautiful, traditional and compelling worship. More, people must know that here prayers are spoken not only for our members but for those who visit this beautiful community and make it their home.

            Invited is then followed by inspire. What I speak of here is not the natural inspiration that touches the mind and heart following worship, though that is important. What is demanded from those who would follow Christ is sacrificial generosity; the compulsion to participate meaningfully in God’s unfinished work. Serious, sacrificial and regular financial giving brings honor and integrity to our rich heritage in this place, for an ungenerous Christian is a contradiction in terms. When we commit ourselves to this kind of giving, we are doing no more than what Christ did before us, for Christ gave his own blood for us that we may have eternal life.

Joy, 

             

           

           

           



[i] John Andrew, The Best of Both Worlds (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 147.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Sharing Our Faith Story

 “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.”
Psalm 107:2 (New Revised Standard Version)

            Our daily conversations do more than provide a running narrative of our lives; such conversations shape our experiences, practices and life with one another. As we speak, our thoughts and understandings are more deeply formed and clarified. Through speech, we do so much more than transmit information to another. We process that information in a manner that deepens our convictions. When that conversation turns to matters of faith, my friend Thomas Long, brilliantly observes, “When we talk about our faith, we are not merely expressing our beliefs; we are coming more fully and clearly to believe. In short, we are always talking ourselves into being Christian.”[i]

            It is uncertain that this is the conviction behind these words from Psalms. What is certain is that God’s people are directed to speak of their faith; are commanded to share their faith story with others. It is the duty of every person of faith. The man or woman who has been “redeemed” by the Lord must become a busy person. They are to be messengers of God’s love and transformative power. It is this kind of witness that captures the interest of ordinary people and wins their verdict. Clergy are expected to speak of holy things. But when ordinary people speak of God the testimony takes hold with arresting strength and considerable surprise.

            But, argues Tom Long, such conversation serves a sacred interest. Speaking with another person about our faith confirms experience; it sustains it and enriches it. Any experience which is denied expression speedily fades away, such as a second language that is never used. The loss may be imperceptible at first but, over time, more and more is lost until little remains. Yet, when voice is given to matters of faith, faith quickens and is given strength. A powerful dynamic is released: as we take hold of our faith, our faith takes hold of us. Doubts melt away like mist when we go public with our testimony of what God has done for us.

            The Bible is filled with miracle stories. They are the stories that shape the contours of our faith and reveal God to us; stories that bear witness to God’s power. But they are not the stories that are the most vital for living a transformed and transfigured life. The miracle that is most vital, that is most urgent today, is not the miracle that is read about but the one that walks about in every believer who gives confession of their belief. The Lord says, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.” That is the Lord’s command. The world is waiting for our obedience.

Joy,
           




[i] Thomas G. Long, Testimony: Talking Ourselves into Being Christian (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2004), 7.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Dedication

“I made myself holy on their behalf so that they also would be made holy in the truth.”
John 17:19 (Common English Bible)

            This one prayer by Jesus may be the most sacred passage in all four of the Gospels. As the shadow of the cross grew larger upon our Lord, he gives himself to God, and he gives himself fully, without reservations. The depth and richness of the prayer is missed if the reader fails to grasp the deep meaning of the word, “holy.” Throughout the New Testament, as it is used here by Jesus, the word means, “Set apart.” What Jesus does by this prayer is to fully dedicate his life to God’s purposes; Jesus has “set apart” his life for God’s desires thereby surrendering any other pursuit he might have had in life. Before anyone choses to dedicate their life to God, it is wise to ponder deeply this example of our Lord.

            First, Jesus begins his prayer, “I made myself holy.” What is at once both unmistakable and essential for any authentic commitment to God is that it must be personal. No one is truly dedicated if the dedication is made on their behalf. Dedication to God is a personal decision of any individual. Additionally, though participation in a corporate service of dedication with others similarly making a commitment may be quite meaningful, such participation does not necessarily mean that an individual has been dedicated. The act of dedication, an extremely personal decision, is hidden in the heart of the individual. Only the individual and God know if an authentic dedication has occurred.

            Second, Jesus’ prayer continued, “…on their behalf.” Here, Jesus demonstrates that any dedication is always made for some specific task, for positively impacting a people or a movement. For Jesus, his dedication is to share in God’s burden for the world, to seek out those who have lost their way and bring them back to God. His dedication is undertaken for a particular people, for a particular purpose, and so must our own dedication. A dedication that does not result in some urge to do something definite, to make some difference for God in the local community or the world is empty and a waste of time. “…on their behalf,” Jesus makes his dedication.

            Finally, Jesus’ brief prayer concludes, “…that they also would be made holy in the truth.”  The certain indication here is that any motive for doing something positive is for the purpose of changing lives. Jesus sought to change the lives of others, to bless them that their lives may, in turn, bless others. Absent in his dedication is any hint that Jesus sought to win favor or acclaim. That would be unworthy of a dedication. Jesus’ dedication was to influence others to similarly dedicate their lives to the purposes of God. The result would be that God’s kingdom would experience an exponential expansion throughout the world. Whenever men and women gather to dedicate themselves to God, it is good to understand, with considerable clarity, what Jesus has taught such a dedication entails.


Joy,

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Doubt and Faith (a revision of a previous posting)

“Will my Lord reject me forever? Will he never be pleased again? Has his faithful love come to a complete end? Is his promise over for future generations? You are the God who works wonders; you have demonstrated your strength among all peoples.”
Psalm 77:7, 8, 14 (Common English Bible)

            British singer, Adele, has struck a deep place in the hearts of millions with her single, “Hello”, a piano ballad. The lyrics discuss themes of nostalgia and regret and it is the first song in history to sell over a million digital copies in a week. Lyrically, the song plays out like a phone conversation, “Hello, it’s me. I was wondering if after all these years you’d like to meet, to go over everything.” The difficulty is, the person to whom she places the call never answers, “I must have called a thousand times. But when I call, you seem never to be home.” Certainly, these words resonate with different listeners in different ways. For me, they express my prayer life some days. I place a call to God but God never answers. “Will my Lord reject me forever?”

            People of faith occasionally experience conflict in their relationship with God. There are moments when it seems easy to affirm God, to believe in a larger purpose than our own small lives, and that, in Christ, we are called to participate in a high and holy purpose. Other moments, faith is questioned. These few verses from Psalm 77 speak of both, of faith and doubt. It is a conflict that is familiar to many.

            What are we to do? Herbert H. Farmer proposes an extremely important question, “To which of these two voices in the soul concerning God are we going to make up our minds deliberately and consciously always to give the greater weight?”[i] Will we place faith on trial, demanding evidence before trusting in God? Or, will we place doubt on trial, demanding that it answer the evidence of God’s work in our lives? Unless we are deliberate with our answer, we will continually oscillate between the two, between faith and doubt, with the circumstances of life driving the condition of the heart.

            It seems reasonable to me that the better choice is not to leave such an important matter to the uncertainties of life. I have experienced moments of doubt and I am certain I will again experience doubt in the future. Yet, I have made the deliberate decision to place my doubt on trial in every instance. Like the author of these words from Psalm 77, I have chosen to answer every moment of doubt with the evidence of God’s marvelous work of wonders, with every demonstration of God’s strength among those who know and love him.

Joy,
          



[i] Herbert H. Farmer, “Doubt and Faith,” Best Sermons: 1947 Edition, edited by G. Paul Butler (New York and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1947), 146.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Power of Purpose

“I’m doing important work, so I can’t come down.”
Nehemiah 6:3 (Common English Bible)

            The absence of success isn’t the great malady of our time; it is the absence of purpose. Millions of men and women push through each day eking out a living with no large meaning or compelling purpose in life to inspire them. Each day they are going and going but are not moving toward anything. Without direction or motivation these people find their lives flattened, living lives that are meaningless and without a center that strengthens both physically and emotionally. Life is little more than some sort of dreary treadmill; the result being that powers are depleted and personal existence seemingly pointless. These are people who will say that, more than comfort or security, what they crave most of all is meaning in their lives.

            Nehemiah found the answer to aimlessness, “I’m doing important work, so I can’t come down.” Nehemiah put his hand out to a task that God wanted done and no distraction or discouragement would pull him away from that work. Naturally, Nehemiah’s first task was to properly discern what it was that God wanted from him. The exercise of discovering God’s purpose for us is commonly called, spiritual formation. It need not be a complicated process, but it does require a determination of the heart and a regular time commitment. At the minimum, what is necessary is the regular reading of the Bible and the prayer, “What would you have me hear from these words and what would you have me to do?”

            This is a large message of the New Testament; that salvation is, in part, being delivered from aimlessness and finding our lives organized around the creative purposes of God. Attention to God’s voice in the Bible gathers the scattered forces of our being and links them to the one divine force at work in the world. Anyone who has spent considerable time with God in this manner discovers that their loyalties are shaped and a grand purpose in life emerges. Day then follows day with a deep sense of meaning running through each of them because these people finally discover that they are moving steadily toward something worth getting to.

            When people say that they are going to pieces, often they are speaking the literal truth. Life has a tendency to crumble into pieces when a centering purpose is absent. What is deeply needed is some master passion, some supreme devotion that will hold our scattered selves together. That is the enormous contribution that Christ makes in the world. Christ puts divine meaning into our daily human tasks and saves us from scattered, aimless living. Called to a great cause, a great enterprise worthy of our complete devotion, fractured lives are once again pulled together, physical energies restored, and we discover that we are caught-up in an important work. It is a work that recovers purpose and makes us whole.


Joy,

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Overwhelmed?

“God’s word continued to grow and increase.”
Acts 12:24 (Common English Bible)

            On the street, in our neighborhoods and our places of work the prevailing mood of the day is, “overwhelmed”. The world today seems to be more complex, more massive, and more unmanageable than our individual and corporate memory can recall. The magnitude of the problems we face as a nation – particularly threats to our national security – leave us bewildered and frightened. It seems that we are up against a new level of massiveness and everything now appears to be beyond the power of ordinary people and governments to solve or control. Confronted with the overwhelming complexities of life today, the question presses against our hearts and spirit, is there hope?

            This one sentence from the Book of Acts does not suggest a solution to the enormity of the difficulties we face. It does suggest the mood created by them. As the church, as followers of Jesus Christ, we have a responsibility to our families, our colleagues and the communities in which we live to shift the focus from the staggering weight of our nation’s ills to a mood of optimism. It is not “wishful thinking” that is suggested by this one verse in Acts. Rather, it is the evidence that, in a world of mounting difficulties, God remains active and in control. What is most urgently needed today is for the church to be the church, to change the present mood of being overwhelmed to one of conviction that God has come into the world and that God’s word continues to grow and increase.

            The world in which these words were written was not unlike our own. The church of Jesus Christ was under a most severe persecution and its continued existence seemed doubtful. King Herod is on a rampage to stamp-out the church by destroying its leaders. Peter and John are placed in prison. James, the brother of John, is killed, and the church is under constant attack and is being scattered everywhere. But, God’s word continued to grow and increase. This truth, the unfaltering movement of God’s word, is a tonic for the timid and an encouragement for each one of us who feel overwhelmed.

            As the church, as members of the body of Christ, we have a moral and faithful obligation to reevaluate our mood. Since the world tends to magnify the negative, a Christian mood of hope is vital. When some ask, “What is this world coming to?” the church must answer, “Christ has come into the world.” It is that response that changes the prevailing mood. It may not be within our power to control the conditions of life, but we do have a choice for our attitude toward them. What is now needed is a new approach. The church’s high calling is to strengthen people by our unwavering confidence that, in the midst of unsettling news, God is not absent.

Joy,     



Thursday, June 30, 2016

An Indecisive Faith

“Elijah approached all the people and said, 
‘How long will you hobble back and forth between two opinions? 
If the Lord is God, follow God. If Baal is God, follow Baal.’ The people gave no answer.”
I Kings 18:21 (Common English Bible)

            There are multitudes of people today who live with an indecisive faith. In their heart of hearts they want to believe that they are a people of belief. For Christians, they may belong to a local church, worship regularly and participate in the financial support of the church. They possess a Bible – perhaps several – and may read it regularly. But when opportunities are presented for them to take a stand for what they know is right, what they know is a Christian position, they become hesitant. They are afraid to publicly confess that they follow the Lord, Jesus Christ, and intend to honor Christ in each of their decisions. No one who knows them can be certain just where they stand.

            This spirit of hesitation is far removed from the heroism of first century Christianity. In the Book of Acts, we encounter another story, the story of Christians who are arrested and beaten for their faith. When they are at last released from prison they are given the express command never to speak of Christ again. This warning does not stop them. Their faith is not dubious, hesitant, or vacillating. Just the opposite is true. We read that daily in the temple and in every house, they never ceased to teach and preach Jesus Christ. They are followers of Jesus Christ who make their life and influence count in the struggle of right and wrong.

            Why should we hesitate to affirm our faith as these first century Christians? If we believe in God and are sincere in our desire to follow Jesus as Lord of our lives, why not say so? The conviction of the Christian faith is that the establishment of God’s Kingdom would bring a better world. Only a few hundred Christians with a faith as resolute and unwavering as these first century Christians would have the capacity to stir any local community to its foundations. But what happens often today is that people “hobble back and forth between two opinions.” Either they are uncertain or are ashamed of their convictions as followers of Jesus.

            Elijah challenged the people of Israel to take a stand, one way or another. We are similarly challenged by his words. Cease to “hobble back and forth” and, rather, take a stand for something, either for the God we know in the person of Jesus or for something else. Someone once said, “Show me a man’s checkbook and I will tell you the name of his god.” I am confident that Elijah wouldn’t need their checkbook. How we speak, the manner in which we treat one another and the decisions we make – particularly moral and business decisions – demonstrate who or what is Lord of our lives. What a pity that anyone who has ever named Jesus as Lord would be found by others as a person of indecisive faith.


Joy,