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Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Long Way

“God’s riches, wisdom, and knowledge are so deep! 
They are as mysterious as his judgments, and they are as hard to track as his paths!”
Romans 11:33 (Common English Bible)

The Long Way is a midtempo country ballad written and recorded by American country music singer Brett Eldredge. Matthew Rogers co-wrote the song. Eldredge says that the song is “a look into what I want to find in love.”[i] Careful attention to the lyrics reveals how someone can get to know their partner on a deeper level by paying attention to the particulars and nuances of their life; by learning deeply about their history and hometown. Eldredge says that he co-wrote the song with Rogers during a time when he was looking for true love. Matthew Rogers was engaged to be married during the writing and the circumstances of the two writers inspired the romantic lyrics.

Here, in his letter to the Christian Church in Rome, the Apostle Paul shares that he has taken The Long Way in his deep desire to know God: “God’s riches, wisdom, and knowledge are so deep! They are as mysterious as his judgments, and they are as hard to track as his paths!” (Romans 11:33). Paul has sought “to track” God’s paths, to explore deeply all he can discover about God. Paul longs to bathe in as much detail of God’s backstory as possible; God’s riches, God’s wisdom, God’s knowledge, and God’s judgments. Paul wants it all. Paul has come to a deeper knowledge of God in the person of Jesus Christ and that knowledge – and personal experience of Jesus on the road to Damascus – has changed him. Paul dearly loves and constantly delights in his “heavenly Father” made real to earth in Jesus.

The Long Way is a song that I wish I had written. I have downloaded the song and listen to it during my morning runs. “Take me the long way around your town. Were you the queen with the silver crown? I want the secrets you keep, the shine underneath. Of the diamond I think I just found. Take me the long way around.” As I approach the thirty-first anniversary of marriage to my wife, Grace, I can’t seem to discover enough about her. Grace is a diamond that I was fortunate enough to stumble upon so many years ago and my love for her seems to grow more expansive each day. Gladly, I take The Long Way in searching for the riches that makes her the woman she is. I don’t want to miss anything.

Paul doesn’t want to miss anything about his Lord. In a world where we don’t have meaningful conversations anymore with those we love, distracted by this and that, Paul invites us to slow down. Put away the mobile phones and the iPads and social media platforms and listen to God in the Holy Scriptures, The Bible. Permit your mind – and heart – to take The Long Way to discover again this great and beautiful God we see in Jesus Christ. Once we have, our hearts will sing along with Brett Eldredge, “Didn’t think tonight when I walked in, I’d be falling for somewhere I’ve never been.”


[i] Kelly Brickey, “Brett Eldredge Gets Vulnerable About Love in ‘The Long Way.’” (Sounds Like Nashville: SpinMedia, August 11, 2017).

Thursday, December 21, 2017

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?”


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

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Weight of Guilt

The following is from Doug Hood's Heart & Soul, Vol. 2.
“Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, 
and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. 
And you will find rest for yourselves.”
Matthew 11: 28, 29 (Common English Bible)

     During my recent trip to the Holy Land I saw a donkey carrying a heavy load, with heaving sides and hanging its head, it’s strength almost spent. It appeared as though this animal was ready to sink. Certainly, Jesus saw something similar. A master teacher, Jesus would take what was familiar to the people of his day, point to it, and then make use of it as an object lesson for opening-up the great truths of God’s presence and work. A donkey, struggling hard under the weight of a heavy load, may be the object lesson here in these few sentences of Matthew’s Gospel.

     There are moments in our life when we know the burden of that donkey. We struggle hard, carry heavy loads and our bodies – and spirit – become weary. Our strength is not equal to the weight. We feel as though we will sink under it all. It is precisely at that moment, the moment we fear that we will collapse, that Jesus promises “rest.” There is an intense force and allure to this gracious promise.  When our own strength has been spent, Jesus shows-up. And our gigantic weight, whatever it may be, is made manageable once again.

     I am convinced that of the scattered army of things that weigh heavily upon the human heart, none is greater than guilt. There is no exhaustion like the exhaustion created by guilt. It marshals our best efforts to defeat it only to exact a terrible drain upon our energies, dragging many into hopelessness and despair. What I am now certain of is that there is only one hope for those sinking beneath the crushing weight of guilt. It is found in the infinite power of divine forgiveness, the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

     Jesus’ invitation is, “Come to me.” So rest is to be gained by finding Christ. Pay attention to Christ long enough and what will be discovered is that Christ himself found rest in his heavenly Father. What’s more, that rest he found was sought each day. Jesus never was content to live on stale grace from his Father. It was sought fresh each day. So that is our example. Christ wants his gift of “rest” to be a daily find; something we seek from him each day. And that is how it is to be retained, seeking it day after day. Christ’s desire is that life will be a prolonged spiritual quest, seeking Christ and knowing Christ more fully each day. It will be then that the weight of guilt is removed and rest is found.


Friday, December 8, 2017

Christmas Confidence

The following is from Doug Hood's Heart & Soul, Vol. 2

“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.


Friday, December 1, 2017

The School of Christ

“Learn from me.”
Matthew 11:29 (Common English Bible)

Building disciples of Jesus Christ – people, who voluntarily submit to the Lordship of Christ that results in the decision to learn from Christ, follow his example and participate in his ministry – is the will of God. This is God’s ideal purpose. It is this purpose that believers attach themselves in baptism. The difficulty for some believers is that they haven’t employed a helpful method to advance in the school of Christ. Their study is disorderly and usually results in failure. They rarely seem to rise above the rudiments of the spiritual journey and remain disillusioned by their lack of spiritual progress. Jesus’ own life and ministry provides help; provides the secret of learning that, when applied to our discipleship to Christ, produces fruit in the striving toward spiritual maturity.

If, then, we would learn of Christ, we must begin with the words he spoke. The twelve disciples who followed Jesus throughout his three-year ministry heard his words spoken to them. Today, those who follow Christ have those spoken words recorded in the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. So, we begin where the original twelve disciples began; we Read the words of Jesus. With the spirit of inquisitiveness, we read deeply the words of Jesus, alert to those qualities and values that shaped his character and revealed his laser-like focus on being useful to God. There is simply no substitute for reading Christ’s words if we are to pass from stage to stage in the school of Christ.

Then let us pause sufficiently to Reflect on what we have read. Knowledge of Jesus’ words without application is inadequate. The object here is to grasp the light of Christ’s teaching and cast it before our footsteps. Christ’s teaching to the disciples was always followed by a measure of explanation, challenging the disciples to apply the ideals and principals to immediate life. We don’t ask nearly enough of those questions that move us from one step to another in our forward march in the school of Christ. Today we are helped by many fine devotionals and scholarly commentaries that probe deeply into the meaning and practical application of Jesus’ words. Select a trusted devotional guide for processing the truth of Christ’s teaching and it’s usefulness for our lives.

Respond! We shall never really know Christ, as he desires to be known, until we begin to respond to what we have grasped of his teaching. Until Christ’s teaching becomes instruction for daily practice, our lives remain unchanged. We study a musical instrument so that we may enjoy the music that we bring from it. We study another language to enrich our knowledge, enjoyment and appreciation of another culture. A musical instrument never played and another language never spoken has no effect upon our lives. Similarly, only in our obedient response to Jesus’ teachings does the beauty of our Savior’s instruction grow upon our lives. Read, Reflect and Respond. This is Jesus’ method for advancing in The School of Christ.


Thursday, November 9, 2017

In the the Crater of Calamity

The following is a Meditation written by Doug Hood’s son,
Nathanael Hood, MA, New York University.

“But now, says the LORD — the one who created you, Jacob, the one who formed you, Israel: Don't fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; when through the rivers, they won't sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you won't be scorched and flame won't burn you.  I am the Lord your God, the holy one of Israel, your savior.  I have given Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in your place.  Because you are precious in my eyes, you are honored, and I love you.  I give people in your place, and nations in exchange for your life.  Don't fear, I am with you.  From the east I'll bring your children; from the west I'll gather you.  I'll say to the north, ‘Give them back!’ and to the south, ‘Don't detain them.’  Bring my sons from far away, and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name and whom I created for my glory, whom I have formed and made.”
Isaiah 43:1-7 (Common English Bible)

     The fall of Jerusalem in the sixth century BCE was the literal end of the world for the Jewish people. This is no turn of phrase—for the ancient Judeans it was an eschatological cataclysm. They were the Chosen People of the one true God, the God who led them out of bondage in Egypt to the Promised Land. This God was no abstract, metaphorical force, but a God physically present with them in their wanderings through the wilderness, physically present in his direct communications with his prophets and kings, and physically present within their sacred temple, a temple built to his specific measurements and design. Yet despite his presence, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had laid waste to the city, looted their temple, and dragged the survivors into slavery. Even their kings, descendants of the divinely appointed line of David and Solomon, were humiliated and destroyed: Jehoiakim died during Jerusalem’s besiegement, Jeconiah was driven into exile, and Zedekiah was blinded, taken to Babylon, and imprisoned until his death.

     The world had ended. And yet God had not abandoned them. It is here in the Book of Isaiah that we encounter this passage, one of the purest messages of hope and love in the entire Old Testament. You have been broken, God says, but I have created you. You have sinned and been punished, but I shall redeem you. You have been enslaved, yet you are mine. You have been cursed and spat upon, beaten and destroyed, yet you are precious in my eyes. You have been scattered to the winds, but I shall bring you home.

     It is important to remember that the Book of Isaiah was not written all at once by the same authors. Scholars believe that only the first half—roughly chapters 1-39—can be directly attributed to the ancient prophet, a man who’d predicted the fall of Jerusalem about a hundred years earlier. Scholars believe that this passage of hope and restoration was added by an anonymous author written during the Jewish captivity in Babylon. For this author, the disbelieving horror of Jerusalem’s destruction was still fresh and powerful. We cannot imagine the surreality of having one’s entire worldview and culture shattered by a conquering army. And yet, even in this time, the writer felt hope.

     If it took a century for Isaiah’s prophecy of destruction to come true, it would take another sixty for his prophecy of restoration. In 539 BCE, the Persian king Cyrus the Great permitted the Jews to return to their homeland. Two years later, under the instruction of the prophets Ezra and Nehemiah, the Jews rebuilt the walls and sacred temple of Jerusalem. And for another half millennium they stood tall and mighty until falling before a new conqueror: Imperial Rome. Once more the Jews despaired. And once more God responded that he had not abandoned them. For this time he would send the greatest gift of hope mankind would ever know: a Son. A Son who would announce the destruction of death, a Son who would preach a life everlasting, a Son who would reveal a new world without end. And even in our darkest hour, this Son would remind us that we need not despair. The victory has been won. The world might fall, but God will not.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Dear Hate

“God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them.”
1 John 4:16b (Common English Bible)

            Dear Hate is a deeply moving song, written as an epistolary conversation with hared itself, introducing hate as a character “on the news today” and having the capacity to “poison any mind.” Written by Maren Morris, Tom Douglas and David Hodges and performed by Morris and Vince Gill, the song pinpoints the garden – presumably the Garden of Eden from the pages of Genesis – as hate’s origin. The voices of Morris and Gill, supported only by two acoustic guitars, lead the listener along a serpentine path from Selma, Alabama (“you were smiling from that Selma bridge”), to Dallas, Texas ( “when that bullet hit and Jackie cried” ), culminating in New York City ( “You pulled those towers from the sky” ). Yet, hope remains, “But even on our darkest nights, the world keeps spinning ‘round.”

            Hatred’s power, made visible, is answered three times by a confident affirmation, “love’s gonna conquer all.” It is then that the last chorus flips the narrative of hatred’s destructive ambitions to address love as someone who is personal and omnipresent. Though doubt is identified, “Just when I think you’ve given up,” the presence of love becomes unmistakable once again, “You were there in the garden when I ran from your voice. I hear you every morning through the chaos and the noise. You still whisper down through history and echo through these halls.” Love then speaks, “love’s gonna conquer all.”

            Here in 1 John, love’s name is revealed, “God is love.” More, a promise is made. Anyone who clings to love, not as a feeling but as intentional conduct towards others, will discover that they are, in fact, taking-up residence in God and God in them. It is precisely the demonstration of love toward one another, in obedience to Jesus’ example and command, that the reassurance of love’s power over hate becomes unquestioned. By the intentional and active force of love, given freely to others, Christians are able to abide in God and God in them, in a state of mutual indwelling. And it is precisely by this mutual indwelling that we know we are loved and that the very best that hate can summon will not defeat us.

            Dear Hate stands among a growing canon of songs that grapple with hatred – most notably for this writer, Tim McGraw’s Grammy-winning, “Humble and Kind” – and offers a heartening message that love is stronger. Most days, it seems, the news swings the camera toward another appearance of hatred, moving among us at its foulest. All of us fight back tears and struggle with doubt. It is precisely at those moments that Maren Morris and Vince Gill seeks to encourage us with the good news, “love’s gonna conquer all. Gonna conquer all.”


Friday, October 27, 2017


“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)

            Stand Up To Cancer is a division of the Entertainment Industry Foundation, a non-profit committed to mobilizing people and financial resources toward new treatments for those battling cancer in the U.S. and Canada. Their current marketing campaign, Whatever It Takes, invites people to join a growing movement of those willing to “swing for the fences” in seeking new advancements in cancer research that can have a life-changing impact. Implicit in the campaign are two classes of people: one small and one large – those who struggle together to challenge the ravages of cancer and those who stand on the sidelines and watch. It is the difference between those who are organized around a great cause and those who drift through life with no driving passion to participate in anything great.

            The apostle Paul makes the same distinction – a division of people in two classes – here in his letter to the church in Rome. The first class of people is one whose mind and opinions and values are shaped by the world. Uniformity to popular culture extends to dress and manners, speech and thought. They conform to the world and its ways without discerning if participating with everyone else is best for them or even wise. They drift through life as leaves drift down a river. Where life takes them, they go without objection, accommodating to the environment and yielding to social pressures.

            The second class is not shaped by the larger culture; they actively seek to transform the culture through a radical commitment to something larger, something nobler than simply going along. They say No when everyone else is saying Yes. They put character into their environment rather than take their character from the environment. Norms and conventions are challenged and a clarion call is made to strive for something larger than one’s individual life. In these few words of Paul’s letter to the Roman Church, Paul asks that the church pay attention to God and organize it’s life around God’s will.

            To which class do we belong? Is society molding us more than we are molding society? Are we conforming to what the world wants us to become or are we being transformed by paying attention to God and seeking God’s desires for our lives? Paul is seeking nonconformists, people whose lives are organized around a steady conviction that we were created for something more than just going along with the world. Paul invites us to open ourselves to the shaping influence of God and to experience strength in our inner life by God’s active work in our bodies. This is the invitation of Paul when he writes, “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.”


Friday, October 20, 2017

Life's Disappointments

The following is from Doug Hood's Heart & Soul, Vol. 2

“I have shown it to you with your own eyes; however, you will not cross over into it.”
Deuteronomy 34:4 (Common English Bible)

     This is a remarkable picture of Moses! He is at the point of death, on a mountaintop, gazing out over the Promised Land, a land for which he led God’s people to possess, pondering God’s Word to him that he himself will never enter the land. A universal truth of life is captured in this tragic moment, a truth that neither the great or small among us escapes; life brings equal capacity to experience joy as well as disappointment. This singular moment of Moses’ life lays hold of our imagination as no other moment in his life does. Life sometimes falls short of what is desired and for which we intended our labors to provide.

     That moment is on the horizon for every one of us – that moment when we realize that our grandest dreams and the greatest desires of our heart may not be realized. Moses wanted to cross over into God’s Promised Land and the apostle Paul urgently wanted to take the gospel to Bithynia. Both were denied. Both their circumstances and own earnest efforts gave Moses and Paul every reason to believe their central purpose and passion in life would be achieved. But what would lie beyond their vision was the disheartening experience of watching their dreams tumble to the ground. “I have shown it to you with your own eyes; however, you will not cross over into it.”

     What are we to make of this? We do not have access to Moses’ inner thoughts as he sat upon that mountain, looking out over the Promised Land. Paul speaks little of his failed ambition to preach in Bithynia. What we do know is that both Moses and Paul had a choice to make. They could look back bitterly, questioning where it all went wrong, angrily regretting that they ever had dreams at all, and this decision producing tears of disappointment. Or, they can hold their heads up in their disappointment and acknowledge that God has blessed their labor, that in their struggle, God’s purposes were advanced and that by God’s power, they did step closer to eternal things.

     Perhaps there is no greater struggle than recognizing again and again that God’s view of success and failure is different from our own. And, it is God’s view, which really matters. Moses and Paul fixed their gaze upon a destination. Yet, what really matters to God is whether at the end of the pilgrimage those God calls have learned patience and humility, and have entered into an utter dependence upon God. Ultimately, the destination is quite a secondary thing. It is the quality of the pilgrimage that matters. We don’t have access to the private thoughts of Moses and Paul as they experienced disappointment. But they were great men of God and great people live their lives for God. I suspect that, at the end of their life, Moses and Paul lifted their gaze beyond failed aspirations and saw God’s smile at a life well lived.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Sharing Our Faith Story

Doug Hood is on vacation this week.  
The following is a repeat of a Meditation from his book Heart & Soul: Volume 2.

"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.”1

     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.


1Thomas G. Long, Testimony: Talking Ourselves into Being Christian (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2004), 7.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Hesitant Believers

“At that the boy’s father cried out, ‘I have faith; help my lack of faith!’”
Mark 9:24 (Common English Bible)

            The boy’s father cried out, “I have faith; help my lack of faith!” His cry is our cry. We live in an anxious time. Natural disasters, terrorist activity, and anger unleashed in the midst of shifting cultural values have brought uncertainty and fear. We may profess faith in God but that faith is hesitant, uncertain, and unsatisfactory. The forces of evil, destruction, and pain can do that; diminish a steady and certain faith in the presence and activity of a loving God. Faith may remain but it isn’t the robust faith we desire. Mixed with our faith is a good measure of doubt: “help my lack of faith!”

            This father’s son is possessed with a destructive spirit. Since an early age, this spirit has thrown the boy into a fire and into bodies of water with one intention: to kill him. The Bible doesn’t tell us how many years this has been going on but the father has now exhausted all hope for his son. Hope extinguished is reflected in the father’s question to Jesus: “If you can do anything.” It is a frail request. It is what anyone who has nearly given-up would ask. In modern parlance, it is a resignation to, “What can it hurt to ask Jesus to help.” The father has moved way past desperation.

            It is then that the arch of the story shifts. Jesus confidently answers, “All things are possible for the one who has faith.” The father finds that he stands before a faith so glorious and strong, a faith that has sufficient resources to meet any need, that his prayer grows larger. Certainly, the father’s desire for his son’s wholeness remains. But suddenly present is something more. The father seeks to possess the faith he sees in Jesus, “help my lack of faith!” How many of us are represented by that father’s plea?

            Each of us has felt the desire to find within our faith the resources to counterbalance the tumult of the world. These are desperate days we are living through. And as one tragedy follows another, we grow weary. Jesus does heal the father’s son. And when the disciples ask how, Jesus simply answers, “Throwing this kind of spirit out requires prayer.” Apparently, Jesus speaks of something more than perfunctory prayers offered before a meeting, a meal, or bedtime. If we wish to be glorious believers who call upon uncommon powers, we will fulfill the conditions of a more thoughtful, robust life of communion with God. This is a deeper prayer life than many of us have ever known.


Thursday, September 21, 2017


The following is a Meditation written by Doug Hood's son,
 Nathanael Hood, MA, New York University.

The Lord said, “Go out and stand at the mountain before the Lord. The Lord is passing by.” 
A very strong wind tore through the mountains and broke apart the stones before the Lord. 
But the Lord wasn’t in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake. 
But the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake. After the earthquake, there was a fire. 
But the Lord wasn’t in the fire. After the fire, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet. 
When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his coat. He went out and stood at the cave’s entrance. 
A voice came to him and said, “Why are you here, Elijah?”
(1 Kings 19: 11-13 Common English Bible)

     God had won. His fire had come down from the heavens and devoured the sacrifices of grain and meat, scorching the very alter to ashes. The 450 prophets of Baal who had desecrated his temple with pagan worship and idols had failed to summon their god, and in the face of the God of Israel’s majesty were seized and slaughtered on the spot. We don’t know how many witnessed this miracle orchestrated by the prophet Elijah on Mount Carmel, but all who did were amazed. All fell on their faces and worshipped the God of Abraham and Isaac. Among them was the wicked king Ahab, the very king who had welcomed the prophets of Baal. For a moment sanctity seemed to be restored to the throne of David, and Elijah rushed to the then-capital city of Jezreel in triumph.

     But it was in this greatest moment of victory that Elijah experienced one of his greatest moments of defeat. Unmoved by her husband’s recounting of the miracle, queen Jezebel threatened to have Elijah executed, forcing him into exile in the wilderness. And if we pay close attention to the text, we see that nobody tried to stop or help him, not even those who had seen the Lord’s fire with their own eyes.

     After fleeing over 250 miles south of Jezreel, an exhausted Elijah hides in a cave on Mount Horeb—the same mountain upon which Moses received the Ten Commandments. After spending the night, the Lord arrives and asks what he was doing there. Elijah explodes in panicked fury: he’s hiding for his life! Despite all his work, despite the prophecies and warnings, despite the miracles and wonders, the Israelites haven’t repented of their wickedness and now seek his life! He has, in short, done everything right. How can he be repaid like this?

     What follows is one of the most famous theophanies—or physical appearances of God—in the Old Testament. God calls Elijah to come outside the cave and stand before him. But before Elijah can, three calamities wrack Mount Horeb: a calamitous wind, an earthquake, and a fire. And yet, the Lord was not in them. Pay very close attention to the language being used here. Before Elijah’s eyes three earth-shattering, world-ending cataclysms erupted. And yet the Lord was not in them. As Terence E. Fretheim points out in his commentary on First and Second Kings, the pagans believed that Baal manifested in such disasters; he was “in” them. But these pass “before” the God of Elijah’s fathers. He is absent from their ravages and destructions, absent from the despair they cast and the ruination they bring. Only then does a soft, quiet sound come. Only then does Elijah wrap his face in acknowledgment of being in the presence of the one true God. Only then does God speak to him again, asking him the same simple question. Why are you here, Elijah? You still have so much work to do.

     One of the most common misconceptions Christians share is that faith in God is some kind of shield that protects one from tragedies and disasters. But they happen every day, even to the most sincere and devout followers. Jobs and opportunities are lost. Friends and family succumb to disease and accidents. Storms rage and devastate entire seaboards. What we must not do is mistake these things as righteous retribution from a vengeful God. A God concerned with heavy-handed retribution for even the most minor of mistakes would not send his only son to die for us. Ours is not a God who speaks with fire and fury. Ours is one who seeks a relationship with us, one who sees and knows all and loves us in spite of it. What we must do is seek it. And we can start by listening for his gentle voice of reassurance and comfort in our most trying times. Only then can we start to rebuild.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Hurricane Irma

“The Lord is good, a haven in a city of distress. He acknowledges those who take refuge in him.”
Nahum 1:7 (Common English Bible)

            There are times when God seems to go into hiding. So life is tested. With the imminent approach of Hurricane Irma, this seems one of those times. The next few days will be very similar to when gale force winds arose, and waves crashed against the boat of the disciples (Mark 4:37). The boat was swamped, yet Jesus was in the rear of the boat sleeping on a pillow. Like each of us, the disciples were frightened that they would die. They woke him up and said, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re drowning?” No longer are these words on a page of the Bible. We are experiencing the disciples’ fear.

            The difficulty of the disciples – and ours – is that we think that finite men and women can dictate the terms and procedures by which God must govern the universe which God has made. We are unworthy of this attitude and it remains impossible. We are not God nor are God’s thoughts our thoughts. There remains much that we simply cannot understand. These are the times when our faith is stretched and challenged, “Teacher, don’t you care?”

            The prophet Nahum has a word for just such a time, “The Lord is good, a haven in a city of distress. He acknowledges those who take refuge in him.” Here, Nahum acknowledges that there will be periods of distress, anxiety, and alarm. God remains good and a haven, a place to take refuge. The storm may churn and rumble and threaten it’s worst. But God remains near. Because you cannot see God is no reason to suppose God is not there. God made both the light and the darkness. God does not come to us with the dawn and slip out when darkness closes in. Darkness and light are both the same to God.

            Nahum calls us to trust in the Lord. Certainly, God has granted us the acumen to make wise preparations for the care and safety of our families. We are not helpless. But once we have done what we can, we look to God as a place of refuge, a certain help in our time of need. More, as a community called to be the continuing presence of Jesus in the world, we are called to be alert, eyes wide open, to see opportunities to be useful to God as God seeks to care for those who are weak, vulnerable, and in distress. The apostle Paul states it best, “Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these things to be the way that we live our lives (Ephesians 2:10).


Thursday, August 31, 2017

Living With Tension

“Therefore, stop worrying about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. 
Each day has enough trouble of its own."
Matthew 6:34 (Common English Bible)

     A more promising title for this meditation might be: Living Without Tension. Yet, that is a promise that is neither realistic nor supported by the Bible. Mark’s Gospel declares that on the night of Jesus’ arrest, Jesus “began to feel despair and was anxious” (Mark 14:33). Amanda Enayati, writing for Success magazine asserts, “The greatest myth is that stress-free living exists at all. In reality the only time you are truly stress-free is when you are dead.”i Yet, here in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mountain, he seems to suggest that we have the capacity to “stop worrying.”

     Except, Jesus doesn’t say that. Jesus teaches that we are to “stop worrying about tomorrow.” There is a considerable difference. It is unlikely that any one of us can simply shut-off any concern or worry. What Jesus offers is the possibility of limiting our worry to one day at a time. As Jesus points out, “Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

     What has been observed over and over again by psychologists is that women and men become tired, run-down and discouraged not by the challenges that confront them today. What drains our energy is our frightened concern over what waits for us on the horizon – what we have to do tomorrow, and the day after that. This doesn’t mean that we don’t prepare for tomorrow. It simply means that we don’t work ourselves up into an anxious knot and fever of apprehension worrying about tomorrow. Today, teaches Jesus, is enough to be concerned about.

     What are we to do? All that Jesus had to say about living is fixed firmly on belief and trust in God. God is in our future – we are not left to it alone. The night of Jesus’ arrest was filled with tension and worry. But do not fail to notice what Jesus does with it all. Jesus prays. Jesus claims the presence and concern of a living God that restored his energy and brought healing. What Jesus asks is that we do the same. Do our best today and leave the rest to God. This is a truth that we can accept because it comes from Christ. It is first and last the secret of victorious living.

iAmanda Enayati, “Dissection Stress.” Success.  December 2015, pages 48-51.

Friday, August 25, 2017

When God Says No

“Then he went a short distance farther and fell to the ground. He prayed that, if possible, he might be spared the time of suffering. He said, ‘Abba, Father, for you all things are possible. Take this cup of suffering away from me. However – not what I want but what you want.’”
Mark 14:35, 36 (Common English Bible)

            I remember it well. It was two days before Christmas. All the gifts for our children had been purchased, wrapped, and placed under the family Christmas tree. I had the day off and invited my four year-old daughter, Rachael, to join me for enjoying the holiday decorations at the local mall and lunch in the food court. In one brief moment she was no longer by my side – something in the mall bookstore caught her eye and she was gone. As I entered the bookstore, Rachael presented to me a Barbie Doll calendar. She saw it from the mall. “Please, daddy, will you buy this for me?” Two thoughts swiftly took residence in my mind: First, I could hear my wife making fun of me, “Christmas is two days away, and you bought her a gift?” My defense would be simple and honest, “You were not there looking into those four year-old, imploring eyes.” The second thought was more profound. It shook me. And it caused me considerable pain. For the next fourteen years, until she was an adult, I would have to look into those same eyes and, on many occasions, answer, “No.” This one moment became an easy “Yes.”

            Parenting isn’t for the faint of heart. Certainly it is filled with considerable joy, warmth and love. But there is also pain. Some of that pain is from looking into the eyes of a child, deeply loved, and answering, “No.” Children can’t see what parents see. They do not have the deeper understanding of life that parents possess. Consequences to a poorly chosen, “Yes” are not understood. Responsible parenting sometimes demands, looking into the eyes of your child, and answering, “No.” Children will not always understand. They will be disappointed. Occasionally, they may express both anger and sadness. The flood of emotions, experienced and expressed, is unpleasant for both child and parent. But love, on occasion, demands, “No.”

            Jesus teaches us to pray, in the Lord’s Prayer, to pray to our spiritual parent, “Our Father who is in heaven (Matthew 6:9).” Here, on the night that Jesus would be arrested, Jesus prays. In the shadows of the night, alone in a garden, Jesus addresses his father, “Abba, Father,” which literally means, “Daddy.” Jesus, the son of God, is frightened, on his knees in a garden, and begins his “ask” of his father, “Please, daddy.”  What is God to do? As Christians, we know well that an answer of “Yes” would prevent Jesus’ suffering and death. It would also mean our destruction. For without the cross, each of us would be held accountable for our sins. There would be no forgiveness. Jesus is pleading. What is God to do? God answers his son, “No.”

            Someone has taught Christians a lie. Someone taught Christians that fervent, deeply felt and faithful prayers to God would always be answered with a, “Yes.” That promise is never made in the Bible. What is promised is that God hears every prayer. What is promised is that God draws near to us in prayer. And, additionally, what is promised is that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, which will ever separate us from God’s love. But God sees what we cannot see. God understands more deeply what we cannot understand. And it is precisely because of that love that God has for us that, sometimes, God’s answer is “No.”


Thursday, August 17, 2017

Don't Complain!

“The whole Israelite community complained against Moses and Aaron in the desert. ‘Who are we? Your complaints aren’t against us but against the Lord.’”
Exodus 16:2, 8b

            Lowell Russell, formerly Executive Secretary and Director of the National Presbyterian Church and Center, Washington, D.C., once shared a lesson he learned from an attorney – a series of propositions that the attorney had written down on paper and kept with him at all times. There were three: “Never tell anyone how much you have to do. Never speak of your problems, your difficulties. Never talk about your disappointments.” In other words, he was saying to himself, “Don’t complain!”[i]

            My friend and mentor, Arthur Caliandro, who followed Norman Vincent Peale as the senior pastor of Marble Collegiate Church in New York City, once shared with me his conviction that every pastor would be wise to preach on forgiveness at least three times a year. Caliandro believed that the single greatest obstacle to obtaining full Christian maturity was our difficulty with forgiveness. Any failure to forgive results in a weight that must be carried – by both the injured and the one who caused the injury. For Caliandro, the greatest burden was carried by the one who failed to forgive. Over time, the accumulation of “transgressions” that remain unforgiven results in stagnation of our spiritual growth. Christian growth isn’t possible without the extravagant practice of forgiveness as Christ forgives us.

            Perhaps my friend is correct. Yet, I contend that another hindrance to our growth as Christians is our propensity to complain. Here, in the Book of Exodus, the whole Israelite community complained against Moses and Aaron in the desert. Food was scarce, the days in the desert were hot and the journey through the desert seemed as though it would never end. Life back in Egypt as slaves seemed to present a better quality of life than a trek through the desert! So, the whole Israelite community complained.

            Moses and Aaron’s response seems to suggest the uselessness of negative thinking and speaking. Yes, the days in the desert were difficult. Discouragement is to be expected. But time and energy “moaning and groaning” provided no relief. So Moses and Aaron deflected the complaints; redirected the complaints made against them to God. It was the exercise of extraordinary leadership. That is because it forced upon the Israelite people the absolute necessity to pay attention to God, to “make their complaint” before God and then “to listen” for how God would respond. It is then that Moses and Aaron fulfilled their primary call to spiritual leadership – beginning the conversation between God’s people and God. That is where spiritual growth occurs.


[i] Lowell Russell, “The Hard Rut of Complaining,” Best Sermons, Volume X. (New York: Trident Press, 1968), 79.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

What Makes People Good?

“But examine everything carefully and hang on to what is good.”
1 Thessalonians 5:21 (Common English Bible)

This year (2017) celebrates the bicentennial birthday of Henry David Thoreau. In a splendid new biography published to mark this occasion, Henry David Thoreau: A Life, Laura Dassow Walls, a professor of English literature at the University of Notre Dame, offers an account of one evening, after young Henry had been sent to bed by his mother, he was found awake long after, staring out the bedroom window. She asked her son, “Why, Henry dear, why don’t you go to sleep?” “Mother” said he, “I have been looking through the stars to see if I couldn’t see God behind them.”[i] Thoreau reminds us that a journey of faith begins by “looking.” For Christians, we look for God by paying attention to the person of Jesus Christ.

In his first letter to the church in Thessalonica, Paul offers instruction for a journey of faith. Paul’s beginning point is an invitation to “goodness.” Though goodness is difficult to define – and Paul makes no attempt to do so here – it is wonderfully easy to recognize. Often, simple goodness is observable on first contact with another. Paul asks that followers of Jesus “examine everything” and take notice of goodness wherever it may be found. If we believe that goodness is of paramount importance, as does Paul, it is obvious that we should do all we can to learn how it is achieved. That begins, suggests Paul, when one takes notice of everyone and everything that is good and placing ourselves in contact with it wherever it is found. The disciples became “good” men chiefly as a result of their acquaintance with Christ. That is because the soul grows by what it touches.

After bringing ourselves into steady contact with those of good character, Paul instructs the church to, “hang on to what is good.” What Paul speaks of here is the discipline to identify and break down any barrier that hinders the soul from being positively influenced by those of good character. When people fail to respond to goodness it is because they are not sufficiently aware of impediments that block personal transformation or they fail to discipline their own behavior in the manner of good people. Behind any positive change is a period of “practice” and “self-mastery” over a period of time. “Hang on to what is good,” says Paul. Grip it until the moment arrives that it grips you.

Some years ago, on a Celebrity cruise with my wife, I watched in wonder at a demonstration of glassblowing – through Celebrity’s collaboration with The Corning Museum of Glass. Artists, with what seemed to be little effort, created beautiful colored glass pieces, one after another. After dazzling the passengers with their craft, they shared that “mastery” in their craft took 10,000 hours of practice. Each piece of glassware they produced took an incredibly brief period of time to produce. But, what could not be seen was the long, disciplined time of practice and mastery that made that speed possible. We tend to not notice, or we forget, what preceded anything done successfully. In the same manner, goodness is difficult. But Paul shows us the way. Place ourselves in direct contact with what is good and hang onto it until we profit by it.


[i] Laura Dassow Walls, Henry David Thoreau: A Life (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2017), 43.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Conch Shell

“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who was leaving on a trip. 
He called his servants and handed his possessions over to them.”
Matthew 25:14 (Common English Bible)

     Since I was a child I have collected – and adored – conch shells, more specifically, the queen conch variety. I grew-up in Atlanta, Georgia. But once every two years my family vacationed in the Florida Keys. A family tradition that developed was a stop at Shell World located in the first key, Key Largo. It is a tradition I have now resumed with my wife each time we travel to the Keys. Whether for the day or a weekend, each trip to the Florida Keys includes a stop a Shell World. And, on most of those stops, I select and purchase a queen conch. It is a meaningful tradition and I now own dozens of these beautiful shells – six of them in my office! Each purchase connects me to a cherished childhood memory.

     The queen conch is found off the coast of Florida and throughout the Caribbean. The shell is valued as a decorative souvenir and – historically – by Native Americans and indigenous Caribbean peoples to create various tools. The animal that lives within the shell, a marine mollusk, is enjoyed in a variety of seafood preparations. Though not an endangered species as a whole, the queen conch is now protected in Florida waters due to extreme overfishing. The queen conch shell sold by Shell World is responsibly sourced from various Caribbean islands where the conch populations are healthy.

     As a child, I chose to collect the queen conch over other varieties of beautiful shells because of their affordably. There are other varieties of shells that many would consider more striking in their complexity and beauty than the queen conch. And they are much more expensive to purchase. But today, as an adult, I have found a deeper and richer appreciation for surrounding myself with this beautiful shell, in both my home and office. In some South Pacific cultures, a speaker holds a conch shell as a symbol of a temporary position of authority.[i] “Leaders must understand who holds the conch – that is, who should be listened to and when” writes Max De Pree. As a follower of Jesus Christ I also have been given temporary authority to declare God’s love for a hurting world.

     In this rich passage from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus teaches this spiritual principal in a parable, commonly called the Parable of the Talents. In the story – or parable – a man is leaving on a trip. He calls his servants and distributes his possessions to them. What becomes clear in the larger story is that these possessions are not transferred property. The man who is leaving retains ownership. The possessions are simply entrusted for a period of time to the management of the servants. And upon the man’s return, the servants will be held accountable for their temporary responsibly with his possessions. The queen conch shells in my home and office remind me each day of the tremendous privilege – and responsibly – that has been entrusted to me to declare the depth of God’s love until the day Jesus returns.


[i] Max De Pree, Leadership Is an Art (New York: Crown Business, 2004), 20.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

My Girl

“They don’t belong to this world, just as I don’t belong to this world.”
John 17:16 (Common English Bible)

            Dylan Scott found the inspiration for his first Top 5 single, My Girl, from his high school sweetheart, Blair Anderson, now his wife. As Scott tells it, he recalls riding in his truck with Blair when an Eminem song came on the radio. The innocent Louisiana girl right next to him instantly switched gears – figuratively speaking – and began rapping the lyrics to “Lose Yourself,” leaving Scott shocked and inspired. Scott says that she scooted over close to him in the cab of the truck and she rapped the whole song. Later, Scott sat down to write a song about what happened, beginning with a few lines about the magic of emotions he experienced watching his girl rapping Eminem. Then it dawned on him – this was only one of the many, unexpected things he was privileged to see in “my girl” that no one else gets to see.

            “My Girl” is a love song composed by Dylan Scott that is deeply personal – Scott’s love story for Blair Anderson. Here, in John’s Gospel is another love story. Rather than a song, Jesus here composes a prayer to his heavenly Father expressing his love for us. And in this single sentence, from a longer prayer, Jesus utters something similar to Dylan Scott, “they don’t belong to this world.” What Jesus is saying is that he sees something in us that sets us apart from the rest of the world. When Jesus sees us, Jesus sees more, perhaps even more than we see in ourselves. Scott’s lyric, “But I bet they don’t see what I see when I see my girl, Oh, my girl” is spoken by Jesus first.

            What does Jesus see in us? Perhaps it is nothing more than what the old axiom states, “Love is blind.” Perhaps Jesus’ indescribable love for us has clouded the clarity of his vision; that Jesus sees something that is simply not there. In so many ways we are exactly like the world with it’s selfish desires, greed and, at times, insensitivity to others and cruelty. In a world that is largely defined by self-interest, we look no different. We do – in fact – belong to the world!

            On the other hand, a closer look at Jesus’ prayer reveals something more than a simple love for us. Two stanzas later in his love prayer, in verse 19, Jesus prays, “I made myself holy on their behalf so that they also would be made holy in the truth.” Jesus does not simply see us as we are at the moment. Jesus is looking at us through faith that we can be changed, made so much more than we are now. And the catalysis for that change will be Jesus himself. Jesus “made myself holy on their behalf” so that by our decision to live in him, we also will be made holy. An early lyric of Scott’s song, My Girl, is, “I can honestly say that she saved me, my girl.” Jesus is praying to his Father in heaven. And Jesus’s plea to his Father is, “I honestly believe, I can change them; I can save them.” Jesus then directed his face to the cross.


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Sabal Palmetto

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

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

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

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

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


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

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Vintage Sand Pails

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Plan B

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

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

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

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

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


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

Thursday, June 29, 2017

God Made a Woman

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

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

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

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

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