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Thursday, March 21, 2019

Waiting to Understand

“Jesus replied, ‘You don’t understand what I’m doing now, but you will understand later.’”
John 13:7 (Common English Bible)

            Recently my wife, daughter, and I enjoyed a late breakfast at Benny’s On the Beach in Lake Worth. After we parked, Grace and Rachael walked directly to the restaurant while I moved toward the parking kiosk to pay. As I waited behind two women, who were together, I overheard a most absurd conversation between them. After one had completed the payment transaction and received her receipt, the other woman remarked, “We need to place the receipt on our car’s dash before going to the beach.” She was answered by her friend, “The receipt says that there is no need to place on the dash.” That was followed by the other, “That has to be wrong! There is no way for the police to know that we have paid.” Undeterred, the other woman began reading the receipt once again, “There is no need…” She was interrupted, “That is simply ridiculous! We are placing the receipt on the dash!” I watched as the two women returned to their car and placed the receipt on the dash.

            I confess to not understanding how the police will know. The spaces are no longer numbered. The parking kiosk simply asks for the license plate number for the payment transaction. But I trusted what I did not understand. I took my receipt, placed it in my wallet, and moved toward the restaurant to join my wife and daughter. Perhaps I will understand later. Nonetheless, I did not demand to understand before following the instructions provided. This is precisely what Jesus is asking the disciples to accept: “You don’t understand what I’m doing now, but you will understand later.” These words were probably spoken on the night that Jesus was betrayed and arrested. Apparent from Jesus’s remark, the disciples are puzzled. They have tried to follow Jesus – and left a great deal behind to do so – and now Jesus is speaking to them about going away. They may have had questions during Jesus’ ministry. But now they are thoroughly unsettled.

            Often we are unsettled. There is much in life that we don’t understand. Present in life are inequalities that are terribly unfair, injustice that appears insurmountable, and cruelty that is incomprehensible. This past week many returned to the safety of their homes from work to learn from the evening news that fifty people are dead in a New Zealand mosque shooting. It is a violence that simply doesn’t make sense. What are we to do in the face of such challenging problems? Jesus acknowledges that we don’t understand. Then, Jesus gives to us a divine promise: “But you will understand later.” Until then, Jesus asks us to trust and wait. The difficulty for many of us is that we don’t like to wait. Telling us that we will understand later seems a feeble thing to say to people who want to understand immediately and have a thoughtful grasp how this world works. Yet, that is precisely the problem – we are a tiny power trying to comprehend what God is doing.

            In a previous meditation I wrote of a Broadway musical my son, Nathanael, and I enjoyed this past December, The Band’s Visit. In that meditation I shared that for the first thirty minutes of the musical I came to the conclusion that I had wasted a rather large sum of money on two expensive tickets. The narrative was slow to develop, held little interest for me, and lacked the sparkle and energy I have come to expect from big budget Broadway musicals. If I were to invite someone to see the musical with me today I would ask of them to give the musical a chance – to wait patiently through the first thirty minutes until the inevitable grasp it will have on their heart. Something happens in the story that unfolds that results in identification with the brokenness of the characters, a longing for good on their behalf, and even prayers sent upward to heaven that they each find some measure of joy. Then the musical concludes. An actress steps to stage center and speaks the final words of the production to each of us, the audience: “Once a band came to town. You probably didn’t hear about it. It wasn’t very important.” It is then your heart shouts, “That’s not true! It is important. It mattered. It mattered very much!” That is because, after a period of time when we didn’t understand, it suddenly was clear. And Jesus said to the disciples, “You don’t understand what I’m doing now, but you will understand later.”


Friday, March 15, 2019

Sabal Palmetto

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

“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.


iMarisa 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.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Religious Dropouts

“At this, many of his disciples turned away and no longer accompanied him.”
John 6:66 (Common English Bible)

            It is now fairly common knowledge that Christian churches across the United States are experiencing decline – decline in membership, decline in worship attendance, and decline in financial support. Diminishing interest in the church has resulted, in many congregations, a shift from full-time pastoral leadership to part-time, reduced opportunities for spiritual nurture and growth, and a smaller impact in the local community. As congregations grow smaller they are faced with difficult decisions such as merging with other churches or closing their doors permanently. Causes for the decline of the Christian Church across our nation has been studied and solutions have been scarce.

            What has received less attention is a phenomenon I will call the “religious dropouts.” These are the people who are regularly present in services of worship, engaged in personal spiritual growth, and participate in the church’s mission to feed the hungry, house the homeless and care for the broken.  Vibrant and robust churches are built upon their dedication to Jesus and Jesus’ work through the local congregation. It is not difficult to see that the church is stronger for such people. Then, they simply aren’t present anymore. The place they once occupied in worship is empty. It is a phenomenon that dates back to the earthly ministry of Jesus: “many of his disciples turned away and no longer accompanied him.”

            The primary reason for the “religious dropout” remains the same from Jesus’ day until ours: frustration and disappointment. There is present in every faith community people who turn to religion for some things the Christian faith never promised to provide. They expect in religion a kind of magical solution to their problems, anxieties, and illnesses and it hasn’t worked out. Some expect that faithfulness to the church will protect them from job loss, marriage discord, and safety from the violence in the world. Others look to the church to shelter their children from everything that is unpleasant and distasteful in the dominant culture. When they fail to receive what they were looking for, they cool to religion and simply dropout.

            After many who followed Jesus turned away, Jesus turned to his disciples and asked, “Do you also want to leave?” It is a good question for each one of us to ask. People who come to our churches expecting only to “get something” or find easy solutions will be frustrated and disappointed. Somehow they have missed that Jesus was betrayed, beaten, and crucified. As William Willimon once commented, why do the followers of Jesus expect to get off any better? What is required is a return to the promise that the faith has always made available: In Jesus Christ, God walks with us through the storms, difficulties, and struggles of life, strengthening us along the way. Life will take us to the depths. When we arrive, Jesus will be there. We are not alone.


Thursday, February 28, 2019

From Why to Where

The following meditation was written by Doug Hood’s son, 
Nathanael Hood, MA, New York University

As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who was blind from birth. 
Jesus’ disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?” 
Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents. 
This happened so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him. 
(John 9:1-3)

     On December 26, 2004, the third largest earthquake ever recorded struck the west coast of northern Sumatra, rocking the fault-lines with the power of over 1,500 atomic bombs, vibrating the entire planet by one centimeter. The cataclysmic shockwaves birthed a series of apocalyptic tsunamis that reached upwards of 100-feet high. Due to the relative historical scarcity of tsunamis in the Indian Ocean, the surrounding coastal communities had no practical tsunami warning systems, guaranteeing local populations were unaware of their impending doom while the waters rushed their way. Almost a quarter million in fourteen different countries were killed, making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history. A global humanitarian relief effort was swiftly organized, with food, medicine, and over $14 billion in international aid distributed to survivors and first responders. When the waters finally receded and the destruction cleared away, millions were left with a simple question: why? How, in a just, sane universe, could this happen?

     In the January 8, 2005 issue of The Los Angeles Times, reporters Teresa Watanabe and Larry B. Stammer published an article that examined the different theological responses to the 2004 tsunamis from the major world religions. Their findings revealed stark differences in how mankind’s great faith traditions grappled not just with tragedy, but with the theodical implications of disaster. Buddhists, according to a former Sri Lankan ambassador, believe in the doctrine of karmic law, not random chance, implying that the casualties received their just reward for the sins of their past or current lives while the survivors benefitted from their past or current goodnesses. According to a prominent Hindu faith leader in southern California, Hindus also believe in karma, but their belief in god(s) implies the intercession of a divine will: the god(s) sent the tsunamis to punish the afflicted communities’ bad karma. Meanwhile, a Wiccan high priestess in Wisconsin explained that earthquake and tsunamis were the result of “Mother Nature stretching—she had a kink in her back and stretched.”

     The response from the Abrahamic faiths were different. When asked, a prominent rabbi teaching at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles responded that such disasters were a “natural consequence of God’s decision to make a finite world.” But this begs the question of why, if God deliberately created a finite world, he couldn’t design one without physical and natural laws that periodically drown a quarter million innocent people. Meanwhile, according to the leader of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, mankind is called not to ask “why” but “what now”: “We should take it as a test from God to see how human beings respond.” It’s this last interpretation that perhaps comes closest to the Christian theological outlook, finding the idea of God’s causing the tsunamis a non-issue. As Baptist minister Douglas McConnell explained to Watanabe and Stammer, “believing that God deliberately caused the [tsunamis] is a difficult leap for those who believe God was revealed in the compassionate Jesus.”

     We see this belief here in the ninth chapter of the Gospel of John where Jesus’ disciples ask him if the suffering of a man blind since birth was karmic punishment for his family’s sins. Notice how Jesus responds. He doesn’t just reply in the negative, he rejects their premise that mankind’s suffering is ordained. Jesus changes the question, instead saying that what matters now is that in his presence, the mighty works of God might be displayed. Just as Jesus rejected their premise, this text invites us to change our question from why there is suffering to the location of Christ in the midst of said suffering. The answer can always be found in the midst of the church’s response to devastation: the donating of money, the sharing of shelter, the giving of food and medicine. It’s in the healing of the world that we come closer to Christ. We have no time for wondering why.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Faith in Prayer

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

“Jesus was telling them a parable about their need to pray continuously
and not to be discouraged.”
Luke 18:1 (Common English Bible)

     I believe in prayer. I believe that prayer is the most important fact in the life of anyone who determines to follow Jesus. The trouble with prayer is not belief in the practice – it is what is expected from the practice. For many, prayer is practiced as some sort of holy magic. Pray correctly and with enough faith and the desired result arrives every time. Unanswered prayer is simply the result of praying incorrectly or with insufficient faith. This belief is troubling if not downright harmful to a person of faith. In this sentence from Luke’s Gospel, Jesus teaches that we are to “pray continuously.” Rather than suggesting yet another formula for prayer – pray continuously - I believe our Lord is inviting us to discover at least two ways that prayer is effective.

     On one level, prayer opens the one who is praying to a relationship with God. Meaningful relationships are not built by one or two sentences that are shaped into a request, not with God or anyone else. “Continuous prayer” is the cultivation of a regular conversation with God. This is the kind of conversation found naturally between two people who care for one another. Whether we are angry or thankful, whether we are sharing from a broken heart or celebrating, we share continuously with those whom we love. Such conversations draw us closer to one another. It is that closeness with us that God desires.

     A second level involves the one for whom we pray. By our prayers that person is not alone. Continuous prayer keeps them in the fellowship of our thoughts and in our hearts. A community of faith is created which liberates them from walking a difficult path unaccompanied by someone who cares. Encouragement and strength bubbles forth when we know that there is someone who is “pulling for us.” Creating community among people of faith is one result of continuous prayer.

     Faith in prayer does not exclude expectations of the miraculous. God is still in the miracle business. But we are guilty of a grievous error when we reduce prayer to “getting what we want.” That makes God a dispenser of religious goods and services while we continue to build the life we want apart from God’s claim upon us. Christian prayer is always undergirded by a conviction that God is reconciling us to God’s self for the purposes of being used by God for God’s ongoing work in the world. “Continuous prayer” is an affirmation that our life is not ours to do as we wish. We belong to God and it is for God that we live.


Friday, February 15, 2019

The Plain and Simple Gospel

“’Come, follow me,’ he said, ‘and I’ll show you how to fish for people.’”
Matthew 4:19 (Common English Bible)

            We are all living a deeply entangled, complex life. As complexity increases, so does our exhaustion. We run faster, master complex planning calendars that were designed to make life less cumbersome, and come to the end of many days feeling that we have been defeated. Present is a growing nostalgia for a simpler world – a desire for a plainer, clearer path forward. This general desire includes the spiritual realm. The hope is that the church would provide a rediscovery of God, a reclaiming of God’s strength for daily living, and direction for a larger purpose for which we may attach our lives. Unfortunately, what many find are cumbersome requirements for membership and multiple invitations to serve on committees that multiply our exhaustion. With church participation we discover that there are now more oars in the water that requires our attention.

            How can we return to a simpler time? Jesus is instructive. Notice that Jesus does not invite people to register for a six-week new member class. Jesus does not make committee assignments. Jesus does not examine doctrinal purity or demand conformity to creedal statements. Jesus quite simply asks that we follow him. To follow Jesus is to share life with Jesus in the fullest sense: to go where he goes, to listen to what he taught, and to participate in practices and disciplines that were important to him. An invitation to follow is the suggestion that there is something of value to be found. Naturally, to accept such an invitation begins with an acknowledgement that the present life isn’t working anymore. Unless we really believe that another approach to life is required, we will continue trying to make the present one work.

            The one other thing that Jesus asks is a posture of humility, a desire to learn, and willingness to participate in Jesus’ work: “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” All the work of Jesus is about one thing – looking for those who have wandered far from God and bringing them back home to the Father. As with any great work, there are multiple functions that must be accomplished. None of us are asked – or equipped – to do them all. Some of us are to be teachers, some will show hospitality, and others will be administrators, caregivers, and evangelists. Others will provide care and comfort to the broken. The various jobs to be done are many. But one goal remains: “to fish for people” that they may return to God. Jesus will show us the way.

            None of this suggests that boards and committees are without value to Jesus. Leadership boards must be populated with those who have demonstrated the capacity to respond to the promptings of God, to show people where Jesus is moving and call them to follow. Committees provide a responsible means for organizing a great work force for accomplishing all that Jesus seeks to do in a particular community. But, in this over complicated world, the church must not add unnecessary complexity to the simple call of Jesus to follow him and to participate with him in his grand redemptive purposes: a cup of cold water to the thirsty, a helping hand on the roadside, an encouraging word softly spoken. These are all within our reach. Nor are we called to carry the whole world on our backs. Our chief function is to point to the one who does, Jesus Christ. That is the Gospel, plain and simple.


Friday, February 8, 2019

Who Is Jesus Christ?

“Now when Jesus came to the area of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, 
‘Who do people say the Human One is?’”
Matthew 16:13 (Common English Bible)

            One of the great weaknesses of our spiritual life is the inadequacy of our concept of Jesus Christ. By any standard of measure, Jesus Christ is the most important person who ever lived. Persons of another faith or persons of no faith must grant the veracity of that fact. Each December Christmas is celebrated – or ignored – around the world as the birthday of Jesus. Rarely, if at all, does Christmas come and go unnoticed. For much of the world, the season of Christmas is an economic engine that drives employment, strengthens commerce, and builds financial portfolios. Understanding the person of Christ or belief in him is often of secondary importance. What seems to be of primary importance are the Christmas parties and shopping before the day of Christmas and the exhaustion and debt that follows. Even at this level of engagement, Christ seems to be the great divide of people’s lives – anticipation prior to his birth and fatigue following.

For people of the Christian faith, the question of Jesus’ identity is most urgent for a vibrant religious experience. Some questions are not very important. That great preacher of another generation, Harry Emerson Fosdick is absolutely correct that few Christians concern themselves with the fate of the Jebusites in the Old Testament. Questions of the extraordinary length of life for some biblical characters may provide interesting debate or stir wonder but are really of little importance in the struggle to live faithful lives today. But the question Christ asks, “Who do people say the Human One is?” is important. To simply ignore the question – or not wrestle with it deeply – is to give an answer. It is an answer that something else matters more in your life than Jesus. The question is a dividing line. Either Jesus is acknowledged as central to a life-giving faith or Jesus is dismissed.

One answer to the question that is helpful is “Teacher.” This is a place of common agreement – Jesus was a teacher. Jesus did teach. He taught about the character of God, the nature of men and women, our struggle against pain and brokenness, and our responsibilities to one another. The Bible tells us that Jesus taught in small groups and to thousands. Jesus taught in the plains, upon mountains, and by the Sea of Galilee. He spoke plainly and he spoke in parables. Some of what he taught demonstrated uncommon insight and other lessons he shared had been heard before from other teachers. Though some said he was a gifted teacher, Jesus simply took his place in history among other gifted teachers. But, if Jesus had been a teacher and no more, it is quite reasonable to suspect that there would be no New Testament today or a church. To answer that Jesus was a teacher is inadequate.

A vibrant faith demands a deeper answer to the question, “Who do people say the Human One is?” That answer is provided by the Resurrection – Jesus Christ is the “Living Lord.” All of the New Testament points to the Resurrection or comments on how the course of human history has been altered by it. Those who wish to reduce the person of Jesus to “a good man” or “a gifted teacher” must toss out a good deal of the New Testament. It is the power of the Resurrection and the continuing presence of the risen Christ today that gives power to the Christian faith. We may not be able to explain this event, nor fully grasp its’ claim upon us, but we cannot escape that at the center of our faith is the declaration that Jesus was crucified, buried, and rose from the dead. Death was no match for Jesus. This is the basic faith of everyone who believes in Jesus Christ. And the risen Christ, as yesterday, calls each one of us to follow him. As we follow Jesus – however imperfectly – in the struggles of our own lives it is then that we learn more and more who he is.


Friday, February 1, 2019

Doubt That Pulls Us Forward

“Nicodemus said, ‘How are these things possible?’”
John 3:9 (Common English Bible)

Someone once commented that today we are hanging a question mark on everything. Rarely is anything simply accepted without a deeper inquiry. We are suspicious of anyone who declares, “Just trust me.” Offers that are too good to be true often aren’t. Telephone scams, fraudulent use of personal information and malfeasance by elected leaders advances a culture of distrust. Nearly everything is challenged. Doubt is pervasive and this is particularly true in matters of faith. Declining membership and church attendance on a national scale suggest doubt that the church has anything of value to contribute to the present conversations and struggles that engage our nation. There is a new level of skepticism operative in public discourse.

Nicodemus is skeptical of Jesus. As a Pharisee, Nicodemus is an authority of the Jewish law and interpreter of religious statutes. Widely regarded as someone who is exemplary in character and intelligence, he belongs to a distinguished company of seventy-two elder statesmen. Nicodemus has heard of Jesus and, here in John’s Gospel, we learn that he came to Jesus “at night.” That is a curious notation – “at night.” The deepest beliefs and cherished traditions that Nicodemus is charged with defending are now being disrupted by Jesus. As a defender of the religious status quo, Nicodemus might challenge Jesus’ own claims of authority by day, where it would be noticed – and applauded – widely. But Nicodemus comes to Jesus “at night” so that he may go unnoticed. That is because Nicodemus doesn’t come to challenge Jesus’s teachings but to make a serious inquiry.

Nicodemus’ skepticism is clear, “How are these things possible?” He cannot say “yes” to Jesus but – and perhaps more importantly – he cannot say “no.” Nicodemus has serious doubts about the teachings of Jesus but they are not doubts that result in him dismissing Jesus. They are doubts that result in a long, unhurried, and uninterrupted conversation with Jesus. They are doubts that pull Nicodemus forward in faith. Nicodemus is not ready to become a disciple of Jesus, but he refused to turn his back on Jesus. It has been said that one mark of intelligence is the capacity to make inquiry where there is doubt. Nicodemus has doubts but he is far too intelligent to remain belligerently fixed on his own understanding of truth.

Naturally, there are people who will only accept what is obvious to everyone else. They possess a dull intelligence. Their doubt is a dishonest one. It is not located in the desire to know the truth but in the preservation of sheer prejudice. It is a doubt that poisons the very root of sincere inquiry and search for truth. It is afraid of the light and finds habitation in darkness more desirable. This isn’t so with Nicodemus. When he came to Jesus with his doubts he demonstrated his belief that there may be more truth than he presently possessed. Nicodemus was prepared for his doubts to pull him toward a deeper understanding of God. And Jesus sat with Nicodemus through the long hours of the night until the darkness broke and, with the dawn, came greater clarity of faith.


Thursday, January 24, 2019

The School of Christ

The following is from Doug Hood's 
Nurture Faith: Five Minute Meditations to Strengthen Your Walk with 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 those of 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.


Friday, January 18, 2019

A New Outlook

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

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

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

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

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


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

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Promise of Something New (Location: Jerusalem)

The following meditation was written by Doug Hood’s son, 
Nathanael Hood, MA, New York University

As Jesus came to the city and observed it, he wept over it.” Luke 19:41 (CEB)

Pause a moment, and consider the city of Jerusalem as Jesus once saw it. Jesus the man—the Nazarene rabbi—looked upon an already ancient city straining under the yoke of Roman imperialism. Centurions elbowed through marketplaces crowded with Samaritans and Sadducees; self-righteous Israelites prayed in the squares as scabrous lepers scurried through the outskirts. In a few hours, he would be welcomed as a savior by the oppressed masses who would lay their coats and palm branches before him, singing the Psalms of David in joyous delirium. In a few days, those same crowds would scream for his death, demanding his execution at the hands of Pontius Pilate.

There is a small Roman Catholic church on the spot believed to be where Jesus wept in the nineteenth chapter of Luke—shaped like a tear drop, it sits on the Mount of Olives east of the city. Not too far from it is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, believed to be situated on Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified. Did he know, when he looked upon that city, that in a week’s time he would be seeing a nearly identical view, this time tortured, beaten, and nailed to a cross? Yes, Jesus looked upon the city that would be his doom and wept.

Now consider Jesus the Divine, the physical incarnation of the holy Godhead, the living Word that is and was and will be. See the city he saw, the city first inhabited 6000-7000 years ago by shepherds thirsty for freshwater springs. See the city ruled in turn by Canaanites, Egyptians, Babylonians, and Romans, dashed by waves of invaders and dynastic restorers. See the city whose legacy is warfare and carnage, as even God’s chosen king David took it by force from its Jebusite inhabitants. See the city that would be ravaged by emperor Vespasian less than a century after his death, the second temple reduced to ashes and a single wall while over a million civilians lay dead with another 97,000 enslaved. See the city conquered by Muslims in the seventh century, contested by crusaders in the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth, controlled by Ottoman Turks until the nineteenth, and torn between Israelis and Palestinians to this very day. See the city originally named the “dwelling of peace” which would know none for countless generations.

How can we see this city and not weep? Earlier in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus had mourned the sacred city upon learning of Herod’s plot to murder him:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who were sent to you! How often I have wanted to gather your people just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you didn’t want that.” (Luke 13:34 CEB)

Two thousand years later and the chicks have still not come home. We look out and see a world more bitterly divided than ever, edged on the brink of cataclysm. How similar it must have felt for first century Jews living under the thumb of Rome where a single order from the emperor could ravage their holiest of holies as was done in the time of Jeremiah. Yet let us not forget that it was out of this swirling void of chaos that God chose to unmake the world itself with a new covenant, one that transcended all the sorrow and brokenness of this life with the promise of a new one. These times are not the end, merely a transition from which to emerge like a certain lowly carpenter all those years ago towards a great glory.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

When We Get God Wrong (Location: Capernaum)

The following meditation was written by Doug Hood’s son, 
Nathanael Hood, MA, New York University

Now when Jesus heard that John was arrested, he went to Galilee. 
He left Nazareth and settled in Capernaum, 
which lies alongside the sea in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali.” 
(Matthew 4:12-13, CEB)

Short of the Resurrection, think of Jesus’ greatest, most well-known miracles and there’s a good chance they happened in Capernaum, a tiny fishing village of about fifteen-hundred people on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was so small and insignificant that its inhabitants never even bothered building a wall—invading armies would pass it by, deeming it too unimportant to occupy; even the Romans ignored it during their ruthless suppression of the Jewish people during the First Jewish–Roman War (AD 66–73). Archaeologists speculate that it was cramped and dirty, with several families living together in the same one-story building with no plumbing or drainage. Yet it was this nowhere village, only about 40 miles away from his traditional home in Nazareth, that became Jesus’ de facto base of operations during his three-year ministry. The Gospel of Matthew even refers to it in its ninth chapter as “his own city.”

It was in Capernaum that Jesus found his first four disciples: the fishermen Peter and Andrew and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John. (Later, Jesus would recruit Matthew, one of the local tax collectors, as another member of the Twelve.) It was in its little synagogue that Jesus astonished the people with the authority of his teaching and cast out an impure spirit possessing one of the worshippers (Mark 1: 21-27). It was along these dusty streets that Jesus healed the centurion’s paralyzed servant (Matthew 8:5-13), an astonishing act of compassion for a gentile living in his country as part of an occupying colonial force. It was in one of these packed, smelly houses that four friends lifted up a mud and thatch roof to lower their lame companion for Jesus’ healing (Mark 2: 1-5). It was on these nearby shores of Galilee that Jesus broke five barley loaves and two fish and fed the five thousand, leaving behind twelve baskets of leftovers (John 6:13). And it was on a nearby hillside where Jesus preached the greatest sermon ever known, the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

And yet, it was also the place that Jesus cursed and condemned for its unbelief. “And you, Capernaum,” Jesus raged, “will you be honored by being raised up to heaven? No, you will be thrown down to the place of the dead. After all, if the miracles that were done among you had been done in Sodom, it would still be here today.” (Matthew 11:23) One of the only recorded times in any of the scriptures of Jesus getting angry, and it was towards the city he called home for years. It wasn’t that the villagers denied the miraculous things Jesus did—their community was too full of those he’d healed for them to claim that kind of ignorance. Instead, they refused to see these signs and wonders as evidence of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, the Son of God. “Their vision of the kingdom,” Tom Wright writes, “was all about revolution…violence to defeat violence. A holy war against unholy warriors. Love your neighbor, hate your enemy.”i He was simply the wrong kind of redeemer.

We as believers, much like the people of ancient Capernaum, have our own ideas concerning God into which we cram all our expectations and prejudices. We use Jesus as a crutch for our own political and morale agendas, wielding him more like a weapon than surrendering before him as the Christ. In doing so, we delude ourselves as powerfully as Capernaum did. We appreciate the miracles but ignore the miracle-worker; we eat the barley loaves and fish but blow off the provider; we appreciate the healing but stiff the doctor. As Christians, we must shield ourselves from such arrogance or risk the same condemnation that once echoed down to this little seaside village.

Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone: Part One (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), 133.