Choose to Be Happy

“Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer.”
Romans 12:12 (Common English Bible)
            The choice is ours. Just as each day we choose the clothes we will wear, we choose the disposition that will clothe our heart and mind. The winds of daily circumstance, whether it is good fortune or disappointment, have no access to matters of the interior life. No one can see what any day may bring in the home or the office, but we can determine that each day will be met with a buoyant spirit. Begin the day with a dark spirit, a sour and unpleasant disposition and usually something will happen to confirm the prior decision to be unhappy. Start the day with a positive tempo in your step and the same law will be at work; something will occur that will give affirmation that all is well, even if the day brings disappointing news. How we begin the day is a choice.
            But the choice must be inspired by the Christian understanding of hope. Used in the New Testament, hope is never wishful thinking. Christian hope, of which the apostle Paul speaks of here, is the deep conviction that we belong to God. A positive promise woven throughout the New Testament is that our heavenly Father has each one of us in his keeping and will be present in the midst of any difficulty. We are never alone. God remains with us, regardless of the circumstances that may swirl around our lives. Begin each day with that knowledge, that God is present with us, and God will lift your vision to the sunnier possibilities available and rescue you from the power of frustrations and defeat.
            It is a great and liberating thing to know that God is with us. It is a knowledge that strengthens our knees and secures our footing. Particularly when the winds of trouble blow, as they must for each of us at some time, we discover that we are able to stand firmly without fear of being defeated. It is a knowledge that frees us from personal concern, and the emotional energy which that effort consumes, so that we may devote all of our strength to reach for life’s highest purposes.
            Occasionally the winds that blow against us are quite strong. A secure footing is important, such as our knowledge of God’s continued presence and care, but something more may be required. As a sailor standing on a boat that is being tossed about, we must grab hold of something. As a Christian, we grab hold of God in prayer. “Devote yourselves to prayer,” writes Paul. Prayer is the abandonment of any other crutch, any other hope, and the clinging to God. It is recalling that God is all that is necessary. Prayer nurtures intimacy with God and it is the surrender into the loving presence of God that results in inexpressible joy. For Paul, prayer is not a matter to be taken lightly. Simply, prayer is integral to the choice to be happy in all circumstances.

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

Who Is God?

“Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, 
and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Matthew 6:33 (Common English Bible)
            I don’t find many sermons today on the sovereignty of God, that five dollar word that simply asks, “Who is God?” It is an important question. As any good question will do, the question gives birth to a host of other questions: Who owns the earth? Who rules our hearts? To whom does our first allegiance belong? These are the urgent questions for our day. They are the questions that frame the political, economic and ethical conversations we are drawn into on a regular basis. I am, therefore, grateful that the other day I discovered a gem among my library, a sermon by J. Wallace Hamilton: “Who Goes There?”[i]Though it was preached sometime in the 1950’s, it retains a crisp and clear presentation of that great question and solicits our faithful response. 
            Wallace offers a persuasive argument that there is present today a practical atheism in our nation, a denial of placing God and God’s purposes first in our lives. Some will announce a conviction, “nation first,” while other voices will clamor, “team first” or “family first.” What about God? The first step for addressing the unsettledness of our nation, suggests Wallace, is spiritual; returning God to the center of our lives. The way we think and the values that shape our lives are rooted and nourished by the gods to which we give our lives. And nothing will end well for us, or as a nation, until we get the center right. Every loyalty will disappoint us until we give our highest loyalty to God.
            What this means in terms of practical action reaches into every area of our lives. There must be a resolve against the segmentation of our lives; the separation of business, family and the religious dimension. Some years ago, a politician spoke rather harshly about some political comments made by the Pope, arguing that the he should leave politics to the politicians. If the Pope is representative of God’s claims and purposes in the world, there is no area that is off-limits, especially politics. With God at the center, our responsibility is to answer every question as it arises on the basis of God’s sovereignty; on the basis of what God would have us do.
            Among the great sins is the notion that the world is ours; that we are free to do with the world what we will. That notion simply doesn’t square with scripture. The world isn’t ours to serve our needs and do with as we please. That is the great lie that stands in the way of an authentic embrace of the sovereignty of God. Who owns the earth? That answer all depends upon the god that is at the center. The question of God’s sovereignty eventually comes home to each of us. To place God at the center may require a new mind and a new birth. But for those who return God to the center, it is a tremendous experience.

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

Remind, Invite and Inspire

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who are God’s own possession.”
1 Peter 2:9 (Common English Bible)
            I am fond of the work of John Andrew, formerly the pastor of St. Thomas Fifth Avenue, New York City. One of his sermons delivered in that magnificent and admired church provides a fresh and inspired look at this one sentence from 1 Peter; an invitation to imagine that church from four vantage points: to suggest, to remind, to invite, and to inspire.[i]Now in the midst of our building campaign, to expand and update our church facilities, I draw from three of Andrew’s words as we consider our heritage and future.
            Our church, the First Presbyterian Church of Delray Beach, is located here in this beautiful spot, one block from the beach, to remind us of who we are and to whom we belong. Andrew states it so well, “There is not one of us in the Christian family who does not need the memory jogged on occasion about who we are and whose we are.” Each member of this superb church has been entrusted with a rich heritage of Christian witness in this location. This beautiful church reminds us of that heritage and calls each of us to advance that witness into the future. St Peter makes this point with force in these few words: “But you are a chosen race…” Certainly that begs the question, chosen for what? All of scripture is clear; we are chosen to participate in God’s continued work in the world. This church reminds us of that continuing responsibility.
            The second task we are here to perform is to invite. We must identify winsome and compelling opportunities to attract and convince people who move into this community to join us. This is done by uplifting Christ in such a way that people long to know more about him and, eventually, to love him and dedicate their lives to him. A warm welcome on Sunday morning and a smile can work wonders in a beautiful place like this. But this is then followed by the rich experience of beautiful, traditional and compelling worship. More, people must know that here prayers are spoken not only for our members but for those who visit this beautiful community and make it their home.
            Invited is then followed by inspire. What I speak of here is not the natural inspiration that touches the mind and heart following worship, though that is important. What is demanded from those who would follow Christ is sacrificial generosity; the compulsion to participate meaningfully in God’s unfinished work. Serious, sacrificial and regular financial giving brings honor and integrity to our rich heritage in this place, for an ungenerous Christian is a contradiction in terms. When we commit ourselves to this kind of giving, we are doing no more than what Christ did before us, for Christ gave his own blood for us that we may have eternal life.

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

Sharing Our Faith Story

 “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.”
Psalm 107:2 (New Revised Standard Version)
            Our daily conversations do more than provide a running narrative of our lives; such conversations shape our experiences, practices and life with one another. As we speak, our thoughts and understandings are more deeply formed and clarified. Through speech, we do so much more than transmit information to another. We process that information in a manner that deepens our convictions. When that conversation turns to matters of faith, my friend Thomas Long, brilliantly observes, “When we talk about our faith, we are not merely expressing our beliefs; we are coming more fully and clearly to believe. In short, we are always talking ourselves into being Christian.”[i]
            It is uncertain that this is the conviction behind these words from Psalms. What is certain is that God’s people are directed to speak of their faith; are commanded to share their faith story with others. It is the duty of every person of faith. The man or woman who has been “redeemed” by the Lord must become a busy person. They are to be messengers of God’s love and transformative power. It is this kind of witness that captures the interest of ordinary people and wins their verdict. Clergy are expected to speak of holy things. But when ordinary people speak of God the testimony takes hold with arresting strength and considerable surprise.
            But, argues Tom Long, such conversation serves a sacred interest. Speaking with another person about our faith confirms experience; it sustains it and enriches it. Any experience which is denied expression speedily fades away, such as a second language that is never used. The loss may be imperceptible at first but, over time, more and more is lost until little remains. Yet, when voice is given to matters of faith, faith quickens and is given strength. A powerful dynamic is released: as we take hold of our faith, our faith takes hold of us. Doubts melt away like mist when we go public with our testimony of what God has done for us.
            The Bible is filled with miracle stories. They are the stories that shape the contours of our faith and reveal God to us; stories that bear witness to God’s power. But they are not the stories that are the most vital for living a transformed and transfigured life. The miracle that is most vital, that is most urgent today, is not the miracle that is read about but the one that walks about in every believer who gives confession of their belief. The Lord says, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.” That is the Lord’s command. The world is waiting for our obedience.

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