Living Positively with Our Handicaps

“So I’ll gladly spend my time bragging about my weaknesses
so that Christ’s power can rest on me.”
2 Corinthians 12:9b (Common English Bible)
Bragging about our weaknesses is uncommon. What is customary – even encouraged – is that we “hide” our weaknesses and present the illusion of a life that is lived in a tranquil manner that is deep and even and unhindered by frailties. One unfortunate result is the deep disillusionment that is experienced when we find our heroes far too human, with frailties and weaknesses like our own. We look for people who seem to have no limitations, no handicaps, no imperfections and we aspire to be like them. In no small manner, people with weaknesses are not considered worthy of our admiration and praise.
Naturally, the danger of finding such a person, a person who is unencumbered by difficulties and imperfections, is to know someone who also possesses considerable conceit. They need no one; they require nothing for their journey through life, not even God. Worse, when understood correctly, their perfection fails to inspire those of us who struggle with handicaps. Another’s perfection can only result in our despair. This is why Paul “brags” about his weaknesses – Paul’s interest is that we praise only God and that we find in his broken, imperfect life reason for encouragement as we struggle with our own handicaps.
Paul did pray multiple times that his handicap might be removed. That is a demonstration of his humanity. It is an honest prayer that we have no doubt prayed ourselves. Yet, our spiritual condition is developed, positively or negatively, from the place of our weaknesses. For many, the first and instinctive reaction toward our limitations is a negative attitude – a rebellion or self-pity. We revolt against our limitations. Such a negative struggle often advances to cursing God. What we fail to see is that disappointment with our imperfection arises from conceit – we expect to be perfect. That is a poor spiritual condition indeed!
Paul’s positive and hopeful response to his weaknesses demonstrates that anyone, regardless of his limitations, can make a spiritual contribution to the world.  History is replete with stories of people who rise up and make great contributions in spite of handicaps. These are the stories that inspire each of us to push through whatever difficulties hinder us and advance our lives and the lives of others. Anyone fortunate enough to have the charm and looks of a prince, excellent physical and mental health and is untroubled by limitations, fails to inspire those who struggle daily under limitations. It is not easy to estimate the spiritual stimulus that comes into human life from handicapped people who have found that Christ’s power is sufficient for them.

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

The Allure of a Defeated Life

“I was given a thorn in my body.”
2 Corinthians 12:7 (Common English Bible)
Few things are as unfortunate as to see a woman or man losing heart and all sense of hope, drifting into apathy, and finally despair. When a sense of defeat is permitted to take residence in a life, frustration and inaction are too frequently the result. The face becomes sullen, the head is held low, and the shoulders sag. Bitterness grows, the result of an erroneous belief that life has dealt a raw deal or that others have received better opportunities. Left unchecked, the self-pity sentences them to low levels of achievement. A strange comfort is found in simply giving-up – experiencing a certain allure of being defeated.
History is replete with men and women who have experienced hardship, anguished over setbacks, and struggled with handicaps – physical, mental and emotional. Anyone of them may have been resentful and rebellious – and many have – with bad behavior the consequence. Yet, there are others who rise above the circumstances of their lives, press forward with unbelievable determination and consecrate their lives to the service of others. The apostle Paul stands among them. Paul moved through life hindered by “a thorn in the body” but produced nearly two-thirds of our New Testament.
Rather than giving-up and accepting defeat, Paul labored under his handicap. Naturally, Paul – like any of us – preferred that the handicap be corrected, the difficulty removed. On three occasions Paul asked the Lord for this. But the handicap remained; the thorn wasn’t removed. But Paul’s prayers were answered. “My grace is enough for you,” answered God. With God’s answer, Paul committed himself to do the very best he could do with what he had. His life and ministry was a vessel of hope for everyone he encountered. To his children, Theodore Roosevelt continually cultivated a hopeful disposition – and in doing so charged the atmosphere of his home with hope.
Paul sought to demonstrate in his life that there is no limitation, no misfortune, no burden of sorrow, suffering or loss that the human spirit cannot rise above. He endured much of each. But Paul went deeper than self-discipline and self-determination. Paul triumphed over it all because he sought God. Perhaps this was the finest message that Paul left the church – that when the allure of defeat tempts the heart Paul calls us to that deeper place where our life is open to the grace and power of Almighty God.

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

Speaking Wisely

Speaking Wisely
 “Do you love life; do you relish the chance to enjoy good things? Then you must keep your tongue from evil and keep your lips from speaking lies!”
Psalm 34:12-13 (Common English Bible)
It is a rhetorical question, of course. Who doesn’t want to be thoroughly alive, enjoying all the good things that life has to offer, to be lifted above the plane of mere existence? To live a large life, a life of spacious activities and with a grand purpose captures our imaginations. This is a life of abounding energy and possesses a deep awareness of the things that bless – both personally and those around us.
The Psalms offer treasured insight for such a life, insight for embracing a spacious life of blessedness, of extracting the secret flavors and essences of things as we live into each day. Very specifically, we are instructed in the wisdom of many who have traveled before us; we are told to exercise wise government over our tongues. Relationships with one another rise to unimaginable heights as the tongue is disciplined and directed to build, to edify and exalt those who hear us. It is as though life receives its nutriments from careful and blessed speech.
Our speech is too often destructive. Poison-soaked speech first poisons the speaker. “Every word we speak recoils upon the speaker’s heart, leaves its influence, either in grace or disfigurement,” writes that wonderful preacher, J.H. Jowett.1Where the tongue is untrue the heart is afraid of exposure. Life is diminished. One may also argue that such speech is lazy speech. Where there is no exercise of restraint or government of the tongue; it is free to roam at will. Therefore, urges the Psalms, keep your tongue from evil and speaking lies. The tongue that is held in severe restriction, the tongue that only shapes words that are good and encouraging to others results in quiet and fruitful happiness.
Undisciplined tongues seem to flourish today. And the world is the poorer for it. Yet, our own lives may move to a higher plane simply by a personal revolt from the disorderly conduct of tongues. The best way to affect a departure from the guile and venom that flows freely around us is to exercise one’s self in active good, of words spoken kindly, with pleasantness and grace. The fragrance of our speech will tickle the hearts of others. It may invite them to share in the same wisdom of the Psalms, an invitation to experience a blessed life, full, safe and abounding in good things.

1J.H. Jowett, Thirsting for the Springs: Twenty-Six Weeknight Meditations (London: H.R. Allenson, Limited, 1907), 188.
This blog is taken from Doug Hood\’s Heart & Soul, Volume 2, which will be published in the near future.

What Love Requires

“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet.”
Matthew 5:13 (Common English Bible)
            In his biography of John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States, James Traub unfolds the life of a man who was plainspoken, simple in his wants, and a person of deep Christian faith. Adams lived according to principles he considered self-evident and never seemed hesitant to sacrifice self-interest for the sake of those principles. He was only nine years old when the United States was birthed as a nation. As he grew and matured, Adams became imbued with the conviction that the United States was the greatest experiment in government the world had ever known. So complete was his identification with that government, Adams never flinched at either the prospect of death or the, “wreckage of his career, so long as he believed that service to the nation required it.”[i] 
            When Jesus declares, “You are the salt of the earth,” he is not extending to us a compliment, though that is how this comment has become commonly used. What Jesus seeks are people who so identify with the purposes of God that they are prepared to sacrifice anything – including their lives – if service to God’s divine purposes required it. Jesus does not hold back or seek to soften his message; Jesus is warning us that following him comes with the costly expectation that we will be “all in.” Here, in his Sermon on the Mountain, Jesus lays down a challenge. The challenge is to adopt the conviction of John Quincy Adams that does not flinch at the call to be used by God to further the purposes of God’s kingdom.
            This is where Jesus’ message becomes hard. Within each of us are forces that strive for self-preservation. But, if we are not prepared to lose ourselves for advancing God’s work in the world, Jesus is clear, we are “good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet.” Essentially, Jesus announces that if we fail to be driven by the same convictions that drove John Quincy Adams, then the reason for our existence in Jesus’ ministry to the world ceases. We are as useless to Jesus as the dust under our soles. That message was deeply disturbing to some. Little wonder why people left Jesus in droves. What he taught was too demanding.
            No one makes a financial investment if they are not deeply committed to seeing that investment grow. The same is true of relationships. Meaningful relationships are demanding. If there is absent any conviction of long-term value, or a commitment to the well-being of the other, a relational investment isn’t made. Yet, right here in this teaching, Jesus seeks an investment from us. For everyone who accepts his invitation, the investment will be costly. That is why our faith and love for Jesus is crucial. Unless it is nurtured regularly, the cost of what Jesus asks may seem too high. But for those who pay attention to Jesus, they will see that we are called to be “the salt of the earth” because Jesus was first, salt for us – even giving his own life on a cross because our life required it of him.

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