Eyes of Faith

The following meditation is taken from Doug Hood\’s
Nurture Faith: Five Minute Meditations to Strengthen Your Walk with Christ.
\”They asked, “Isn’t this Jesus, Joseph’s son, whose mother and father we know?”
How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
John 6:42 (Common English Bible)
     It rarely occurs to us that the ordinary can be a door through which heaven opens to earth. If something comes from heaven it must come in an unusual way, through some mysterious and unfamiliar channel. Heaven and earth are not usually viewed as being in communication. Certainly the Old Testament does witness to God’s use of prophets to speak. But ordinarily heaven and earth stand quite apart. God and humanity live two distinct and different lives.
     This was the thinking that caused some to question the authority of Jesus, “Isn’t this Jesus, Joseph’s Son, whose mother and father we know?” How can He now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” This is “Bible-speak” for ordinary; Jesus was born to ordinary people just as we all were. Yet, Jesus declares He has come down from heaven. It simply doesn’t follow that the familiar can be heavenly, the ordinary the activity of the divine. And it is this thinking today that diminishes our own expectation of the sacred in the midst of our ordinary lives. We do not expect a divine encounter in our ordinary existence.
     Jesus believed that heaven and earth were in constant communication. God is always in touch and intervening in the lives of God’s children. What is necessary for us are eyes of faith, eyes that see the portals of heaven open wide and that God is continually coming into our ordinary lives, transforming them into the extraordinary. Jesus says as much when He responds to Peter’s declaration of Jesus’ Lordship that this confession of faith was not Peter’s only, but God’s witness through him, “no human has shown this to you. Rather My Father who is in heaven has shown you.” (Matthew 16:17)
     Here, in this passage, we are invited to look once more for the possibility of the sacred in the ordinariness of life. Familiarity, if it doesn’t breed contempt, at least removes the surprise.  If we can account for something we at once conclude that God has nothing to do with it.  God is kept as a last resort for events otherwise inexplicable. Yet, here in John’s Gospel, we are reminded that through the common life of Joseph and Mary, God did break forth into the world.



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.”


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.


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.