Categories
Religious

Finding Calm in the Tumult

From Doug Hood\’s upcoming book,

Nurture Faith: Five Minute Meditations to Strengthen Your Walk With Christ, Vol. 2


\”Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints.”

1 Corinthians 13:4,5 (Common English Bible)

An annual childhood tradition that comes to mind, whenever I read this passage of scripture, is the Atlanta Boat Show. Naturally, as is true with boat shows today, this was an opportunity for manufacturers to exhibit new boats and related products and advance boating as a recreational pursuit. The entire, weeklong event was designed to be attractive to all ages, particularly families with young children. Plastic toy boats and other brightly colored toys were plentiful, all free in the sixties and early seventies, to ensure that children would not become bored as vendors sought to seduce the parents into making a major purchase. Inexpensive and tasty food was plentiful and various recreational activities ensured that this annual event was one not to be missed. My brother, Wayne and I marked our calendars each year for this event.
The one activity Wayne and I looked forward to the most was trout fishing. A rather large, artificial pond was placed inside the exhibit center filled with hungry trout. If you have ever experienced an Alaskan wild salmon run from June through September, you get the picture. You could not drop a fishing line without hitting a trout. And that was the point. For a nominal fee, children could trout fish with a virtual guarantee of a successful catch. That is precisely why this passage from 1 Corinthians reminds me of the Atlanta Boat Show – or specifically, trout fishing at that event; the passage is rich with wisdom and truth. Drop a line anywhere in the thirteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians and you are going to catch something.
There is present today, in our nation, political disagreements that have risen to an unhealthy state – one where the strains and tensions easily throw us into emotional turmoil and which are inevitably fatal to our peace of mind. Each of us is easily upset and friendships, once seemly located on solid ground, seem fragile. Quite simply, we all seem to have become irritable. How, in this trying political climate, can we recover our emotional poise? Is it possible to recover a sense of personal calm in the present tumult? Located in this passage is our pathway. Here, we are asked to change the conversation, to recall our baptism that is placed squarely in the love of Jesus Christ. Politically, we may disagree. Yet, in our baptism we find common ground in the Lordship of Jesus – a Lordship that calls us to withdraw from the noise and tension of daily life and focus our energies on acts of worship and prayer.
The phrase, “it isn’t irritable”, is not offered as a command. It is identified as the natural consequence of turning our hearts and mind and will to Jesus, surrendering all our desires to knowing Jesus and providing our life as a channel for Jesus’ love to flow into all our relationships. Angst and anger in the present political climate of our country is the result of living in a miserably restricted area surrounded only by our own feelings of what is right and protecting our own interest. The natural result is irritability when others disagree – when others live in a different, but equally miserable, restricted area. 1 Corinthians 13 asks that we prevent our world from becoming small by cleaving to Christ, by focusing our thoughts on the deep center of our baptism – the love of Jesus. As we move to that deep center God will restore calm in the midst of tumult.
Joy,
Categories
Religious

Living In the Present Tense

 

 

From Doug Hood’s upcoming book,

Nurture Faith: Five Minute Meditations to Strengthen Your Walk With Christ, Vol. 2.

 

“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)

 

It is the practice of the Eskimos never to carry the day’s evil experiences, its troubles and its quarrels, over into the next day. Two Eskimo hunters might become engaged in a violent dispute over the division of the game which they had taken, and heated words might even bring them to blows, but once the sun had set and they had retired to sleep, all memory of the quarrel would be erased from their spirits, and the next day they would greet each other as brothers. If you were to exclaim in surprise: “But I thought you were enemies. You were fighting yesterday!” they would answer: “Ah, but that was yesterday and we live only today.”i That is living in the present tense!

 

Mark Twain, with his characteristic humor, once commented that he has suffered many things most of which never happened. Doctors tell us that much of our anxiety, which often results in physical, emotional, and spiritual unease, is located in tomorrow, a preoccupation with fears of the future. Consequently, our fears of tomorrow rob us of the opportunity to live fully and abundantly today. Naturally, wise and reasonable decisions and personal behavior must shepherd us in the present day. Careless spending today will result in debt tomorrow. A word carelessly spoken or a relationship betrayed may negatively impact all of our tomorrows. Not all of us have been nurtured in the Eskimo culture!

 

Jesus’ invitation in this teaching is to locate our hearts in God. Worry and anxiety is all about trying to avoid something, about trying to get away from something. The strain of worry is indicative that we don’t trust the future. Jesus asks that we approach life from another perspective. Rather than fleeing what we fear most, Jesus asks that we run toward God. As Augustine once said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”i Jesus asks that we live in the present tense, free from the regrets of yesterday and the fears of tomorrow. That is possible after we have accepted God’s forgiveness for the past and trust in God’s care for the future.

 

Thomas Long writes that there is a kind of worry about the coming day that is normal, even healthy. “Tomorrow’s chemistry test or job interview is bound to provide concern, and this command ‘stop worrying about tomorrow’ is not an invitation to finesse the exam or to waltz into the interview unprepared. Rather, it speaks to the deeper, more basic fear that something is out there in the future that can destroy our basic worth as a human being, something finally stronger than God’s care, some silent killer shark swimming toward us from the future.”iii Jesus asks that we cling to God in such a manner that we can affirm that whatever tomorrow brings, it also brings God.

 

 Joy,

_____________________

iClayton E. Williams, “Living Today Forever,” Best Sermons: 1955 Edition, edited by G. Paul Butler (New York, London & Toronto: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1955) 106.

iiThomas G. Long, Matthew (Louisville & London: Westminster John Know Press, 1997) 76.

iiiLong, 76.

Categories
Religious

Longing for God

 “Just like a deer that craves streams of water, my whole being craves you, God.”

Psalm 42:1 (Common English Bible)

 

            The philosopher Blaise Pascal once wrote that each one of us is born with a God-shaped hole in our hearts. Naturally, Pascal was not speaking of a literal hole such as a square hole. The hole he speaks of is an empty space, a deep longing or hunger. We often attempt to fill this empty space with other things or pursuits. Perhaps we seek a relationship that will satisfy this longing, or acquire some material reward such as a new car or country club membership. Each of these may satisfy for a period. Cracker Jacks at dinnertime will satisfy hunger for a little while. But, the satisfaction will be short-lived. After all, if the empty space implanted in our hearts is for God, any substitute will simply leave empty spaces all around it. Our hearts remain empty.

 

            This scripture from Psalms speaks of deer that crave streams of water. What the original readers of this passage know is that many aqueducts in the Holy Land were built with a mesh-like covering to prevent trash from clogging the water supply. Thirsty deer could hear the streams of water, they could see the streams of water, but they could not drink from those streams. The mesh covering that prevented trash from entering the water also prevented the deer access to the water. So the longing to quench their thirst remained. What is important for the reader to understand is that before the deer “listened for” and “moved toward” the sound of streams of water, there was first a thirst.

 

            As the deer experienced thirst, often we experience a spiritual thirst, a spiritual yearning for something more. Sometimes that thirst is noticed when we see others living a deeply satisfying relationship with Jesus. There is simply something about their faith that is missing in our own experience. Other times we simply become tired of acquiring more and more and finding that all of it fails to satisfy our deepest hungers. The emptiness remains. And most of us will try almost anything to fill that emptiness only to be disappointed time and time again. That is because they fail to recognize that only the pursuit of a deep relationship with Jesus through regular prayer and study of Jesus’ teachings can ever satisfy that emptiness.

 

            During my sophomore year of college I had the opportunity to spend the fall semester of study in London. To complete a class assignment, I traveled to Liverpool for a weekend of research.  Arriving in the early evening of a Friday – London to Liverpool – by train I immediately looked for an inexpensive opportunity for dinner. Just as I began to enjoy the fish and chips I had ordered to go, eating while standing along a sidewalk, I realized I had lost my father’s professional Nikon camera he had trusted to my care. I lost my appetite, threw away a largely uneaten meal, and went off searching for the camera. Ultimately my search led me to a homeless man, the Cathedral of Christ the King, and Father Murphy, who had my camera. Returning the camera to me, Father Murphy looked deep into my eyes and asked, “Are you hungry?” In that moment I sensed that the question was intended for something much deeper than my stomach.

 

Joy,

Categories
Religious

Does Prayer Work?

“While Peter was held in prison, the church offered earnest prayer to God for him. The night before Herod was going to bring Peter’s case forward, Peter was asleep between two soldiers and bound with two chains, with soldiers guarding the prison entrance.”

Acts 12:5, 6 (Common English Bible)

 

              Albert Einstein once said that to continue to do something in the same way and to expect different results is the definition of insanity. I suspect the difficulty so many people have with prayer is that it doesn’t seem to work – at least not to their expectations. To continue to practice prayer with apparent little effect leads to discouragement and disillusionment. Eventually, they draw the same conclusion as Einstein – continuing to do something the same way and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. An English author once wrote of his prayers to God at an early age. He prayed hard for something to happen. It didn’t. Concluding that prayer doesn’t work he offered one final prayer, “All right, Mr. God. I won’t bother you again.”

 

              That English author’s story is often our story. We pray for something to happen. It doesn’t. We stop trying. Perhaps we are not as blunt with God as the English author but that is what happens. Some of us may persist at prayer longer than another, praying always in the same manner, “God, please heal my friend,” or “God, help me with my finances,” or “God, give back to the Miami Dolphins a winning season,” and nothing happens. The friend doesn’t get better, finances remain a difficulty, and the Miami Dolphins repeat another losing season. The result is that we quietly stop praying. Why bother God any further? The problem is we have misunderstood Einstein. He doesn’t suggest we stop trying. Einstein is telling us to try another approach.

 

              A recent episode of Law & Order presents a family torn apart by a husband and father who abandoned his family. He simply doesn’t want the responsibility a family will demand. The son grows up to be a professional baseball player who is quite good with a handsome salary. The father reenters the son’s life with excuses for why he abandoned the family. They are, naturally, unconvincing. Yet, the son is grateful to have a father in his life. Grateful, that is, until the son learns that the father has a gambling problem and needs rather large sums of money to cover gambling debts. In a heart-wrenching series of events we learn that the father is too busy to accept an invitation to the son’s home for dinner and to meet his daughter-in-law and grandchild, too busy to attend one of his son’s ballgames, too busy to remember his son’s birthday. Yet, the father is never too busy to “drop-in” on his son for a handout to cover gambling debts.

 

              Often, that is our approach to God. Our lives are simply too busy to spend time with God in any meaningful manner. Nevertheless, we find the time to “drop-in” on God when we have a need. The disciple, Peter, shows us another approach. Peter has been arrested and placed in prison. Herod had James put to death and Peter knows that this is Herod’s intention again. Placed in chains and guarded by sixteen soldiers, Peter goes to sleep. How can anyone sleep when there is a death sentence on his or her head? Peter can. That is because he has lived so deeply into a relationship with Jesus that nothing frightens him anymore. Peter is changed by an approach to prayer that is more about growing intimate with God than receiving anything. Prayer’s ultimate goal is to lead us into the presence of God where we are changed. It is then we find peace, even when chained in a prison cell.

 

Joy,