Happy People

\” Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.\’\”

Matthew 5:3 (Common English Bible)


Crowds again gathered near to Jesus. Wherever Jesus seemed to travel, word would quickly move among the community and people would drop whatever activity that engaged them to listen for a word from Jesus – any word. Such was the power of the spoken word that fell from the lips of Jesus. That day was no different than today. As the old maxim goes, “Time is money.” If people stopped whatever they were doing to hear a word from Jesus, there was perceived value in that word. The value was simply that Jesus addressed life – life, as we have to live it. Jesus’ words were never dissociated from life. They were deliberate, vital, life-giving. Jesus never spoke to simply capture an ear. Jesus came to solve problems with living.


On this particular day, the first word spoken by Jesus was, “Happy.” It is not possible to over-estimate the significance of that beginning. This was not a chance word – a word chosen at random. Jesus could not begin his sermon that day with any other word. It was an inevitable word. The whole point of God coming to God’s people in flesh and blood, to live life as we lived life, was to experience life as we experienced life. Life is difficult. Daily, the determination to be happy, to experience life as God intends, meets with disappointment, inequity, and struggle. Our experience is Jesus’ experience. In the final analysis, Jesus sought to lessen the struggle. So, Jesus chooses this day to offer practical guidance for a happy life.


It is a welcomed word. The world is captive to an instinctive desire for happiness. Many may struggle for happiness day following day on what seems an endless journey. We might imagine that to be the story for many who gathered that day to listen to Jesus. Yet, the desire remains undiminished. However painful life may become, people cling to the hope – the possibility – that happiness might be claimed. Each of us believes in it, we seek it, the thought of happiness possessing us, demanding to be possessed. It is as though the great verdict of the world is that God intends that we are happy and Jesus has come do what is necessary to deliver on God’s intention.


As the people listened that day to Jesus, they heard God’s manifesto – they heard God’s singular concern for the well-being of all people. This would be the driving purpose, the driving force at the center of Jesus’ ministry. The absence of happiness was the cause of the world’s misery. The broken, the listless, the weary gathered at the foot of a mountain that day to be encouraged that hope remained in their grasp. Lives scorched by sin, lives on the cusp of despair nevertheless hoped against hope that there might be another day with beauty available to them. Matthew tells us that such a number gathered that they were a crowd. Looking at them, Jesus sat down and taught them. He began with one word, “Happy.”




Praying as Jesus Prayed

The following mediation is from Doug Hood\’s upcoming book, Nurture Faith: Five Minute Meditations to Strengthen Your Walk with Christ, Volume 2. 

\”Jesus was praying in a certain place.  When he finished, one of his disciples said, \’Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.\’\”

Luke 11:1 (Common English Bible)

Some years ago I returned home from a business meeting in South Carolina. After claiming my baggage at the Tampa International Airport I proceeded to my car parked in the short-term parking garage. I found a flat tire. Only once in my life had I ever changed a flat tire. That was before I was married. That one time it took me nearly forty minutes. I remember my father once telling me that I wasn’t worth much with my hands. I never disappointed. Exhausted from my trip and staring down at a flat tire I made the decision to call my father-in-law who lived near the airport. He giggled – he giggled at me often, wondering what kind of man his daughter married – and said he would be there in ten minutes. In about the same amount of time it took him to arrive, my tire was changed and I was ready to go. I thanked him, we hugged and each of us said “I love you” to the other. On my drive home I realized that it had been nearly a month since the last time I spoke with my father-in-law.
Often, this is what our prayer life looks like. Life is moving forward in a pleasant manner, we are happy, and our needs are few. Conversation with God – in prayer – is virtually non-existent. Suddenly we look down at a flat tire and a phone call is made to God. For many, it completely escapes them that there is anything deficient in their practice of prayer. All that has been understood about prayer is that God is the great giver who shows-up when we make the call. Some of you reading this will recall the major home appliance manufacturer, Maytag, and their television commercials of the Maytag repairman sitting by the phone waiting for a call. When our flat tire is not resolved quickly we question, “Where is God?” Our confidence in the power of prayer wanes. Perhaps even more tragic is that some may begin to question the very existence of God.
Jesus’ practice of prayer astonished the disciples. Such was their amazement at Jesus’ prayers that they asked him to teach them to pray. As far as we know from the Gospels, this is the only thing the disciples explicitly asked Jesus to teach them. Notice that this fresh interest in prayer does not arise from the study of an apprentice manual for discipleship or from a conversation with Jesus on the topic. It followed immediately after observing Jesus at prayer. There was something about Jesus’ prayer life that was different from their own practice of prayer; something that evidenced a greater sense of intimacy with God, and something that gave release to more power. As Harry Emerson Fosdick so clearly expressed it, Jesus went into prayer in one mood and came out in another. Praying was not a form but a force.[i]          
Fortunately for the church today, the Gospels have captured many of Jesus’ prayers. A close examination of those prayers reveals a surprise for many: absent is any hint of begging. Jesus does not approach his heavenly father with pleas for his personal welfare, as though a disinterested God must be cajoled or convinced to offer a blessing. What becomes startling clear is an affirmative tone to Jesus’ prayers. Jesus turns his back on any doubt of God’s goodness and stretches out his hand to appropriate the inexhaustible resources available to any one of us. Such prayer retires for a moment from the swirling darkness that may surround us from time to time and affirms that God is present and active in our life. Such prayer, Fosdick affirms, “does not so much asks as take; it does not so much beg for living water as sink shafts into it and draw from it.”[ii] That is praying as Jesus’ prayed.

[i] Harry Emerson Fosdick, “On Learning How to Pray”, Riverside Sermons (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958), 112.
[ii] Fosdick, 116.

Memory and God


“But Zion says, ‘The Lord has abandoned me; my Lord has forgotten me.’ Can a woman forget her nursing child, fail to pity the child of her womb? Even these may forget, but I won’t forget you.”

Isaiah 49:14, 15 (Common English Bible)


I was once told of a college professor who had been married for nearly thirty-five years when his wife became ill with dementia. Anyone who is familiar with this cognitive disease knows that eventually all memory is stolen from the individual. The professor did his best juggling his teaching responsibilities and caring for his wife until he could no longer do both. As he put it, he faced one of the most difficult decisions of his life when he placed his wife into a memory care center located nearly two hours from their home. Each day, following his last class, he would drive the two hours to share dinner with his wife. After some time with her, he drove the two hours back home to teach the next day.


Four hours of drive time each day eventually caught up with the professor. The emotional and physical toll was unmistakable as he realized that such drive time each day was not sustainable. Only one option presented itself – one option as the professor saw it. He would resign his teaching position at the college, sell his home, and move closer to his wife. When this decision was shared with the administration of the college and his students, they urged him to reconsider. With love and compassion, the administration and students told the professor that his wife no longer knew who he was, that she has now forgotten him. Perhaps make the drive less often – maybe on the weekends. Stay, they all asked. Stay with us.


With equal love and compassion, the professor refused. “Yes, my wife no longer knows who I am. She has forgotten everything. But I know who I am. I am her husband. Thirty-five years ago I made a promise to her. I intend to keep that promise.” That day the professor did more than demonstrate the worth of a promise made and a promise kept. Most powerfully, the professor taught his greatest lesson of all – that a loss of memory does not make any of us less a person. As long as his wife had breath, she was a person of value, a person to be cherished. Those who can no longer remember our names or of stories shared in the journey of life continue to hold a special place in our hearts and mind.


Isaiah asks, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, fail to pity the child of her womb?” Tragically, answers Isaiah, “Yes, sometimes yes.” Yet, Isaiah quickly moves the conversation forward and adds these words, “Even these may forget, but I won’t forget you.” Isaiah announces to us that, in the end, what ensures our worth – our value – is not what we can remember or fail to remember. What ensures our personhood is that God remembers us. Often our memories are so much a part of who we are that we cannot imagine an identity without them. What the professor teaches us – and Isaiah affirms – is that we are more than our memories. When our memories fail us they are held on our behalf by those who love us.





When the Door Remains Closed


The following mediation is from Doug Hood\’s upcoming book, 

Nurture Faith: Five Minute Meditations to Strengthen Your Walk with Christ, volume 2

“Meanwhile, Peter remained outside, knocking at the gate.”

Acts 12:16a


Here is a story for everyone; a story of someone who tried and failed, but refused to give up. Peter was one of Jesus’ disciples. At a critical hour, he failed Jesus by denying him three times. But Jesus never failed Peter. Following Jesus’ resurrection, him continued embrace and love for Peter launched Peter into a preaching ministry of considerable zeal and devotion. Up and down the countryside, Peter gave witness to the power of the risen Christ to change lives. Peter’s primary exhibit for his testimony was his own life. Soon he found himself enmeshed by hostile forces and, finally, preached himself into prison.


Prayers were made for Peter by the Christian communities that he started and were now growing, as a result of his preaching. One night an angel came to Peter, placed the prison guard into a deep sleep, released the chains from Peter’s hands, and opened the prison doors. An important detail of this miracle story is that the angel instructed Peter to place on his sandals. The angel was able to place the guard into a slumber, release Peter’s hands from the chains that held him, and open the prison doors. Yet, the angel holds Peter responsible for placing on his own shoes. Apparent in this small detail is that God will always do what we cannot do, but God will not do for us what we can do. Peter was capable of placing upon his feet his shoes.


Peter, now freed from prison, goes out into the dark, hiding in the thickness of the night from Roman solders, and makes his way to a home where he hoped to be received and cared for. When Peter knocked at the outer gate, a female servant went to answer. Recognizing Peter, and overcome with surprise and joy, the servant runs back into the house with the grand announcement of Peter’s release. Yet, in her amazement and delight, she forgets to open the gate and let Peter into the residence. “Meanwhile, Peter remained outside, knocking at the gate.” 


Peter does not shrug his shoulders and walk back into the night, commenting, “It’s no use.” Peter continues to knock. Peter is resilient. He will not give in or give up. By his persistence, Peter reveals the grandeur of his trust in God’s continuing presence and care. Many of us will stand – at some moment of our life – before a closed door. The closed door may be a job opportunity that never materializes, a romantic relationship that is never found, or an illness that lingers – health seemly more and more elusive. Before that closed door, life asks, “Will you continue to trust God in the face of bitterness and disappointment?” Peter stands before a closed door unafraid, determined to see it through. His strength is located in God’s fidelity, demonstrated in his past. That same strength is available to us when we stand before a door that is closed.