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Religious

Thanksgiving Day in Bonaire

“After giving thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this to remember me.’”

1 Corinthians 11:24 (Common English Bible)

This year my wife, Grace, and I will celebrate Thanksgiving Day on the Caribbean Island of Bonaire. Our thirty-fourth Thanksgiving together, this one will be different. Most of our celebrations of this holiday have been with family – our children, our parents, or our siblings. Some years ago, our children and Grace’s mother celebrated Thanksgiving with us in New York City, kicking the day off with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. During our twelve years in Bucks County, a number of celebrations we shared with another family in that church, each year alternating homes for the meal. Since moving to Florida, several celebrations were with a family of this congregation, breaking from meal preparation in the home to celebrate over a sumptuous buffet provided by the former Marriot of Delray Beach. Guests around the table may have varied through the years. However, there were always guests.

This year, neither of our children are able to make the trip to Florida. Our daughter, Rachael, has now made her home in Seattle, Washington and our son, Nathanael, will be preparing final papers for the fall semester at Princeton Theological Seminary. My brother, Wayne, and his wife, Nancy, have now retired from their ministry in Florida and have moved to Tennessee and Grace’s siblings will be out of the country. The church family we shared several meals with at Marriott have moved on and Grace and I have buried both of our parents. This year Grace and I will be alone for Thanksgiving Day. It is a familiar story. Each year brings change to every one of us – and our families. Since the beginning of this pandemic, it seems the speed of change has only accelerated. Disorientation is the result, often accompanied with some level of grief.

This year’s celebration with be a significant departure from our first thirty-three together – a holiday that always included either family or friends at the table. Therefore, Grace and I will celebrate Thanksgiving Day in Bonaire. It is a decision to embrace what is inevitable in all of our lives – change, and to make an imaginative use of that change. Most of us have little control over our future. Change is a reliable companion that shares life with all of us. What we do have is the ability take charge of that change, to make creative use of it in a manner that creates blessings. Without purposely choosing how we will adapt to change, the consequence that results may produce sadness and grief that is difficult to navigate. Inevitable change in the seasons of life may produce a deeper, richer experience than we ever thought possible or it can diminish life. The choice belongs to every one of us.

Therefore, this year, Grace and I are going to Bonaire. Moreover, I have purchased a fruitcake. Not any fruitcake. As many people, I usually do not care for fruitcake. However, for decades I have delighted in the fruitcake from Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana, Texas. It has become a Thanksgiving Day tradition and it is hard to imagine Thanksgiving without it. I will take this fruitcake to Bonaire and, only there, remove it from its packaging and enjoy it. This year, Thanksgiving Day will be a significant departure from previous celebrations. That is why this fruitcake is so important. In the midst of inevitable change, I need to remember – to remember the journey that now takes me to Bonaire. This fruitcake will connect me meaningfully to the richness of the past as I experience the present moment and anticipate the Thanksgivings that lie in the future. “After giving thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this to remember me.’”

Joy,

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Religious

The Disciple’s Rest

“ ‘Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves.’ ”

Matthew 11:28, 29 (Common English Bible)

There is a saying among pastors that in every congregation a third of the people are in a crisis, a third of the people are coming out of a crisis, and a third of the people are about to go into a crisis. If you are not in a crisis, chances are, there is something out in front of you heading your way. Anxiety and uncertainty seems to mark the countenance of many people today. Everywhere there is evidence of a certain strain – exhaustion from struggling to carry more than one person can reasonably bear. Attempting to face challenges that are beyond our strength, people move with fear, the wrinkle of worry etched deeply in their face. Absent are the rest, the assurance, and the strength available in the person of Jesus Christ.

We require the stimulus of a companionship with Jesus – the restful realization of God’s presence and care for us. Such rest is offered here by Jesus, “Come to me…I will give you rest.” This rest is always a gift. It is not earned. This rest comes as the fruit of a relationship. It is not from our labor. It is an immediate gift but its value is continuously experienced as we probe deeply into the riches of the relationship with Jesus. Much as falling in love, there are continually rich discoveries that are uncovered and realized as the relationship grows deeper, is explored, and cherished. The invitation to, “Come to me” prepares for, and actually leads to, the second part of the invitation, “Learn from me.’

Presbyterian pastor, author, and teacher, Eugene Peterson once declared that if you are too busy to read, you are to busy. Similarly, if we are too busy to spend time each day with God, to read the Bible and devotional literature, to “learn of Jesus,” then we are too busy. Each day is then powered by our own strength, which, eventually, becomes exhausted. Writers cannot write from exhaustion. Musicians perform poorly without adequate rest. Those who fight experience defeat without the replenishment received from time off on the battlefield. Woven into the fabric of God’s good creation is the “seventh day” that is for rest and simply knowing God. Jesus asks that we learn from him that the gift of rest might be fully experienced.

Instead of living with aimlessness and exhaustion as though we were on our own, Jesus invites us to a sure and restful intimacy with him. A person who comes to Jesus and spends time in that relationship – learning from Jesus – discovers someone whose strength and force is tremendous! Such people move through the darkest storms of life with apparent ease. But it is the ease that is linked with the infinite – the very God who created all there is. Such people possess spiritual energy rather than manifest symptoms of panic. They recognize the wealth and power of allies in God and face the difficulties of life with restful assurance. “Come to me” invites Jesus, and we will be distinguished from the world. We will have rest.

Joy,

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Religious

Tearing the Church Apart

After a few days, Jesus went back to Capernaum, and people heard that he was at home. So many gathered that there was no longer space, not even near the door. Jesus was speaking the word to them. Some people arrived, and four of them were bringing to him a man who was paralyzed. They couldn’t carry him through the crowd, so they tore off part of the roof above where Jesus was. When they had made an opening, they lowered the mat on which the paralyzed man was lying. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Child, your sins are forgiven!’ ”

Mark 2:1-5

When I first arrived as a student in Princeton Seminary, one of the first buildings I visited was Miller Chapel, the school’s communal worship space used for daily services and seminary events. Fronted by six beautiful Doric columns, the chapel is a jewel of early nineteenth century Greek Revival architecture. Generations of students and teachers have prayed and worshipped together within its walls, and despite being surrounded by colonial-era monuments and battlefields, few buildings in the Princeton area truly exude the same weight of history. Standing there, I was struck by its sacredness and beauty—it is a holy, beautiful space, worthy of admiration and preservation. Then I imagined it being torn to the ground. 

Horrific to imagine, isn’t it? Yet we see something not too different happening in the second chapter of the Gospel of Mark. Of all the Bible’s healing miracles, this story of Jesus healing the paralytic is one of the most cherished in part because it’s one of the most dramatic. It reads almost like a proto-heist movie: four friends come together, sneak on top of the building where Jesus is preaching, break inside, and lower their paralyzed friend down to Jesus not unlike Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible. It’s also dramatic because this was one of the only times in Mark where Jesus publicly reveals himself as the Son of God. For most of Mark, Jesus tells those he heals to tell no one of his power, but here he heals the paralytic and declares his sins forgiven in front of a massive crowd. Dramatic, indeed. 

But there’s a detail in this story that’s lost on modern audiences: the paralytic’s four friends essentially destroyed the house Jesus was in. First century Palestinian roofs were two feet thick and contained layers of timber, tree branches, and dirt. This is what the paralytic’s four friends dug through—and the original Greek text confirms that they didn’t remove the roof, they didn’t lift the roof, they dug through the roof. By the end, the house’s insides would’ve been covered with debris. Additionally, first century Christians would’ve drawn parallels between this house hosting a rabbi and the secret house churches they were forced to hide in while under Roman occupation. This house was a church. And for whatever reason, these men were denied entry. Jesus had established a reputation in Galilee by then as a healer, and his audience knew he could heal the paralytic—they knew that by letting him through he could get his life back. But shockingly, they didn’t. For whatever reason, these five men didn’t belong in that congregation. They were kept outside, away from the Messiah, away from the healing grace of God. And what was Jesus’ reaction to these outsiders fighting back and destroying his “church?” He saw their faith, and he found it good. 

If there’s something in this text that we as Christians should take away that we traditionally haven’t, it’s that God blesses those who disrupt the church with their faith. God blesses outsiders who demand inclusion with God’s people and scream “I am here!” And who are these people? Who has the church traditionally closed the door on? Immigrants and refugees? The disfigured and the homeless? Yes, all these and more. Maybe it would be better if we smashed every chapel and church, every pulpit and sanctuary that denies the unwanted, that rebukes the sinner, that ignores the helpless. As Mark 2 reveals, it’s only when such churches—such roofs—are destroyed that the true Gospel of Christ can be revealed. Only then will God see us—all of us—and say “Your sins are forgiven—now take your mat and walk.” 

The above meditation was written by Dr. Doug Hood’s son, Nathanael Hood, a second year student at Princeton Theological Seminary.

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Religious

Love Me Anyway

“While we were still weak, at the right moment, Christ died for ungodly people.”

Romans 5:6 (Common English Bible)

Love Me Anyway is a tender piano ballad that contemplates the limits of love. Written by pop music artist, Pink, with Nashville songwriters Allen Shamblin and Tom Douglas, the song captures the longing and hopefulness that the love between two people is not conditional – not vulnerable to behavior or circumstances that may threaten the fidelity of the relationship. As the traditional marriage vow asks, “will you stick around in good times and bad?” Country artist, Chris Stapleton plays a supporting role to Pink’s lead vocals, the song centered on the latter questioning her lover’s commitment in their romance. Poignantly, the lead voice questions if he could still love her even if she “broke his heart?”

The ability of this song to pierce every heart is located in the refrain, “Could you love me anyway?” It is the question of the ages. A question that is common to every human heart. Each heart longs to love and receive love. The fear that love can be lost disrupts a sense of well-being, perhaps even crippling the ability to be fully human with all of our capacity for folly and blunders. Insecurity in our love with another diminishes a life’s ability to flourish, “Even if you see my scars. Even if I break your heart. If we’re a million miles apart. Do you think you’d walk away?” That is our fear. If we are not careful, if we misstep, our love will walk away.

This sounds a good deal like our relationship with God. We try our hardest to make ourselves right with God. We fear God’s disappointment with us. However, we are weak, says the apostle Paul. We stumble, obedience fails, and we long to know if God could love us anyway. For an answer, Paul points to the cross of Jesus Christ: “While we were still weak, at the right moment, Christ died for ungodly people.” This is God’s answer to our anxiety. In good times and bad, God sticks around for us. Moreover, when our lives break into a million pieces, God gathers each broken piece upon a cross and restores life for us.

Pink and Chris Stapleton have provided a gift with their song, Love Me Anyway. Clearly and beautifully this songs articulates the restlessness of every human heart. Anyone in the helping profession acknowledges that healing begins with naming our fear. Our deepest fear is that love may be taken away from us – taken away if we mess-up in life. That is precisely the difficulty. We are human. It is beyond our ability to live without an occasional blemish; a misspoken word, a hurtful act, to become lost in selfishness. The song asks, “Could you pick up the pieces of me? Could you? Could you still love me?” Here, in his letter to the Roman Church, Paul answers. Look! God’s answer hangs upon a cross. With all of our ungodliness, God loves us anyway.

Joy,

The above meditation is from Dr. Doug Hood’s new book, Nurture Faith: Five Minute Meditations to Strengthen Your Walk with Christ, Volume 2, now available at your favorite electronic book seller or from the church office.

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Religious

A Very Strange Town Square

So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived! All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”

2 Corinthians 5:17, 18

Earlier this month I spent a few days vacationing in St. Augustine with my family. This may seem an odd choice for a vacation, but the older I get the more I feel myself drawn towards ancient things. It doesn’t get more ancient—at least in North America—than St. Augustine. Founded in the sixteenth century by the Spanish, it’s the oldest continuously-inhabited European city in America. Walking its streets was like traveling backwards and forwards in time through different eras and cultures. Of all its magnificent sites and attractions, none captivated me quite like the Plaza de la Constitución. When it was first built as the town center by the Spanish, royal decrees mandated that it be the literal center of the community’s religious, government, and commercial functions. As such, it’s bordered by the stately Governor’s House, the nearly two-hundred-year-old Trinity Episcopal Church, and the breathtaking Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine, home to the oldest Christian congregation in the contiguous United States. And then, in the center of the plaza, there’s a small open air pavilion. It’s easy to miss, particularly in the shadow of the churches. But none should. For this is the old slave market.

The city and people of St. Augustine don’t like to talk about the slave market. In a place where every other manhole cover seems to have a historical marker, it’s conspicuously missing one. None of the travel brochures we read mentioned it, and neither did any of our tour guides. It is, perhaps understandably, absent from the city’s official tourism website. Of all the historical sites we visited there, it was the only one I didn’t walk through. I was afraid it would scorch my feet. I remember not feeling sadness at the site of it, but anger. Not just the righteous anger one would expect at such a site, but indignant anger towards the two churches—one Catholic, one Protestant—who for centuries looked upon it without blinking. I was reminded of the story of Saint Telemachus, a fourth century monk who was martyred after literally throwing himself between two gladiators in a Roman amphitheater to stop their fighting. Every day the members of those churches didn’t do likewise and throw themselves at the slave market to destroy it, they failed in their sacred duties as Christians.

It makes one wonder how they as churches—and we as a larger nation of Americans—are supposed to move forward with the egalitarian promises and demands of our Christian faith after so many years of racial injustice and with so much left to be done. The Apostle Paul was likewise confronted with a congregation with generations of violent racial baggage in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians. Corinth was a Greek city that over a century earlier had been sacked, destroyed, and rebuilt by the Romans. In the time of Paul, its fledgling Christian community would’ve contained Roman colonizers, Greek descendants of the conquest, and local Jews who had likewise been subjugated by Rome. Crucially, Paul doesn’t ignore the strife. Instead, he labels them “old things” that have been replaced by “new things” as part of God’s “ministry of reconciliation.” What was this reconciliation? We’re not sure. Frustratingly, the biblical narrative of the Corinthian church ends with this epistle.

But St. Augustine’s narrative—indeed, our country’s narrative—continues. I have no doubt that in the years since the end of slavery both the Basilica and Trinity Episcopal have confessed and repented of their church’s inactivity while the market was active. But that reconciliation takes more than just forgiveness, it takes rebirth. I mentioned earlier that there is no historical marker for the slave market in the Plaza. But there is one celebrating a very different moment in the city’s history: the St. Augustine movement in the 1960s when Christian Civil Rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. marched and fought there for their people’s freedom. King and his fellow “Foot Soldiers”—some black, some white—re-sanctified that Plaza with blood and bravery, and it was more powerful a witness of God’s ministry of reconciliation in this world than any church apology ever could be. So must we all struggle, together as one, towards God’s final reconciliation.

The above meditation was written by Dr. Doug Hood’s son, Nathanael Hood, a second year seminary student at Princeton Theological Seminary.

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Religious

When Anger is a Virtue

“He (Moses) looked around to make sure no one else was there.

Then he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.”

Exodus 2:12 (Common English Bible)

“Looking around at them with anger, deeply grieved at their unyielding hearts,

he said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’”

Mark 3:5 (Common English Bible)

Moses was born during a time of great darkness. A new king was seated in Egypt and he feared the growing strength of the Jewish people. They were a minority people in Egypt and their growing number unsettled the king. So the king resolved to “deal with them.” As a result, the Egyptians organized their military to harass the Jewish people and force them into slave labor. But the more they were oppressed, the more they grew and spread. Pharaoh’s contempt for the Jewish people grew until he looked upon them with disgust and dread. More had to be done to hold this growing, minority population in check. The first chapter of Exodus details the evil that was unleashed by the king: young children would be separated from their parents and the male children would be thrown into the Nile River and drowned.

Born to Jewish parents, Moses was numbered among those who would suffer the cruelty of Pharaoh’s unsteady and fearful leadership. When his mother saw that Moses was “healthy and beautiful” she hid him from the Egyptian authorities for three months. When she could no longer hide him, she placed her son in a reed basket, sealed it, and placed the child among the reeds at the riverbank. Pharaoh’s daughter came to bathe in the river, found the child, and, moved with compassion, resolved to raise the child as her own. Raised as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses lived a life of ease and privilege in the royal court. Yet, as maturity came on, Moses began to be angry. Perhaps he fought against the anger, this disturbing indignation at the intolerable injustice he saw day after day propagated against the Jewish people – his people! Nonetheless, anger took possession of Moses.

Pay close attention to the developing narrative here in Exodus – it is when Moses found something to be angry at that he found God. Perhaps Moses’ anger was foolish. It did explode in such grand fashion that he killed the solider that was beating a Hebrew slave. Yet, Moses could no longer watch something so unbearably wrong and not take action. We might imagine the consequences to a pastor today for speaking the truth to power. Moses knew immediately that his response might not have been wise. He sought to cover it up. But intrinsic to this story is that Moses’ anger unleashed the beginning of the real Moses – the Moses portrayed on the silver screen and proclaimed from the pulpit. A quiet Moses would have made little difference, would not have been remembered. Soon, following this explosion of anger, Moses came down from Sinai with the Ten Commandments that have shaken generations. As Henry Emerson Fosdick writes, “His indignation against evil got him somewhere.”1

Each generation presents some incarnation of injustice and evil. Occasionally it is hard to see God when the suffering of the present age presses so profoundly upon our consciousness. Well, perhaps if we permit the present injustice to arouse our indignation we will see God. We will experience God’s nudge to quit our moral apathy, untether our passion for fairness and justice, and in our own response experience something of the holy ground that Moses stood on. When our Lord, Jesus Christ saw a deed of mercy being withheld by some misplaced ceremonial allegiance, he looked around with anger and took action to correct an injustice. Jesus teaches us by his response that, in the face of evil or injustice, we are not Christian if we are not angry. Martin Luther once wrote that it is when he is angry that he preaches well and prays better.

Joy,

The above meditation was taken from Dr. Doug Hood’s new book, Nurture Faith: Five Minute Meditations to Strengthen Your Walk with Christ, volume 2, coming to your favorite online book seller this month.

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Religious

Where Joy Is Found

“Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry. This is because an angry person doesn’t produce God’s righteousness.”

James 1:19, 20 (Common English Bible)

Sydney Harris shares an occasion when he was walking with a friend home from the office. On the way, his friend stopped at a newsstand to purchase the evening paper. Completing the transaction, Harris’ friend thanked the vendor politely. The vendor didn’t even acknowledge. “A sullen fellow, isn’t he?” Harris commented. “Oh, he’s that way every night,” shrugged his friend.  “Then why do you continue being so polite to him?” Sydney Harris asked. “Why not?” inquired his friend. “Why should I let him decide how I’m going to act?” Notice that the operative word is “act.” His friend acts toward people. Many of us react toward them.[i]

This is the guidance James provides – “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry.” In addition to conforming to the format of a letter, James belongs to the literary genre of Wisdom literature. Such literature was widespread throughout the Middle East during the 1st century CE. Advancing understanding of wise instructions for life in general, sacred Wisdom literature communicates to readers how to live happily as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Various values and actions consistent with discipleship are examined and urged as faithful expressions of fidelity to God. Here, James implores Christians to “act” toward one another rather than “react.”

James knows who he is. He is a disciple of Jesus Christ. This knowledge provides James with an understanding of the behavior that is now expected of him – the understanding that refuses to return anger with anger, incivility with incivility. Each one of us has natural impulses, internal responses to the behavior of others. Yet, failure to harness those impulses, when they would be hurtful to another, is to surrender our command of our conduct. That is slavery to impulses, which make of us mere responders to others. That is when our discipleship stumbles – those occasions when we pour out invective after it has been poured out over us.

Throughout the teachings of Jesus we are enjoined to return good for evil, to turn the other cheek when the hand of another strikes us. That requires uncommon strength, uncommon control of sinful impulses to defend our honor. That requires that we “act” as Jesus demonstrates in his own life and ministry, rather than “respond” as Peter did with the sword the night Jesus was arrested in the garden. Nobody is unhappier than the one who has surrendered command of his or her inner impulses and strikes back when injured – physically or emotionally. Yet, God’s righteousness expands when we return anger with love. That is were joy is found.

Joy,


[i] Earl Nightingale, “Be an Actor, Not a Reactor,” Transformational Living: Positivity, Mindset, and Persistence (Shippensburg, PA: Sound Wisdom, 2019) 37.

The above meditation was taken from Dr. Doug Hood’s new book, Nurture Faith: Five Minute Meditations to Strengthen Your Walk with Christ, Volume 2, coming to your favorite online book seller this month.
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Religious

Which Voice Shall I Follow?

“Again the Lord called Samuel, so Samuel got up, went to Eli, and said, ‘I’m here. You called me?’”

1 Samuel 3:6 (Common English Bible)

Here is a startling story of a young boy named Samuel who had trouble sleeping one night because of a voice that spoke to him from the darkness. Most of us know that story – a voice that comes to us in the darkness at that moment when we want nothing more than to sleep. The volume of the voice is usually immense. It is a clamorous tongue that disturbs the mind and stirs physical restlessness as we lay upon the mattress. For some, the voice that speaks addresses our personal finances, most often when our financial resources are running low and our commitments are racing in the opposite direction. For others, the voice reminds us of estranged relationships but offers no solutions for healing. Other voices that bombard the mind’s ear simply wish to generate anger at this or that political party and the absolute stupidity – or cruelty – of this or that policy out of Washington. Solutions rarely show-up in the darkness of the bedroom. Neither does sound sleep.

Here, young Samuel is lying down in the Lord’s temple. We know it is the night hour because fifteen verses later we are informed, “Samuel lay there until morning.” But Samuel will not sleep that night. Before his mind drifts off to restful sleep, Samuel hears a voice. It is the Lord’s voice but Samuel doesn’t know that – not in the beginning. He believes the voice belongs to his mentor, Eli. Three times Samuel hears the voice and three times Samuel disturbs Eli to inquire what it is Eli wants. It is the third time that Eli grows suspicious that this is more than Samuel’s imagination. Nor is Samuel simply hearing the whistle of the wind. Samuel is instructed to make inquiry if he hears the voice again; to say, “Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.” And the voice does return.

This is precisely the point that Samuel makes a rather dramatic shift from simply jumping from his bed at the sound of a voice to careful listening. Samuel restrains his natural impulse to a quick response and practices alert and intentional discernment of the content of the voice that speaks. There is much all of us can learn from this simple act – pausing long enough to sincerely listen to the voice we hear, particularly if that voice is unsettling to us. What would happen in our nation if Republicans and Democrats where to exercise restrain from the vitriolic impulse they have for one another? Imagine the surprise if Evangelicals and liberals in the Christian church ever truly listened to one another. What might any of us discover in the darkness of the night if we calmly listened to all that unsettles us – personal finances, relationship difficulties, or concern for the health of those we love – and then, rather uncommonly, invited another voice to the conversation, “Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.”

At any moment of the day or night there are voices that clamor for our attention. Some voices long for an impulsive response from us, usually a response that multiplies anger and hurt and fears among those we know and love. Perhaps a voice asks from us indignation and puerile criticism of another point of view. The only contribution that voice makes is increased brokenness in an already broken world. Do not trust these voices. But Samuel’s story shows us another way. Eli counsels Samuel to “listen” rather than “jump” at the sound of the voice. If we listen, and listen with humility and civility and respect, what we will discover is that the voices that clamor for an impulsive response will scatter and one will remain. It will be the loveliest voice of all. It will be a voice that asks patience and love. Trust that voice. Ponder it. Respond to it. It will be then that you have in your heart neither doubt nor fear.

Joy,

The above meditation was taken from Dr. Doug Hood’s new book, Nurture Faith: Five Minute Meditations to Strengthen Your Walk with Christ, Volume 2, coming to your favorite online book seller this month.
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Religious

When the Door Remains Closed

“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, his 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.

The above meditation was taken from Dr. Doug Hood’s new book, Nurture Faith: Five Minute Meditations to Strengthen Your Walk with Christ, volume 2, coming to your favorite online book seller in early September.
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Religious

Ordinary Saints

“‘Whoever is faithful with little is also faithful with much,

and the one who is dishonest with little is also dishonest with much.’”

Luke 16:10

There are people who live daily in the grip of a vast inferiority complex. Always ready to do some great thing, contribute on a grand scale, and produce extraordinary changes or innovations they fail to value the small and ordinary. With an insufficient view of less imposing matters of life they settle into a pattern of mediocrity. Worse, failure to appreciate the importance of common occasions and tasks their lives tumble into defeat and despair. Their take on a life well lived is in variance to the view of God, “Whoever is faithful with little is also faithful with much.” God does not despise the common, ordinary, and small. On one particular occasion, Jesus celebrates the power of faith that is as small as a mustard seed.

Generally, the failure to value the common and small is located in the ignorance of the real significance of events, which we think we understand. Recently, a pastor received a note from someone in a former church who wrote of how their life was turned by some single word of compassion and hope given at a time of desperation and fear. The pastor struggled to remember the occasion, an incident that seemed so small and trivial as to scarcely warrant the pastor’s notice. On the other hand, many of us can recount high and stirring occasions, in which, at the time, appeared to have occupied a large stage in the unfolding drama of the day only now leaving no trace of importance in their memory.

One personal experience suggests that there may be more value and honor and reward in attending to the daily small and ordinary occasions than one great event. When my daughter, Rachael, was very young she spoke of a friend from school. Seated at the family dinner table, Rachael shared that Cathy’s father was taking her to Hawaii that summer for vacation. My wife and I glanced at one another, bracing for our daughter’s certain disappointment when we had to share that we simply could not afford a vacation as nice. But Rachael continued, “But I have a family that loves me and that is all I need.” That should have been enough for me but I probed deeper. “Doesn’t Cathy’s parents love her?” I asked. “Maybe. But Cathy’s dad works long hours. She never sees her dad. You help me everyday with my homework and read to me at bedtime. I prefer that.”

Jesus is asking that we reappraise the value of living honorably in the ordinary and small things of life. Not all of us will occupy a leading role in a Broadway play, serve on a prestigious board, or appear on the cover of a magazine for some extraordinary achievement. As a young disciple, Jesus tells us that we all begin “first the stalk, then the head, then the full head of grain.” (Mark 4:28) It is the very nature of growth that we have a humble beginning. The character of a disciple is developed by attention to the small things as growth occurs. The disciple that accepts – and loves – the duties of the common, daily walk with Christ shines brightly not because they purpose to shine, but because they are filled with the light of Christ. It is then that what may appear small and ordinary grows dignified and sacred in our sight.

Joy,

The above meditation was taken from Dr. Doug Hood’s new book, Nurture Faith, Five Minute Meditations to Strengthen Your Walk with Christ, Volume 2, coming to your favorite online book seller in September.