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Religious

Happy People

“Therefore, get rid of all ill will and all deceit, pretense, envy, and slander. Instead, like a newborn baby, desire the pure milk of the word. Nourished by it, you will grow into salvation, since you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

1 Peter 2:1-3 (Common English Bible)

Happy People, penned by songwriters, Lori McKenna and Hailey Whitters and performed by Little Big Town, is a feel-good track that sparkles with uncommon wisdom about what it takes to be happy people: “Happy people don’t cheat. Happy people don’t lie. They don’t judge or hold a grudge. They don’t criticize. Happy people don’t hate. Happy people don’t steal.” These are the opening lyrics of a song that capture the sentiment of what’s going on in a world threatened with a deadly virus and torn by hurtful political rhetoric. As Fred Craddock, a widely popular preacher and thinker of the Christian faith, observes, “Christian growth involves, among other things, getting rid of those attitudes, ways of speaking, and behavior patterns that attack the central fabric of the community: mutual love.”[i]

As each one of us, approach a new day the one constant factor we all share is a decision: the feelings and attitudes that will shape our response to others. Implicit in these words from 1 Peter is an old life that was before knowing Christ and the new after our encounter with the Gospel. Whenever we face a situation, we now have a choice: the habitual response of ill will, deceit, pretense, envy, and slander that was the character of the old life or a response that is shaped by love. This moment of decision is one point of conflict we must negotiate between our old and our new life. A conscious decision is called for. Will we surrender to our old impulses, our normal response to other people, or will we choose the new way taught by, “the pure milk of the word”?

First Peter calls us to clean the slate of our lives – to face up to our old, destructive nature and wipe away specific attitudes and behavior that tear at the fabric of relationships with one another. Craddock wrote, “Malice, envy, and slander do not drop off like old clothes; these demons must be fought to the end.”[ii]  If they are not wiped away – by an intentional decision each day – these behaviors sour and spoil our lives and rob us of the happiness we desire. As Happy People reminds us in a lyric, “Cause all the hurt sure ain’t worth all the guilt they feel.” A rich and rewarding life is the promise of the Gospel, a salvation from the decay brought by destructive speech and behavior. In Jesus Christ, we have “tasted” the promise of that salvation and know that it is good.

The refrain of Happy People announces, “If you wanna know the secret (of happiness). Can’t buy it, gotta make it. You ain’t ever gonna be it. By takin’ someone else’s away.” An excellent place to begin this “new life in Christ” is with any animosity that we may hold toward another. Letting go of that anger and hatred is like removing a heavy backpack after a long hike up a mountain. The initial relief is immediate and grows, measure by measure, over time. In truth, we may cause little hurt to another by our anger but we do serious harm to ourselves. It shows in our life, in our speech and our behavior. People see it. More, we experience it. It is depilating, often resulting in physical ailments. The closing lyric of Happy People is especially poignant, “Well life is short. And love is rare. And we all deserve to be happy while we’re here.”

Joy,


[i] Fred B. Craddock, First and Second Peter and Jude: Westminster Bible Companion (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995) 35.

[ii] Craddock, 35.

Categories
Religious

Holy Moments

“So then let’s also run the race that is laid out in front of us, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us. Let’s throw off any extra baggage, get rid of the sin that trips us up, and fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfecter.”

Hebrews 12:1, 2 (Common English Bible)

Emerson wrote, “Our faith comes in moments; our vice is habitual. Yet there is depth in those brief moments which constrains us to ascribe more reality to them than to all other experiences.”[i] Moments that are holy, moments filled with richness, and depth, and mystery are rare for many of us. Yet, they do come, however fleeting they may be. They strike us as a welcomed breeze that brushes our face on an otherwise hot and still day. At one moment, it is felt, and appreciated. The next, it is gone. The difficulty that often challenges any of us is that we live largely in the ordinary. The exceptional holy moment is dismissed for practical matters of meeting the present struggle of simply getting through the day.

The author of Hebrews urges a redirection of our natural impulse to be carried by whatever distracts us from completing the race that Christ has set before us – the race to know God and live richly that life God desires for us. Here in the twelfth chapter of Hebrews we are reminded of, “a great cloud of witness surrounding us.” That is our encouragement when the race becomes difficult. If we are honest, all races become difficult. Any athlete will acknowledge the multiple forces that pull against a resolve to train – to remain with any athletic endeavor that, in one moment, inspires our best effort. When that resolve becomes weak, nothing holds our eyes on the goal quite as well as family and friends who cheer us forward.

I am a runner. The boldness to declare that comes from multiple books and magazines on running. When I look in the mirror, I see considerably more trunk fat than others who run. I see in others lean bodies covering vast distances. I still have weight to lose and I only run two miles, five mornings a week. Yet, the literature I read each evening declares that I am a runner. A runner is not determined by a measure of fitness or the speed of the run or the distance that is covered. A runner is simply someone who runs regularly. So, I am a runner. But I am a distracted runner. Each morning I walk out the door I am creatively engaged with reasons not to run. That is why I subscribe to Runner’s World magazine and read books on running. They are my “great cloud of witnesses” that keeps me in the race.

Hebrews encourages that we remain in the race that has been laid out in front of us – the race to know and live for God. And Hebrews urges that we reorganize our life, to throw off any “extra baggage” and “sin that trips us up” that hinders our run. Like an athlete, Hebrews ask that we get rid of all the extra weight of anything that creatively engages us not to spend time regularly with God – time alone in a quiet moment reading God’s word and listening. We begin by remembering – remembering a grandmother, or a father, or someone we deeply admire who ran the Christian race before us. They will be our cloud of witnesses that pushes us forward. Emerson said: “When a man lives with God, his voice shall be as sweet as the murmur of the brook and the rustle of the corn.”[ii]

Joy,


[i] Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays & Lectures (New York, NY: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., 1983), 385

[ii] Emerson, 309

Categories
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,

Categories
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,

Categories
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.

Categories
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.

Categories
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.
Categories
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.