A Place to Breathe

Written by Toby Hedgepeth

Photo by Keegan Houser on Unsplash

Scripture: Proverbs 4:26 – Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways.

Reflection: From time to time I have a habit of looking back on things I’ve written or scribbled in my journals, notebooks or just random pieces of paper, to see if it sparks any memories. As I was looking back recently, I saw something that said, “Are you working towards a place where you can breathe?” When I read this statement, I didn’t understand it to mean finding a place to rest or to slow down – but I understood it to mean being purposeful – or steadfast. A place where you can see the goodness of the Lord moving. Where every moment is filled with meaning. A place where you can see lives being changed and dreams being fulfilled. A place where our breath is not being wasted but being given for something greater than ourselves.

I want to give myself credit for this question, but I have no memory of writing it, or who said it. But it does beg an answer, “what are you working towards?” And what does it have to do with the work you are called to do for Christ?

It’s so easy to get sidetracked by people and situations not meant for us – things that do not serve a purpose in this “place” of intention.

Let it go!

Let it go and make room for thoughtful interactions, life-giving relationships and meaningful conversations.

Let it go so you can feel yourself breathe – on purpose.

Let it go so you can give careful thought to the path you are being called to walk.

Let it go to make room for the Spirit of God.

Prayer: My God and my Redeemer – help me to stop giving attention to things that do not bring You Glory. Keep me focused on the mark of my heavenly prize. Show me the path I must take to work towards the place You have called me to. The place where Your plan becomes my plan and the work I do pleases You, above all. In Jesus’ name, I pray, Amen.

Risen Savior

Written by Toby Hedgepeth

Photo by Samuel McGarrigle on Unsplash

Scripture: Matthew 28:5-6 – Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.

Reflection: I have found myself, this holy week, thinking a lot about the death and Resurrection of Christ. As I was scrolling on Facebook, recently, I came upon a post on the United Church of Christ page, from UCC President John Dorhauer – and his words gave me hope; he said, “Death did not destroy Jesus.”

These words give such hope because we look to the moment when everyone knew the death of Christ was inevitable, and we see the defeat. We see the sadness, and the hopelessness of those who before had so much hope! Even Jesus, Himself, felt like God had forsaken Him. All of this, only to find out in the end, that “Death did not destroy Jesus” – it only made Him stronger!

I’m going to do my best to always remember this statement. Especially when I am going through a hard time, or when I feel like I am crumbling under the weight of life – that “death did not destroy Jesus” and the things I am struggling with cannot destroy me. The things that were meant to hurt me can be used as springboards to move me to my next place in life.

What I love about the story of the death of Jesus, in Matthew, is that when He died, and the earth shook, Matthew 27:54 says “Now when the centurion and those with him , who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake, and what took place, they were terrified and said , truly this man was God’s son!” So, make no mistake about it, there will be people around to see you fail; there will be people around who will rejoice at your relapse, and celebrate your downfall – but oh the day, what a marvelous day, when the onlookers realize you are a child of God – and you can’t be destroyed!

This week, I am grateful for the life and death of Christ – and knowing that because He is a conqueror, I too am a conqueror. How amazing it is to know that something that was meant to stifle your voice, something meant to keep you down, was only a catalyst to lift you higher (I just got chills)!

Prayer: My God – thank You for Your life, death and resurrection. I am so grateful that You thought of me as You were led to the Cross on that faithful day. You, the Ultimate Sacrifice, atoned for my sins, and set me free, before I was even born. You defeated death, and gave everlasting life to those who love You. I’m grateful that You conquered death – and because of that, I am no longer afraid! In Jesus’ name, I pray, Amen.

Start where you are…

Written by Toby Hedgepeth

Photo by Marion Michele on Unsplash

Scripture: Deuteronomy 15:11 – Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, “Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”

Reflection: I’ve struggled over the last few weeks with not having anything to share. As I completed my contemplative writing for a class, I realize how much I’m frustrated with the inequality between the wealthy and, well, the rest of us. Just a quick google search (https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/jan/21/world-26-richest-people-own-as-much-as-poorest-50-per-cent-oxfam-report (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.) tells us that 26 of the world’s wealthiest people own as much as 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of the planet’s population.

How does this happen?

While I don’t believe God requires His followers to live in poverty, and give away all of our earthly possessions, I do believe He requires us to share with the less fortunate. I could go on all day about how much money mainstream preachers pull in every month, but I would rather see how much money they give away to fight poverty. How much money do they intentionally give away to causes that take care of the disenfranchised?

I don’t mean to pick on preachers, but my question is valid. And not only for those who have an overabundance of money and things, but how are we practicing selfless giving regularly? I may not have as much as someone else, but I’m sure I have enough to share with someone who doesn’t have anything. I may not be able to reach across the world, but I can reach next door. I may not have a million dollars to donate but I can donate clothes, a hot dinner, a hug, encouragement and time, to someone who is in need. This may seem small to us, but it will be a big deal to someone else.

We may ask ourselves, “how can one person change the world?” There are many things we can do, as individuals, to make a difference. We can start where we are and find one thing we can do, every month, to change someone’s life. Someone who can’t repay us. I can make that promise – and I’m going to recruit other people who can make that promise, too – and together we will begin to effect change in our small parts of the world.

Prayer: God, thank You for helping me to find a need I am able to meet. Help me today, and the days to come, to be more aware of what I can do to help others. Help me to open up my hands to the poor and needy in our land. In Jesus’ name, I pray, Amen.

Be Still

Written by Toby Hedgepeth

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Scripture: Exodus 14:14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.

Reflection: My husband and I are blessed to have such great friends! We never let a month go by without having friends over for breakfast, lunch or dinner, or just meeting for a quick catch-up at one of our favorite dinner spots. A few months ago, our favorite spot was the comfy chairs in our living room, after having a great breakfast (for dinner), and we talked about life.

Life included God, work, family, self-care, expectations, stress…and the list goes on. The conversation went from talking about religion, new positions, career advancement – and the stress of it all – to how can we slow down enough to enjoy the precious time we have with one another? Why do we continue to pile so much on ourselves that even when we have a moment to breathe, the chatter in our minds, about everything else, keeps us from being intentional with the people and passions that are most important.

It becomes such a fight to be purposeful with our lives, because we stay so focused trying not to fail at being a good Christian, a good spouse, a good parent, a good friend, employee, daughter or son, that we forget to be still, and show honor to God, who is Everything.

We oftentimes find ourselves wandering like the Israelites, and we too must be reminded that the Lord will make a way – if we can just be still. BUT, what’s interesting about this story, in Exodus, is that right after Moses told the Israelites they only need to be still, God told Moses “Tell the Israelites to go forward.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m a little confused. I’m being told to be still, then here comes God, telling Moses, “tell the Israelites to go forward.” So, do I stand still, or do I move? Is this a matter of who do I listen to, or am I not understanding God’s message of stillness?

When God tells us to “be still”, we are expected not waiver in our faith. We are not to move in our own menial power – but to trust that God is able to move, with great power, on our behalf. Be still in believing that the promises of God will be revealed at the perfect moment. Sure, take some time to stop and refocus; but don’t stay there! If you must stand still only stay there long enough to get your orders to move forward; so when you take that next step your mind is focused on what’s ahead.

Prayer: My God – Way Maker – Director of my steps, when the worries of the world are gaining on me please show me the way forward. When I can’t stop the chatter in my mind, allow me the ability to focus on what’s most important in the moment; to be still with my own plans, and look to You for direction. In Jesus’ name, I pray, Amen.

Love One Another

Written by Toby Hedgepeth

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Scripture: John 13:34  – I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 

Reflection:  The news is always sad. There are times when I wish the news would carry more lighthearted stories of love, compassion, giving – but even when these types of stories are shown, they become overshadowed with the news of hatred, violence, terrorism, and inadequate leadership. I often find myself asking “how do we counter the negativity in the world?” How do we live in the world, all the while not conforming to it?

This isn’t a rhetorical question. I would love to know the answer to it.

When I saw the terrorist attacks unfold in New Zealand, last week, I found myself responding with an exhausted “here we go again.” Why are things like this continuing to happen? This is something I definitely should not become immune to, but I have.

My doubt is asking the question of “what”, not “why.” Even though I realize it would be nice to know “why”, the most pressing question to me is “what do we do to create a world where love abounds?” How do we love one another, as Christ commanded? How can we become people who are willing to change the world around us?

I don’t want to see another attack in the news, but how do lowly people, like myself, usher in hope and love in the midst of it? We can’t always just talk about it; how do we make it a part of our own mission? How do we incorporate, into our daily steps, a provocative idea that provides hope for the marginalized, the disinherited, the heavy burdened?  

I know this may seem like boiling the ocean, but we must start somewhere! I’m willing to do small things, in love – one person at a time – to change the narrative. We are all a part of the body of Christ – different races, dogmas, orientations, understandings etc.… Even so, let us all embrace the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “I have decided to stick to love…Hate is too great a burden to bear.” Let’s stick to love, the first of many steps to changing the world.

Prayer: My God – thank You for Your love. Grant me a portion of the love You give, so I can be light and love to those around me. When the world is losing hope allow me to provide hope through You. When the news doesn’t get any better Lord, give me an idea that will change the narrative in someone’s life, so at least they know there is goodness in Your creation; and people who love without an agenda, without expectation – and who leave the spaces they enter a little better off than they found them. In Jesus’ name, I pray, Amen.

Letting go…

Written by Toby Hedgepeth

Photo by Максим Степаненко on Unsplash

Scripture: Isaiah 43:18-19 – Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

Reflection: Since we are coming upon the beginning of Lent, this week, I want to begin refocusing my time. This is easier said than done. This will be my first Lenten season as a seminary student and Member (of the United Church of Christ) In Discernment; not to mention I have a full house to take care of, a full-time job, and many other responsibilities.

I don’t want to be typical Toby this year, and “give up” something that really won’t change my relationship with God. I don’t want to give up something, only to go back to it, full force, once this season of reflection is over.

I think the first thing I will do is change my terminology from “giving up” something to “letting go” of something. As I thought about the difference between the two, I was led to a website, https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-difference-between-letting-go-and-giving-up-something  (how convenient huh), that identified the difference between the two. The site says “There is a big difference between giving up and letting go. Giving up means selling yourself short. It means allowing fear and struggle to limit your opportunities and keep you stuck. Letting go means freeing yourself from something that is no longer serving you…” I will add an extra point of also freeing myself from something that is no longer serving God.

I will pose a few questions to myself, beginning with “What does God desire of me?” I want to be able to slow down enough the hear the “still small voice” of God. This Lenten season I want to be intentional about building with a purpose. Building a new me. Seeing myself as God sees me. During the 40-days of Lent, I will let go of the old and allow God to do something new.

What will you endeavor to “let go” of? Will you let go of negative self talk? Will you let go of being your own worst enemy? Will you let go of idle time? Will you let go of your past, and move confidently into this new season? Imagine what you can gain from letting go of those things God never wanted for you from the beginning.

Now is the time to truly let go and let God!

Prayer: My God – thank You for this season of reflection. Let me use this time to draw closer to You – to renew my dedication to Your Word and Your will. I seek to let go of former things, by leaving them at the foot of the Cross. I look forward to dwelling in Your presence. Thank you for giving me strength during this time. In Jesus’ name, I pray, Amen.

It’s not dead…

Written by Toby Hedgepeth
Photo by Andy Wang on Unsplash

Scripture: Luke 8:49-52 – While He (Jesus) was still speaking, someone came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead; do not trouble The Teacher any longer.” When Jesus heard this, he replied, “Do not fear. Only believe, and she will be saved.” When He came to the house, He did not allow anyone to enter with Him, except Peter, John, and James, and the child’s father and mother. They were all weeping and wailing for her; but He said, “Do not weep; for she is not dead but sleeping.”

Reflection: Sometimes the messages I get from God are obvious – other times not so much. Recently, I had one of those obvious moments. I was walking with a co-worker one Friday morning and as we were walking, through the halls of Duke, we came to an area that was floor to ceiling windows. It was a very beautiful day and our eyes were easily drawn outside. As we moved closer to the window, my co-worker said, “What’s that?” I saw it, it just looked like a ball of something laying on the ground but, at closer look, we realized it was a bird – laying on its back – and the bird appeared to be taking its last breath. First I thought a light wind was blowing the bird but then I thought maybe its chest was moving. But even if it wasn’t dead, I thought to myself it will be dead very soon!”

We guessed that the bird flew into the window. Google says that birds usually fly into windows because they see a reflection of the sky or trees, instead of a pane of glass; they think they have a clear flight path. And I learned, according to a 2014 study, that up to one billion birds die from window strikes each year. The odds were not in this bird’s favor. I knew it was too late for the bird to be saved – and I knew it would probably be dead when we came back from our walk.

Fast forward about 10 minutes later, as we started back around the windowed hall, out of the corner of my eye I saw a bird fly past, and it brought my mind back to the little bird. Then I noticed two gentlemen, who had also seen the bird laying on the ground, coming in from outside…and I noticed the bird was no longer on the ground. I looked up at one of the men and I asked, “Did the bird fly away”. His response was “Yes, I just had to turn it over.”

I immediately heard God speaking to me through those words!

I guess I could have turned the bird over – but I didn’t because I thought it was dead. I guess I could have gone outside and taken a closer look – but I didn’t because I thought it was dead.

Those men had the exact same view as I had – and yet, they saw something different. Where I saw death, they saw life. Where I saw the end, they saw a new beginning. And I ask myself this question…why did something with life still in it appear dead to me?

This also made me wonder how many times I’ve moved on from passions, dreams, callings, people – things I thought to be dead, but they just needed to be turned over. How many things have we abandoned in our lives, based on our perception of what life looks like – but we realize in the starting verses, that perception is not always the truth! The hunger just needed to be fed. The dream just needed to be re-imagined. The check engine light just needed to be…well, checked. But you get my point, right?

I want you to consider today – and throughout this week – those things you desire Jesus to bring back to life for you. What can be restored in your life – or the lives of those you love – what things have you called dead? Don’t let the enemy convince you that what you have worked so hard for is no more! Will you let Yahweh breathe upon those dead things, so they can live? Restoration is coming – and I dare you to start seeking and believing God for it? Don’t spend another moment crying over something that is merely sleeping! God has not changed – and He is able now – just as He was then – to show you His perfect power.

Prayer: God of my ancestors, thank You for seeing things as they truly are. Thank You for helping me to see those things that are not dead – only sleeping. Help me to see past my feelings and my own understanding, to see what You see. Even if there is a glimmer of life in something I am walking away from, reveal it to me so I can nurture it. In Jesus’ name, I pray, Amen.

Trust God…

Written by Toby Hedgepeth
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Scripture: Judges 6:12-14 – The angel of the Lord appeared to him (Gideon) and said to him, “The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior.” Gideon answered him, “But sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His wonderful deeds that our ancestors recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has cast us off and given us into the hand of Midian.” Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian; I hereby commission you.”

Reflection: I really want you to go back and read this whole story in Judges; I love this story. The Lord raised up Gideon, as a “mighty man of valor” to use him to deliver His beloved Israel from those who were oppressing them. Gideon wasn’t expecting this visit! Just like many others called before him, he had concerns – because of the current situation they were in, he didn’t really think the Lord was with them.

When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he was a little confused. He said if the Lord is with us then why are we suffering? Why are we being oppressed by the Midianites? He said where is the truth of our ancestors’ words? They told us that God provides. They told us that God will take care of us. He said, “But sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us?”

Do you feel that way sometimes?

You’ve heard stories about how good God is. But here you are thinking if the Lord is with me then why am I always struggling? If the Lord is with me why can’t I find a good job? If the Lord is with me, why have I been dealt this hand? If the Lord is really with me, then why (please tell me) is this cross I bear so heavy? Where is this God who is good all the time?

But just like Gideon, there is a plan – and the word WILL come when you are least expecting it. Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress, to hide from the Midianites, when the Angel of the Lord appeared. This lets me know that God doesn’t care about where we are, or what we’re doing; the Lord comes to us in His time, not our own.

Even though Gideon had concerns, and he didn’t see how this was going to work, he trusted the word of God. His physical situation didn’t change, his trust did. The Israelites were still being oppressed by the Midianites, but Gideon now believed he was the warrior God told him he was!

When all else seems lost, will you still trust God? When nothing seems to be going your way, will you still trust God? When God shows up in your situation, to let you know that you are more than a conqueror, will you trust Him?

Spoiler alert!!! If you trust Him, you will win!

Prayer: God of my life – Commissioner of my soul – I am in awe of Your love for me. I know my situation is a little messy right now, but I trust in You. I believe You will do exactly as You promised in Your word. I am more than a conqueror, because You said so! In Jesus’ name, I pray, Amen.


Written by Toby Hedgepeth
Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

Scripture: Hebrews 13:8 – Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, forever.

Reflection: A few weeks ago, I decided to begin posting to my blog weekly. With the second semester of Seminary approaching, and the commitments of ministry, family and work, I wanted to be sure I had time to keep my word to God, myself and others. When I thought about changing from a daily schedule to a weekly one, I remembered my guiding word for 2019…REST.

Although my plan for rest is not a resolution, I often feel pained when I hear that about 36 percent of those who make resolutions don’t make it past January. So, now that we have made it to the second month of 2019, think about what promises you made to yourself, and to God, for the new year.

Where are you now? Are you still going strong? Are you still pulling through? If so, I applaud you. If not, come along with me and use this week as a time to reevaluate your plan. We shouldn’t stop when things get off track, we must reposition ourselves for excellence. 

I realized this morning, as my pastor was preaching from the book of Ruth, how she had to reposition herself to find love again. She never questioned the move, she just did it because she knew it was necessary.

I’m sure many of us have had to reposition our lives after the loss of a loved one. After the loss of a job. After our plans changed. Our desires changed. We should find solace in knowing that even when our lives change – and we are forced to do something different – God never changes. God is the same yesterday, today and forever!

Repositioning can be frightening but it’s necessary.

Jesus accepted the fate of the Cross to reposition us to receive His Grace.

What, in your life, needs to be shifted? It’s not too late – as a matter of fact, you’re right on time.

Prayer: My God. My Friend. My Gracious Redeemer. Thank You at this moment for helping me get my promises and priorities back on track. Thank You for being patient with me when things change in my life and I need to reposition myself to receive more of You. Thank You, that even when I change, You are ALWAYS the same. In Jesus’ name, I pray, Amen.

God’s Grace

Written by Toby Hedgepeth

Scripture: Romans 11:6 – But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

Reflection: A few days ago I received something wonderful, and unexpected. When I learned of this gift I was receiving, I immediately thought to myself “I don’t deserve it.” Truth is I couldn’t even get excited about it because all I could think was that I was not worthy of what I had been given.

Fast forward a little while later, I was talking with a friend and telling her how I didn’t deserve this gift I just received, and I was feeling guilty for it. As I was going on and on, she stopped me and said “Toby, it’s God’s Grace.”

I had convinced myself that I didn’t deserve it, because I had not worked hard enough. I had not been as dedicated as I should have been. But if I would have first thought about God, and the unmerited grace I receive EVERYDAY, instead of trying to make sense of it, I would have realized it wasn’t about me.

Truth is we don’t deserve God’s grace. There is nothing we can do to earn God’s grace. It isn’t given to the hardest worker, or the one with the most money. Grace isn’t something that comes to us because we pray the loudest or stay in church the longest.

It’s unmerited. It has nothing to do with us, and everything to do with God.

Now, I must consider, how does God want me to use this gift? How do I use this gift, that I didn’t earn, to bring glory to God?

How do you use the gifts God has given you, by grace?

Use them wisely.

Prayer: Creator – Unmerited Gift Giver. Thank You for reminding me of Your grace. Thank You for reminding me that there is nothing I can ever do to earn Your love, or the gifts You give freely. Help me to remember that it is never about me and always about You. Help me to use the love and gifts, provided to me for free, for Your sake. To bring life to Your words, and not my own. Precious God help me to use my gifts wisely. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray, Amen.