LIVING WITH PURPOSE
If you don't know something's purpose, says Gary Hood, it's easy to misuse it.
Hood, the pastor at Pioneer Park Church in La Grande, had illustrated the importance of knowing something's purpose for his church family using some unique props during a recent kickoff event for the group's spiritual journey, "40 Days of Purpose."
"You know what an ordinary medical stethoscope looks like?" Hood grins, "Well, I had some of those, but then I held up another. This one had a rod about this long," he holds his two index fingers about 20 inches apart.
"I asked Â‘em, Â‘What do you suppose this stethoscope's purpose is?" Hood says the question drew some jokes from the group and some legitimate guesses, but no correct answers.
The unusual looking stethoscope's purpose revealed, as a tool for truck and auto mechanics to listen deep within moving parts without danger, provided an "Ah, ha!" moment for the congregation.
"If you don't know your life's purpose," Hood repeats, "it's easy to misuse it."
Although some people may have no qualms going through the "busy-ness of life" without questioning the purpose of it all, Hood says, others feel a void, wondering Â—
"What on earth am I here for?"
"There's a lot of restlessness out there," he says.
Hood believes those who "settle for less than the best" will never be satisfied Â— always searching for something better, bigger and more.
And "the best," he believes, is what God has planned for you.
For the next few weeks, Hood's church family, along with thousands of Christians, and non-Christians, across the United States are simultaneously participating in a spiritual journey based upon The New York Times number one bestseller by Rick Warren, "The Purpose Driven Life."
In the book, Warren writes, "You were created by God for a very specific reason, and only you are qualified to fulfill the mission God has placed within your very DNA."
Hood says he doesn't see that as meaning there are no choices left to the individual, as God also gives free will. Rather, he says, learning God's purpose for your life will bring a sense of confidence and assurance in choosing Â— tuning into what you were wired for, so to speak.
Hood sees the "40 Days of Purpose" campaign as a timely tool, divinely inspired, for some much needed fine-tuning.
"I believe Rick (Warren) is being used by God as one of the key people in the American Christian church right now," he says.
Warren's philosophy behind "The Purpose Driven Life" grew Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., from its humble beginnings in 1980 Â— started with one other family in his own home Â— to one of the country's best-known and largest churches which draws 16,000 in attendance on any given weekend.
During the past seven years, more than 9,000 new believers have been baptized at Saddleback and Warren has been termed by his peers as "the inventor of perpetual revival."
Hood, who has met the pastor, says "Rick Warren is a regular guy" that would be difficult to pick out in a crowd. He approvingly describes him as low-key and unassuming, a style similar to Hood's own.
The archaic notions of a dark-suited, stiff-necked preacher are not for the relaxed, outgoing Gary Hood.
"I don't really even like to be introduced as Â‘Pastor Hood' because it often puts people on guard," he says. He dresses casually, even when he "teaches" on Sunday morning, preferring not to refer to what he does as "preaching."
For more than 30 years, Hood has been teaching and living the word of God, setting an example of balanced living through a full family life and a love of sports and the outdoors.
The Christian life should be a balanced life, he asserts.
"My faith enhances my life," he explains.
"If it's taking something away from your life, then I have to question, Â‘Is it from Christ?'"
Over the years, Hood has seen amazing results when people lose their fear of God and turn their lives over to Him.
He thinks one of the biggest challenges to that surrender is a perception of our heavenly father marred by poor images of an earthly father.
But if given the chance, he says, God will never waste an experience or a hurt Â— helping us to heal, learn, grow and move on.
"When fear is finally set aside and replaced by courage and optimism," Hood says, "lives are fundamentally changed."
He believes lasting social change will only be accomplished one heart at a time.
"Change individual motivations and passions," he says, "and you've got a whole new world."
He also believes many of those hearts will be changed during the next 40 days Â— in his church and across the country. "It's not too late to jump in," he encourages and invites everyone to join in the "40 Days of Purpose" spiritual journey.
What does Hood want most for his church family out of this journey? Personal growth.
"If somebody comes up to me and says, "I can see changes in myself' or in their spouse, maybe," Hood smiles contentedly.
"That's what I want."
Story and photo by Mardi Ford