How To Be Miserable

“Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. Love puts up with all things, trust in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (Common English Bible)

The other day I came across a piece written by Earl Nightingale that he titled, How to Be Miserable. He provided remarkable clarity about some of the things I have been wrestling with recently, clarity about self-inflicted misery. Nightingale writes, “The first step to real, professional-type, solid, unremitting misery is to get all wrapped up in yourself and your problems – real or imagined. Become a kind of island, surrounded on every side by yourself. By turning all of your thoughts inward upon yourself, naturally you cannot spend much or any time thinking about others and other things. And so, finally, the outside world – the real world – will disappear into a kind of Hitchcock-type fog.”i

Nightingale continues with a stinging observation that the type of person who chooses misery, who turns inward upon himself or herself doesn’t have much in the wisdom department. Otherwise, they simply wouldn’t do it. With the absence of wisdom, they turn inward and discover that there is not much there. There is a kind of vacuum, and they have to embellish perceived, or real, hurts and slights from others or invent things entirely. Negative – and harmful – behavior is then directed outward toward those who have caused them harm. This behavior may simply be for punishment, to cause pain equal to what they are experiencing, or to manipulate others to meet some relational expectation.

Where Nightingale provides an unpleasant portrait of a miserable person, the apostle Paul provides divine knowledge – or wisdom – for fleeing from misery: love others, particularly when that love is difficult. Paul beautifully expresses the very nature of love by its positive attributes – “love is patient, love is kind.” Paul provides additional wisdom by sharing what love isn’t and doesn’t do – “it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints.” What Paul provides is a different portrait from Nightingale, a portrait of a person who actively participates in the unity and well-being of relationships with another.

It is widely embraced that the Christian faith is less to do with right beliefs and more to do with right behavior. A person may have a grasp of the Holy Scriptures that is unparalleled, able to articulate a particular theological position with uncommon clarity and yet remain untouched by God’s transforming power – the transformation that deepens love for God and love for others. Such a faith is a lazy faith because it requires no effort. Love requires effort. Love demands that we struggle against an impulse to turn inward and compile a record of complaints against another. Such love “puts up with all things, trust in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.” It is a love that knows no misery.



i Earl Nightingale, “How to Be Miserable”, Your Success Starts Here: Purpose and Personal Initiative (Shappensburg, PA: Sound Wisdom, 2019) 104.


Living In the Present Tense

“Therefore, stop worrying about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Matthew 6:34 (Common English Bible)

It is the practice of the Eskimos never to carry the day’s evil experiences, its troubles and its quarrels, over into the next day. Two Eskimo hunters might become engaged in a violent dispute over the division of the game which they had taken, and heated words might even bring them to blows, but once the sun had set and they had retired to sleep, all memory of the quarrel would be erased from their spirits, and the next day they would greet each other as brothers. If you were to exclaim in surprise: “But I thought you were enemies. You were fighting yesterday!” they would answer: “Ah, but that was yesterday and we live only today.”i That is living in the present tense!

Mark Twain, with his characteristic humor, once commented that he has suffered many things most of which never happened. Doctors tell us that much of our anxiety, which often results in physical, emotional, and spiritual unease, is located in tomorrow, a preoccupation with fears of the future. Consequently, our fears of tomorrow rob us of the opportunity to live fully and abundantly today. Naturally, wise and reasonable decisions and personal behavior must shepherd us in the present day. Careless spending today will result in debt tomorrow. A word carelessly spoken or a relationship betrayed may negatively impact all of our tomorrows. Not all of us have been nurtured in the Eskimo culture!

Jesus’ invitation in this teaching is to locate our hearts in God. Worry and anxiety is all about trying to avoid something, about trying to get away from something. The strain of worry is indicative that we don’t trust the future. Jesus asks that we approach life from another perspective. Rather than fleeing what we fear most, Jesus asks that we run toward God. As Augustine once said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”i Jesus asks that we live in the present tense, free from the regrets of yesterday and the fears of tomorrow. That is possible after we have accepted God’s forgiveness for the past and trust in God’s care for the future.

Thomas Long writes that there is a kind of worry about the coming day that is normal, even healthy. “Tomorrow’s chemistry test or job interview is bound to provide concern, and this command ‘stop worrying about tomorrow’ is not an invitation to finesse the exam or to waltz into the interview unprepared. Rather, it speaks to the deeper, more basic fear that something is out there in the future that can destroy our basic worth as a human being, something finally stronger than God’s care, some silent killer shark swimming toward us from the future.”iii Jesus asks that we cling to God in such a manner that we can affirm that whatever tomorrow brings, it also brings God.



i Clayton E. Williams, “Living Today Forever,” Best Sermons: 1955 Edition, edited by G. Paul Butler (New York, London & Toronto: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1955) 106.

ii Thomas G. Long, Matthew (Louisville & London: Westminster John Know Press, 1997) 76.

iii Long, 76.


Getting Started With Jesus

“Everybody who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise builder who built a house on bedrock.”

Matthew 7:24 (Common English Bible)

How does a person start to be a Christian? For many in the church, it is a startling question. It is startling because so little thought has been given to the question. Christianity has been reduced to joining a church, worshipping on Sunday morning when convenient, faithfully completing a financial pledge card once a year, and an occasional appearance at a congregational dinner. The notion that there is anything more escapes them. What also escapes such people is any vital relationship with Jesus Christ. And  a vital relationship with Jesus will remain absent until behind every conventional practice of faith a person goes directly to Jesus, listens to the teachings of Jesus, and puts those teachings into practice in their own life. A person gets started with being a Christian by endeavoring to live as Christ lived.

Simply, being a Christian is something to be done. Christianity is not consent to a particular theological creed, belonging to a church that self-identifies as Christian, or practicing a set of rituals. Christianity is doing what Christ does. In every account of Jesus calling particular men to be his disciples something is absent; what is absent is a requirement of a theological education, or a seminar on the basics of the faith, or a new member class. The only thing that Jesus asks is, “Will you follow me?” We will never understand everything that the church teaches. And there may be some teachings that we understand but we simply cannot believe. Jesus doesn’t ask for either. Yesterday, and today, Jesus asks one thing: “Will you follow me?”

In the second place, though we begin where we are – with little understanding of Jesus or no understanding of Jesus – we do not remain where we are. Following Jesus is a continuous journey of listening to all that Jesus teaches and appropriating what is understood into the daily practice of life. As this is done, each week, each month, and each year brings clearer insight and a deeper assurance of Christ’s presence and strength for our lives. Faith matures as the season changes from spring, to summer, to fall, to winter, and finally back to spring with all the new growth each new spring brings. As we pay increasing attention to Jesus, learn more from him, and think harder how to walk as Jesus walked, we make progress toward a more confident faith.

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Getting started with Jesus is not difficult. Remaining on the walk will be one of the most difficult challenges of life. That is because of all the distractions and temptations to walk a different path, a path that promises quicker satisfactions and pleasures. But what God already knows – and what many of us discover by our own experience – is that every other path ends with disappointment and loss. But strength is available to those who wish to remain on the path of Jesus. That strength is found in the daily reading of the Bible, regular prayer, and the use of helpful devotional material prepared by trusted followers of Jesus Christ. By these resources our confidence in God, in Jesus Christ, and the available help of the Holy Spirit grows upon us.



After the Flood …

After the Flood…

The following meditation is written by Dr. Doug Hood’s son, Nathanael Hood, a student at Princeton Theological Seminary.

“Noah, a farmer, made a new start and planted a vineyard. He drank some of the wine, became drunk, and took off his clothes in his tent. Ham, Canaan’s father, saw his father naked and told his two brothers who were outside. Shem and Japheth took a robe, threw it over their shoulders, walked backward, and covered their naked father without looking at him because they turned away. When Noah woke up from his wine, he discovered what his youngest son had done to him. He said, “Cursed be Canaan: the lowest servant he will be for his brothers.”

Genesis 9:20-25 (Common English Bible)

Does anyone else think it odd that the story of Noah and the Flood is one of the first Bible stories we tend to teach our children? Far from the stories of Jesus healing the sick, Moses leading the Hebrews out of Egypt, or Jonah sitting in the belly of a whale, the story of the Flood is one of apocalypse—the world ends! Countless men, women, children, and animals drown! Yet Noah is a mainstay of Sunday Schools everywhere. On a certain level, it’s understandable why: in addition to being one of the most dramatic and suspenseful stories in the Old Testament, it’s a useful tool for teaching the importance of living kind, righteous lives like Noah and trusting in God the way his family did while on the Ark. The story of the Flood is also an easy way to teach children how God always keeps God’s promises—you can point to a rainbow as proof! So we clean up the story, sidestepping the human suffering and focusing on the happy ending.

But there’s another part of the Noah story that nobody really tries to sanitize because nobody really tries to discuss it anymore: the Curse of Ham. After the Flood, after the world has dried up and the animals have returned to the earth, Noah and his family begin building a new home. Noah abandons his previous responsibilities as shipbuilder and sea captain and becomes a farmer, a toiler of the land. One of the first things he does as an ex-sailor is plant a vineyard, make wine from the grapes, and get blackout drunk. So drunk, in fact, that he ends history’s first bender passed out and naked. When his son Ham finds him, he tells his other two brothers about their father’s sorry state. These two brothers then take a garment, hold it between them, and walk backwards into their father’s tent to clothe his nakedness without seeing it. After waking and learning what his sons did, Noah curses Ham. Or more specifically, Ham’s son—Noah’s own grandson— Canaan. Turning then to the two sons who covered his nakedness, he praised them and doomed his grandson Canaan to their perpetual slavery. The story of Noah then ends.

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What exactly did Ham do to justify this perpetual slavery of his ancestors? The answer is…we’re not sure. There’s a long history of Jewish and Christian scholars trying to reverse engineer Ham’s supposed transgression, some saying it was sinful in Biblical times for sons to see their fathers naked, others identifying absent details and suggesting he castrated his father. But personally, I don’t think there was a rational reason for Noah’s curse, because I don’t think Noah was acting rationally. I think Noah was traumatized, and in his trauma lashed out at Ham over a trifling matter in a way that would hurt him the most, by hurting his son. Think back to the realities of the flood—the suffering, the death—and consider that Noah witnessed it all firsthand. Do you think he ever looked out on the flooded world and trembled at the thought of the waters never receding? Do you think he ever wondered if he deserved to survive at all?

I’ve been thinking about Noah, trauma, and survivor’s guilt a lot lately. In a way, we’ve all lived through our own Flood recently in the shape of COVID-19. What was Noah’s family living on the Ark but a literal quarantine? COVID might not be flooding cities, but millions have died from it. In its own way, the resulting societal trauma has been just as devastating. I’ve seen friends and loved ones—good, kind, generous people—transform into hungover Noah’s, desperate to relieve their trauma by ripping and tearing into bystanders and fellow congregants over things as simple as mask mandates. By the grace of God, this pandemic will blow over one day. And once these floodwaters recede, what next? Will we try to reconcile with those we’ve hurt? Will we try to repair our broken communities, re-knit our divided congregations, revive our lost friendships? The stakes are too high not to try, lest we—just like Noah—doom ourselves and our loved ones to a perpetual slavery of hate and resentment.