Here And Now

“Give us the bread we need for today”

Matthew 6:11 (Common English Bible)

Perhaps some of the greatest wisdom the world has ever produced was written in the ancient language of Sanskrit, “Look well to this one day, for it and it alone is life.” Those words were written approximately 4,500 years ago and they remain fresh and relevant today. Yesterday has past and, contrary to the wishes of the songwriter and performer, Cher, no one can “turn back time”. Tomorrow remains only a vision of hope. Only in the brief course of this one day do we live. The ability to love deeply, to act boldly, and to cherish beauty is available to each one of us only today. Yet, this one day, well-lived, multiplies the value of yesterday and deepens the richness of tomorrow. Look well, therefore, to this one day, for it and it alone is life.

Here And Now, a song recorded by country music singer, Kenny Chesney, has as its central theme this ancient wisdom. Chesney cautions those who put off living their lives in the present moment because there is so much other stuff to do, “Everybody’s waitin’, but they’re waitin’ on what. Better get to livin’ ‘cause all we got is here and now.” Infused with an “in-the-moment” philosophy, Chesney begins with a melancholic glance back to yesterday, “I’ve seen the skyline in New York City. Fireflies in Tennessee. Sipped a little ‘shine from a paper sack That’ll knock the horns off a Cadillac. I must’ve sat on a dozen islands. I’ve watched the sun sink into the sea.” Then there is a shift to Chesney’s favorite place, the “Here and Now.” No looking back or dreaming of another day, Chesney chooses to live in the moment.

This same wisdom is captured in Jesus’ instruction on prayer. In the Sermon on the Mountain, Jesus prays, “Give us the bread we need for today.” Jesus doesn’t strive to push the rewind button so he can redo portions of a life located in the past. Nor does Jesus allow anxieties for the future to distract from the present. Jesus looks to this present day, and this day alone. More, Jesus is confident that God will abundantly provide for the needs of this day. All that is needed is that we ask, as a child asks of a parent for what is needed. Elsewhere in scripture, Jesus values the careful planning for tomorrow. Yet, there is a difference between planning for tomorrow and becoming consumed with anxiety about tomorrow’s needs. Jesus asks that we trust this day, and each day in turn, to God.

Here And Now seems to suggest that there is no moment in the entirety of life like the present moment, “Ain’t no better place, ain’t no better time than here and now.” The truth that most of us miss is that joy, enrichment, and success – or anything we might now imagine – lies not in wait of the future, nor has anything in the past denied it to us. All of it is available in the present moment. The one thing necessary is the conviction that God is present and has a heartfelt desire for our best, “Give us the bread we need for today.” Additionally, maturity is required to discern the difference between what we “need” and what we may “want.” Chesney captures the ancient wisdom well, “Why you think we call the present the present. ‘Cause there ain’t no better gift than here and now.”



Happiness Begins Here

“Therefore, you should treat people in the same way that you want people to treat you; this is the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 7:12 (Common English Bible)

Recently I found something on Facebook that may interest you. “’I suffered, therefore you must suffer, too’ is such an odd mindset to carry through life. I hear it all the time when people defend unpaid internships, awful entry-level jobs, student debt, etc. Whatever happen to wanting the next generation to have it better than you did?” I don’t recall the source of these words. I simply took a screenshot of them to share. What would be fascinating is to listen to how these words land upon the mind and hearts of others. My guess – and this is a guess – is that our response to these words will demonstrate whether we live by an ethic of fairness or an ethic of generosity. My contention is that those who live by an ethic of generosity are the happiest.

There is much that is unfair in life. It is unfair that an apple is a better diet choice than a blueberry muffin. It is unfair that some have a greater fluency with languages than others. More deeply, it is unfair that some children must struggle with cancer and other illness while – fortunately – a vast number of children will mature into adulthood with health. This week I read in the news of an airline employee who noticed a pregnant woman experiencing considerable discomfort while waiting to board her flight. The airline employee asked the person at the head of the line if he would graciously permit the pregnant women to board first. His response, “Tell her to wait in line like everyone else!” Upon hearing this, another man near the front of the line invited the woman to take his place.

What is remarkable in this story is that the man who gave-up his place in line walked to the rear. Apparently, he sought to avoid anyone else behind him making an argument of unfairness. Who does that? Perhaps he would answer that this decision – the decision to put others first – makes the world a little more pleasant, a little brighter, and increases his own happiness that he can make that happen. There is an incredible force that is unleashed in the world by such a generosity of spirit, a force of such immense warmth that it is life giving to others. It reminds me of a professor in my graduate studies that said that when the people of God fear scarcity, fear that there is not enough “good stuff” to go around, we become a mean people, struggling with others for our fair share.

There are destructive forces that are loose in the world, forces of anger, fear, resentment, and jealousy. Additionally, misfortune falls upon every one of us from time to time. Car accidents, natural disasters, and theft are ubiquitous. Amy Morin writes that, “We all experience pain and sorrow in life. And although sadness is a normal, healthy emotion, dwelling on your sorrow and misfortune is self-destructive.”[i] Matthew’s Gospel offers an alternative. Focus less on yourself and focus more on adding value to others. Treat others, as you would like to be treated. Such daily deposits into the lives of other people, strengthening them and encouraging them is one of the world’s oldest and best rules. Practice this rule regularly in your life and you will discover that it is golden.


[i] Amy Morin, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do. (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2014) 18.


Where to Begin

“Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Acts 1:8 (Common English Bible)

When the king in Alice in Wonderland was asked where to begin, he said gravely, “Begin at the beginning… and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” Begin at the beginning. Naturally, that guidance seems reasonable. That is, until you have to actually open your mouth, and speak. With thoughts racing from one place to another, it quickly becomes apparent that there are many fine places to begin. Jesus tells his disciples, here in Acts, “you will be my witnesses.” Where do the disciples begin? Where are we to begin? Sharing our faith in Jesus seems reasonable until we actually confront that moment – that moment when we are asked, “Who is Jesus?”

That moment came to me one Easter morning. I was enjoying breakfast in a Doylestown, PA diner, looking over the message I would preach in just a few hours. Mary, the waitress assigned to the table where I was seated, approached with coffee and said, “I guess this is your big day, pastor!” “I guess so,” I remarked. Then Mary asked, “What is Easter all about anyway?” Initially, I dismissed her question, not thinking she was serious. But I was mistaken; Mary was very serious. It was then I took the time to really notice her, to look into her eyes and really see her. I will not forget those eyes – eyes that betrayed her silence; silence of considerable pain. “Where do I begin?” I thought. I began with her pain. “Easter means that you can stop beating yourself up. Whatever guilt you may have now, whatever mistakes you have made in life, Easter means that you are to stop immediately from beating yourself up. God has removed it all.”

“But there is more,” I said to Mary. “Easter is an invitation to pay attention to Jesus.” I shared with Mary that as she paid attention to Jesus, by reading of him in the Bible, she will discover that she will want to be more than she is now. “Pay attention long enough to Jesus and you will experience a compulsion to be something more; you will begin to live differently.”  Mary needed to hear that Jesus doesn’t leave a life unchanged. Any significant time spent with Jesus always results in a desire to be made new. “Your whole world will appear different. You will want to be different.”

“Finally, Mary, begin to follow Jesus as you learn about him.” I shared with her that what that means is to “do what he asks in his teaching.” Imagine Jesus as a mentor in life and do everything that is asked of you. Something inexplicable happens when someone commits to doing all that Jesus’ asks: they receive an uncommon power to do so. People who obey all that they understand of Jesus’ teachings receive a power from outside of themselves; a power that actually makes them something so much more than what they were. Mary began to cry and asked how to begin. That is when I knew I had come to the end. And there, in a diner in Doylestown, PA, Mary gave her life to Jesus.



What God Does for Us (Via Dolorosa)

“When Pilate heard these words, he led Jesus out and seated him on the judge’s bench at the place called Stone Pavement. It was about noon on the Preparation Day for the Passover. Pilate said to the Jewish leaders, ‘Here’s your king.’”

John 19:13, 14

Via Dolorosa means, the way of the cross. Historians and archaeologist disagree over the precise route that awful procession would have taken; the route Jesus took to the cross. What is certain is that it would become a route marked with grief. But the route to the cross began from a place known as the Stone Pavement, part of the Tower of Antonia bordering the northwest corner of the Temple complex. It is here that Jesus is tried before Pilate. It is here that Jesus is sentenced to flogging and crucifixion.

Jesus walked the Via Dolorosa alone. The twelve men who shared in Jesus’ ministry, the twelve who shared a meal with Jesus only the night before, are not with him. What is likely is that they are hiding behind a locked door, questioning the abrupt arrest of Jesus and what that now meant for them. Specifics of their location are unavailable – only that they were not with Jesus. Perhaps they were experiencing shame, horror and disbelief. Their golden dream has now turned into a nightmare. 

N. T. Wright, that wonderful teacher of our faith says that the absence of the disciples is important. Jesus had to walk the Via Dolorosa alone. It is a major problem in Christian devotion, suggests Wright, that when we think of the way of the cross we so often think of Jesus as the great example, with ourselves simply imitating him. Actually, central to our faith is the conviction that Jesus must do for us what we cannot. An important point of the Via Dolorosa is that Jesus must walk it alone.

“Jesus suffers so that others need not; Jesus dies so that others may not”, observes Wright. Pilgrims who walk the Via Dolorosa today do so for many reasons. Some make the journey out of simple curiosity. Others wish to shop the endless souvenirs that are sold along the route. All jostle in the narrow streets and alleyways. But perhaps an authentic walk along the Via Dolorosa is one where we realize that here Jesus walked on our behalf, that this way of grief was an achievement, an accomplishment that could only be completed by God’s Son. This is a walk best completed in silence and reverence.



When It Is Difficult to Love Yourself

“… and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Luke 10:27 (Common English Bible)

Nothing runs deeper in human nature than the desire to be loved. It is seen in people of every age. Children craving attention and approval, teenagers eager to be acceptable and affable to their peers and adults longing to be welcomed and valued. In every age there is present the widespread desire to be liked and loved. There is nothing wrong with this. Approval, acceptance, and appreciation are yearnings of nearly every normal person. Each of us wants to be loved.

It is upon this healthy quality of the human condition that Jesus constructs his Great Commandment, “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” Yet, for numbers of people there is present a practical difficulty – they have trouble loving themselves. And this is where the Great Commandment comes apart for them. Perhaps because of some physical defect, lack of general attractiveness, or problems with personality or temperament, they have experienced avoidance or blatant rejection. The consequence is pain. Unpopular and unwanted, it is difficult to give to God or neighbor a love they have not known personally.

Desperate for acceptance and community – or simply a friend – lonely people will compromise nearly anything. They will become anyone others want them to be, value what others demand, and behave as others do, even if that behavior is wrong and hurts others. They willingly put to death the person they are. Being authentic only brought loneliness. Peer pressure is the common label used in such circumstances. And it is a powerful weapon by those who would manipulate others to conformity.

Jesus offers an alternative. This very commandment – The Great Commandment – demonstrates Jesus’ reverence for people. Jesus assumes that people love themselves because he found them worthy of being loved! This is demonstrated again and again in the ministry of Jesus. Zacchaeus, a tax collector, dishonest and loathed by the people, a woman caught in moral failure, and a man who lived alone in a graveyard, Jesus loved those others ignored. And there is Christ’s power. By personal influence he brought out in them what was the finest in them. He gave them a new self-respect and that became the basis of their recovery and transformation. Jesus did this for them. He continues the same today for those who receive him.