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Religious

Nurturing Faith with Harry Emerson Fosdick

Faith As A Personal Adventure

“Religion at its source is personal adventure on a way of living. A new idea of life’s spiritual meaning, incarnate in a leader, summons men, and they cut loose from old entanglements and try the challenging venture.” [i]

Adventurous Religion, Harry Emerson Fosdick

“This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you.”

John 15:12 (Common English Bible)

Fosdick wrote of a letter he received from a man who never united with a church. The author of the letter shared with Fosdick that there is a teaching of the church, a church doctrine, which he simply cannot embrace. Fosdick identified the man as one who is reverent, spiritually-minded, and essentially religious but thinks he must stay outside of the church. That conviction was inextricably bound to his understanding that the church demanded belief in this one teaching where he was unable to believe. Fosdick continues that Jesus never mentions the one teaching that presented such difficulties for the man—that the teaching developed in the church centuries after Jesus lived. This is the peril, argues Fosdick, with which the church must now wrestle.

My ministry once presented a similar difficulty—a difficulty that a church member had with a particular teaching of the apostle Paul. That teaching, “At the present moment, your surplus can fill their deficit so that in the future their surplus can fill your deficit. In this way, there is equality. As it is written, ‘The one who gathered more didn’t have too much, and the one who gathered less didn’t have too little'” (2 Corinthians 8:14, 15). In my office, the man instructed me that this particular teaching was socialism and shouldn’t be read again. Taking a leadership lesson from William Willimon, I told him that my baptismal burden, as his pastor, is to teach the Bible – the whole Bible. His baptismal burden was to work out with God what he would do with the Bible’s claim upon him.

From my perspective, neither the man who wrote Fosdick nor the man who spoke to me in my office has paid much attention to Jesus. Perhaps Fosdick and I are to blame. Perhaps preaching, in general, has veered off from teaching as Jesus taught. Jesus neither espoused religious doctrine or political ideology. Jesus simply asked that we love one another. Perhaps the fault is much larger. Our nation has become snared in debate, politically and doctrinally, over what an American and a Christian look like. There is little humility and less civility. Returning to Willimon, our baptismal burden is freeing ourselves from political and doctrinal entanglements to really listen to Jesus and seek the wisdom to live as Jesus lived. The great adventure of the Christian faith has been reduced to unpleasant rhetoric.

Fosdick argues that “faith” has acquired a meaning far removed from the day of Jesus. It has ceased being primarily a daring thing—a mountain-mover, as Jesus understood faith, or a victory that overcomes the world, as John called it. Increasingly, in Fosdick’s day, and continuing in the present day, “faith” is stereotyped and organized until it means acceptance of creedal and political positions. What remains is unquestioned acceptance from the faithful. Sadly, it seems, the climate has changed from the day of the New Testament. Who would imagine Jesus facing such rhetoric and debate? Except, a closer examination of the New Testament discloses that, in fact, Jesus faced the same each day. Jesus’ response was to demonstrate what love looked like. Perhaps, that is where we need to return.

Joy,

[i] Fosdick, Harry Emerson, Adventurous Religion and Other Essays. New York: Blue Ribbon, 1926, 1, 2.

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Religious

A Radiant Life

“There was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a Jewish leader. He came to Jesus at night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could do these miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him.”

John 3:1,2 (Common English Bible)

I never knew my maternal grandfather, George Alexander. He died from a brain tumor before I was born. In his last days, a patient in the hospital, he tossed back and forth in pain and discomfort. The end of life was near. He knew it. His family knew it. The physicians and staff who cared for him knew it. The day before he died, he asked for the doctor. His wife, my grandmother, gently took his hand and told him that there was nothing more the doctor could do. His eyes growing wide, he looked intently at his wife and offered this clarity, “Not that doctor. The doctor with the Book!” My grandfather was asking for his pastor, the Dr. Vernon S. Broyles. In his own feeble manner, what he was saying is that he wanted God.

A Pharisee by the name of Nicodemus, a Jewish leader, comes to Jesus at night. This observation is nuanced intentionally to stir curiosity. First, the Pharisees were a lay party of Jewish leaders many of whom were aligned against Jesus. Second, Nicodemus’ identification as a “Jewish leader” is not a redundant observation given that he was already identified as a Pharisee. No, Nicodemus is a Pharisee of considerable standing among the Jewish people, an “E. F. Hutton” of his generation. His words, his behavior, and his actions were closely observed. Nicodemus’ identity is wrapped up in his position. Finally, that he approached Jesus “at night” demonstrates caution – Nicodemus fears that he will be seen.

Nicodemus is here seeking God, giving himself the opportunity to hear the voice of God. Many of his Pharisee colleagues were confident that they occupied the corner of all truth, all wisdom. They had God all figured out. Pharisees were driven by one impulse, to demonstrate and teach the truth about God to everyone else. They had nothing more to learn. Such a position results in the easy judgment of any position that lay outside their understanding. Personal inquiry to a deeper knowledge of God is suffocated by self-assurance. Yet, Nicodemus’ heart has been taken possession by a haunting sense that there is more to know of God, a yearning for a richer experience of God. Nicodemus came to Jesus – though “at night.”

It matters little whether we seek God as my grandfather did, by asking a loved one for the pastor or, as Nicodemus did, quietly and out of notice of watchful eyes. In the last analysis, what matters is that we pay attention to the timeless urge that tugs at the human heart – the longing to know God. We think we need many things. We work hard and strive to check off one more item on that list. But, in moments of stillness, silence, and honesty, we are aware that the heart seeks one thing – a deep and increasing desire to know God. Many have pursued costly pleasures, but few have arrived at contentment. The radiant life begins when the one thing neglected is neglected no longer – the hunger for God.

Joy,

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Religious

Tears in a Bottle

“You yourself have kept track of my misery. Put my tears into your bottle – aren’t they on your scroll already?” 

Psalm 56:8 (Common English Bible)

 

Many of us have a bucket list – a list of experiences we would cherish before death. They require no explanation to others, no defense. They are deeply personal. Further, an explanation may reduce the depth, color, and richness of personal meaning. Most people recognize that what is experienced deeply can rarely be expressed with words. Words are useful for the communication of thought. They are less useful for conveying deeply held emotions, feelings, and convictions. A strong writer can approach this depth of meaning better than most. But always, words have a reducing effect. Permit me to simply state that high on my bucket list are three experiences I would value: a cameo appearance in a stage production of the musical RENT, a balloon handler in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and sharing a cappuccino with David Hyde Pierce.

Some will remember that David Hyde Pierce played the character of Niles Crane on the popular television series, Frasier.  On three occasions I have enjoyed David Hyde Pierce on a Broadway stage: Spamalot, Curtains, and Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. If I were to have an occasion to have a private conversation with Pierce over coffee my first question to him would be, “What makes you cry?” An answer to that question often points to deeply held convictions; points to those values, and struggles, and principles that grip our hearts. Again, words are limiting. But they can point another in the right direction. An answer to the question, “What makes you cry?” provides a window into the depths of another’s soul.

Naturally, tears come in a rich variety. A powerful conviction of truth draws tears to my eyes every time. I simply cannot read in Luke’s Gospel the story of Simeon taking the infant Jesus in his arms without my chest becoming heavy and tears forming in my eyes. Here, Simeon recognizes this child as God’s salvation. This is a story that reaches beyond the descriptive; it is evocative. In faith, Simeon sees God’s decisive hand in the unfolding drama of human history. Grief is another variety of tears. Old Testament teacher, Walter Brueggemann helps us with understanding this passage from the Psalms. Here is a confidence that God has kept, treasured, and preserved “my tears”; that is, all the pain and suffering that the psalmist has experienced. “God is the great rememberer who treasures pain so that the psalmist is free to move beyond that pain.”[i] 

There is an ancient Jewish practice that provides care in times of misery and grief. A small bottle is provided to collect the tears of anguish and loss. The top of the bottle has a small hole in it that would allow those tears to evaporate over time. When the bottle is completely dry, the time for grieving is over. The Psalmist wants us to know that God has a bottle with our name on it. When tears of grief flow, God collects them in that bottle. This is how seriously God takes our grief; how God honors and shares in our loss. But there is a small hole in the top of that bottle. Over time the tears will evaporate. When the bottle is dry, and our eyes are clear, we see that God remains. And God redirects our eyes to tomorrow.

 

Joy,

 


 

[i]Walter Brueggemann, William H. Bellinger, Jr., Psalms: New Cambridge Bible Commentary. (New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018) 254.

 

 

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Religious

Prayer and Responsibility

“Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord. Then Isaiah said, ‘Prepare a bandage made of figs.’ They did so and put it on the swelling, at which point Hezekiah started getting better.”

2 Kings 20:2, 7 (Common English Bible)

Theodore Roosevelt, our nation’s 26th president, was born a frail, sickly child with debilitating asthma. At seventeen, Roosevelt was as tall as he would grow, five feet eight inches, and was just shy of 125 pounds. His health, a continual concern of his parents, prompted Theodore Senior to decide that the time had come to “present a major challenge to his son.”i At the age of twelve, Theodore – nicknamed, Teedie – was told by his father that he had a great mind, but not the body. Without the help of the body, the mind could not go as far as it should. “You must make your body. It is hard drudgery to make one’s body, but I know you will do it.”ii Teedie made the commitment to his father that he would do so. The promise was adhered to with bulldog tenacity. The young Theodore Roosevelt took personal responsibility for his physical health and development.

Hezekiah, king of Judah, became a very sick man during his leadership. He had a wound that had become so serious that his spiritual counselor, a prophet named Isaiah, informed him that he should put his affairs in order because he was dying. That diagnosis came like a bolt of lightning to Hezekiah. In desperation, Hezekiah “turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord.” He pled with the Lord to reward his faithfulness as a man of God and to spare his life. Then, the scriptures tell us, Hezekiah cried and cried. Before Isaiah had left the courtyard of the king’s residence, God sent him back to Hezekiah with another and more hopeful message: “I have heard your prayers and have seen your tears. So now I’m going to heal you. I will add fifteen years to your life.”iii Then follows something that is most curious: Isaiah orders a bandage made of figs be placed on the swelling. Hezekiah prayed and Isaiah prepared a bandage: prayer and responsibility.

With powerful clarity, this passage of scripture teaches us that two things were responsible for Hezekiah’s rapid recovery: prayer and a bandage, faith and personal responsibility. If the king was to recover his health, both were required. The Bible refuses to indicate which of the two was the more important. We cannot know which was the most effectual. The message is that without either of them Hezekiah would have died in the prime of his life and at a time when his country most needed his leadership. The power of the Assyrian king, and his armies, threaten the peace Judah. The death of Hezekiah would have made Judah most vulnerable to their enemies. With his health restored, Hezekiah was able to defend his nation from the Assyrian threat. This story provides an important lesson for God’s people: While prayer is essential it must never be made a substitute for personal responsibility.

There are people who make the mistake of choosing between the two, prayer and responsibility. We have seen in the news recently where parents of a particular Christian sect refused medical treatment for their young son because they chose the avenue of prayer alone. A choice between faith and medicine is simply not supported by this Bible lesson. Each is a gift of God and each has its own power. Faith and medicine are both means of healing. They belong together. Both are agents of a compassionate God. Prayer and personal responsibility cooperate closely in effecting the highest well-being of those who struggle with illness. This story from 2 Kings reminds us not to neglect either. The second century French physician, Paré, reminds us of this truth when he wrote, “I dressed the wound and God healed it.”

Joy,

________________________

i Edmund Morris, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (New York: Random House, 1979), 32.

ii Morris, 32.

iii Portions of 2 Kings 20:5,6.

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Religious

Prescription for Living

“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 is happy with the truth.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-6 (Common English Bible)

Earl Nightingale shares some wisdom for living he learned from Dr. Frederick Loomis who published an essay in 1949, “The Best Medicine.”1 Dr. Loomis wrote, “It’s but little good you’ll do, watering last year’s crops. Yet that is exactly what I have seen hundreds of my patients doing in the past 25 years – watering with freely flowing tears things of the irrevocable past. Not the bittersweet memories of loved ones, which I could understand, but things done which should not have been done, and things left undone which should have been done.” Dr. Loomis went on to write that one cannot live adequately in the present, nor effectively face the future, when one’s thoughts are buried in the past. What must be done, insists Dr. Loomis, is to stop thinking about yourself – and how you have been hurt – and start thinking about other people.

This is precisely the teaching of the apostle Paul in these words he shares with the Christian community in Corinth, “(love) doesn’t keep a record of complaints.” We habitually think of love as a feeling or as an emotion. Yet, Paul shows no indication in 1 Corinthians 13 that love is to be understood in this fashion. For Paul, love is cognitive; it is a decision that produces behavior. Love – indeed the love demonstrated by Christ – always moves toward other people positively, seeking their welfare. Such love takes no notice of wrongs received by another. Rather, love sees the possibilities of changing people and moving all humanity toward the Kingdom that Christ embodied in himself.

Dr. Loomis writes that by the simple device of doing an outward, unselfish act today, each person can make the past recede; “The present and future will again take on their true challenge and perspective.” He concludes his essay noting that, as a doctor, he has seen this approach being far more effective in changing lives than any prescription he could have ordered from the drugstore. As Earl Nightingale observes, those were the last words written by Dr. Loomis but they have kept him alive in the minds and actions of thousands, perhaps millions, of people who have chosen to test for themselves their practical value.

We all know people who nurse an injury, a slight or unkindness, perceived or real, they have received from another. Or, perhaps, they have suffered a tragedy in the past and simply cannot move past the hurt. They mull the memory over and over, keeping it fresh. What is done is done, and there is no remedy; no returning to the past to undo what was unpleasant. It is here that Dr. Loomis is very wise. The past cannot be changed but the present can. The course that is available, if one chooses, is to cease thinking about oneself and start thinking about others. Indeed, if we wish to destroy the envy, the anger and the evil that lurks in the world – and in our hearts – we refuse to react emotionally to the slights or harm done to us by others and respond with love. It is a prescription for living that we learn at the foot of the cross.

Joy,

_____________________________

1 Earl Nightingale, “A Prescription for Living,” Insight: A Time-Saving Source of New Ideas for Busy People (Chicago: Nightingale-Conant Corporation, 1988) 5.

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Religious

The Deepest Form of Prayer

“ ‘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)

In the deepest disquiet of the day I am reminded of Ernest Hemingway’s words in The Old Man And The Sea, “’ But man is not made for defeat,’ he said. ‘A man can be destroyed but not defeated.’”[i] We live in an anxious time. Trouble and tumultuous trials capture the larger narrative of the present day. Jesus is correct that there seems to always be present some war or rumor of war – both wars of combat and wars of poverty, illness, disillusionment, and failure. A thousand-antagonist line-up to squash any optimism we once may have had about life. As I have written elsewhere, we may profess faith but that faith is hesitant, uncertain, and unsatisfactory. If Hemingway is correct, if men and women are not made for defeat, then some resource must be available to combat the destructive forces that rage all around us – something more sound and sturdy than the temporary escape various addictions provide.

The Russian novelist, Fyodor Dostoyevsky captures the psychological and spiritual impact such anxiety, despair, and disillusionment can imprint upon our consciousness in his short story, The Dream of a Ridiculous Man.[ii] The protagonist despairs of life, fails to find any meaning in life, and is convinced nothing in the whole world made any difference. One evening, a little girl desperate for help suddenly grasps him by the elbow. But he did not help her. On the contrary, something made him drive her away. If life is meaningless, if nothing really mattered anyway, then this little girl is nothing more than a distraction. Arriving at his small apartment he is resolved to take his own life. Before the decision is executed, he falls asleep. Through a startling and poignant dream, he is made to realize that as long as he is alive, life was not meaningless and that the world – in some way or other – now depended on him.

This invitation from Matthew’s Gospel is set in a larger teaching where we learn that God has chosen to reveal the same truth to the world. Life is not without meaning and each one of us is called – in one way or another – to make a difference. When life’s storms rage and swirl and we are disheartened and disillusioned Jesus offers himself – “come to me, all of you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Jesus becomes for each of us that inner resource that guarantees that we are not defeated. Here, Jesus is immensely practical, “Put on my yoke, and learn from me” (Matt. 29). In that culture, the yoke was a symbol of obedience to the wisdom of God. Similarly, Jesus’ yoke is obedience to all Jesus teaches and Jesus’ call to serve others, to recognize that the world is dependent upon us. To come to Jesus is to learn from Jesus and to join Jesus himself in serving the world in a manner that God’s Kingdom flourishes.

Each one of us is under a divine compulsion. We must go out and try to take a world that is upside down and set it right. That requires that we lay down our arms of rebellion and turn from seeking our own desires and ambitions and begin to be concerned with God’s own purposes in the world. It is accomplished by living in obedience to God’s will. It is God who can accomplish the inexplicable. God can bring to pass in our turbulent, confused, and frantic day a peace that is transformative – a peace that recognizes beauty where once we only saw brokenness and hears the cry of a little girl and realize that we cannot drive her away. Does that mean a life now lived with ease? Not at all! But it does mean that in those moments when we grow weary from life’s strains, moments when disillusionment seems as close as the next breath we take, we can find rest in a prayerful communion with Jesus. This is the deepest form of prayer that the disciples knew.

Joy,


[i] Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man And The Sea (Norwalk, Connecticut: The Easton Press, 1952), 96.

[ii] Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Best Short Stories of Fyodor Dostoyevsky: “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man” (London: The Folio Society, 2021)

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Religious

Life Without Shame

“‘I really thought that I ought to oppose the name of Jesus the Nazarene in every way possible. And that’s exactly what I did in Jerusalem. I locked up many of God’s holy people in prison under the authority of the chief priests. When they were condemned to death, I voted against them. In one synagogue after another – indeed, in all the synagogues – I would often torture them, compelling them to slander God. My rage bordered on the hysterical as I pursued them, even to foreign cities.’”

Acts 26: 9-11 (Common English Bible)

Snoopy, of Peanuts comic strip fame, was sitting on his doghouse writing another novel. No Ernest Hemingway, he begins his novel as he begins all his novels, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Lucy comes along, looks at Snoopy’s draft and begins to berate him. “How silly you are,” she says, “for such a beginning. Everyone knows that every great novel begins with, ‘Once upon a time.’” In the next frame, Snoopy starts again. “Once upon a time it was a dark and stormy night.” Perhaps you feel that way some days. In your heart it is a dark and stormy time. For many people, the inner storm is the result of guilt, guilt for failures that have hurt those we love. Lucy fails to understand that no turn of phrase can settle the storm.

It seems to me that most people today live with some guilt. For some, the burden of guilt diminishes their posture, shoulders pushed down and eyes that are heavy. Guilt is felt for what has been done and for what has been left undone. In one church that I served a man confessed that he cheated on his wife during a business trip. He asked that I tell her for him, “She will take it better from you. She respects you.” Naturally, that comment was code that he no longer carried any self-respect. He was ashamed of himself, knew that his wife deserved better. He continued that there remained nothing his wife could do to make him feel worse. The shame would remain on his back forever, he told me.

This story from Acts is the third account of Paul’s conversion to the Christian faith. As in the previous two times the story is told, Paul details his persecution of the church. Paul holds nothing back. Paul does not gloss over the details. Paul locked up many of God’s holy people. When they were condemned to death, Paul voted against them. In synagogue after synagogue, Paul tortured Christians for their belief in Jesus and compelled them to slander God. When Christians ran to foreign cities to flee Paul’s persecution, Paul pursued them, Paul’s behavior often becoming hysterical. What is striking to the reader is that Paul confesses his evil but never demonstrates any sense of shame. Not one word of dark remorse is spoken.

What is Paul’s secret to a life without shame? Well, according to the Bible, true guilt follows the judgment, not of others, but of God. It is our refusal to live in dependency upon God. That refusal results in behavior that harms our relationship with others. Shame is the felt condemnation of the brokenness that follows. Yet, pay attention to the moment Jesus confronts Paul with Paul’s sin – Jesus does not beat Paul down with shame. Jesus tells Paul to stand on his feet. It is only then that Paul can return to God. Jesus does not use Paul’s guilt to disgrace him but to change him. It is then that Paul learns that there is no condemnation for those in Christ. Without condemnation, without God’s judgment, there is no shame.

Joy,

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Religious

Praying As Jesus Prayed

“Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’ ”

Luke 11:1 (Common English Bible)

Some years ago I returned home from a business meeting in South Carolina. After claiming my baggage at the Tampa International Airport I proceeded to my car parked in the short-term parking garage. I found a flat tire. Only once in my life had I ever changed a flat tire. That was before I was married. That one time it took me nearly forty minutes. I remember my father once telling me that I wasn’t worth much with my hands. I never disappointed. Exhausted from my trip and staring down at a flat tire I made the decision to call my father-in-law who lived near the airport. He giggled – he giggled at me often, wondering what kind of man his daughter married – and said he would be there in ten minutes. In about the same amount of time it took him to arrive, my tire was changed and I was ready to go. I thanked him, we hugged and each of us said “I love you” to the other. On my drive home I realized that it had been nearly a month since the last time I spoke with my father-in-law.

Often, this is what our prayer life looks like. Life is moving forward in a pleasant manner, we are happy, and our needs are few. Conversation with God – in prayer – is virtually non-existent. Suddenly we look down at a flat tire and a phone call is made to God. For many, it completely escapes them that there is anything deficient in their practice of prayer. All that has been understood about prayer is that God is the great giver who shows-up when we make the call. Some of you reading this will recall the major home appliance manufacturer, Maytag, and their television commercials of the Maytag repairman sitting by the phone waiting for a call. When our flat tire is not resolved quickly we question, “Where is God?” Our confidence in the power of prayer wanes. Perhaps even more tragic is that some may begin to question the very existence of God.

Jesus’ practice of prayer astonished the disciples. Such was their amazement at Jesus’ prayers that they asked him to teach them to pray. As far as we know from the Gospels, this is the only thing the disciples explicitly asked Jesus to teach them. Notice that this fresh interest in prayer does not arise from the study of an apprentice manual for discipleship or from a conversation with Jesus on the topic. It followed immediately after observing Jesus at prayer. There was something about Jesus’ prayer life that was different from their own practice of prayer; something that evidenced a greater sense of intimacy with God, and something that gave release to more power. As Harry Emerson Fosdick so clearly expressed it, Jesus went into prayer in one mood and came out in another. Praying was not a form but a force.i

Fortunately for the church today, the Gospels have captured many of Jesus’ prayers. A close examination of those prayers reveals a surprise for many: absent is any hint of begging. Jesus does not approach his heavenly father with pleas for his personal welfare, as though a disinterested God must be cajoled or convinced to offer a blessing. What becomes startling clear is an affirmative tone to Jesus’ prayers. Jesus turns his back on any doubt of God’s goodness and stretches out his hand to appropriate the inexhaustible resources available to any one of us. Such prayer retires for a moment from the swirling darkness that may surround us from time to time and affirms that God is present and active in our life. Such prayer, Fosdick affirms, “does not so much asks as take; it does not so much beg for living water as sink shafts into it and draw from it.”ii That is praying as Jesus prayed.

Joy,

________________________________

i Harry Emerson Fosdick, “On Learning How to Pray”, Riverside Sermons (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958), 112.

ii Fosdick, 116.

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Religious

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.”

Joy,

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Religious

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.

Joy,


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