Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Sermon: Humble and Grateful

Luke 18:9-14

The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector is simple.

There are only two characters. The Pharisee who thinks he is better than others, and the tax collector who thinks he is worse than others.  They are both praying, and we get to see into their hearts for just a moment.

The Pharisee thanks God that he is glad he is not like other people, who are crooks and evildoers. He then brags about his religious practices. So it is easy to dislike the Pharisee. Anyone that treats us like we are dirt, and at the same time believes that they are super-religious isn’t very likable. It is easy to say to ourselves, I don’t want to be like that. Even though he is showing gratitude to God, he is doing it in a way that simply sounds like overgrown pride.

On the other hand, the tax collector acts like he has just committed the worst sin in history. He can’t even look up to heaven, but simply begs for mercy for himself, believing that he is nothing more than a sinner. This man is easier to like because he is humble, and most of us have had times in our lives when we have made a mistake and we feel like dirt. But here is the thing, I don’t really want to be like him either – because I don’t want to go through life beating myself up. He doesn’t seem to see the good in life that God has gifted him with, which is what we have talked about the last couple of weeks.

Now, you probably know, that this month we are focusing on the theme of gratitude. In this parable the Pharisee is actually more grateful than the tax collector. But this highlights one of the challenges of gratitude -- that it can become an attitude of pride. For example, it is one thing to say: “God, I am thankful that I have a roof over my head and shelter from the storms.” It is another to say, “God, I am thankful that my house is nicer than my neighbors. They don’t have stainless steel appliances or new landscaping like I do.”

Now that may sound ridiculous, but it is a pretty small step to move from simply being thankful, to being thankful that we are not like others: Which is why the example of the tax collector is important in this parable. He serves as a reminder that our religious practices, even our gratitude, can become misguided. What was once good, actually becomes twisted and wrong. It is a warning to us, that as we serve God, as we strive to be religious, we can get off track, and become self-serving.

There is an Irish legend about St. Eloi, that before he became religious, he was a smith. He was very proud of his skill and often boasted that the never saw anything that another man could do that he could not match. One day a mounted traveler stopped at his forge and asked simply to be allowed to use the forge and fasten a loosened shoe on his horse. Eloi was then surprised as the man twisted the front leg of the horse out of joint, placed it into the forge and refastened the shoe. Once done, he twisted the leg back, patted the horse on the shoulder and all was done.

Eloi not to be outdone called for one of his horses to be brought, and twisted the fore leg out – unfortunately there was tearing of muscle and skin. He then beautifully shoed the horse; however, when finished the horse was lame, lied down and was near expiring. Eloi then realized that his pride and vanity had probably killed the horse. The stranger seeing that Eloi was cured of pride, explained that he had come from God to cure him of the vice, touched the horse on the shoulder healing it, and then vanished.[1] After this Eloi becomes the patron saint of horses and farriers.

Eloi’s skill was a good thing, but he allowed his pride in himself to twisted into that which caused harm to his horse.  In a similar way, it isn’t hard for our thankfulness to lose track of humility. So Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector serves as a reminder.

As I thought about it, I asked myself: What if we could be the best of both of these men? What if we can be humble, like the tax collector, and grateful like the Pharisee? What if we know that we depend upon God’s mercy, and are grateful for it?

Let me share with you the story of Rob Stephens in A Life of Gratitude Day 21. Rob shares that from early elementary school he was in trouble with the law. At age 21 he was living his life in and out of prison. He describes himself as a thief with an anger problem. He actually had come to see himself as a bad person with a bad future.

But a family stepped into his life that began to change him. What happened is that he stole a car phone from them (remember those things with the antenna on your roof?) – sorry youngsters, you will have no clue! Anyway, a police officer saw him carrying the antenna in his hand and was pretty sure he had stolen it, but couldn’t prove it. So Rob decided that he would go to the house where he had stolen it, and convince them to lie for him. Have them say he was fixing it or something innocent like that, and beg his way out of going to jail.

When he knocked on the door, Sandy answered with her hair in curlers and a big smile on her face. She invited him in. Her husband walks down the stairs, it is obvious he is blind, and they sit and talk. After a while, it is clear the couple he met had no intention of lying for him, and Rob ends up telling them his life story.

Here is where grace comes in. The couple still press charges for the theft, but at court, Paul speaks and convinces the judge and prosecutor that there was still hope for this man and had his sentence reduced to 30 days in jail. Paul then offered to let Rob live with them, helped Rob find a job, and invited him to attend church with them.

Unfortunately Rob fell into temptation again, and his relationship with them was broken. He was so disappointed with himself that he considered suicide, but God wouldn’t allow him to take his life. I quote “The fact that I have not stolen anything since that time and that Christ has continued bringing me ever so close to Him gives me a heart so full of thanks and gratitude. And the blessings continue to flow since this was only the beginning of my path towards our awesome God whom we serve. This is my personal thanks to God … my gratitude for what he has done for me.”[2] You see, Rob knows he is not perfected yet, but he is grateful for what God has been doing for him.

I think this is a good balance between gratitude and humility.

And in many ways we need to see ourselves like this all the time. We need to be humbled to the point of change, and grateful for the opportunity to change. We need to be humbled by the goodness of God, grateful for it, and mindful of the fact that we sin. We have to be willing to lay aside our pride and accept the help that God offers to us.

That was what the Pharisee lacked. He no longer saw himself as a person in need of change, he no longer saw the sin he committed, no longer saw opportunities for bettering himself or bringing himself closer to God. He had forgotten his need for God’s grace, for God’s goodness, for God’s help.

On the other hand, the tax collector was desperately aware of his need of God’s mercy, and his need for God’s grace. He knew that he needed to change, and that he needed God’s help in doing just that.

And Jesus says, “I tell you, this person went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.”

Christ wants to lift us up. His goal is not to beat us up with the things we have done, but rather to take us from the places in our life where we know we are not doing what we should, and lift that part of our soul beyond its the dusty imperfections. He wants to pick us up, clean us off, and restore to us the image of God that has been planted deep within us from the dawn of creation.

Our response to that should be one of humble thanks, thanks for the transformational love and power of God’s grace, humility in knowing that without God’s grace we would not be able to change. Humility in knowing that there is still much more that we need to change – that we are not yet perfected, and thanks that God walks along side us as we strive to make those changes.

As I said earlier: We need to be humbled to the point of change, and grateful for the opportunity to change. We need to be humbled by the goodness of God, grateful for it, and mindful of the fact that we sin. We have to be willing to lay aside our pride and accept the help that God offers to us.

[1] Legendary Fictions of the Irish Celts, Patrick Kennedy
[2] A Life of Gratitude: 21 Days to Overcoming Self-Pity and Negativity. Shelley Hitz.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Sermon: Unwilling to Give Up

Luke 18:1-8

So here we are in a month of talking about gratitude . . .

But when I look around the world, there are a lot of things that are just plain wrong; things that should be changed. There are injustices and evils that are committed far too frequently. Certainly there are many things that we do not and honestly should not give thanks for – we don’t give thanks that people die in mass shootings, we don’t give thanks that children die from malnutrition, we don’t give thanks for racism or sexism. Instead, we try to change those situations.

At least for a while, often while we are young and idealistic, we believe that we can change the world. But often as we get older, we look at the world and we say, “Nothing ever seems to change.” So it can be easy to around the world and all of the problems and want to give up.

If day after day, month after month we are treated unfairly – it can be easy to quit. One black woman said to a group I was with recently that, she set all of her passwords on her work computer to things that reminded her of her children, not because she wanted to have happy memories, but because if she wanted to keep her job so that the kids could eat and have a home, she had to remind herself to just put up with people who were disrespectful of her simply because of her race, or those who treated her as less intelligent than her coworkers, even though she has a master’s degree. Her passwords were to remind her to just let it go, give in, not say anything, let the racism win, so her kids could eat. Sad commentary isn’t it? When we are being treated unfairly especially over a long period of time, it is so easy to want to give up.

Or sometimes life is just so difficult.

Operation Christmas child tells the story of Lejla living in a poor family in war torn Bosnia. On a frosty morning in Bosnia, “Lejla's mother woke her, had her dress, and put an old pair of shoes on her feet. The toes of the shoes were ripped open. Her father had tried to close them up with steel wire but the leather was so rotten it wouldn't hold together. Lejla's mother wrapped her feet in bags and sent her out into the arctic chill.’

“Lejla may have been walking toward the school five miles away, but she had no intention of showing up there. She was on the brink of giving up. To prove it, she purposely detoured into a landmine field where just the day before her best friend had been killed and another friend had lost his leg in an explosion. Maybe if she walked through the same field she could end her miserable life. She had no reason to live. With no coat to keep her warm, maybe she would even die from the frigid temperatures, she thought. She was tired of being cold, weary of hunger pains, and afraid of the future. She knew that within two years her parents would give her away in marriage, according to tradition—it happened to all girls once they reached the eighth grade. "The horror was so real," she said, "that I felt my soul being ripped from me."’

“After forty-five minutes of wandering through the landmine field with no explosion, she headed toward Sniper Alley with the certainty it promised; one hundred percent guarantee of being shot to death. She slipped under the barricade and waited for a powerful boom to end her misery, but it didn't happen.”[1] When poverty is oppressive, when our future looks bleak, because change seems impossible, we can want to give up.

But Jesus tells us a different story. Luke 18:1-8

Jesus was telling them a parable about their need to pray continuously and not to be discouraged. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him, asking, ‘Give me justice in this case against my adversary.’ For a while he refused but finally said to himself, I don’t fear God or respect people, but I will give this widow justice because she keeps bothering me. Otherwise, there will be no end to her coming here and embarrassing me.” The Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. Won’t God provide justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he be slow to help them? I tell you, he will give them justice quickly. But when the Human One comes, will he find faithfulness on earth?”

Although the parable is a teaching about prayer – it addresses how we pray about those things that are unjust, those things that are wrong with the world. Jesus reminds us that we cannot give up, that being faithful in serving God means striving always for what is good and right – so he lifts up the example of the woman in the parable. She has a problem, it is unfair, and the judge doesn’t care. The judge doesn’t fear God or respect people. But the woman doesn’t give up. She keeps coming, she keeps bothering him. In the end, he gives her justice because he knows she won’t stop coming to him and embarrassing him.

Jesus then reminds us that God cares about justice. God cares about what is good, it is part of who God is, just as God is grace-filled and loving, God is also just. So we should not give up on praying for justice. Eugene Cho says, “All of this matters because we are not just talking about ideas. We are not just hypothesizing about a “what if” scenario. This matters because justice involves people and their lives and their value before God. When justice happens to the least of these, God celebrates.”[2]

Let me finish the story of Lejla

“I found myself walking towards the school, disappointed that I had survived Sniper Alley.  As I approached, I saw some kids holding boxes and wondered where they had gotten them. We had nothing new; even primitive items were scarce. As I got closer, I noticed how bright and beautiful the boxes were. One of the boys said, "There are people inside giving these away. You can get one too."

Why do I need a box? Lejla thought. I don't have anything to put in it. It's pretty, but it won't do me any good.” When I walked inside, I saw an older gentleman sitting on the steps. He jumped up and grabbed a box from the top of the pile and headed toward me. But I didn't want any interaction with him; I wanted to be left alone. I was bitter and hateful. To make matters worse, the man had a big smile on his face and gently said, "I want you to have this."

I took it so he would go away quickly, but to my surprise the box was not empty.  I took the box and ran as fast as I could until I found a solitary corner and slumped to the floor, cradling the box in my lap.  My heart was racing and my emotions were fragile.  Do I dare hope for what might be inside?  After all, this is a shoebox.  I looked down at my frozen feet, and then with great apprehension, lifted the lid. Inside was a pair of brand new sneakers and they were my size!’

“For some time I sat and cried while lifting the lid and then closing it. As I drew the sneakers out of the box, my hands bumped into other things. The shoes that fit perfectly were enough, but there was more!  I pulled out a twelve-pack of pencils. My entire class of fifty-eight students had been sharing a nub of one pencil all year long, and now I had 12 of my very own! A notebook was there to replace the one I had used for three years, with hardly scribble space left. Then I discovered erasers that smelled like strawberries—the first smell of anything pleasant that I could remember. We had grown accustomed to the smell of gun powder and decaying bodies. I found a tube of toothpaste, I opened and tasted it. The flavor was so delicious that I nearly ate it all. Energized by the thrill, I gathered my new belongings and ran home as fast as I could.”

Lejla’s life was changed because Christians cared. One person packed a box, others shipped them, another handed them out. They saw the need in the world and decided to do something about it.

If we sincerely want to see change,

if we want to see fairness and justice, we cannot give up. And we have to be personally committed to it. The woman in the bible passage kept going and pleading. And part of the reason was that it was personal to her. Here’s the thing, here’s where it gets personal – because up to now this has all been about the idea of changing the world, now we get to the actual doing it part. And we have to follow through or as Eugene Cho says, we are more in love with the idea of changing the world than actually changing it.

Where do you see injustice, where do you see unfairness? Where is it personal to you? So personal that you are unwilling to give up? Often it is from something you personally experienced, or a close family member experienced. Let Jesus’ words inspire you to act, to pester, to achieve change through persistence.

Look at where persistence had made a difference. Legal slavery ended in the United States. Women earned the right to vote. Malaria deaths are decreasing at an amazing rate. This is where gratitude helps us to keep moving forward. By reminding ourselves that change has happened, by giving thanks for the miracles that God has worked in the past that have brought our world to where it is today, we motivate ourselves to keep working for the kingdom of God.

We remind ourselves change does happen. Sometimes very, very slowly, even too slowly. But other times it leaps ahead in great bounds astounding us with God’s presence. So look at that area where you want to see change, and keep working at it. Don’t give up. Don’t just be in love with the idea of change, but actually set about working for what is good and what is right. Cry out for it.

As Jesus says, Won’t God provide justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he be slow to help them? I tell you, he will give them justice quickly. But we must remain faithful advocates, constant voices, and busy hands for that to happen.

[1] Operation Christmas Child – no reference, sent to me by Esther Jones.
[2] https://sojo.net/articles/seeing-justice-part-discipleship-and-our-worship-god

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Sermon: The Grateful One

Luke 17:11-19

If you have gotten the book and are reading along with it, you probably aren’t this far, but Day 19 in the book A Life of Gratitude shares the story of LaKisha Wheeler. She says:

“It was a cold early morning and I was on my way to work. I was definitely not prepared for the day ahead. When I finally arrived to work and got situated, I received a phone call from my supervisor informing me to pack up my things and leave. I was being laid off and didn't see it coming at all. I believe the worse kind of experience anyone can have is when something happens and you are totally not prepared.”

“Here I was, a single mother of two, driving out of my security into the unknown. As I was driving home and feeling numb, I said a small prayer and I knew that I would find a job in no time. But God had other plans! Days, weeks, and then months went by and nothing. I applied for thousands of jobs and only had two interviews, in which I was not chosen for either job.”

“During my season of unemployment, I had to move in with my parents. I battled with frustration, depression, suicidal thoughts, anger, and fear! Then one day, God began to speak to me and I started reading his words along with other inspirational books. There was one scripture that stood out to me the most: 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18 “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (NIV)

“I slowly began to realize that through my season of unemployment, God continued to supply ALL my needs and I should be grateful for all that he had done! I began to be grateful for having a place to stay, food to eat, a car to drive, friends who loved and encouraged me, family support, two wonderful children, etc. I had all these things but yet complained about what I didn't have.”[1]

In our scripture for the day we face 10 lepers who are healed.

But the most interesting of the 10 who are healed is the one who comes back and says thank you to Jesus. This one we are told is a Samaritan. Samaritans are an ethnic religious group. They were descendants of the northern tribes of Israel, and because of that they were looked down upon by the Jewish people, who tended to come from the southern tribes of Israel. The Jews called them impure, and all kinds of other insults. In other words, the Samaritans were the unpopular group of the day, the ethnic group that everyone else bullied.

So this Samaritan Leper could have focused on the negative. As a Samaritan, he could have heard about Jesus, a Jewish rabbi, and said, he won’t accept me – he won’t help me. The leper could have assumed the worst and not even tried. But it sounds like a group of lepers were going together, a sort of group trip to see Jesus, and despite his fears he goes anyway.

But then Jesus tells them all to go the temple to be declared clean. It sounds like he is giving them a sacred task – do this and you will be healed. Like go and bathe in a holy spring, or visit a sacred site and be prayed over, and you will be healed. If they do what Jesus says, and go to the temple and see the priest, they will be healed. But going to a priest is a problem for the Samaritan: he would not have been allowed in the temple – he wasn’t good enough. He might have some of the same ancestry as the Jews, but as a Samaritan he wasn’t welcome in the temple. There isn’t really anything he can do about it. So as he is leaving he could have cursed his luck, no healing for him.

After they left, the whole group notices something. They have been healed. Their skin is clear, their bodies are well. That is amazing! Jesus must have cured them while they were talking with him. That is why he told them to go to the priest, not to be healed – they healing had taken place, they were to go to the priest to be declared clean.

You see, skin diseases were so contagious that while you had them you were cut off from religious activities. In order to be let back into religious society, one had to be inspected by a priest and be declared clean again – then you could go back to living life as normal. So the other nine head to the priest to be declared clean, so they can go back to being religiously acceptable again.

But this man, he can’t go to the priest and be declared clean. No matter what he does, the priests will always consider him unclean, he will never be religiously acceptable to them. So what should he do? Well, he could just go home, and celebrate with his family and friends.

But instead he returns to Jesus and gives thanks. And Jesus looks at him and asks, “Where are the other nine? No one returned to praise God except this foreigner?” Obviously not. Then Jesus says to him an interesting thing, “Get up and go. Your faith has healed you.” Your faith has healed you. Interesting isn’t it. Jesus calls him a man a faith, to Jesus he is religiously acceptable. Something he has never been. He is clean. Wow. What a declaration Jesus makes to him!

It is a fascinating story of healing and then acceptance. Equally fascinating is the fact that the others don’t give thanks despite also having been healed. They simply never return.

We all face difficulties in life.

LaKisha Wheeler says, “Gratitude shifts your focus from what your life lacks to the abundance that is already present. Everyone has something in their life to feel grateful for. If you can just take time out to think on these things, and to offer thanks to God for the good he has done, then you heal your mind of any negativity which may be affecting you.”  That is what happened for the leper.

Speaking for myself: I know that when I focus on the frustrations I have, it doesn’t help me. I don’t get better, I don’t do better, I don’t enjoy life more. But when I realize the good that is in my life – when I see what I have, then my attitude changes. I can smile, I can laugh. “Gratitude shifts your focus.” Study after study has shown this to be true. Happiness and gratitude are linked.

One of the things that LaKisha does to help her change her attitude, is she keeps a gratitude journal. This is a popular practice right now that has been shown to give considerable benefits to people who do it – benefits like better sleep, fewer symptoms of illness, and more happiness.[2] All you have to do is once or twice a week sit down and record five things you have experienced for which you are thankful. You see, a lot of us keep informal complaint journals in our mind. So this helps us to be very conscious in thinking about the good things and not just dwell on the bad.

The entries in your journal are supposed to be brief, just a single sentence. They can be small mundane things – like waking up this morning, to more philosophical things – the generosity of my friends, or things that just made you smile this week – a song by the Rolling Stones.

Robert Emmons, a professor at the University of California Davis, and probably the world’s leading expert on the science of gratitude suggest 6 tips for making your gratitude journal have the best possible results.

1.      Don’t just go through the motions. You have to put some thought into it. Don’t just write down “waking up this morning” every time! As you write, think about the reasons you relish and savor this gift.

2.      Go for depth or breadth. Giving five reasons you are thankful for one specific thing carries more benefits than a list of superficial unconnected things.

3.      Get personal. Focus on the people to whom you are grateful, more than the things for which you are grateful. So I am thankful for those generous friends who gave me a new crockpot, rather than I am thankful for a new crockpot.

4.      Try subtraction, not addition. If you are having a hard time coming up with something, think about how your life would be without certain blessings, and list those.

5.      Savor surprises. Try to record events that were unexpected or surprising. You want to remember these!

6.      Don’t overdo it. Amazingly writing every day actually lessens the effectiveness of the journal. Only write in it once or twice a week![3]

The whole point of the journal is to makes us pay attention to the good things that God is doing in our lives. This literally changes our attitudes about our lives.

So let’s practice quick – turn to a person near you and tell them one thing you are thankful for right now. Follow the rules up there, and lift up one thing in a short sentence. [give time for that]

Did you hear the positivity in the air as we gave thanks? As LaKisha said, “If you can just take time out to think on these things, and to offer thanks to God for the good he has done, then you heal your mind of any negativity which may be affecting you.”

[1] Hitz, Shelley. A Life of Gratitude:  21 Days to Overcoming  Self-Pity and Negativity. Body and Soul Publishing. Kindle Edition.
[2] http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/tips_for_keeping_a_gratitude_journal
[3] http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/tips_for_keeping_a_gratitude_journal

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Sermon: When I Remember Your Tears

Lamentations 1:1-6, Psalm 137, 2 Timothy 1:1-14

Tears, crying, weeping, sadness, broken hearts. These are the things of life. They are real. Paul says to Timothy, I remember your tears and then goes on to give great encouragement to the young man, trying to tell him that even in the midst of sadness and tears we can have faith. Apparently Timothy is having a hard time either because Paul was arrested or perhaps in grief over the deaths of his mother and grandmother. Whichever reason it is affecting Timothy’s faith.

Timothy isn’t alone in struggling with his faith during difficult times. Listen to these words from Psalm 137:1-4

Alongside Babylon’s streams, there we sat down, crying because we remembered Zion. We hung our lyres up in the trees there because that’s where our captors asked us to sing; our tormentors requested songs of joy: “Sing us a song about Zion!” they said. But how could we possibly sing the Lord’s song on foreign soil?

The people have been taken from their homelands, they have witnessed the horrors of war, the loss of loved ones, and now their captors want them to sing religious songs for their entertainment, and they can’t do it. Their hearts are too broken to sing. In fact, they aren’t even sure if they can sing God’s song at all right now. Tears can push our faith to the limits.

Another scripture from that same time period. Lamentations 1:1-6

Oh, no! She sits alone, the city that was once full of people. Once great among nations, she has become like a widow. Once a queen over provinces, she has become a slave.

She weeps bitterly in the night, her tears on her cheek. None of her lovers comfort her. All her friends lied to her; they have become her enemies.

Judah was exiled after suffering and hard service. She lives among the nations; she finds no rest. All who were chasing her caught her—right in the middle of her distress.

Zion’s roads are in mourning; no one comes to the festivals. All her gates are deserted. Her priests are groaning, her young women grieving. She is bitter.

Her adversaries have become rulers; her enemies relax. Certainly the Lord caused her grief because of her many wrong acts. Her children have gone away, captive before the enemy.

Daughter Zion lost all her glory. Her officials are like deer that can’t find pasture. They have gone away, frail, before the hunter.

Even the priests are struggling to find meaning, no one is coming to the religious festivals. In this crushing situation, faith is difficult. All three scriptures suggest that people often feel shame in their suffering. So it may be hard for us to talk about our faith, we may find it hard to sing songs. We may feel that God must be angry, or even that we have lost our way. Our beliefs may be challenged.

Let me tell you the story of Janet Perez Eckles.

Janet lost her sight at age 31, dealt with marital infidelity, and lost her youngest son to murder. As you can imagine she dealt with anger, inability to forgive, struggling with self-pity, and more – just like in the passages that we read. But she says, “God has turned my sorrow into joy.” How?

She found hope in the words of a pastor on television who was talking about having an attitude of gratitude. That every day we should be looking at what we have that is good. When we focus on the bad, that is what rules our lives, we make it the most important thing. But when we focus on the positive, it gives us a different perspective, it reminds us that God is at work.

Janet realized that “Yes, I could get up in the morning and begin saying ‘Oh, poor me. I don’t know how I’m going to make it to the bathroom. I can’t even see my way out of the bedroom.’ But, instead, I say ‘Thank you, Lord, that you have given me ears, that you have given me eyes of the heart to see. I can walk. I can talk. I can do so many things. I want to thank you for that and I want to say thank you for what you will do for me today.’

She continues, “I believe that everyone without an exception has something to be grateful for and something to say, ‘Lord, this is what I appreciate and I’m going to focus on that and I’m going to praise you because you deserve the thanks.’”

“So often when I have so many tasks to do with the ministry, and working full-time, and traveling, and preparing, I could begin to think, “Oh, if I could only see I could do so much more.” Or “Oh, goodness, if I could only see I could get to this website,” or “If I could only have my son back, if I didn’t have to…” All that negative thinking would already defeat me. It would change my attitude. It could even affect my health, so I always choose to think “Lord, I am so grateful. Yes, I have a glitch. My screen reader stopped talking.” A glitch like that is similar to a sighted person looking at a blank screen. Instead I say, “Ok, Lord, you want me to say something else” and I begin to repeat a verse. Controlling our thinking is so important.”

“So, I encourage you not to think of what you don’t want to do. Think of something else. So, I always think of the positives; the good, the lovely, the right, the excellent and, of course, we always have the Lord to think about. This will then change your thinking.”

“Now, I don’t want you to think that right now my life is perfect. There are issues in my life right now that are extremely difficult and I don’t know how the Lord is going to resolve them. My oldest son has recently learned he has the same disease I do and he is also starting to lose his sight. So, you see, there’s another issue that could get me down.”

“None of us can expect the Christian life to be perfect, but we have a perfect God who says, “You know what? I always knew this was happening. This doesn’t catch me by surprise. Didn’t I promise you that I overcame the world? I overcame. I triumphed over that. Will you come with me to show you how I’m going to triumph over this too?’” [From A Life of Gratitude: 21 Days to Overcoming Self-Pity and Negativity, by Shelley Hitz]

What Janet is trying to teach us is that despite the tears,

Despite the difficult times, faith endures. Because God is still at work. We cannot allow the difficulties of our present situation to blind us to the good that still exists. We cannot allow the sorrows of today, to make us believe that God won’t overcome them. We cannot allow one bad thing, or even two bad things, or even thirty bad things to convince us that this is a bad week. It is a good week, blessed by God, with some bad things in it. But God is still good, all the time.

The poetry of Lamentations has survived because the community hung onto its faith in the most difficult times. It grasped at the straw of perseverance and would not let go. Paul from prison, writes to encourage Timothy, that our suffering is not the last word. Christ destroyed death and brought life and immortality into clear focus. It is faith that, even in times of crisis, sustains Paul. So Paul says, hold on to the faith and love that are Jesus Christ.

We need faith to face to the daily challenges that come our way.

I would also say that we need the community, we need the encouragement of others. When I have been through tough times, it has been the help of others, the hugs of you all, the prayers, the words of encouragement that have helped me on the way. I know that many of you would say the same thing. When cancer hit, or when your spouse was sick, it was the community, perhaps the church, perhaps people of faith outside the church, that helped you along.

So let me give you a challenge. Who can you encourage today as they face a struggle? Who can you listen to as they question if God is angry with them, or if God even exists? Who is having a hard time singing God’s songs? Who needs a hug of understanding, a word of kindness? Who needs you to be like Paul and notice their tears, their sadness? Who can you tell that their suffering is not the last word – that Christ destroyed death and brought life and immortality into clear focus? Who needs to be reminded of all the good things that they have to be grateful for? Who needs that right now?

When we do that for one another, we are truly the community of faith.

May God help us, to remember all that is good, all that God has done, is doing and will do, and may we be part of that work by reaching out to others in the midst of their tears. Let us travel together to see how God is going to triumph over these troubles!