May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace! (Psalms 29:11)
There is a wonderful story about Carey Barker who used to play football for the Washington Redskins. One night after a game Carey Barker was walking in the snow to relax. He came upon a lad sitting on a curb and crying. "What's the matter, son?" Carey asked. "My daddy sent me to the store to buy a loaf of bread," said the boy, "and I have lost the dollar he gave me. And I'm afraid to go home."
Carey took the child into a store and purchased the bread for him. The lad departed, saying, "Gee, Mister, I wish you wuz my daddy." Carey Barker said he walked the streets that night trying to find another boy who needed a dollar and a dad.
There is nothing in life that will bring a good feeling into your life like giving to another.
I kept my faith, even when I said, "I am greatly afflicted" (Psalms 116:10 NRSV Bible)
We have two choices in dealing with the unexpected. We can become bitter, or we can allow the unexpected to enrich our lives. If we choose to allow the unexpected to enrich our lives, then how can we survive the pressure? I believe there is only one thing that can truly help us deal with all of the changes of life - our faith in God.
I would not be the person I am today without my faith in Jesus Christ. I would not have been able to handle all the ups and downs in my life without God's love working in me. So, we must nurture our faith - no matter how much we have. Whether we have lots of faith or only a tiny bit, we must nurture it. We do this through worship, study, conversations with God, mutual support of one another, by helping those who need us, by giving our time, and by sharing our resources. The greatest growth in my faith has come from experiences of helping other people.
So, we must nurture our faith, which will help carry us through the unexpected twists and turns of life.
Moreover, the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live. (Deuteronomy 30:6)
When Richard Nixon ran for President in 1968, the Vietnam War was at its height. One of Nixon's TV commercials showed a photo of an American soldier in Vietnam with the word "Love" written on his helmet. The image bothered Harry Treleavan, one of Nixon's media men. "They don't think it's the sort of thing soldiers should be writing on their helmets."
About a week later, however, a letter arrived from the mother of the soldier. She said how thrilled she was to see the photo of her son in Nixon's TV commercial. She wondered if she could obtain a copy of the photo. The letter was signed "Mrs. William Love."
That's an interesting story. The soldier was not making a statement about his feelings at all. He was simply putting his name, Love, on his helmet.
The question for us today is: do people know who we are? When people observe us do they see Christ's love shining through us? Do they see our Love? No, we shouldn't have to write it on our foreheads, but people should be able to see Christ working through us.
Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." (Matthew 16:24 NRSV)
Deny yourself and take up a cross. The ultimate success formula. Try it. I guarantee you it will work. But before you go out into the world to try it, let me add one thing. Some of you are going to find that material success is not really all that satisfying. There are a lot of lonely people driving Porches and Mercedes, living in homes with marble floors and crystal chandeliers. These folks are finding out too late that upward mobility is not necessarily the formula for a peaceful heart or a loving home. So we need to re-examine for a moment Christ's words. We overlooked some of them. He said, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
Jesus is not talking about Rolex watches at all, is he? He's talking about forgetting ourselves for the sake of others. Isn't that what he did? Isn't that what the cross really is all about? He's not talking about becoming real go-getters but real go-givers. He's not talking about stocks and bonds, but soup kitchens and bread lines. He's not talking about winning the rat race, but serving the human race in Jesus' name.