"Getting the Best of Life, Surviving the House of Horror, and Playing Beautiful Music on a Sailboat"
Speaker: Larry Beckner
Lay Leader: Susan Williams
Pianist: Catherine Eicher
Music from "The New Century Hymnal"
Opening Music - #433 "In the Bulb There Is a Flower"
Welcome and Joys and Concerns by Susan Williams
Message by Larry Beckner
Special Music - #407 "How Firm a Foundation"
Closing by Larry Beckner
Closing Music - #591 "This is My Song"
Sometimes I find myself in the midst of despair. 2020 has not been a good year. We have serious political divides and the ability of the political parties to work together for the benefit of the country seem to be a dream of the past. The cement wall between these positions seems impregnable. The continuing presence of Covid 19 has taken a toll on each of us. I grew up in the 1960’s and I thought the protests and violence to resolve racial issues was behind us, but today I question the extent of our progress over the past 50 years. I see warfare and civil strife in Venezuela, Bolivia, Syria, Ukraine, Hong Kong and elsewhere. I am so weary of the discord, of the fighting. All of this just wears me out.
It raises questions in my mind: “What difference does it make that I am a follower of Christ? What difference does it make if I pray for peace? What difference does it make if I attend church?” In my moments of despair, I find myself asking, “What is it in life that allows me to be more positive in 2020?” How can I maintain a positive attitude and how can I make a difference?
First, I think life does not get the best of people who have deep religious beliefs. Theodore Dreiser was an American novelist who died in 1945. His novels often featured main characters who succeeded in life despite a lack of a firm moral code. Dreiser grew up in poverty because his father made very little money as a preacher. As he grew up, he came to resent his father’s religious faith that forced the family to live in poverty. He became so bitter that he grew to hate religion; he hated preachers and he hated churches. In his writings he looked for opportunities to get back at his father’s religion. In his last novel, called The Bulwark, the main character was a Quaker and Dressel’s intent when he started the novel was to picture this Quaker going through a series of calamities and that he would ultimately break down and lose his faith. But as the novel progressed, Dreiser realized that the traits he had given the Quaker at the beginning of the novel, traits of gentleness, integrity, honesty, faith in God and a belief in life, would not permit the Quaker to go to pieces and lose his faith. So, the novel changed to represent the Quaker as a hero, a man of faith who was winning the victory over the calamities of life. After he finished this novel Dreiser came to the realization of a very important truth: life does not get the best of people who have deep religious beliefs; people who have deep religious beliefs get the best of life.
This is the message of our Scripture reading for this morning. In the 27th Psalm, the writer was going through an extremely difficult period in his life. Wicked people were tempting him to do the wrong things. His friends turned on him and began saying false thing about him. Even his father and mother had forsaken him. The cement wall that was being built between the psalmist and his friends and family seemed impregnable. The psalmist felt like everyone in the world had turned against him. In the midst of telling about his problems he makes a tremendous statement of faith. He says, “I would have fainted if I had not believed.” What he is really saying is life would have gotten the best of him if he had not been a person of faith. The psalmist says his faith saved him. Because of his faith, the psalmist got the best of life. What I take from the 27th Psalm is that our beliefs and our faith are what make the difference in life. Without great beliefs, without faith, life will get the best of us.
As we look at the troubles that surround us, we must remember that we cannot let life get in the way of our joy; it cannot get in the way of our peace. We each view our circumstances differently as we see life through the prism of our eyes, our ears and our history. For Christians, we see life through the lens of our Christian faith. Often it is difficult to make sense of the troubles that attack us. But if we focus on the big picture of who we are and what we stand for, if we stand strong in our faith, then our faith will get us through. Strong beliefs can prevent life from getting the best of us. We can withstand the battering winds around us if we hold true to our beliefs. As the Psalmist said, “I would have fainted if I had not believed.”
What are the strong beliefs that help us get the best of life? They are the central beliefs of the gospel of Jesus Christ and that God is with us in life. These are the basic principles that define us; the principles that make a difference in our lives. We hold on to that solid rock that gives us substance, that pulls us forward, that takes us places we cannot go on our own.
I remember several years ago I took my grandsons to the County Fair. They were 5 and 7 years old. One of the attractions was a “House of Horror” where you walked up a set of stairs and across an elevated walkway before entering. Both boys were excited to see what was inside but as the 7 year old began to enter the House of Horror, he panicked; he turned around and ran back down the stairs and grabbed hold of me. He looked up at me and said he wanted to go inside but he was frightened and wanted me to go with him. I took hold of his hand and we went through the House of Horror together. Every time something scary jumped out him he gripped my hand and stuck out his tongue in defiance. Suddenly he was not afraid of anything because grandfather was with him.
In a similar matter, God is with us through the happy times and the scary times. We know we don’t have to be afraid; we are not alone. We must know that the horrors and setbacks of life are not a test created by God to see how faithful we are; the horrors and setbacks of life are just a part of life. If we face them on our own, they may seem insurmountable. But, if we face the difficulties of life with faith, life will not get the best of us. It is interesting, after the first trip, both boys went back through the House of Horror 10 times; now it was fun, it was not scary.
There is an old Hymn entitled “How Firm a Foundation.” This Hymn expresses today’s message beautifully. “Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed; for I am thy God and will still give thee aid. I’ll strengthen thee, help thee and cause thee to stand, Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.” Believe in that and you will get the best of life.
And then another great belief that can help us get the best of life is this: Our life counts with God. Our life is important to God. Our life makes a difference with God. I read a story about Fred B. Smith who was a pioneer in the YMCA movement. He tells a story of taking tea with a very famous British philosopher by the name of Herbert Spencer. Spencer was known for taking the theory of evolution beyond biology to other sciences including psychology and sociology. Smith was leery about meeting with Spencer who he saw as a non-believer. But the meeting turned positive. Near the end of their discussion Spencer said to Smith, “You are working with the young people of our country. I have something I want you to tell them. Tell them that the great First Great Cause had a thought about each of them before they were born.” God is the First Great Cause. Our life counts with Him. It makes a difference what we do with this life that God has given to us. It makes a difference whether we are good or bad. It makes a difference to God whether we have faith or not. It makes a difference to God how we treat our family and our neighbors, how we run our business, how we spend our time and our money. Our life counts with God. Believe that. We can build our life on that.
In the turmoil of life, we must remember that each one of us makes a difference. Mahatma Gandhi of India was one of the great spiritual leaders of our time. Following his assassination, one reporter said, “His life was like a stone dropped into the pool of history and would go on making ripples which would cause waters to lap on distant shores.” You may feel that your life is just an insignificant pebble dropped into the pool of human history. But remember, the ripples from your pebble will lap on the distant shores of those who come into contact with you. Your life counts. As the Psalmist said, “I would have fainted had I not believed.”
And finally, our belief in Christ makes us a better person. The people we spend time with has a tremendous influence on us. If we spend our time with good people, they will have a good influence on us. I count as one of my many blessings the great people who have been in my life. The best person to come into my life is my wife, Winona. Who she is, what she stands for and the influence she has had on my life have caused me to become a better person. I have practice law in Grand Junction for 43 years and throughout my practice of law, I was fortunate to surround myself with excellent people; not just excellent lawyers, but excellent people. One lawyer became chief judge of the 10th Circuit, one became a US Magistrate, one became District Attorney and then Solicitor General of the State of Colorado, one became a County court judge, two of my staff became Colorado State Legislators. One year we realized that each lawyer and each member of the office staff were teaching Sunday School classes. Each one of these people challenged me to rise higher, to be a better person.
Just as surrounding myself with strong people makes me a better person, surrounding myself with Jesus has also made me a better person. There is a story in the Book of Acts about Peter and John who were ordinary fisherman until Christ called them. After the Day of Pentecost, Peter and John stood up and preached to thousands. They challenged the Jewish authorities. It says the people were amazed at Peter and John, these uneducated men who stood up and spoke with power and intelligence. The Scripture says: “And then the people remembered, they had been with Jesus.” Being surrounded by Jesus makes us a better person.
God calls us to develop a lifestyle that affirms others. Our words, our actions, our presence makes a difference in the lives of others. I heard a story of a meeting between a Rabbi and an Abbott where they were discussing the role of Christ in history. At one point in the story the Rabbi said “The Messiah is among us”. I think this is true. I think anytime we reach out we have amazing impacts on other people. Sometimes it only takes a kind word to change a life. I clearly remember an event that happened in high school. I was just an insignificant drop in the sea of over 1400 students at GJHS. One day during a passing period my debate coach, Perry Carmichael, stopped me in the hall and said he wanted to talk with me. I think every student in the hallway froze to hear the chewing out they expected. But Mr. Carmichael in a loud voice complimented me for my work in class and told me I was turning into a fine student. Then he left. You don’t know what that meant to me – to be praised in front of my contemporaries. Over 55 years later I remember that event. It only took him a few seconds, and I am sure he would not remember it, but it made a difference to me. Midst
I read a story about a high school teacher in Connecticut. One day her 10th grade class was getting out of hand. They were noisy, they were unfocused, some were even mean. She changed her lesson plan. She had the students sit down and write the name of each student in the class and next to the name to write something nice about that person; something kind that identified that person. At the end of the class the papers were handed to the teacher. Over the next few days she prepared a page for each student and wrote down all then nice things other students had written – without identifying the author. She then handed out the papers and they spent a few minutes discussing what they saw. Several years later one of the boys was killed while serving in the Army. She attended the memorial service along with a number of his classmates. Following the memorial service, the father of the fallen soldier talked with the teacher and showed her a well-worn paper that was in his son’s wallet. It was the page of kind words from other students. He said his son always carried that page with him and he read it often. It meant so much to his son. Several of the other students overheard and stepped forward. One girl pulled her paper from her purse, others said they kept the paper in a safe place and read it often. Without knowing it, that teacher made an indelible mark on the lives of those students – not by teaching the subject matter but by showing the value and worth of each student.
We all have the capacity to influence those around us. The people in my life have caused me to grow. They have challenged me to rise to greater heights. They help me filter out the discouraging news and fill me with hope.
One of my favorite books is the Odyssey written by Homer in the 8th century BC. The book describes the dangers of sailing past the island where the Sirens lived. In Greek legend the Sirens were half woman and half bird who sang beautiful songs. When ships would sail past the island, the Sirens would begin to sing. Their singing was so beautiful and seductive that it would draw the sailors and their ships into the rocks and destroy them. Odysseus had his men stuff bee’s wax in their ears so they could not hear the Sirens sing and would not be drawn into to the rocks to their death. In Greek legend, this is the first time a ship successfully sailed by the island of the Sirens. But in a subsequent story, Jason and the Argonauts, Orpheus had a better idea. As their ships sailed by the island of the Sirens, Orpheus began to play his lyre so beautifully that the sailors paid no attention to the sirens. The secret was to have their own beautiful music on board.
This is also a secret to life. When life crushes around us, when we become fatigued by the barrage of bad news, the secret is to create our own inner music. That is the difference Jesus makes in my life. His better music drowns out the clutter, it tears down the concrete walls of divisiveness, it shields my spirit from warfare and the civil strife of life. Jesus gives us the inner music that is meaningful and fulfilling and joyous. Through Him we can be blessed with a better life. Through him, life will not get the best of us.
I read an interesting story about the beginning of the Anaconda mining company in Montana. A group of prospectors set out for Bannock, Montana in search of gold. They were attacked by Indians who took their horses. As they worked their way back home one of the prospectors picked up a stone from a creek bed and it turned out to be gold. The prospectors decided they would tell no one about their discovery. They made their way back to town and outfitted themselves with tools and food. When they started back to their gold find, three hundred people followed them. The prospectors had not told anyone about their gold, but as one reporter put it, “Their beaming faces betrayed the secret.”
I have good news this morning. There is something better than finding gold; it is the radiance that comes to us from living a life of faith. It is living a God-filled life. It is living life with strong religious convictions that each person is important; that we are here to serve others; that we are here to cast our stones in the waters and make a difference. The good news is we do not have to search for God. He has come to seek us out and reveal Himself to us in Jesus who makes us better people. Through our belief in Him, life will not get the best of us. When we open ourselves to His presence, our lives will take on that radiant glow that outshines the discovery of gold.
We are called to follow in Christ’s footsteps. We are called to inspire others to live the abundant life. If we will do these things, I believe God will take us places we never dreamed were possible.