Thursday, September 20, 2007
God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. The gifts that he gave were that some should be... teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity... We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness... But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up. Do not be children in your thinking; rather, be infants in evil, but in thinking be adults. Therefore let us go on... leaving behind the basic teaching about Christ, and not laying again the foundation... Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the work of truth. I want their hearts to be united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God's mystery, that is, Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. The sower sows the word. These are the ones on the path where the word is sown : when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing. And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold. O that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes! Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments. I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous ordinances. Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes. With my lips I declare all the ordinances of your mouth. I delight in the way of your decrees as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts, and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word. Open my eyes, so that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. My soul is consumed with longing for your ordinances at all times. Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works. Put false ways far from me; and graciously teach me your law. I run the way of your commandments, for you enlarge my understanding. Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes, and I will observe it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. See, I have longed for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life. I shall walk at liberty, for I have sought your precepts. I revere your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes. Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments. Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn your commandments. I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever, to the end. I am your servant; give me understanding, so that I may know your decrees. Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and your law is the truth. Your decrees are righteous forever; give me understanding that I may live. My eyes are awake before each watch of the night, that I may meditate on your promise.
1 Corinthians 1:27; Ephesians 4:11-15; 1 Corinthians 14:20; Hebrews 6:1; 2 Timothy 2:15; Colossians 1:2-3; 2:6-7; 3:1-2, 16-17; Mark 4:14-20; Psalm 119:6-7,12-16,18,20,27,29,32-25,40,45,48,66,73,93,105, 112,125,130,135,142,144,148.
'Theology' comes from two Greek words - theos, God, and logos, word, thought. Theology is about God, and how God's will is to be done on earth as it is in heaven. 'Every Christian is called to be a theologian' (Karl Barth): it isn't a specialized, abstract discipline reserved for academics (Luke 10:21). Indeed the best theology doesn't come from 'top down' (from the dogma of 'authorities' Mark 1:22), but is done from bottom up: theology is about life. Because God is beyond our finite understanding, our questions will always outnumber our answers, so we come to this task not as proud know-alls but as humble and teachable learners. Everything we do, individually or as churches, has a theological dimension. Theology is about ultimate reality. Theology helps us to know who we are, to discover our identity. It aids our understanding of the church's and our denomination's roots, and to reflect on how the past relates to the issues we face today. Good theology also studies the faith-stories of others, and helps us understand what God is doing in their histories. Every church should be a miniature theological seminary (Elton Trueblood). It is amazing that church leaders may be highly skilled in their profession or trade, but still be in kindergarten theologically. As one layman said, 'We are better trained in our secular jobs than in the great ideas of our faith'. Pastors are the churches' resident 'professional theologians'. Their role as teachers is to make theologians of every Christian. There is a lot of bad theology around, and bad theology can lead to bad behaviour - bigotry, greed, self-interest, sexual immorality, ignoring or rationalizing injustices, etc.
There are eight tests of a 'good theology': CHRISTOLOGICAL. Good theology begins with 'The Lord our God, the Lord is One' (Deuteronomy 6:4) and quickly adds 'Jesus is Lord' (Romans 10:9, 1 Corinthians 12:3). Jesus is both fully divine and fully human. Western Christians have been more preoccupied with Christ's divinity: he is 'very God of very God'; third world theology with his humanity: God's solidarity with suffering 'nonpersons'. A good theology agrees with Jesus' emphases - particularly about love and justice. Theology is the study of God and his ways.
For all we know, dung beetles may study humans and their ways and call it humanology. If so, we would probably be more touched and amused than irritated. One hopes that God feels likewise. Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking, London, Collins, 1973, p.91.
Benediction: May God who is light illumine your way, May God who is truth enlighten your mind, May God who is love enrich your heart, May God who is grace fill you with his joy through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The full article is here
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
The holidays have begun - (C.S. Lewis)
Love not the world neither the things that are in the world... For the world passeth away, and the lust thereof; but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and that he will stand upon the earth at last. And I know that after this body has decayed, this body shall see God! Then he will be on my side. Yes! I shall see him, not as a stranger, but as a friend. What a glorious hope[
For our homeland is in heaven where our Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ is.
We know that when Christ appears we shall be like him for we shall see him as he really is.
I heard a loud voice speaking from the throne: 'Now God's home is with mankind! He will live with them and they shall be his people. God himself will be with them and he will be their God. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes. There will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain. The old things have disappeared.' Then the one who sits on the throne said, 'And now I make all things new!'
(1 John 2:15,17, KJV; 1 Corinthians 2:9, KJV; Job 19:25-26, LB; Philippians 3:20, LB; 1 John 3:2, GNB; Revelation 21:3-5, GNB)
When I was young the idea of heaven didn't appeal to me much. When I looked at artists' impressions of the biblical imagery they seemed artificial and unsatisfying. Streets of gold and pearly gates seemed a poor substitute for blue skies and snowy mountains and crashing waves. And I could not get excited about an endlessly extended church service, however glorious the surroundings. Heaven might be very pleasant but on the whole I preferred to stay at home.
I first began to explore new ideas about heaven when I failed in sports. I was always the duffer in the team and I felt the humiliation deeply. Perhaps in heaven, I pondered, I might be able to play netball without falling over or dropping the ball. I could imagine Jesus standing on the sidelines cheering and saying, 'Well done!' As a teenager I rejected these childish notions and returned to the vision of an eternal mass meeting. Yet I feared even the Hallelujah Chorus might wear thin after a century or so.
It was years before I discovered that other people shared my feelings. We would all dutifully agree that heaven must be great but our hearts were not in it. Then one day I got the mumps. In the enforced break from routine I began to read books which challenged my stereotyped ideas. New thoughts overturned my previous imaginations.
What would it be like, I wondered, to live outside the limits of time and space?. No sense of waiting, no boredom, no monotony, no sequence of passing years. Instead there will be just one great joyful "now'.
What will it mean to be eternally 'like Christ'?. We certainly won't be clones or robots, for he is eternally unique. Rather we shall still be ourselves yet sharing the qualities of his life. At last we shall be exactly the way God planned us -- with all our possibilities realised. Maybe I might even get to play netball.
When God creates his new kingdom surely it will be no less splendid or original than this world of ours?. He isn't impressed with gold or pearl or rubies. His handiwork is perfect in detail and beautiful beyond belief. Probably the new world will be like ours, only more real, more natural, more breathtaking.
Will we know one another there?. Probably we will, not by our outward appearance but through a spiritual intuition. This means there'Il be no pretence, no dishonesty, no misunderstanding. Nor shall we be idle. God knows how much we need satisfying activity.
For the first time I began to get excited about heaven. Sometimes I even feel homesick for that unseen country and its King.
But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw God's glory: and Jesus standing at the right hand side of God. 'Look,' he said, 'I see heaven opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand side of God!'
Now you must note that the City stood upon a mighty hill; but the pilgrims went up that hill with ease, because they had these two men to lead them up by the arms; also they had left their mortal garments behind them in the river; for though they went in with them, they came out without them. They therefore went up here with much agility and speed though the foundation upon which the city was framed was higher than the clouds.
John Bunyan, Pilgrim's Progress
Thy years neither come nor go; whereas ours both come and go. Thy years stand together, because they do stand; nor are departing thrust out by coming years, for they pass not away; but ours shall all be when they shall be no more. Thy years are one day; and thy day is not daily, but Today, seeing thy Today gives not place unto tomorrow, neither doth it replace yesterday. Thy Today is Eternity.
St Augustine, Confessions XI
In that blessed city there shall be this great blessing, that no inferior shall envy superior, as now the archangels are not envied by the angels, because no-one will wish to be what he has not received... And thus along with his gift, greater or less, each shall receive this further gift of contentment, to desire no more than he has.
Neither are we to suppose that because sin shall have no power to delight them, free will must be withdrawn. It will on the contrary be all the more truly free, because set free from delight in sinning to take unfailing delight in not sinning.
St Augustine, The City of God XXII
I rekindled me with a new vision, such as no light is so pure that my eyes could not have withstood it. And I saw light in the form of a river glowing with effulgence, between two banks painted with marvellous spring. From this stream were issuing living sparks, and on every side were setting themselves in the flowers like rubies which the gold encompasses. Then as if inebriated by the odours, they plunged again into the wonderful flood and, as one was entering, another was issuing forth.
O splendour of God, through which I saw the high triumph of the true kingdom, give me power to tell how I saw it!
Dante, The Divine Comedy
Flesh fade, and mortal trash
Fall to the residuary worm; world's wildfire, leave but ash:
In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, since He was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.
Nature is not done away but is perfected by glory.
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica
The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that. The new one was a deeper country; every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as it if meant more. I can't describe it any better than that: if ever you get there you will know what I mean.
It was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right forehoof on the ground and neighed and then cried: 'I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this.'
C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle
In heaven we will live and live more fully and satisfyingly than ever before. And that life will involve all the really important elements of what we know as life: relationships, development, knowledge, communication... We shall recognise our loved ones but more by who they are than by what they look like. But better than that, we shall know them with a depth and insight and love unimaginable in our present human existence.
David Winter, Hereafter
That is our destiny in heaven -- to be like Christ: not Christ limited, as he was on earth, to the confines of time and flesh, but Christ risen, the great, free, timeless Christ of Easter morning.
David Winter, Hereafter
Never seen before
Yet I have known you all my life.
You were there in that vague and misty face
That o'er my cradle focussed into love.
You in the noise and clamour of the place
That taught my mind to think and act and move.
You, in the frank and warring friends of youth
Whose loyalty persisted to the grave.
It was your beauty, your appeal, your truth,
When teenage hero-worship held me slave.
You were there that dazzling morning when serene
Contentment was reflected in his smile,
Whose love has held me all the years between,
Who mourns yet, now that I am gone awhile.
In all I could achieve, imagine, prize,
All that could stimulate my thought and wit.
Those mischief-calculating infant eyes
That dared my wrath and made a game of it.
You even there[
And now, Familiar Stranger, we have met
And joys of earth are caught in joys above.
For you were there, you were the joy –
Whom, never seen before, I truly love.
'You do not look as happy as I meant you to be.' Lucy said, 'We're so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. And you have sent us back to our own world so often.'
'No fear of that,' said Aslan. 'Have you not guessed?' Their hearts leapt and a wild hope rose within them.
'There was a real railway accident,' said Aslan softly.'Your father and mother and all of you are -- as you used to call it in the Shadowlands -- dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.'
C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle
Lord, I have to admit that many times I find this present world of mine more dear than the world you have promised in the future. For all its difficulties and frustrations, this is the world I know and I cannot imagine what life with you will be like.
Help me to believe that a God who can create giraffes and snowflakes will inhabit a world where there is still beauty and humour, as well as the sublime.
Help me to love you so well and to desire your companionship so much, that when I come into your presence it will be a joyous reunion of old friends.
Help me to live each day so completely that if you called me tonight I would go without reluctance or regrets.
Help me to see this world through the perspective of the kingdom of heaven so that I may be able to distinguish which are the really important things and which are insignificant in the long view.
Lord, when I enter your final kingdom there will be many things that you will need to correct in me. Some of my attitudes would find no place there. Some of my ideas are warped and twisted. There are people I've rejected or misunderstood. Help me to submit my life into your hands now so that your purifying work can begin at once. For I will not be able to bear the joy of your presence until sin has no place in me and I do not want to delay the judgment of my sin until I am in your presence.
Rather, O Lord, I long to come to you with eager expectation, grateful for the life you have already given,! ready to undertake whatever plan you have for me in the future.
Now to God Almighty, whose plans for us do not end in death, to our Lord Jesus Christ, who entered our world so that we might enter his, and to the Holy Spirit, who works in our hearts constantly preparing us for that great day, be all our praise and love until we meet him face to face. Amen.
Still Waters, Deep Waters ed. By Rowland Croucher pp. 197-203
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Here's one version of a sermon I've preached 800+ times (that's not a misprint)! You ask, 'Should anything be preached that often?' My response: anything I believe is worth saying is worth saying again. This little-understood story has themes implicit within it which are pivotal to our understanding of the Christian faith.
Text: Acts 4:32-5:11
Preachers don't like this story, apparently. I once spent a morning in a large seminary library hunting for sermons on Ananias and Sapphira and couldn't find any. The two most read preachers' magazines - Expository Times and Pulpit Digest - didn't have a single sermon on this passage. Folks dropping dead in church (it happens occasionally) isn't nice.
There are some big questions here. Why did they do it? How did Peter know? Why was the punishment so severe - and so swift? Why did God deem this sin so bad? "Did they go to heaven?" one woman asked after I'd preached on this passage.
There are no easy answers. And yet with all our questions this story is an acted parable of the Christian gospel; it's about sin, judgment, and the possibility of grace.
In most of our English translations the story begins with the little word "but". Luke, the author of Acts, sets up a study m contrasts. There are Barnabas, a man filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 11:24), and Ananias, whose heart was filled with Satan (5:3). One was utterly truthful, the other a liar. Here are counterpointed faith and unbelief, selflessness and selfishness, goodness and deceitfulness, sacrifice and sacrilege, trust in God and the worship of self ("hubris," pride), total commitment and base hypocrisy.
The setting was "paradise regained." They had all things in common, real community: shared resources, sensitivity to others' needs, security - not in material things, but in the risen Christ. It's the closest to Utopia the world has ever seen. Sinners - even murderers of the Lord Christ - were repenting and being forgiven and accepted; the sick were being healed; great grace was upon them all.
But in the midst of all this beauty and harmony, the serpent enters the garden again. It's an horrific story. And yet, we feel, Ananias and Sapphira were just ordinary people like us. Don't we sometimes engage in "impression management" to manipulate others' opinion of us? Who of us hasn't sometimes pinched stuff from our employer for personal use? Or falsified our tax return a little bit? Or withheld the truth, or covered up with a "white lie"?
Their motives were probably pretty ordinary - perhaps even defensible. Perhaps their generous or heroic selves were inspired by the generosity of Barnabas. Their fearful selves wondered what would happen in their old age if they gave away all their assets. Their critical selves asked questions about the "bums" on the receiving end of these handouts. Their distrustful selves may have raised questions about the apostles' honesty; the church hadn't appointed auditors yet. But in the end their egocentric selves won; they wanted glory without sacrifice, the kudos Barnabas had received without having to pay the price.
Yes, they were ordinary people - very ordinary. What sins might we have committed if we were sure we'd never be found out? If you had carried out some of the evils you planned or dreamed about, you'd be in jail for life. The sin of Ananias and Sapphira was not greed, but deception, hypocrisy - and who of us hasn't done worse?
But there's something more insidious, subtle, dangerous here,.. Ananias was engaged in an act of worship. Barnabas had laid his gift "at the apostles' feet," and this same expression is used of Ananias. Their offerings weren't merely to the apostles, but to God. Their motivations, the "thoughts of their hearts," were therefore God's concern. Here is the worst kind of hypocrisy - the sort that got Christ so angry - hypocrisy bordering on sacrilege. It wasn't just a matter of pretending to be devout but really being a liar and a cheat; though they were that.
Sacrilege goes a lot further; it's robbing God of what is rightfully God's, "stealing Divine glory," withholding what we have professed as belonging to the Lord. Ananias and Peter are not just two mortals confronting each other. Here the battle is joined between God and Satan, whose instruments they have become.
Astonishing. Perhaps this man and his wife were in the group on which the Holy Spirit fell so dramatically at Pentecost and had also been baptized in water as they joined the church. Previous to that Ananias may even have been among the seventy apostles preaching the Kingdom, healing the sick, casting out evil spirits (Luke 10:9, 17). Let us never forget there is no sin that is impossible for any one of us to commit. There but for the grace of God we go too.
Such was the spiritual power among those people that this sin was immediately detected and judged. How do we explain this sudden death? Members of traditional societies - our Australian aborigines, village people in Papua New Guinea have no problem at all with a story like this, with their experience of the power of "pointing the bone" and of witchcraft. In the (ignorant) West we have to explain it - psychosomatically. (William Barclay, for example, with his penchant for naturalistic explanations of the biblical miracles, reminds us that when Edward I blazed in anger at one of his courtiers the man dropped dead in sheer fear.)
Interestingly, a similar thing had happened twice before. In Eden a man and a woman tried to deceive God, and the result was death. Then there was Achan "stealing" what rightfully was God's: he and his whole family and possessions were destroyed. Adam, Achan, Ananias - at the beginning of each "fresh start" God was making with God's people, the same thing happened. Surely these things are written for our instruction.
Awesome, fearful. As a pastor I wonder what kind of worship service I would have led for the following three hours?! Nothing in our clergy handbooks helps us here. Then, imagine the moment of horror when Sapphira wanders in: every face would have told her the story, if she'd noticed. In the awful silence, they could then hear the footfalls of the young men who'd just buried her husband.
But why this immediate capital punishment with no opportunity for repentance? It's not fair, you say. Negatively, the responses tumble over each other: Who said life was supposed to be fair? Who sets up valid criteria for fairness? Human categories of what's fair are constantly changing. And who's in charge, anyway, in the ultimate sense?
And who's to know whether, as it's been put simplistically, God was somehow "destroying a body to save a soul"? We'll have problems in this "bent world" if we put our faith in systems of fairness - or in our systems of anything. Our trust is in a righteous, just God, who can handle the moral judgments of the universe without too much help from us. On the other hand, we can reverently say: "God has a lot to answer for."
C.S. Lewis, in The Problem of Pain, says God's attitude to sin is analogous to that of a surgeon to cancer. The destructive tissue has to be removed. God!s judgment is love at work destroying what is destroying us. Sometimes the divine surgery is radical (as in this story); sometimes it's postponed.
Peter makes it very clear that Ananias didn't have to follow the course he did. He was in full control at every point (5:4). This wasn't "primitive communism." Private property had not been abolished; no one was being forced to sell his or her possessions. The sharing was voluntary, not a precondition of entering the church. And I'm sure we can say that even after Ananias and Sapphira decided to bring only part of the money, they still had an alternative course of action open to them.
John Claypool imagines another scenario:
If they had just said: "Here is where we would like to be - with Barnabas' kind of trust and generosity. But we find we are not there yet .... All we can do now is give part of the proceeds. Would you help us grow toward what we would like to become?"'
Then there would have been healing and nurture and grace mediated through others in the caring fellowship. But instead there were deceit and death.
The way of Ananias is not only an ancient way, it is practiced in politics and business every day. Wasn't it President Theodore Roosevelt who called those people on Capitol Hill "the Ananias club"? I wonder what might have happened if President Richard Nixon had come clean and told all he knew about Watergate a year before his resignation?
Ananias and Sapphira had a warped view of God - apparently as a sort of cosmic "neurotic perfectionist" who could not accept them if they were imperfect. Occasionally I visit or counsel people who are perfectionists; they got the impression from someone that life has to be highly organized for them to be happy. Often they had parents who rarely praised them for anything. If only Ananias and Sapphira had realized that God is not like this. God is a grower of persons and not in the business of mass production. There's no such thing as instant sanctification.
But they also had a defective view of their fellow Christians. They were fearful about their inability to measure up, and obviously felt they wouldn't be accepted by others if they confessed to being less than Barnabas. Hypocrites also have another problem - a huge inferiority complex. They are unable to accept their own uniqueness and imperfections. Maturity is all about living with imperfection, your own, your parents', others'. Hypocrites have to play a sort of one-upmanship game in which they come out best in every comparison.
The essence of grace, on the other hand, is acceptance - by God of us, and of others and of ourselves. Grace is love-before-worth. It creates worth in another rather than responding to worth in the other.
So grace abounds where sin abounds. And as the church is a society of people on the receiving end of God's grace, it's the community par excellence where we accept others fully on the same basis as God has accepted us (Rom. 15:7): solely on the basis of grace - not law, not doctrine, not sacramental observance, but grace alone!
If only Ananias and Sapphira had understood this! By their behaviour they were denying the most fundamental truth in the Christian faith: we cannot earn significance. We can't achieve wholeness, salvation, through our own efforts. Greatness in Christ's kingdom is a given, a gift, that we gratefully receive in spite of our failures and our sin.
So, Ananias, Sapphira, you didn't have to earn what you'd inherited.
Don't strive to be a luminary; just let your light shine. You don't have to be like Barnabas. You are intended to be your own person, to be what no other is and to do what no other can do. So you can "go to church" and be just who you are. You don't have to play the sick "over-under" games our society forces on us. Church is the place where grace reigns and where all acting stops. You can hang up your mask with your hat at the door. That's why Christ's Church is "glorious," according to the New Testament - not because it's perfect, but because it's being redeemed.
Here's where nobodies become somebodies, "no-people" become "God's people" (1 Peter 2:10).
1. John Claypool, unpublished sermon "Growing is Acceptable," preached March 2 1975, at Broadway Baptist Church, Fort Worth, Texas.
Friday, September 14, 2007
Happy is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways. (Psalm 128:1)
This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24) Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4) My soul shall rejoice in the Lord, exulting in his deliverance. (Psalm 35:9) Do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. (Nehemiah 8:10)
My heart is glad, and my soul rejoices; my body rests secure... You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures for evermore. (Psalm 16:9,11)
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:3-12)
Then he looked up at his disciples and said: Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. (Luke 6:20-23)
Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. (Psalm 32:1) Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers. (Psalm 1:1) How happy is the one whom God reproves; therefore do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. (Job 5:17) The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes. (Psalm 19:8)
All the days of the poor are hard, but a cheerful heart has a continual feast. (Proverbs 15:15) Happy are those who consider the poor; the Lord delivers them in the day of trouble. (Psalm 41:1) We must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.' (Acts 20:35)
I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. (John 15:11) Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. (Philippians 4:4)
A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones. (Proverbs 17:22)
Happy people are easier - much, much easier - to live with.
Just about everybody wants to be happy. You dream of happiness, you plan for it, and perhaps pay any price to achieve it. Searching for happiness, one person will make a lot of money; another will give all their money away. In the same search a woman will have five or six children; another enters a convent. Ask the average person what he or she wants out of life, and the chances are they'll reply without hesitation, 'I just want to be happy.'
Occasionally in my counseling I meet someone who enjoys being miserable - and gets a perverse delight in making others unhappy. Woody Allen apparently wasn't joking when he said, 'If my film makes one more person miserable, I've done my job!'
Where do you find happiness? Bumper stickers tell us Happiness is... a German Shepherd, Being Single, Being a Grandmother, Being Italian, Dreaming in Colour, or whatever. Happiness is being a nonconformist, according to Emerson. Happiness, said Rousseau, is a good bank account, a good cook and a good digestion.
Although we know in theory that happiness is in the mind, many people lead lives of quiet desperation. Sure, most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be; certainly if you 'keep your face towards the sunshine and the shadows will fall behind you'; but there's still a vague unease... The old Scottish proverb can invite us to 'Be happy while y'er leevin' for y'er a long time dead,' but the blues still come uninvited, and overstay their welcome...
Jesus doesn't offer you happiness; but he promises you'll be 'blessed'. Indeed he essentially promised three things to his followers: constant trouble, constant joy, because of his constant presence. The purpose of life is not to be happy, but to be useful, to be loving, to be unselfish, to have made a difference... Happiness is a by-product of having worthwhile attitudes and doing worthwhile things. Happy people serve others, have goals, are close to nature, are in touch with the child within...
And yet, and yet... Deep within just about all of us is the elusive promise of joy, somewhere. As C S Lewis put it, memorably, in The Problem of Pain: ALL YOUR LIFE AN UNATTAINABLE ECSTASY HAS HOVERED JUST BEYOND THE GRASP OF YOUR CONSCIOUSNESS. THE DAY IS COMING WHEN YOU WILL WAKE TO FIND, BEYOND ALL HOPE, THAT YOU HAVE ATTAINED IT, OR ELSE THAT IT WAS WITHIN YOUR REACH AND YOU HAVE LOST IT FOREVER. [C.S.Lewis, The Problem of Pain, London: Collins (Fontana), 1957, p. 136] 
Happiness, as the song says, is different things to different people. The OED defines it as 'the state of pleasurable content of mind which results from success or the attainment of what is considered good.'
Happy people are 'free' people. Cat Stevens (Harold and Maude) picked up this theme (though their sentiments need some Christianizing): 'If you want to be free be free/ If you want to be you be you/ There's a million things to do/ If you want to be me be me/ There's a million things to be'.
The fundamentalists are not really free. They try to be free from complexity but are not free from fear or doubt. The theological liberals may be free of dogma, but are not free to be sure about too many things. The Pentecostals may be emotionally free in some ways, but they are not free from stress...
Happiness - whether you're a Christian or not - is not attained by trying hard to be happy. Happiness is 'serendipitous' - the art of making happy discoveries while looking for something else. The most beautiful adventures, said Robert Louis Stevenson, are not those we go to seek. You can only be happy, according to George Orwell, when you do not assume that the object of life is happiness. Make happiness the object of your pursuit, said Nathanial Hawthorne, and it leads you on a wild-goose chase. Rather, as Ashley Montagu claims, the moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise. We do not seize them, they seize us. Happiness is where we find it, rarely where we seek it.
Happiness is the by-product of what happens in three relationships - with God, with others, with self.
# C S Lewis wrote somewhere, 'God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.'
# Confucius said, 'Those who wish to secure the good of others have already secured their own.'
# Ultimately, your real self-worth is in yourself, not in the things you do or the offices you hold. Being rich or famous doesn't make you happy. Aristotle Onassis said just before he died, 'I've just been a machine for making money. I seem to have spent my life in a golden tunnel looking for the outlet which would lead to happiness. But the tunnel kept going on. After my death there will be nothing left.' Richard Burton tried to drink himself to death. Voltaire wrote, 'I wish I had never been born.' Gould, the American millionaire, when he was dying, said 'I suppose I am the most miserable devil on earth.' You know the definition of a celebrity: someone who works all their life to become famous enough to be recognized, then goes around in dark glasses so no one will know who they are!
Happiness is not in the ideas others have about you. After all, a diamond remains a beautiful and precious stone whether embedded in a crown or thrown into the garbage bin. Happiness is enjoying living with yourself. It's the art of being yourself. Happiness is being your own best friend.
But - and this is an important footnote at this point - all authentic Christian spirituality, from the first century onwards, encourages both self-affirmation and self-denial. You are an unrepeatable miracle of God's creation, made in his image. But you must not just live for yourself. This, of course, is in remarkable opposition to the 'I gotta be me' message of many secular self-esteem gurus...
Happiness comes from fulfilling the primary purpose of life - to love God and to love others. The happy person has something to do, someone to love, somewhere to call home and something to hope for. You may not yet be the happiest or best put together person you know - but the Lord hasn't finished with you yet!
Happiness is not the fulfilment of desire. Fulfilling the desire does not liberate from it, but creates a new desire for its repetition. The cycle repeats itself, the need for greater gratification increases each time, as all earthly pleasures are subject to the law of diminishing returns, and frustration sets in. The cycle has to be broken, that is, attachment has to be dropped. Learn to enjoy things in freedom: if I have it, it's fine, and if I don't have it, it's equally fine. The way to enjoy everything is to stick to nothing.
Happiness is enoughness. The secret is to be content with what comes our way, rejecting nothing and hankering for nothing... to take what comes and let go what goes. God gave and God took away. Blessed be his name forever!
Carlos G. Valles S.J., Mastering Sadhana: Anthony de Mello, New York: Doubleday, 1987, pp. 36-37. 
Don't be afraid of misfortune and do not yearn after happiness. It is, after all, all the same. The bitter doesn't last forever, and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing. It is enough if you don't freeze in the cold and if hunger and thirst don't claw at your sides.
If your back isn't broken, if your feet can walk, if both arms work, if both eyes can see, and if both ears can hear, then whom should you envy? And why? Our envy of others devours us most of all. Rub your eyes and purify your heart and prize above all else in the world those who love you and those you wish well...
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Source unknown, quoted in Australian Presbyterian Life, September 1985, p. 25. 
On more than one occasion I have raised my eyes to heaven and said: 'Could not You have made it a little easier, God? Was there no way to create a world without such pain at the middle of all things human?' And when I have stayed with that question long enough to work it through, the answer comes back clearly: 'No, this really is the best of all possible worlds if the experience of personal joy is the goal of all things.' Stop and think about it for a moment: if there were no choices, how could any sort of personhood exist? If we could have everything, and never had to evaluate or set this over against that or go through the process of deciding, it would be simpler, but would it be better...? It is true, we can't have it all, and not to realize that is pathetic. We can't have it all, and to choose among many options is painful, even tragic. But do not forget, we can have some things. The trees that are available, the roads that can be taken are all rich in potential beyond reckoning... The very capacity of self-transcendence is a joy in itself...
Eugene O'Neill once wrote: 'I can partly understand how God can forgive us humans, for we are so weak and foolish. But what I cannot understand is how can he forgive himself for creating so painful a world?' I honestly do not think God is losing any sleep at this point. The joy he wanted us to experience could be on no other terms than our being persons of choice, and long ago he concluded, I think, that such a prospect was worth the risk... The point of this whole sermon: There is abundance and we can choose. Let us begin...!
John Claypool, 'You Can't Have It All', unpublished sermon. 
[Bishop Fulton Sheen] put his arm around my shoulders and said, 'God loves you. And you know something? So do I.' I found tears in my eyes. It was the love power of that man...
Jesus Christ loves you. Your mother loved you; your father loved you; your wife loves you; your husband loves you. But nobody loves you as Jesus loves you. And that makes us happy, because it tells us we are of infinite worth and value. If you are loved like that by the Son of God, then you have a value that is beyond any material thing. And your life will be continuous into eternity because value, in the highest form, never deteriorates. Love! Love! Love! That is the secret of happiness.
Norman Vincent Peale, 'Meet the Happiness Giver', Creative Help for Daily Living, Part III, Vol 31, No. 9, Pawling N.Y.: Foundation for Christian Living, 1980, p. 34. 
A day so happy. Fog lifted early, I worked in the garden. Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers. There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess. I knew no one worth my envying... Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot. To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me. In my body I felt no pain. When straightening up, I saw the blue sea and sails.
Czeslaw Milosz, 'Gift,' 1973. Quoted in Newsweek, October 20, 1980, p.54. 
The three greatest enemies of happiness [are]... worry, boredom, and self-centredness... Christianity slays them all! Worry...? Even though the worst should happen, even though your whole scheme of things were to collapse... nothing, absolutely nothing can pluck you... out of the great Father's keeping! Boredom...? Christianity [fills] your life full with the glory of a friendship whose wonders are unending... Self-centredness - Christianity finishes that. How? By taking you, once and for all, right out of yourself...
Why be a Christian? The Christian life is happier than any other. [But] the Christian life is also harder than any other... The life in Christ is holier than any other... [And] the Christian life is more hopeful than any other.
James Stewart, 'Why Be a Christian?' in The Gates of New Life, Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1956, pp. 23-29. 
Brother Masseo once tried to test how humble Francis of Assisi was. 'Why you? Why you? Why you?' he asked. 'The whole world seems to go after you, all seek to see you, to hear you, to obey you, but you are not a handsome man. You are not a man of great knowledge or wisdom. You are not noble. Why, therefore, does the whole world come to you?' When Francis heard this... he stood [silently] for a long time, his mind turned to God. He came to himself, fell on his knees, and with praise and thanks to God with great warmth of spirit, turned to Brother Masseo and said: 'You wish to know, and know truly, why the whole world comes after me. This comes to me from those most holy eyes of God which everywhere observe both good and evil. Those blessed and most holy eyes saw... no greater sinner, more useless and vile than me. Therefore to do the wondrous work he had in mind to do, since he could find on earth no one more vile, he chose me, for God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, the mean, contemptible, feeble things of the world to confound the noble and the great, so that the grandeur of goodness should proceed from God, and not from that which God has created, so that no creature and no flesh should boast in his sight, and that to God alone should be honour and glory for ever.'
Then Brother Masseo was amazed at a reply so humble and so warmly made, and truly knew that the holy father was grounded in true humility, a true and humble follower of Christ.
E.M.Blaiklock and A.C. Keys (trs.), The Little Flowers of St Francis, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1985, pp. 42-43. 
[A girl from Mauritius, highly educated, entered Mother Teresa's society in India]. 'The next day I sent her to work in a home for the dying. For three hours she lovingly cleaned a woman who had been picked up on the street. She came home radiating joy. "I have been touching the body of Christ for three hours," she told me...'
[To her fellow-workers among lepers]: 'Be kind and merciful. Let no one come to you without coming away better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness, kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, in your warm greeting...'
'Joy is prayer - Joy is strength - Joy is Love... God loves a cheerful giver! You give most when you give with joy. The best way to show our gratitude to God and the people is to accept everything with joy. A joyful heart is the normal result of a heart burning with love... Never let anything fill you so much with sorrow as to make you forget the joy of Christ risen... We all long for heaven where God is, but we have it in our power to be in heaven with him right now - to be happy with him now means - loving as he loves, helping as he helps, giving as he gives, serving as he serves, rescuing as he rescues, being with him 24 hours, touching him in his distressing disguise.'
Mother Teresa in Peter Dwan, Apostle of the Unwanted (Mother Teresa), Melbourne, Australia: ACTS Publications, 1969, pp. 5, 10-11, 19-20. 
For the happiest life, days should be rigorously planned, nights left open to chance...
Every now and then you run across radiantly attractive people and you're delighted to find they adore you, till you realize that they adore just about everybody - and that's what's made them radiantly attractive.
Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic's Notebook, quoted in Reader's Digest, date/page unknown. 
Happiness is being a Christian. To put it as Peanuts does, that is what happiness is. He has said... that happiness is a nice warm bed, happiness is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, happiness is your first loose tooth, and a hundred other things... He should try this on for size and you should too: happiness is being a Christian.
Sometimes we use the word Christian to mean simply nice and kind and good... When I say happiness is being a Christian, I don't mean Christian in that very broad sense. There are of course millions who are Christians in the sense that they are citizens of Christian nations, but they are not a bit happy at all.
The Bible connects happiness and Christianity... It leaves no doubt that those who believe that Jesus is their Saviour and their Lord will experience his presence in their lives. They will be new people who begin to participate in Christ's victory right now. According to the Bible, Jesus Christ is the key to happiness and joy. There is no other way.
Joel Nederhood, 'Happiness is... You'd be Surprised', Back to God Hour pamphlet, undated. 
Christians are free of vindictiveness because they trust God's justice; but they are free for blessing because they know God's goodness.
Edmund P. Clowney, The Message of 1 Peter, Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988, p. 141. 
Make me, Lord obedient without complaint, poor without regret, patient without murmur, humble without pretence, joyful without foolishness, truthful without disguise.
Thomas Aquinas, cited in Praying with the Saints Dublin, Veritas Publications, 1989, p.64. 
Eternal God, you dwell in light unapproachable, beyond the power of our thought to comprehend or our imagination to portray. Yet you are revealed to us in the beauty of the world we live in, in the truth our minds discover, in the inward presence of your Spirit, and above all in Christ, your Son. With reverent hearts we worship you.
We bring our fragmentary lives into the presence of your wholeness. We bring our transient thoughts into the light of your eternity. We bring our restless spirits into the calm strength of your everlasting purpose.
We have complained about the circumstances that have fretted us, about enemies who have wronged us, and even about the justice of your order that has hurt us. Teach us, nevertheless, we earnestly ask, to search our own lives, to see that each has our own destiny, each soul its own heaven and its own hell. Send us back into our souls to find there, by your grace, peace and power and adequacy to conquer life. May we be victors and not victims. Amen.
Eternal God, Grant us this day and every day such readiness and delight in following Christ, that whether our lives are short or long we shall have lived abundantly. Amen.
A New Zealand Prayer Book, Auckland, Collins, 1989, p. 106. 
May God, from whom to be turned is to fall; to whom to be turned is to rise; and in whom to stand is to live forever: may this God grant us in all our duties his help, in all our problems his guidance, in all our dangers his protection, in all our sorrows his peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Adapted from a prayer of St. Augustine, cited in Praying with the Saints Dublin, Veritas Publications, 1989, p.22. 
By Rowland Croucher
In everything do to others as you would have them do to you. (Matthew 7:12) Forgive, if you have anything against anyone. (Mark 11:25) Love your neighbour as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbour. (Romans 13:9,10)
We urge you... to admonish the idlers, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak, be patient with all. (1 Thessalonians 5:14)
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. (Philippians 1:1-2) Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. (Philippians 4:4-5)
Be angry but do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your anger. (Ephesians 4:26)
No one should wrong or exploit a brother or sister... For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness. Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another. (1 Thessalonians 4:6,7,9)
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness. (Micah 6:8)
And now I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples. (John 13:34,35)
Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called - that you might inherit a blessing. (1 Peter 3:8-9)
We were created by God to enjoy him, appreciate our own and others' uniqueness, and to grow in community, or fellowship with others.
In the brilliant film Kramer vs. Kramer the divorced father has to explain to his five-year-old son that he's just lost the custody battle between himself and the boy's mother. Soon the child will be going to live with her. The little boy sobs out what for him are questions of ultimate concern: 'Where will I sleep? Where will I put my toys? Why can't I stay with you too?'
The movie is about three people. Two grown-ups - a man and a woman - have needs that aren't being met by the other. Their little boy, therefore, has to have his life messed up too. Where does such a vicious circle begin? Why is it not possible for humans to live together without conflict? What can we do to stop the chain reaction of grief being handed on to another generation?
Oscar Wilde believed that 'other people are quite dreadful; the only possible society is oneself.' Wrong, Oscar, and sad. (There is more wisdom in something else he said: 'In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.') How can we get along with those we live with?
You begin by knowing who the real 'me' is. If you don't like yourself you won't enjoy living with others either. When I ask people in counseling 'What do you like about yourself?' I often get a 'nothing' response. Some of us avoid responsibility for our behaviour with the excuse 'Well, nobody's perfect.' True, but you don't have to opt out of growing; nor do you have to live with the negative self-fulfilling prophecies you or others have heaped on yourself. At the deepest level your identity, your perception of who you are, has derived from what others have communicated to you about you. It's on the esteem of others that you base your own self-esteem. With the help of a caring friend, learn to accept yourself. You are an unrepeatable miracle of God's creation. If you want to get along with others, you had better start with the person inside your own skin!
Then, affirm the uniqueness of others. They, too, are who they are as a result of the mix of verbal inputs into their lives by significant others, plus the accidents of life they have experienced, plus their own success or otherwise in determining to become a whole person. The Christian approach here is simple, and it works: pray to your and their Creator God for a gift of love: to view the other as one precious to God and made in his image. You can't pray this prayer sincerely for too long without beginning to appreciate the other!
Then, let's be lovingly honest with one another. One of the great middle-class sicknesses of our time is affability. We are so nice to each other it's sickening. We play games to cover our true feelings. Rather than 'walking in the light' we leave one another to stumble in the darkness about who we are and they are. But then, if we cannot 'speak the truth in love' without the risk of creating greater hurt rather than healing, we might have to (a) learn 'win-win' conflict resolution skills, and/or (b) follow the advice on my desk calendar the other day: 'Never miss an opportunity to make others happy, even if you have to leave them alone to do it.' (Marcel Proust once said, 'The one thing more difficult than following a regimen is not imposing it on others').
We exist in homes, families, communities, to 'care' for each other, as well as being cared for by others. However, 'care' has ambiguous connotations, as Henri Nouwen has pointed out. For example, when a Mafia boss tells his henchmen to 'go take care of somebody' that somebody had better watch out. He is about to be made an offer he can't refuse! Actually, our English word 'care' goes back to a Gothic root, kara, meaning to 'lament, weep with, grieve'. So caring should mean we become aware of the other in ways that stir deep feelings, and out of these feelings resolve is born to care for them in appropriate ways. This means breaking out of the circle of selfishness and making our lives a resource to others.
This is the meaning of the Good Samaritan story. Every 'good Samaritan' says to the other: 'What happens to you makes a difference to me.' Just as God makes an unconditional covenant to commit himself to us no matter what happens, so we forgive 'seventy times seven' and serve the other, even if we are not thanked, or such labours are not returned. This is authentic caring.
Again, let us take a journey back to the first few chapters of Genesis. There's a wonderful story about God's desiring communion with the creature man/woman he had made. When Adam sinned, that fellowship was broken. God arrived in the garden for their usual fellowship-time, but Adam was hiding. The 'Fall' was a fall from fellowship, not only between us and God, but between humans themselves. Cain killed his brother Abel, and we've had to work very hard to maintain fellowship, particularly where our fallenness has led us to create barriers between persons and groups. And yet, though God in the Old Testament is characteristically sovereign, and holy, in his 'apartness' from sinners, his statement to Moses - 'I will be with you' (Exodus 3:12) - indicates his desire to commune with his covenant people. The Divine Presence within Israel was symbolized in the ark, the cloud, the guiding angel, and later in the Jerusalem Temple. But, as Psalm 23 tells us, he feeds us, cares for us, protects us, guides us and encourages us.
In the New Testament the Greek noun koinonia simply means 'sharing', and is translated variously as 'communion', 'communication', 'community', 'fellowship', 'partaking', 'contribution', etc. An ancient inscription put up by a husband in memory of his wife said: 'I shared all life with you, alone'. Thus 'fellowship' in New Testament usage is the sharing of something with others in a community, not merely the act of associating with them. The outpoured Spirit had created a community that broke through the barriers of language, culture, race, sex - even possessions (see Acts 2:42, 4:32, 35, Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11).
This new joy, and mutual love, emanated not from a Divine mandate, but from their high conception of being 'in fellowship'. It was nothing short of a miracle! These early Christians experienced a sense of oneness, unity, togetherness, unlike anything they had known before. People didn't just associate with a few 'cronies': Jesus said tax-collectors and other disreputable people did that. The foundation of koinonia is nothing less than the Incarnation: Jesus sharing his life with us.
Again, we repeat: the Christian good news is about God's acceptance of us even before we change. He loves us unconditionally. This was essentially the difference between Jesus and the pharisees. Jesus 'accepted', loved people before they had changed, he loved them into change; the pharisees rejected people who were alien, sinners, until they had changed and mended their ways. With Jesus, acceptance preceded repentance, with the pharisees it was the other way around. So we are to accept one another, as God accepts us - as people who are made in his image, who are like him! (Romans 5:6-8, 15:7). This does not mean we ignore or gloss over others' mistakes or sins: it does mean we will recognize their Godlikeness before we barge in to 'fix' things. Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery 'I do not condemn you' before he said 'Go and sin no more' (John 8:11). Jesus understood others. Two proverbs express it well: To understand all is to forgive all; if you can understand the other person you can stand them.
We'll all meet difficult people from time to time. Jesus did. He didn't get along with everybody. He condemned injustice and godlessness and if you're going to do that you're going to get crucified by the unjust and the godless. If we are 'change agents', then we'll suffer at the hands of those who benefit by things staying the way they are. (But then, some of us want to change things because we ourselves are not at ease with ourselves.)
Many interpersonal conflicts result from our idealised picture of who the other should be. Others' incompleteness reminds us of our own. It's sometimes called 'transference' - transferring emotions to a person or situation which belong somewhere else. He married to escape a dominant mother, so when his wife 'nags' and reminds him of a bitter past, he over-reacts. She's trying to make him like her father, who was so helpful around the house, and he does nothing.
Acceptance is helped by empathy. Empathy is 'the imaginative projection of one's personality into that of another person' - putting yourself into the other's shoes, listening deeply with mind, heart and soul. It's not sympathy, which can sometimes be a selfish emotion, where you're hooked because of some unresolved emotional conflict in your own life. And it's the opposite of antipathy, where you judge the other for not measuring up to what you want them to be.
And after all, what do we mean by a 'difficult person'? Who of us is not abnormal in some sense? Who decides what is normal, who is difficult? Maybe schizophrenics are sometimes the sane ones! Perhaps we have to work harder at dealing with the log in our own eye, before we take splinters out of others' eyes!
The church is meant to be a therapeutic or 'salvific' community, a community of people-helpers. But to be a people-helper, one must be committed to one's own growth - physical, intellectual, social- emotional, and spiritual. It is a community of people who practise faith, hope and love: faith that people are loved already in spite of their crabbiness; hope that with patience and acceptance we and others can grow and change; love which covers a multitude of faults and we desire only the good of others. The challenge is to see Jesus in others, and practise 'being Christ' to others. And that's tough work: overcoming prejudices is the hardest work of all!
Mary Claerout, in her book Friday She Gave Him Flowers, tells the story of Willings, a confirmed bachelor. Every Friday his maid would put flowers on his breakfast table. The white roses on the table must have cost her a fortune, so he imagined 'she must simply adore me,' As he sat back and contemplated the flowers, a warm feeling swept through him. He thought, 'The woman is a blessing; if only she weren't so ugly.'
He thought about himself. He was a lady's man. He had himself. As a boy he loathed looking at his peer group with pimples and acne and blackheads. He abhorred their wrinkles and warts. His stomach turned over when he saw hair growing out of noses and ears. He could hardly bear to look at others' mouths. All his life he had seen only one flawless mouth, his own. He enjoyed himself, being alone... He decided to thank Emily for the flowers and called her in.
She said, 'Oh, it's nothing to speak of really Mr Willings. It's just that I feel so sorry for the flowers. Hardly used they are, when the undertaker puts them out for Friday's rubbish collection. So I always pick a few out when I go by. I wouldn't want them at home, you know, seeing where they come from. That's why I put them in your vase. I mean, it's not your own choosing that you are all alone and don't have any friends. At least you should have a few flowers.'
From what I have learned in my own marriage, and seen in others, there are not many questions more important than this: 'Am I willing to train myself away from selfishness toward the point where I honestly care how the other person feels?'
Charlie W. Shedd, Letters to Philip on how to treat a Woman, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell, 1968, p. 19 
If you share your bread in fear, mistrustfully, undaringly, in a trice your bread will fail. Try sharing it without looking ahead, not thinking of the cost, unstintingly, like a child of the Lord of all the harvests in the world.
Dom Helder Camara, A Thousand Reasons for Living, London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1984, p.98 
A famous English preacher named Alexander Whyte was very disturbed one night because his closest friend was at the point of death. Whyte was praying earnestly to God that this man might be spared when suddenly a Voice said to him, 'How serious are you about this one's survival? Would you be willing to divide with him the number of years you have left to live upon this earth?' With that, Whyte reports getting up off his knees in a cold sweat for suddenly intercession had become more than a matter of words. Now it was the precious substance of his own life that was at stake. He pondered this question very deliberately for a while and dropped back to his knees and said, 'Yes! I hereby relinquish half of the time I have left, if this will enable my friend to survive.' He got up with no idea what the ultimate outcome of this agreement would be... Here I am with a given pool of physical and emotional and psychic vitality. How will I spend it? How much of it will I keep for myself and how much of it will I make available to others?
John Claypool, from an unpublished sermon, 'How Much of Yourself Will You Give?' 
Carl Sandburg talks about the 'zoo' inside each of us - there's a pig, and a lion, and a tiger, and a gentle deer. We have all kinds of feelings within us: we are responsible for some of them and not others. But although there is a zoo in me, I am keeper of that zoo!
For example, it is not wrong to be angry, but what you do with your anger could be very harmful. Jesus got angry sometimes. And if you want to get mad at me, that's O.K. I should pray for the maturity to handle our conflicts constructively. Just as friction between certain types of rocks produces sparks of light, so it is the friction of our individualities rubbing against each other that illuminates who we really are. There is a sense in which I do not really know you nor you me until we get to a point where we differ...
So the words 'ought' or 'should' mustn't generally be used in relation to feelings. Our feelings are like toothache - they're there - and no amount of exhorting will make a toothache or the feelings go away...
When you are more in touch with your own feelings, you'll be more compassionate with others. Here's Frederick Buechner's definition of compassion: 'The sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else's skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.'
True community is born from love that risks the sorrow of rejection for the love of acceptance. Community implies participation; participation implies action. True community means walking in the light, being open, and perhaps vulnerable with one another. Perfect love casts out fear. The root of war, Thomas Merton has taught us, is fear.
Rowland Croucher, from an unpublished sermon, 'Getting along with the people you live with.'
To Victor, who agrees with me in nothing and is my friend in everything.
Carlyle Marney's dedication at the beginning of his book Faith in Conflict. 
Some families readily express hostility and anger, but fail to express tenderness, love and appreciation. Other families appear to have unwritten rules that allow the expression of kindness, concern and positive feelings, but then suppress irritation and exasperation, shame, self-doubt and expressions of disagreement, dislike and requests for what one wants for oneself. Healthier families [are] able to express a wide range of feelings...
'Letting it all hang out' [is not recommended]. It is the range of feelings that can be expressed without attacking other members that seems to create human development and intimacy. It may be because the family members can modulate the intensity of their negative feelings that they are able to express whatever they wish. In fact, the modulation of intense feeling is one of the prerequisites of effective conflict management.
Moira Eastman, Family: The Vital Factor, Blackburn: Collins Dove, 1989, pp. 65-67 
A generous mind does not consider itself as belonging to itself alone, but to the whole human race (Ulrich Zwingli). A friend adds to your joy, divides your burdens, multiplies your happiness (Anon). If two people doing a job agree all the time, then one is useless. If they disagree all the time, then both are useless (Darryl F. Zanuck). We are invited to be thermostats, not thermometers - affecting our environment, not merely reflecting it (Charles Hembree). We keep passing unseen through little moments of other people's lives (Robert T. Pirsig). I am part of all that I have met (Ulysses). If you wish to please people, you must begin by understanding them (Charles Reade). People must help one another: it is nature's law (Jean de la Fontaine). If you are gracious and courteous to strangers, you are a citizen of the world (Francis Bacon). If your Christianity is not contagious, it may be contaminated (Chester Johnson). I am as close to God as I am from the person from whom I am most divided (Anon.) The nobler your heart is, the more you will be inclined to make allowance for others (F W Robertson). Kindness is one thing you can't give away: it always comes back (Anon).
Desk calendar quotes
Christianity is a community event. As Christians we have always believed that the life of faith is not a private enterprise but a communal venture. Over the past several decades in the Church we have come to renewed awareness of this fact. One of the most significant efforts within the Church today is the movement of Christians to understand themselves as the people of God and to experience their relations with one another as a life together in community. We rejoice in this vision of Christian life, taking hope in its challenge to the formality and bureaucracy that can find their way into church structures. But, gradually, many of us have come to sense that this goal of life together as Christians is both a gift and a most difficult ambition.
The language of ministry today is filled with the vocabulary of mutuality: mutual support, shared decision-making, collegiality, and collaboration.
Evelyn Eaton Whitehead and James D. Whitehead, Community of Faith: Models and Strategies for Developing Christian Communities, New York: Seabury Press, 1982, p.xi. 
Christian community is... a gift of God which we cannot claim. Only God knows the real state of our fellowship, of our sanctification. What may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God. Just as [Christians] should not be constantly feeling [their] spiritual pulse, so, too, the Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be constantly taking its temperature. The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases.
Christian [community] is not an ideal we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1954, p. 30. 
The gospel tells of the triumph of the personal in the silence of a technological world. The Word became flesh. The Word dwells among us. The metaphor of the personal is carried in the stories of Jesus again and again. The shepherd seeks for a lost sheep, a father looks for a lost son. Here is a parent who gives not a stone but a loaf of bread, not a serpent but a fish. Here five thousand sit down together to share a simple meal. Two men travel on a road and are joined by a third. In deep conversation they end their journey with the breaking of bread and what is hidden is revealed, what is a mystery penetrated with the joy and wonder of communion.
Denham Grierson, A People on the Way: Congregational Mission & Australian Culture, Melbourne: David Lovell Publishing, 1991, pp. 89-90. 
An Irish tenant farmer who died last century left a widow and three little children. This was before the days of social security. The man who owned the farm needed the house to get another field hand, and so this poor widow was literally turned out into the road with no resource whatsoever for herself and her family. She went to the nearest town and began to go from door to door explaining her plight and offering to do any work to provide for her children. However, person after person turned her away, saying, 'I have problems of my own. What happens to you is of no concern to me.' After four days of no food and sleeping out of doors in the park, the youngest child's body was weakened and she woke up with a burning fever. By noon all three of the children were sick, and before the sun went down this little neglected family was the centre of an epidemic of diphtheria that spread to the whole town. Only at that point did it become clear that this woman's plight was the concern of the larger community. Their failure to deal with the problem at one point in time meant they had to deal with it later in a worse form.
'Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad...'
One important rule for being happy and successful is - don't let things agitate you. This is vital... People get sick largely because they cannot control and discipline their minds...
Imagine that Jesus Christ is actually by your side. When you start worrying, stop and say: 'Lord, you are with me; everything is all right.' At night, before you turn out the light have a word with him and say, 'Lord, I'll not worry, for I know you are watching over me and will give me peace.'
Practise taking a detached attitude towards irritating things. Practise lifting your mind above the confusion and irritation around you. One way to do that is to hang pictures [of nature] on the walls of your mind and think about them habitually...
Robert Louis Stevenson made a wise statement: 'Quiet minds cannot be perplexed or frightened, but go on in fortune or in misfortune at their own private pace like the ticking of a clock during a thunderstorm.'
One of the surest methods for overcoming agitation is to put yourself in contact with the re-creative process of nature.
Norman Vincent Peale, 'How to Avoid Getting Upset' in A Guide to Confident Living, Kingswood, Surrey: The World's Work, 1955, pp. 128-142. 
Is a friendship preserver, Is often a debt of honour, Is never a sign of weakness, Is an antidote for hatred, Costs nothing but one's pride, Always saves more than it costs, Is a device needed in every home.
Forgiveness breaks the chain of causality because the one who forgives you - out of love - takes upon themselves the consequences of what you have done. Forgiveness, therefore, always entails sacrifice.
The price you must pay for your own liberation through another's sacrifice, is that you in turn must be willing to liberate in the same way, irrespective of the consequences to yourself.
Dag Hammarskjold, Markings, Faber, 1964, in Michael Hollings, Hearts Not Garments, London, Darton, Longman and Todd, 1982, p.82. 
When you stand praying, forgive.
If you are not getting answers to your prayers, check yourself very thoroughly and honestly as to whether you have resentments on your mind.
Spiritual power cannot pass through a personality where resentment exists. Hate is a non-conductor of spiritual energy.
I suggest that every time you pray you add this phrase, `Lord take from my thought all ill will, grudges, hates, jealousies'. Then practise casting these things from your thoughts.
Norman Vincent Peale, Thought Conditioners, New York: Foundation for Christian Living, p.24. 
Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savour to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back - in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.
Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking, London, Collins, 1973, p.2. 
According to the Bible, we are to love others as ourselves (Luke 10:27), and as God loves us (John 4:11). In other words, there is an intimate connection between our love for ourselves and our love and esteem for God and others. When we fail to love ourselves, all of our relationships suffer. We fail to love our mates, our children, or our neighbors properly. Think of your own life . Remember the last time you were feeling miserable and were angry with yourself, discouraged, or depressed? How did you relate to your mate, children, and friends at that time? Were you loving, sensitive, and kind? I doubt it. When we are uptight about ourselves, we are usually uptight with others. We take our frustrations out on them.
Bruce Narramore, You're Someone Special, Michigan: Zondervan, 1978, p.119. 
The past is, perhaps, not totally lost, but it is no longer ours; it is in the hands of God and is his business. It will be retrieved in the tota simul possessio of eternity, but should not be stored away on earth. As far as we are concerned, we must realize that we are like children, at the beginning, not the end, of a road. Whatever past achievements might bring us honour, whatever past disgraces might make us blush, all of these have been crucified with Christ; they exist no more except in the deep recesses of God's eternity, where good is enhanced into glory and evil miraculously established as part of the greater good.
John Garvey (Ed), Modern Spirituality, an Anthology, London, Darton, Longman and Todd, 1985, p.65. 
I was amused to read of the adjustments Paul and Nellie Tournier worked through in their first years of marriage. 'I'm an optimist and she's a pessimist,' Paul Tournier reported in Faith at Work magazine (April, 1972). 'She thinks of every difficulty, misfortune, and catastrophe that might happen, and I cannot promise her that such things will not happen. But God is neither optimist nor pessimist. The search for him leads one beyond his own personality and temperament to a path that is neither optimism nor pessimism.
'Little by little I have learned that God speaks to everybody - men and women, adults and children, blacks and whites, the rich and the poor. To discover the will of God, you must listen to him in everyone. Of course, I prefer to have God speak directly to me, rather than through my wife, and yet in truly seeking his will I must be persuaded that he speaks as much through her as through me; to her as much as to me.'
Quoted in Philip Yancey, 'Marriage: Minefields on the Way to Paradise', Chrisianity Today, February 18, 1977, p. 27. 
Abba Theodotus said, `Do not judge a fornicator if you are chaste, otherwise you will be transgressing the law too. For he who said, "Do not fornicate", also said, "Do not judge".'
We are all, equally, privileged but not unentitled beggars before the door of God's mercy.
John Garvey (Ed), Modern Spirituality, an Anthology, London, Darton, Longman and Todd, 1985, p. 67. 
In the Ravensbruck Nazi concentration camp - where an estimated 92,000 men, women and children were murdered - a piece of wrapping paper was found near the body of a dead child. On the paper was written this prayer:
O Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not only remember the suffering they have inflicted on us; remember the fruits we bought, thanks to this suffering: our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, the courage, the generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this. And when they come to judgement, let all the fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness.
Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home, Kent: Hodder and Stoughton, 1992. p.238 
Why do we look a the speck in someone else's eye but ignore the log in our own? The measure we use for others, God will use for us.
If we do not judge others, God will not judge us; if we do not condemn others, God will not condemn us; if we forgive, God forgives us even more; so let us give, and God will give to us a full measure, a generous helping, poured into our hands, more than we can hold.
The measure we use for others, God will use for us.
Jesus, you are the giver and the gift.
A New Zealand Prayer Book, Auckland: Collins, 1989, p.131. 
Accompany me to-day, O Spirit invisible, in all my goings, but stay with me also when I am in my own home and among my kindred. Forbid that I should fail to show to those nearest to me the sympathy and consideration which thy grace enables me to show to others with whom I have to do. Forbid that I should refuse to my own household the courtesy and politeness which I think proper to show to strangers. Let charity to-day begin at home.
John Baillie, A Diary of Private Prayer, London: OUP, 1936, p.89. 
Jesus, friend of sinners, you call us to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us, to bless those who curse us, and pray for those who treat us badly.
Jesus, reconciler, when someone slaps us on the cheek, you call us to offer the other; when someone takes our coat, you bid us give our shirt as well; when someone takes what is ours, we may not demand it back.
Jesus, Son of God, our friend and brother, when we love our enemies and do good we are children of God, who is kind to the wicked and ungrateful.
Jesus, teacher without peer, you have turned the world upside down.
A New Zealand Prayer Book, Auckland: Collins, 1989, pp.121-122. 
Lord, we come before you, not alone, but in the company of one another.
We share our happiness with each other - and it becomes greater.
We share our troubles with each other - and they become smaller.
We share one another's griefs and burdens - and their weight becomes possible to heal.
May we never be too mean to give, nor too proud to receive.
For in giving and receiving we learn to love and be loved; We encounter the meaning of life, the mystery of existence -
and discover you.
Terry C. Falla, Be Our Freedom Lord, Adelaide: Lutheran Publishing House, 1981, p.158. 
Lord Jesus, we hold our families before you; we are ashamed because so many of them are broken or are about to break. How foolish we must look in your sight as we express ourselves so harshly to one another! Lord, forgive us, and help us to make the necessary repairs on our families. We know that we cannot do much by ourselves, we need the help of your Holy Spirit. So please bring his power into our hearts. And, O Holy Spirit of Christ, work mightily among those who have heard the gospel again, and bring many of them to faith.
God the Father, look with your compassion and pity upon those who are living within families in which there is much tension and suffering. Use the message of your grace to help those who are discouraged, and enable them to see that through your power there is hope that their families can become good places to live.
We pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.
'A Good Place to Live', The Radio Pulpit (publisher and date unknown). 
O God the Father, good beyond all that is good, fair beyond all that is fair, in whom is calmness, peace and harmony; make up the divisions which keep us apart and bring us back into a unity of love which may bear some likeness to your divine nature. And as you are above all things make us one by the unity of a good mind, that through charity and affection we may be spiritually one, through that peace of yours which makes all things peaceful, and through the grace, mercy and tenderness of your Son, Jesus Christ.
Dionysius, cited in Praying with the Saints, Dublin: Veritas Publications, 1989, p.37. 
Lord, speak to me, that I may speak in living echoes of your tone; as you have sought, so let me seek your erring children... Freely I have received, may I freely give.
Help me to remember that a cancerous cell expects the rest of the body to nourish it: may I nourish others, and contribute to their well-being, without being concerned too much about any reciprocity.
In relating to others, help me to adjust to them sometimes, to be flexible when I ought to adapt to them; to be courageous when I am called upon to do or say something difficult to help another; to live in hope, that little by little I can have a part in the ongoing process of the divine redemption of the human race.
Reveal your gifts to me, and the limits of my abilities. I can't do everything to help everyone, but I can do something to help someone. Give me, please, wisdom to know how to help without getting all messed up; and how to help without messing others up.
Thank you Lord. Amen.
May God grant you the serenity to accept the things you cannot change, courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen.