Spoken Word Messages

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Years ago, a couple planted a vegetable garden for the first time. Eagerly looking forward to fresh produce later in the year, they carefully selected plants, placed them in good soil, and set the sprinklers for regular watering. Then life got busy, and every so often they would check on their tender plants. When the time came to pick the vegetables, they were disappointed to find that insects had attacked the stems and leaves, and rodents had eaten what little of the harvest survived.

Here’s a question to think about: When was the last time you sincerely apologized? We all do things that hurt others, even if we don’t mean to. But we don’t always accept responsibility for the wrong we’ve done or try to make things right. That’s what it means to apologize.

From this vantage point in Mexico City, you can see for miles. This high-altitude, culturally rich city of 22 million people is the largest not just in Mexico but in all of North America. You could easily lose your way in such a massive city; but if you go a little higher, elevate your perspective, you can orient yourself in a way that simply isn’t possible from ground level.

Not long into our search for happiness, we find that not all kinds of happiness are the same. Some of it is superficial. Some of it is short lived. And then there’s a kind of happiness that’s deep and long lasting. An old Chinese proverb puts it this way: “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.”[1]

The world is constantly changing. That’s not new information; the world has been changing since the very beginning, and we’re not the first to notice it. The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who lived more than 2,500 years ago, is credited with the observation “The only constant in life is change.” Looking back through history, you will find a story of constant change. Flowers bloom and then fade. Kingdoms rise and fall. People grow, age, and pass away. It has always been hard to find anything permanent in this world.

Standing behind me in newly refurbished glory after almost five years of reconstruction, polishing, and paint is the British icon known as Big Ben. It stands prominently on the north end of the Houses of Parliament, on the edge of the River Thames.

Arthur Henry King was a beloved English professor who was twice honored by England’s Queen Elizabeth II for his worldwide professional contributions. A deeply religious man, aware of the contention and injustice in society, he wrote: “We are not whole: we feel separated, we feel incomplete. … How can we be at one with ourselves, and with father, mother, brother, sister, husband, or wife, if we are not at one with God? If we were at one with God, should we not feel at one with all mankind?”[i]

If Psalm 136 had a title, it might well be “His Mercy Endureth for Ever.” That phrase is repeated 26 times—in every verse of the psalm. The psalmist writes of various ways the Lord has expressed His mercy throughout the centuries. But this psalm is more than a history lesson; you get the sense that the psalmist didn’t just write about mercy but had also experienced it.

We are blessed to live in a world of ups and downs, light and darkness, good and bad. We rejoice in the good, but it can be a bit disorienting when, despite our best efforts, accidents happen, mistakes are made, and bad things happen to good people.

On July 24, 1849, John Benson was headed west, drawn by the prospect of gold in California. The American West was sparsely populated in those days. But on his way, John was surprised when he crossed paths with several thousand others who in the last two years had settled in the desert wilderness of the Salt Lake Valley. They insisted that he join them for dinner. Afterward, as John continued his journey, these pioneers stayed in his mind. “Where did they come from?” he later wrote in his journal. “How did they get here?”[i]

We feel better when we spend time outside. Most of us know this by experience, and research backs it up. Spending time in nature has been shown to help reduce stress, clarify thoughts, and improve our well-being.[i] A walk in the woods, a morning in the garden, a visit to the seashore can both calm and enliven our senses.

Computer science has given us some amazing technologies in the field of artificial intelligence, or AI. Among the most recent is chatbots. You can ask a chatbot a question, and it will respond with relevant, natural-sounding answers.[i] What’s more, you can ask a chatbot to write, draw, and even sing. In less than two seconds, the chatbot can create poems, images, and songs that are often surprisingly similar to what human authors and artists would produce.

Much of the world was at war in 1941, when United States president Franklin D. Roosevelt prepared to give his annual State of the Union Address. As he thought about the fears and concerns of his fellow citizens—concerns shared by many around the world—Roosevelt presented to his speechwriters an idea for the conclusion of his speech. One of the writers remembered the moment this way: “He leaned far back in his swivel chair with his gaze on the ceiling. It was a long pause. … Then he leaned forward again in his chair” and dictated what he wanted to say.[1] It came to be known as the “Four Freedoms Speech.”

When you come here to Mexico, you feel a welcoming spirit. You often hear people say, “Mi casa es tu casa,” which is Spanish for “my house is your house.” With that kind of openness, visitors quickly become friends. Hearts open wide and freely as people generously welcome others into their lives. Relationships are cherished here. Indeed, that sense of community, of belonging, is a key source of identity for people all around the Latino world.

Perhaps the best-known prayer ever uttered, the Lord’s Prayer, begins: “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name” (Matthew 6:9). To hallow is to make sacred or holy, to revere and respect, so the prayer opens in reverence for the name of God. There are many names and titles we can use to refer to God, all of them hallowed and worthy of reverence, but it’s significant that the name we’re invited to use in this prayer is “Father.”

How often have you looked at what’s pressing in your life and said, “There just aren’t enough hours in the day”? Or responded to an invitation with, “I’m sorry; I don’t have time”? Or looked at the clock in disbelief and wondered, “Where did the day go?”

Do you sometimes wish you could live your life over? Maybe you made some regrettable choices or let opportunities pass, and you think, “If only I knew then what I know now, I would have done things differently.”

In every nation there are symbols of the character and courage of its people. In Great Britain, one of these symbols is the Cabinet War Rooms.

The hymn just sung by the Choir was written well over 150 years ago, and it was inspired by words that are much older than that. Nearly 2,000 years ago, the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, a companion and fellow believer who had served alongside Paul in his ministry. Paul encouraged his beloved young friend with these words: “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life” (1 Timothy 6:12).

A playground is a happy place to be. The world seems a little better, a little happier, when children are at play. And when a child is happy, somewhere a mother is happy too.

Three times as many sheep as people live here in the beautiful country of Wales![i] Sheep are simply part of the landscape. Most every day, on the hillsides and along the roads, sheep follow their shepherds, a few of them wandering astray perhaps, but all of them—hopefully—finding their way back to the fold. Gazing at the Welsh countryside, you can’t help but ponder on the symbolism of sheep, green pastures, and the Good Shepherd.

An African folk tale suggests that the world’s first hippopotamus was not the bald, wrinkled animal we know today. Instead, he had the most beautiful fur coat and mane of all the animals. The hippo was so proud of his fur that he slept near the fire every night, so that all the other animals could admire him, even in the dark.

How often have you looked at what’s pressing in your life and said, “There just aren’t enough hours in the day”? Or responded to an invitation with, “I’m sorry; I don’t have time”? Or looked at the clock in disbelief and wondered, “Where did the day go?”

True friendship is one of the greatest blessings, and deepest needs, in our world today. We need each other. In fact, God wants us to need each other. He didn’t send us here to be alone.[1] This life was designed as a place where we would help and support each other, confide in and trust each other—where we would find and be true friends.   

Lloyd: Thank you, Madison, Choir, and Orchestra. Today, I’m here with Conlon and Rachel Bonner. Recently, their beautiful 9-month-old son, Joshua, died unexpectedly. Rachel, Conlon, thank you for being with us on this Easter Sunday. How has your faith in Jesus Christ helped you over these past several months?  

More than 2,000 years ago, Jesus of Nazareth taught a higher, holier way—higher than what religious leaders of His day were teaching and certainly higher than our natural inclinations. Perhaps the most stunning of His invitations is this one: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

It probably goes without saying that everyone wants to be happy. It seems logical, then, that we would spend most of our time and energy in search of happiness and that the harder we search the happier we’ll be. But it turns out that this isn’t necessarily the case.

The scriptures give wise and loving counsel for all kinds of situations we might face in life. Even so, when those situations get to be particularly thorny or complex, we naturally worry about doing the wrong thing. We might ask, “What does God want me to do?”

Most would agree that the world today seems to be in turmoil. Troubling events large and small swirl around us, from war to poverty to natural disasters. During such tragedies, it’s inspiring to see compassionate people come to the rescue. Humble heroes see others in need and provide essentials like food and shelter, but they also provide something less tangible—though not less essential: they give hope. And quite often, that hope comes from faith in God. People need physical strength to rebuild their homes, but they need spiritual strength to rebuild their future. Food and water sustain life, but spirituality gives life meaning.[1] 

We all know that some days can be full of peace and happiness, while other days seem to be unrelentingly hard. As one six-year-old so wisely said, “You can have a no problem day, but you can’t have a no problem life.”[1]