Spoken Word Messages

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At first, September 19, 1985, seemed like a normal day here in Mexico City, as millions of good, hardworking people busily began their morning. Then, around 7:19, a powerful 8.1-magnitude earthquake jolted the city, and life changed in an instant. Thousands of people lost their lives. Thousands more were injured. Large sections of the city were cut off from electricity and water. Hundreds of buildings collapsed, trapping people under piles of rubble.

The story is told of a man who was looking through his wife’s belongings shortly after she passed away. In her dresser, he found a very nice piece of clothing that she had bought on a trip many years earlier. He realized that she had never worn it; she was saving it for a special occasion. And now it was too late.

We live in a time when people value busyness. If your schedule is full and your to-do list is long, people assume you’re living a pretty successful life. But is that necessarily so?

For as long as people have put pen to paper, they have found satisfaction in keeping journals. So many people of all ages record special moments in their lives, expressing their inmost feelings and thoughts. Some do it to leave a record for their posterity; others write only for themselves. There’s just something about putting our life into words that helps us see it clearly, understand it, and over time, make it better.

As conflicts rage around the world, we may feel unsafe, helpless, even hopeless at times. But God doesn’t want His children to feel that way. He knows all about the world’s problems; yet He also knows how to give, as the scripture says, “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” (Isaiah 61:3). Jesus said, “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness” (John 12:46). Because of that belief, that trust, we can find beauty even on ugly days, light even on dark days, and peace and joy even amid turmoil and sorrow.

Beauty feeds our souls. We need food, water, and shelter to survive, but we need beauty to thrive. So in addition to planting vegetable gardens, we plant flowers. We build shelters, but we also paint murals, lay decorative tile, strum guitars, and build fountains like those we see here in beautiful abundance in Mexico. We crave the creativity that enhances our existence, even though some might consider it “nonessential.”

In a court of law, a judge is someone who has been chosen or appointed to pass judgment, based on their qualifications and wisdom. In the court of everyday life, we often decide to become self-appointed judges, even if we aren’t qualified or wise. That may be all right when it comes to personal decisions about what to do and how to live. But it becomes a problem when we start judging other people.

It takes the earth a little more than 365 days to circle the sun. Over the centuries, we’ve come to see the completion of one of those orbits and the beginning of a new one as a kind of fresh start for our lives. We use a new year to reflect on the past and anticipate the future. We ask ourselves, What have I learned? How have I changed? Who have I helped—even in small and simple ways? And what are my goals for the coming year?

Many years ago, a man resolved to write in his journal at the end of each day. It’s a resolution many people make, but his journal entries were different. They weren’t just a log of what happened that day. Before he wrote, he pondered this question: “Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch us or our children or our family today?” As he made it a habit to reflect on that question, he began to see evidence of God’s loving intervention that he hadn’t noticed before. It was as if simply asking the question “allowed God to show [him] what He had done.”[1] Somewhat unexpectedly, the more he recorded God’s goodness, the more he became aware of it.

Here inside the Charles Dickens House in London, England, sits a desk that once belonged to the great novelist. It was here that Charles Dickens wrote many of the works that are now considered classics of English literature.

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

For well over a hundred years, The Nutcracker ballet has delighted audiences at Christmastime. The ballet opens with family and friends gathering on Christmas Eve. The gift of a nutcracker unleashes a fantastic adventure for a little girl named Clara, complete with gingerbread soldiers, dancing snowflakes, a handsome prince, and a sugar plum fairy. Audiences around the world love the imaginative story, the unforgettable musical score by Tchaikovsky, and the fanciful choreography and sets. But at least part of the magic of The Nutcracker happens in gathering—the coming together of different people, not only onstage but also in the audience.

Friendship is at the heart of Christmas. On that first Christmas night, angels declared it to be a time of “peace [and] good will” (Luke 2:14). That spirit has persisted to this day. At Christmastime, we tend to think of others a little more kindly; we feel more generosity and compassion toward neighbors and strangers. As Charles Dickens wrote in his beloved story A Christmas Carol, “I have always thought of Christmas time … as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people … as if they really were fellow-passengers.”[1]

All good things, all important things, take time. That’s a truth that even children learn, and the lesson seems to come most powerfully at Christmas. Each year, children—and those who are children at heart—wait eagerly for the magic and wonder of Christmas. Excitement mounts as we count down the weeks, anticipate the days. Surely at least some of the joy found at this festive season comes from the fact that we’ve been looking forward to it for so long.

When we see someone who is successful and admired—full of good qualities and good works—we might assume that he or she is always confident and never overwhelmed. Meanwhile, painfully aware of our own weaknesses, we might doubt our ability to live up to life’s challenges.

We reap what you sow. It’s one of the basic truths of life, known by everyone who has ever planted a seed and hoped for a harvest. Long ago, the Apostle Paul expressed it this way: “He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.” It’s true of farming and of life in general. If we give little, we will get little; but if we give generously, we will receive abundantly. The great Apostle went on to plead that we let the feeling in our hearts match our giving, “not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthian 9:6-7). To give is good, but to give generously and cheerfully is even better.

In 1978, Nobel Prize winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn spoke at Harvard’s commencement ceremony. The students in the audience had reason to be proud of their accomplishments. They were graduating from one of the world’s most prestigious universities. Future success, at least by worldly standards, probably seemed assured.

Edinburgh has been the capital city of Scotland since the 15th century. It is known for its rich history and culture. But most people know it best for Edinburgh Castle, the city’s focal point and a beloved symbol of beautiful Scotland.

We live in a time when people value busyness. If your schedule is full and your to-do list is long, people assume you’re living a pretty successful life. But is that necessarily so?

At first, September 19, 1985, seemed like a normal day here in Mexico City, as millions of good, hardworking people busily began their morning. Then, around 7:19, a powerful 8.1-magnitude earthquake jolted the city, and life changed in an instant. Thousands of people lost their lives. Thousands more were injured. Large sections of the city were cut off from electricity and water. Hundreds of buildings collapsed, trapping people under piles of rubble.

The story is told of a man who was looking through his wife’s belongings shortly after she passed away. In her dresser, he found a very nice piece of clothing that she had bought on a trip many years earlier. He realized that she had never worn it; she was saving it for a special occasion. And now it was too late.

Every so often, life gives us little moments that help us understand some of the meaning behind the words “Dearest children, God is near you.”[i] A toddler lets go of your finger and takes her first few steps on her own. Years later, you watch with some pride but also some concern as she walks through the doors on her first day of school—and every day thereafter. And then, finally, those feelings return as she heads out to establish her own home and start the process over again with her own family. With each step, she grows more independent and strong. Yet she forever remains your beloved child.

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.