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Bring No Bitterness into the New Year

Many people regard New Year’s Resolutions with the same disdain they attribute to the much maligned fruitcake. I am a proponent of both. For several years now I have made the same New Year’s resolution and I ask God to help me to keep it.  I will take no bitterness into the New Year. Whatever has happened during the past twelve months that tends to sour my disposition, I resolve to let go. Whatever offenses I have suffered will not be dragged into the New Year.

Forgiveness is not as easy as it might sound. Partly it requires developing a thicker skin and realizing that I take far too many things personally. I need to lighten up. This is one of the concepts my friend, Dr. Monty Knight, discusses in his book, Balanced Living; Don’t Let Your Strengths Become Your Weakness. Continuing with Monty’s philosophy, I don’t have to go to every fight to which I am invited. That is a major concept. Let it go. Tom Newboult, a minister of religious education, once told me that sin is giving more importance to the moment than it is worth. In other words, don’t dwell in the negative. I think Tom hit the nail on the head. What a great concept!

Turning a negative into a positive is another methodology for dealing with difficult situations. Since I administered a not-for-profit agency for most of my career, I would often be attacked with,”Well, Mitch, you are just an idealist.” My reply became, “Thank you. I hope so.” The main thing about forgiveness for those of us who are Christian to remember is that we are able to forgive because we have been forgiven.

Bitterness is a terrible task master. It will ruin your life and suck all the goodness you receive into a dark hole. I recommend a proactive approach. Go on an active campaign to make those around you glad that you are there. Build them up by helping them feel good about themselves. Say something nice. Compliment him or her in a real genuine way. Call the person by name. Offer a specific compliment about a real accomplishment. On the other hand when you receive a compliment acknowledge it graciously with a simple “thank you.” In my book, Christian Civility in an Uncivil World, I discuss the power of words, but I am by no means the first to come to that conclusion.

Practicing my resolution of taking no bitterness into the New Year has helped me live a more productive, less stressful life. I believe you will experience the same happy results if you give it a try. I warn you that this is not easy and requires a proactive intentional effort.

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A Visit to Madison Avenue Baptist Church with Rev. Susan Sparks

Sunday January 12, my daughter, Suzanne, and I were fortunate to worship at Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City. My friend, Susan Sparks is the senior minister. We were greeted warmly by the greeter outside the door on the street. The church is located within the Roger Hotel, but with a separate entrance. Rev. Sparks came through the congregation greeting and welcoming visitors. The sanctuary is beautiful. Susan says that she and the congregation will join in the celebration of Say Something Nice Sunday on June 7.

We also met a group of women ministers from Ontario, Canada. They also committed to joining in the celebration of Say Something Nice Sunday.

The service was wonderful. The choir and the soloist were outstanding. The call to worship was, “Surly the Lord Is in This Place.” The sermon by Susan was not what I expected to hear, but was exactly what I needed to hear. Her sermon was based on passages from the Book of   Ecclesiastes. Her sermon in a nutshell, “Life is tough. Get over it and serve God anyway. What other choice do we have other than to go it alone?” Of course Susan had some great stories to bring her point home which she did in a very few minutes. She has the ability to make her point without chasing rabbits. According to the book’s writer, “There is nothing new under the sun. The sun comes up and the sun goes down.” I have had a hard time dealing with my wife, Carol’s, death. Her sermon helped put things in perspective. The closing hymn was one of my favorites, “We Shall Overcome.’

The congregation is up to its ears in social justice ministries, a coat drive currently. Susan writes a weekly excellent blog, “Shiny Side Up.” It was good to have been there. If you are in New York City on a Sunday go there. You are welcome no matter what your tradition or circumstances. Susan is the author of two books: Laugh Your Way to Grace and Preaching Punchlines. She is originally from North Carolina.

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Love and Hate – Charleston Post and Courier – Letters – 1- 5 – 2020

Hate is such a small word – only four characters, but the damage it does is enormous. Hate is contagious. It spreads like wildfire. If left unattended it will destroy an entire society. You are already shaking your head. I can hear you. “Impossible. You exaggerate. That’s too much.”

Love is also a small word. It too has only four characters, but its power is enormous. It can build relationships, build community, and overcome the effects of hate.”

Fourteen years ago a small group of us set out to create a better environment in which to talk with each other. Some applauded our efforts. Others ridiculed us and our intentions. The situation has grown worse. Violent speech leads to violent acts. In this season of peace in our country we have seen an increase in violence against our Jewish brothers and sisters.

Do not wait until June first Say Something Nice Day to Say something nice – not superficial, but heartfelt. Do not wait to do something nice for someone who does not expect it.

If we want a better world, it is up to you and me to build it. It may be by eliminating the word hate from our vocabularies and our thoughts. It’s worth a try.

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Why gratitude may be the best gift under the tree this year* – Jeff Brumley

If you’re reading this story on the new laptop or tablet or phone you just got for Christmas, be thankful.

But don’t forget also to be grateful, which, many spiritual leaders say, is not necessarily the same thing.

“We are taught repeatedly to be grateful when we have material gain, so it should come as no surprise that we wake up one day thinking people with more material possessions are more grateful,” said Joshua Hearne, abbot and director of Grace and Main Fellowship, an intentional Christian community devoted to hospitality, prayer and grassroots community development in Danville, Va.

“Our culture has taught us that gratitude is a bland cheerfulness that is all too often connected with financial security,” he said.

Rather, gratitude is a spiritual practice that, like other disciplines, requires daily attention. And its focus is on a growing awareness and experience of grace that may or may not be inspired by material blessings.

“In our experience, gratitude multiplies,” said Hearne, who serves as field personnel for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Those who cultivate gratitude, he added, “will not only be grateful for the thing itself, but they’ll be grateful for their own gratitude.”

Scarlette Jasper has seen that phenomenon firsthand.

Jasper is director of Olive Branch Ministries, which serves the homeless population, working poor and those experiencing medical crises, financial devastation and domestic violence in a 10-county area around Somerset, Ky.

The holidays always add a level of financial and emotional stress for most of the clients her ministry serves. It’s especially tough when children are involved.

“I had one call me last week saying the kids are asking ‘are we getting a tree?’” said Jasper, who also serves as CBF field personnel.

Likewise, there are more calls for help providing gifts and food.

“You just see the need increase,” she said.

But the gratitude also increases — even among the poorest people Jasper encounters.

Scarlette Jasper

“The families I work for are grateful for … the littlest things I do to brighten their day.”

It’s especially true for those struggling through medical challenges. People sitting with very ill or dying loved ones seem to be able to pull from a deep well of thanks for even the tiniest of moments of togetherness.

“They don’t have huge expectations,” Jasper said. “They are just appreciative … for the time they have together.”

Hearne said it isn’t necessary to feel sorry for people facing such challenges at Christmas. Doing so reveals a disturbing theology.

“This time of year it’s common to talk about how blessed we are and how sorry we feel for those who are doing without, assuming that material wealth is a mark of God’s favor or the value of a person,” he said.

Those who simultaneously experience poverty and gratitude, likewise, are not doing so despite their circumstances, Hearne said.

“It has little to do with their poverty. They just choose to practice gratitude.

*I posted this two years ago, but it is so good I decided to post it again.

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