(full online service video below)
Harry Emerson Fosdick was an American Baptist and Presbyterian minister who said he met three types of people in the course of his ministry:
- People who are resentful toward life and think they have never been treated fairly. They have the attitude that they are misfortune’s favorite child.
- People who are legalistic toward life and think they receive what they deserve as they earn what they get. They recognize that there have been occasions when they have been cheated and there have been occasions when they have been fortunate, but when the ledger is tallied, they received about what they deserved.
Fosdick said you don’t get great living from people who fit in these two categories, but there is a third category of people Fosdick had observed whose attitude toward life is altogether different. They recognize there have been times in their lives when they have been mistreated. They are conscious that this is a part of life, but when they look at life as a whole, they are amazed at the presence of God and are appreciative of how much life and God has given them. They realize that when life is taken as a whole that they have received what they could never earn or deserve. It is from them that Dr. Fosdick said the finest living comes as they are thankful for the gift of life they can never earn or deserve.
It is in this third category of people that Fosdick said the finest living comes. I would define this category as people who are alive with life as their lives are defined by gratitude.
It was a holy moment as I visited with a member of the congregation I was serving as pastor about challenging news she had received. As I listened, I thought about the unfairness of life, and I tried, with all of the faith I could muster, to assure her of God’s presence even in the painful questions of life that she was facing.
We talked about the assurance of faith and the love of God that is eternal. She told me about her faith in the presence of her risen Savior and Lord, a faith that gave her strength to be alive with life. Our conversation lasted for about 20 minutes, but it seemed as though we were residing in eternity, which in reality we were. The presence of God’s Spirit in that hospital room was so real and empowering that we knew what Paul meant when he wrote in Romans 8:11, “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.”
In the journey that followed, I observed how she was alive with life. On this journey, she shared openly about her doubts as she thanked God for each day of her living. Our visits would always conclude with prayers for healing and the strength of God’s Spirit. Always, she would express gratitude for God’s Spirit that dwelled in her.
In the words of Harry Emerson Fosdick, from her, the finest living came. To put it another way, she as she was alive with life as she lived with gratitude for the gift of her life.
John Claypool in his book The Light Within You tells of a time he visited two women in a hospital. The first woman whom he visited could do nothing but complain. She did not like the particular hospital she was in – the bed was too hard, the sheets too scratchy, and the staff inconsiderate. When he noticed that she was having to eat a soft diet, she began to lament that she had lost more of her teeth, and could not chew well. On and on she went, wishing that things could be different. Every time Claypool tried to say something positive, she shot it down with her negativism.
Claypool states he left that room feeling depressed as he reported that he had never encountered a more negative person. A few minutes later he entered the room of another woman who was also facing painful realities. With the other visit fresh on his mind, he began to commiserate with this woman about her situation, but her attitude was entirely different. When he suggested that being in the hospital was an unpleasant experience, she countered by saying that she was grateful to be in such a place when you were as sick as she was. He surmised that the noise of the hospital and the hardness of the bed made hospital life inferior to life at home. She responded, “No, this bed suits me just fine, and I actually enjoy the company of the nurses coming in and out.” He saw that she too was on a soft diet, and he remarked that she must find this difficult, but a smile came to her face as she said, “Well, I just have two teeth left, but thank the Lord they hit!”
The Light Within You, John Claypool
Alive with life.
I would include the apostle Paul, who wrote the epistle to the Romans, in the category of people that Fosdick described – people whose lives are alive with life, people whose lives are defined by gratitude for the gift of God’s presence in their lives. Paul’s life, however, was not always included in this category. In his epistle to the Philippians, Paul describes his life before it was alive with life.:
If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more; circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee, as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. (Philippians 3:4b-6)
What changed between the legalism that defined Paul’s life prior to faith in Christ and the gratitude that defined Paul’s life in Romans 8:11? I think what changed was Paul’s life-changing from his focus on self-justification to his focus on gratitude for the Spirit of God dwelling in his life. It was the gift of God’s Spirit that he could not earn. It was the gift of God he could only accept with gratitude.
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.
Craig Barnes defines the difference that gratitude makes in this way:
Gratitude may be the best measure of our spirituality.” Why is this? Because gratitude demonstrates that we have been paying attention to the gifts we have received. Especially the gift of grace we have received in Jesus Christ.”
When Paul accepted the gift of God’s Spirit in his life, he became alive with life.
Anthony Ray Hinton spent 30 years on death row for a crime he didn’t commit. His time in jail was spent in solitary confinement in a five-by-seven-foot cell, allowed out only one hour a day. In the midst of this wilderness, Hinton quickly became a friend and counselor to other inmates and the death row guards, many of whom begged Hinton’s attorney to get him out.
A unanimous Supreme Court ruling ordered his release and he was able to walk free.
In an interview he is quoted saying:
“One does not know the value of freedom until it is taken away, People run out of the rain. I run into the rain…I am so grateful for every drop. Just to feel it on my face.”
Hinton was interviewed on 60 Minutes. The interviewer asked if he was angry at the people who put him in jail. He said he forgave them all. The interviewer asked, “but they took 30 years of your life — how can you not be angry?” Hinton responded: “If I’m angry and unforgiving, they will have taken the rest of my life.”
In another interview, Hinton said,
The world didn’t give you your joy, and the world can’t take it away. You can let people come into your life and destroy it, but I refuse to let anyone take my joy. I wake up in the morning and I don’t need anyone to make me laugh. I’m going to laugh on my own, because I have been blessed to see another day, and when you’re blessed to see another day that should automatically give you joy.
How about you? Where do you find yourself today as you live your life? Do you find yourself living in resentment, living in self-righteous judgment, or living in gratitude?
Are you alive with life that is defined by the resurrected Jesus? Are you alive with life that is made possible by the gift of God’s Spirit dwelling in you? Are you alive with life in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?
Alive with Life
by Pastor Marc Brown
January 9, 2022
Accompanying Scriptures: Romans 8:9-17
Fort Hill United Methodist Church
Order of Worship for January 2, 2021
Scripture Lesson Romans 8:9-17
The Good News “Alive With Life”
Music “Spirit Song”
Closing Music “Tell Out, My Soul” by David Paxton