University Congregational Church
Feb. 16, 2020
Staying Positive in a Negative World: Look for the Best in Others
I’d like to begin today with a survey of the various types of lessons that you may have had to learn in your lifetime. This is group participation time…
• How many of you have ever taken some type of music lessons?
• How many have taken any swimming lessons?
• How about golf lessons?
• What about flying lessons?
• How many have ever taken cooking lessons?
• What about some kind of sports lessons – Horseback riding? Tennis?
• Public speaking lessons?
You get the idea. Our society believes in continuing education. But, while all of the lessons that you just indicated you’ve had, are very good, there’s one area of lessons that most of us have never had any public, formal training in. Yet it’s the most important area of all – relationships! We all need lessons on relationships. We all need lessons on loving.
Former President Bush #41, wanted a “kinder, gentler nation.” I won’t ask you to raise your hand if you think we got there. Today we are going to learn something together about relationships and being positive while looking for the best in others.
As we continue our sermon series on “Staying Positive in a Negative World”, I’d like to start with our traditional reading from Philippians. The apostle Paul is writing this letter to the church at Philippi from a Roman jail. In spite of his bleak situation and imprisonment, Paul writes with thanksgiving and even joy.
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you…
It was customary in that time for the letter writer to identify him/herself first and then to identify the recipient. Paul and Timothy were sending this letter (likely Paul was sending it via Timothy) to the church in Philippi. What is remarkable very quickly is how Paul communicates from his heart that the people in the church are important to him. He expresses his appreciation for them immediately: “I thank my God every time I remember you.” He says this right up front in his letter to them.
If I were Paul and I were in a Roman jail, known for its harsh conditions, I might have other things on my mind. But Paul set a wonderful example of how to express ourselves appropriately to those who are important to us. In a few short phrases, he expresses joy, gratitude, confidence, affection and longing for them all.
The writer of Proverbs said it this way: “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Prov. 18:21)
Beyond what I’ve read for you, in verse 8, Paul goes on to say that he longs for the people of Philippi with the “affection of Christ.” The literal translation is with the “bowels of Christ”. Seriously. The reason is that in Hebrew the idea was that the bowels were the place of human emotion – much like we equate the heart to human emotion. I wouldn’t suggest that you tell anyone today that your bowels are on fire for them – but that is how Paul is expressing himself toward the church in Philippi!
I chose this text for today’s lesson in how to be positive because we are focusing in on looking for the best in others this week. To be a positive person, it is important to learn how to look on the bright side – and that includes when we look at other people.
I’m fairly certain that the church at Philippi was an ordinary church with ordinary people.
• In any group, in any church, as in any collection of humanity, there are a few – well – difficult people. Paul didn’t point them out. He addressed them later, it’s true. But he didn’t start out with that.
• In any group, in any church, there are a few less than perfect situations. Paul didn’t write about them up front.
• In any group, in any church, there are a few organizational problems. Paul chose to praise the good things first.
Ken Blanchard who wrote The One Minute Manager said, “Catch people doing something right and then tell them about it.” The Apostle Paul must have known that continually thinking and talking about the weaknesses of people or organizations will destroy relationships, businesses, churches, or organizations. But thinking and speaking positively about and to one another will make relationships strong. Peter Drucker is credited with saying, “We need to build on people’s strengths and make their weaknesses irrelevant.”
When I do marriage counseling with couples, either before their weddings or when they are struggling after they are married, one of the activities I ask them to do is to list all of the reasons they love one another. (They do this activity individually without sharing it with one another until we meet.) When we are together, I ask them to share their lists verbally with one another – and to explain and give specific examples. It is a beautiful experience to hear the recipient express delight when he/she hears why they are loved.
“Really? You think that’s important?”
“You love me for that?”
“Awe, that’s so nice!”
“I didn’t know it meant that much to you!”
Sometimes, I also ask the couples to make a list of the things about their partner that can become annoying. I watch the speed at which that list develops. What is most interesting to me as a counselor is that couples who are young and in love are quick to make a list of reasons to love, and usually do not have a very long list of things that annoy them. Couples who have been married for years are often the opposite – their list of reasons they love one another are harder to make and the list of things that annoy them are easy and longer!
When we determine to look for the best in others, it keeps relationships strong and it helps each person be more positive. When we look for the best in others, we find them easier to love.
So, let me ask you a personal question. How long has it been since you have told someone important in your life that you loved them? A spouse. A child. A friend. A confidant. A teacher. If we love a person that deeply, then be sure to show it and speak it – look them in the eyes and say it aloud. Actions are important and they do often speak louder than words, but that doesn’t mean that words are not important or aren’t needed.
There is a story about one spouse who was asked by another, “Why don’t you tell me you love me?” The answer was, “I told you 20 years ago that I love you, and if I change my mind, I’ll let you know.”
We learn from Paul’s example that expressing our love in words is a wonderful thing. So, let’s develop the art of expressing both the actions of love and the words of love – straight from the heart.
An anonymous writer sums up the value of being positive about people, even those who may disappoint us when writing, “When we are given our rewards, I would prefer to be found to have erred on the side of grace rather than judgment: to have loved to much rather than too little; to have forgiven the undeserving rather than refused forgiveness to that one who deserved it; to have fed a parasite rather than to have neglected one who was truly hungry; to have been taken advantage of rather than to have taken undue advantage; to have believed too much in my brothers rather than too little; having been wrong on the side of too much trust than too much cynicism; to have believed the best and been wrong, than to have believed the worst and been right.”
When I was growing up, my Papa and I used to play a game. When we walked through the store or down the street, he would suggest that we strike a particular look on our faces. We would agree to be laughing, sad, happy, scowling, angry, or silly together and then register the response of the people around us. It was amazing that they almost always ended up with a similar emotion. If we smiled and said, “Good morning!” They responded with “Great day!” But if we scowled and barked a “That’s a fine how-do-you-do…” They would remark something awful in return. If we were laughing and giggling, they would laugh and enjoy themselves too! We enjoyed this game all the way through my high school years together.
If you want to be positive in a negative world, you can kill two preverbal birds with one stone this week! You can become more positive by looking for the best in someone else – and then building them up. It will help you be more positive and it will make their day. Give it a try and enjoy how it helps you feel and how it builds a better world for both of you.