Well here we are, in a different time than we’ve ever lived through in the United States of America. And I detect a spreading pessimism that isn’t exactly healthy to any society. And I want to dedicate my morning message today to the late Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, my mentor. In tough times, nothing is more important than there be a revival of positive thinking. Do you know the history? Let me tell you quickly. The power of positive thinking was coined and conceived by another pastor in our little denomination, which is the Reformed church in America in 1628. We will be celebrating our 400th anniversary in a couple of decades. But Norman Vincent Peale conceived and brought into classical theology, a concept called the Power of Positive Thinking. What happened was he had recently become pastor of a church that had dwindled in numbers with all of the faithful gradually moving on and dying on. And there wasn’t much of an interest in church. Secularism was ruling as it’s increasing its power again today across America. And what was happening in the neighborhood of the church, Marble Collegiate, 29th Street and 5th Avenue, the church that served Wall Street, almost every day at least one executive would be committing suicide, literally jumping out of their windows. The country had never been through anything like it.
Norman went to a special retreat in London with his wife Ruth and there they went to a private retreat where he had an awesome personal experience with Jesus Christ that transformed his life. A life from a religion called Christianity to a personal faith experience with the eternal God in Jesus. He came back to the depressed, yes, a real depression in Wall Street, to the people who were committing suicide and he started preaching faith, not doctrine, not theology, and not morality but the power of faith! He said, one of his first sermons was a text I’ve chosen for this morning, Psalm 37 and this is the verse. Imagine Norman Peale, a young guy then preaching this text loudly and it got onto the street and the people heard about it. He said, “Trust! Trust in the Lord! And do good!” Do good. “Then you will dwell in the land and enjoy security.” Wow.
People heard it and in their depression and in their despondency and in their anxiety and their stress and their despair and their disappointments and in their rejections a lot of their ego power drained away and they were left empty without an ego power. Suicides. Now something else came in and moved through Wall Street. It was the power of positive thinking. Believe in the best, believe in God, trust in the Lord. Now they were getting back as humans to the basic need in the human person. And that’s trust in the Lord. That’s the bread of life. Phenomenal. It’s the bread of life. The one basic need you may be poor but you do have the power to believe in God. You still have that. That’s a choice. Bread of life.
I talk about bread. I don’t think I’ve ever told you this but you know I think I was probably a teenager before I ever ate bread that was bought in the store. I was born in 1926. The depression was getting ready to blow away the confidence of people. And my father and mother did not have the money to buy bread. So my mother had to make it. Often I would come home from school; it was a little one-room country schoolhouse with eight grades made up of 17 persons. And I would walk home the half mile and get into the house and I could smell bread being baked. Whoever here smelled fresh bread being made. Anybody? Oh! What a blessing. Well maybe you make it now, but anyway oh I would touch it, mom would say not yet. We’ll eat it at dinner. And then always I would tear the crust off and eat the inside. Can you relate to that? You’re as bad as I am. My mom always said eat the crust. I didn’t care for the crust. Eat the crust, so had to eat the crust. Bread.
Oh I could tell you a lot of stories about bread. And with it my mother, but I think its because of that childhood experience, waiting for the bread to be baked, did something to me and my character, to realize that bread wasn’t a luxury, it wasn’t a desert, it wasn’t something that added tremendous prosperity to the table. Bread was basic! Lots of stuff could follow but bread is the basic.
And you know as we got wealthy enough to go buy a loaf I remember it was called Wonder Bread. Are they still in business? I don’t know if they are or aren’t but if they’re in business, you owe me for a commercial.
Here we are. It’s the basis of life. And I think that helped develop character. People who study my life say that Schuller always goes to the basic. It’s the way I was shaped by God and in my family. And you know trust in the Lord, do good. A lot of people listening to me are going through emotional depressions, anxiety, and worry: will they lose their house? Will they be among the people that are cut back as the factories cut back labor costs? Now will they be able to find a job and just to feed their family? And will they be able to send their kids to college?
Yesterday, I went to a commencement exercise, Westmont College in Santa Barbara because one of my granddaughters graduated. And there were about 300 in the class and it’s a Christian school and I was so impressed to look at the faces of all of these graduating seniors. They just looked beautiful. They radiated an innerness in their personality. It’s their personality that you could see; you could feel as they walked proudly in their cap and gowns. Christians. They had something. It’s faith in Jesus Christ that they had and were they beautiful. They were radiating a light that they would share with the world. Wow.
“Trust in the Lord, do good and you will dwell in the land and you will enjoy security.” That kind of a faith gives you an in depth security. I remember those years so well when our daughter Carol, 14 years old, was in that horrible accident. You all know about that. She lost the leg below the left knee. And then came the time in those seven months that she spent in the hospital bed and my mother, her mother, slept with her in a hospital room night after night. Then the doctors began saying they thought they might have to take the knee at mid joint and maybe the whole knee and part of the thigh. That hurt. We had problems dealing with that. How would we tell Carol? It’s more challenging if you’re an amputee if they cut above the knee. If you can save the knee, it helps so much, especially in prosthesis. Anyway, we told her. I don’t remember how we did it without crying, if you can never cry in front of your daughter or your child who’s going through a tragedy. She snapped back at us immediately. And she said, “I don’t care if they have to take my knee, or my thigh. It won’t change God’s plan for my life one bit.” Wow. That’s the fact. Whether it’s below the knee, through the knee or above the knee, won’t change God’s plan for my life one bit.
Now you can see why this bible verse has meant so much to me. “Trust in the Lord and do good then you will dwell in the land and enjoy security!” Hallelujah. It’s the crust of bread is positive thinking. Oh, you know, we need a revival of positive thinking. When Norman Vincent Peale introduced it and brought it into theology, I came along and spent most of my life as a classical theologian, incorporating the power of positive thinking into authentic healthy Christianity. And what I’ve had to do is tell people that when something tough happens, a terrible time is occurring, I don’t want you to raise your hand if you’ve had to evacuate your house. I don’t want you to raise your hand if you’ve been let go and are unemployed. But I do want to say something. Don’t exaggerate your problem. The normal inclination to address horrific experiences is to exaggerate. The line used more often is I’ve lost everything. I can’t tell you, I’ve heard it a thousand and a thousand more times in my 53 years of preaching here in California. You have not lost everything. Look at what you have left. Don’t look at what you’ve lost. You have not lost everything. So don’t exaggerate. Wow.
God has a purpose for your life and it still holds true even if you had to lose your home or lose your job. Because what is God’s purpose for your life and every life? It is to bring joy and hope to others, so if you can recapture the joy and hope that positive thinking brings, you will be a minister of healing to the others who are in the same spot. Yeah.
I remember reading a story, or I heard about it my first trip to Russia, they said you remind us of the Russian poet, whose name I’ve forgotten, but he was a famous poet and he was a Christian. And a reformist, a novelist and one day he was walking down the street and there was a man holding out his hands, begging. Well, this good poet was known to always be philanthropic. He would never turn away without giving something, so he stopped at the beggar, reached in his pockets, pulled them out. They were empty. He apologized; he said I’m sorry. I have nothing with me and then he said, but you are my brother and I bless you. Left. Probably about three hours later, he was coming home the same way, and the beggar was smiling. And he said why are you smiling at me? You’ve got nothing from me. And the beggar said oh I did get something from you. You called me your brother. Hallelujah.
That’s the purpose of life. And no matter how low down you may get in whatever the economy will evolve in the next few months, whatever you will never lose your power to choose to treat the human beings around you like a brother or like a sister. Wow.
Where are you at today? I don’t know. Have you lost your home? In danger of losing it? Are you out of work? Are you unemployed? Well a lot of people are in this country. But it’s still not a true recession according to the documents. It’s close but its not there. And it’s going to get better. I’m thinking of reprinting a book I wrote thirty some years ago. And the title was, if you know the title you can say it with me, Tough Times Never Last! But Tough People Do! “Trust in the Lord, do good and you will dwell in the land and enjoy security.” Hallelujah. And that’s positive thinking. Amen.