Where did “The Serenity Prayer” come from?

Used by Alcoholics Anonymous and a very often printed on plaques and cards, the Serenity Prayer is part of our religious cultural fabric, but where did it come from?

According to June Bingham, a biographer of Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), it was Niebuhr who first penned the prayer and spoke it in a small church in Heath, Massachusetts.

Niebuhr occasionally preached in the small church near the place where he had a summer home. After a service where he spoke the prayer, a man named Howard Chandler Robbins, a neighbor, asked for a copy. According to the story, Niebuhr handed Robbins the original saying, “Here, take the prayer. I have no further use for it.”

Those words do not sound likely but that’s how the story goes. Robbins later published the prayer as part of a pamphlet the following year. Since then it has been adopted as the motto of Alcoholics Anonymous; the U.S.O. distributed millions of copies to U.S. soldiers during World War II; the National Council of Churches reprinted the prayer; it’s re-printed today in many forms. It often has no attribution, but according to Bingham’s biography, Courage to Change, the attribution should go to Niebuhr.

O God, give us serenity to accept what cannot change, courage to change what should be changed, and wisdom to distinguish the one from the other. — Reinhold Niebuhr, 1934

A Little Exercise for Young Theologians

by Helmut Thielicke

Helmut Thielicke.

Thielicke says some have “theologian’s disease” and use truth not to build their congregations by instruction but to tear them down.  Destroying a church in this way is the “starkest possible contrast with love,” Thielicke writes.  (31)

Thielicke says the greatest danger of knowledge about God is that you may lose sight of the Almighty in the process.

Says the first germ that causes theologians to catch this disease that infects congregations is when a minister no longer treats Holy Scripture as a means to come near to God but only as an end in itself of “exegetical endeavors.” Continue reading

Steadfast Through Every Change

I’ve been thinking a lot about the phrase that Leonard Allen spoke to me over coffee at Pour Jons. When talking about the unchanging nature of God Leonard suggested the phrase, “Steadfast through every change.”

Because, God does change His mind. He changes his strategies. He changes His heart. He is moved. In Christ, He is vulnerable, changing according to the actions of those around Him. But He is steadfast in every change.

I looked up the phrase because I wondered if there is a hymn or poem or Scripture text that uses this exact phrase. I understand that Steadfast is the English translation of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek words for the concept of God’s love that never fails. It’s often paired with “love” so that in Lamentations Jeremiah speaks of God’s “Steadfast Love” and in English we sing a song that’s beautifully tied to my faith growing up as a boy: Continue reading

A Prayer About the Arrogant

Psalm 73 marks the end of David‘s prayers and beginning of the worship leader, Asaph‘s in Book 3 of the Psalms.

The psalm moves from God’s goodness to Israel, to the psalmist losing his grip on reality, to a diatribe prayer about the arrogant culture in which he lives, to God’s faithfulness, ending with this beautiful line, “But as for me, it is good to be near God . . .”

What stood out initially to me in this psalm was the section about the arrogant that sounds a lot like me. It sounds like many in the first world.

My wife and I have a code that we don’t post on Facebook when people talk about certain things, but we say it to one another, and perhaps we ought to actually post it at times (we’ll get unfriended if we do, but may be for the best!). The thing we often say when someone is gripping publicly about some superficial thing like service at a restaurant, is “FWP.”

“FWP” — What’s that?

First World Problem. So, you had to wait for 30 minutes ON YOUR BUTT, while someone brings you food, and you are complaining about it? The salsa wasn’t as good as always, your coke was flat, the waitress wasn’t perky enough. These are first world problems. Half of the world goes hungry. You ought to be guilt tripped about that. Maybe we need to just start unfriending or hiding people who use social media to complain. As Steven Furtick says, paraphrased, “As Christians, we have a responsibility to be happy.” I’m sure Furtick said it somehow more colorfully than that.

So, if you get the urge to post something to complain that you think might be a first world problem, go read Psalm 73:3-12.

God invites us into His heart

Evangelical Christians of the last century have come to use a common, “Invite Jesus into my heart.” While I could argue the phrase is not very accurate biblical language, I want to instead flip the phrase on its head with what I think is a more accurate biblical and theological thought.

God invites us into His heart.

Since the beginning of biblical history, God has made moves to invite humans into His life, heart, and story. He has called upon humans saying, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” Leviticus 26:11-13 is the first time and Revelation 21:3 is the last time God or Christ is quoted as saying a phrase about being our God and humans His people. God also states His desire to dwell among us, which was put into practice in the incarnation (enfleshing) of Christ.

I gave a few examples in my sermon yesterday about the difference between God inviting us into His heart and us inviting Him into our hearts.

  1. Have you ever asked someone over to dinner then two days later realized while eating at their house, they’d flipped the invitation on you! That’s what happened in our relationship with God in use of this phrase, “invite Jesus into your heart.” God invited us into His heart, to know His love, His vast power, goodness, mercy, compassion, and unfathomable depths.
  2. Asking Jesus into our hearts is like a bucket asking the ocean to fill it. The ocean has no problem filling the bucket but the bucket loses out on a lot of ocean! No whales, no shrimp, no seashore, no dolphins, no waves, no power, no sailing, etc. Just a bucket of salty water. It’s not that Jesus can’t come into our lives and change our lives, but He desires that we come into His life, His story, His heart.

We join the journey with God. He is God and is not in the business of joining our journey as it is. He is in the business of turning us around and bringing us into His bigger story. A phrase like, “I need more God in my life” is small and insufficient for God. Instead, why not say, “I need to submit my life to God”? It’s God’s world that we are in, it’s in submitting to His life-giving reality that we find our own story in His.

God is not calling us to put more of Him in our story but for us to put more of ourselves in His story.

This is it, the Apocalypse, whoa

This Spring and Summer has been a learning first foray into preaching Revelation. I told the Garnett Church of Christ congregation that if I take the risk to preach on Revelation, they ought to take the risk to read Revelation. Many did! And we learned how to read Revelation in a new way.

After three months of study, we love the conclusion of the angel St. John fell down in front of, just after he told John to get up and stop groveling at his feet, that they were fellow servants: “Worship God. The testimony of Jesus Christ is the spirit of prophecy.” We learned that Revelation is not about images & predictions as much as it’s about God on the throne, Christ ruling now and forevermore, and aligning our lives to the kingdom that is both already and yet to come, the New Heaven and the New Earth, that we long to live in and we long to see break into the world even now.

  1. Revelation powerfully reminds us that no matter how bad the world seems, God is on the throne, Christ rules the cosmos!
  2. Revelation calls us to be faithful witnesses in the pattern of Christ.
  3. Revelation reminds us that Satan is going down, that God will judge the whole earth & all inhabitants, & His judgments are just and true.
  4. Revelation shows us a hopeful picture of the New Heaven & New Earth, that God in Christ is making “everything new,” removing the curse, & will complete his goal: to dwell with His people forever.
  5. Revelation gives us fresh courage for living now as we live counter to our culture that opposes Christ & encourages self-rule, as we endure hardship, persecution, & wait patiently for Christ’s return.
  6. Revelation is not about images & predictions but about God. The final word of the messenger to John is “Worship God.” Revelation shows us how to live & worship God as ruler of the universe & not ourselves, Satan, or any other power that claims to be god in our lives.

Resources I find very helpful on Revelation

Living Jesus DVD


Living Jesus DVD by Randy Harris

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