Friday, August 11, 2017

Be Courageous (Joshua 1:1-9) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Two little brothers walked into a dentist's office.  One said: “I want a tooth taken out and I don't want any gas because we're in a hurry.”  The dentist said: “You're quite a brave young man.  Which tooth is it?”  The boy turned to his smaller brother, and said: “Show him your tooth, Tommy.”

A common fear - going to the dentist.   What are you afraid of?   Is there something you are genuinely afraid of?  Psychology tells us that fear is an innate response to physical and emotional danger.  If we didn't feel fear, we couldn't protect ourselves from legitimate threats.  Fear is a survival instinct.  Fear is a gift of our Creator.   Only a fool is never afraid.  So fear plays a positive role in our lives.  There are times we should be afraid and react accordingly.

But sometimes we fear things that aren’t a threat to our lives or welfare; we turn away or flee or hang back for no good reason.  Psychology recommends that confronting our fears is the best way to conquer and get past them.  If it’s public speaking, practice it, if its fear of heights, get on an outside elevator, if its fear of dogs, get a puppy.

Fear and courage is something the ancient philosophers pondered about.  The 5th century Greek philosopher Plato identified wisdom with one’s mind and courage with one’s heart.  The value of courage was revered.  You may not be as large as a lion, but you can possess the courage of a lion.  In The Wizard of Oz one of Dorothy’s companions is a cowardly lion who desperately desires courage.  The wizard pretends to give courage to him, but the irony is that he possessed it all along.  The wizard helped the lion find what was inside him all the time.  I believe God does implant courage in our hearts, that is part of what it means to be made in God’s image, but I also believe we must pray to God for courage in certain situations.  And speaking personally I know God will grant it when you need it.

According to scripture, the antidote to fear is courage.  What is courage?  The ability to act or do something in spite of being afraid.  The ability and willingness to face or confront that which frightens you.  Though frightened, rather than being paralyzed, you find the courage to act. 

Fears can be real or imagined.  Common fears are fear of the unknown, the fear of uncertainty, the fear of violence, the fear of dying and the fear of death.   Yes, life is no place for cowards.   A life well lived requires key virtues: wisdom, kindness, self-control, and courage.

We think of physical courage, like the courage to rescue someone from a burning car or house or to rescue someone who is drowning.  We think of moral courage like the courage to speak up for what is right despite criticism and opposition, to speak the truth when others are silent, to take a stand, when others shy away.  And then there is spiritual courage.  To courage to believe and trust in God, even when things are collapsing around you.  The courage to trust in God's love and mercy, amidst disappointment and loss.  The courage to doubt your doubts and to believe even with unanswered questions.  Yes, courage is an essential quality for life.

In our O.T. Lesson we learn that the great prophet Moses, who by the power of God had led the Israelites out of Egypt, has died.  After wandering around in the wilderness of Sinai for 40 years, the people are poised to enter the promised land.  The Lord decides to call a successor.

God calls Joshua.  Joshua is overcome with fear at taking on such a daunting task.  Who wants to follow in the footsteps of the great Moses?

Seeing the fear in Joshua's heart, the Lord speaks to Joshua: “My servant Moses is dead.  Now proceed to cross the Jordan you and all this people into the land that I am giving to them as I promised to Moses.  As I was with Moses so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.  Be strong and courageous, for you shall put this people in possession of the land that I swore to their ancestors to give them.  Only be strong and courageous, do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Did people in Jesus day have to deal with fear in their lives?  Of course.  Jesus knew this and spoke directly to them.  We read many stories where Jesus said to his followers: “Do not be afraid” or “fear not.”  In fact, those words occur in the entire bible 365 times.  God knows that we must learn to face and conquer our fears, if we are going to be able to lead full lives and obey his call upon our lives.

Who comes to mind when you think of courageous people?  I think of the men and women of our military who put themselves in harm's way and police and firefighters and lifeguards who put their lives on the line every day for you and me.

I also think of Rev. Sarah Stephens, a Presbyterian Pastor, who graduated from Princeton seminary 10 years after I did. She has spent the last three decades of ministry on three continents.  God didn’t call her into parish ministry, which can be dangerous enough, but into the arena of human rights advocacy, with an emphasis on combating human trafficking.   She was hired by the International Catholic Migration Commission, and was assigned to Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo.  She learned about the scale of human trafficking in the region.  She worked to create shelters and other social services for survivors of trafficking and to address legal and economic issues affecting them.  She often put herself in harm’s way.

She said:  “We worked with many wonderful Albanian colleagues to reduce human trafficking and reduce stigmatizing those who were trafficked. We were able to educate people and governments that exploitation includes not just women, but men and children.”

There are times when out of obedience and love for Jesus, you must find courage, the courage to speak up for Jesus, for your faith, to let others know you are a follower of Jesus, that you are doing something because you are a Christian and Jesus is the Lord of your life.  The courage to say something rather than being silent, to intervene in someone's life, to be frank and honest with someone.  Saying to a friend, or family member: “I must tell you that I think you are making a major mistake.  I think you are on the wrong path. I know this may upset or offend you.  I have to be honest with you, because I care about you and value our friendship.”

I like what a preacher said to one of his members: A young man had gone bankrupt due to a failed business venture.  He told this preacher he had lost everything.  The preacher replied: “Let me correct you.  You haven't lost everything.  You had something before you had a business.  You had a dream and you had the nerve to try to make it happen.  You haven't lost that.  Nobody ever loses courage.  Courage isn't something you lose because courage is always an option.  Courage is a choice.  And by God's grace, it is always there for you to choose.  My friend, God wants you to choose courag.  Will you choose it?

I believe the story of Joshua inspires us when we face times of fear.  It tells us that God is present with us, that God goes with us, when we are called to take on some project or task or mission or assignment.  God says to us: “Be strong and courageous, do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  This is God’s promise to you and to me.

Pray for boldness.  Courage is not the absence of fear.  Courage is acting, doing something, despite being afraid out of love: your love God, your love for some person, your love for the truth.  Following Jesus requires courage and courage comes from trusting in Him.

Scripture says: “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of courage, of love and of self-discipline.   Amen!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Celebrate the Journey (Psalm 90:1-6) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A grandmother tells this story.  “My 5-year-old granddaughter overheard conversations from her parents about my occasional heart problem, the-fast beating I experienced, when I would try to sleep. One evening as was our custom, we settled down to say our prayers before bedtime.  She prayed: ‘Dear Jesus, please make Grandma's heart stop beating so she can get some sleep.’"

A man writes: “Passing by a table in a local restaurant, I saw a gentleman I knew who was turning 100 the following week.  He was having dinner with his rather large family. I stopped and said to him, ‘Hey George, you're out celebrating a little early, aren't you?’ He looked at me and replied: ‘At my age, son, every day is a celebration!’

Welcome to celebrate the journey.  I want to thank Donna Pierce, our Coordinator for Congregational Care, who helped to organize today’s service.  Today we are recognizing and honoring 20 members of PBPC who have reached the exceptional age of 90 or older.   What is it?  The ocean, the moderate climate, San Diego, good genes, the grace of God?   These people have been on the journey longer than the rest of us, but don’t lose heart, keep breathing, keep moving, keep praying, keep worshipping, for one day it we will honor you when you reach this revered age.   Yes, we value life and we value living.

A recent article said life expectancy in the USA hits a record high.  Life expectancy in the United States in 1900 was about 47.  Today, the average lifespan for men is 76.4 and for women about 81.2.  By 2040 its projected that the life expectancy for men will be 86 and for women 91.

Studies point out the positive role that spirituality/religious faith, prayer and worship play in our journey of life. People who attend church live longer and are less stressed.   The research from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee reveals non-churchgoers are significantly more stressed than those who attend religious services.  Have you observed this?  The article states: “Attending church is actually good for your health. Worship is the key; it could be church, a synagogue, a mosque.  It is about faith.”   I know 20 special people who would all affirm how indispensable faith has been in their journey.  God earnestly desires for human beings to be in fellowship, in a right relationship with Him, no matter what our age, from children to the elderly.

C. G. Jung, the famous 20th century Swiss psychoanalyst, wrote: “Among all my patients in the second half of life, that is to say, over 35, there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not finding a religious outlook on life, and none of them has been really healed, who did not regain his religious outlook.  We grow old unsatisfactorily when our personalities are deprived of such a basic need.  To go through the later stages of life without any thought of the meaning of life and the author of our existence is a situation fraught with danger.”  St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo, in the 4th century wrote: “O God our hearts are restless until they find rest in thee.”

What insights do we gain from scripture about life’s journey and especially its final stage?   Human life is a gift from God our creator.  You and I exist by the grace of God.   Your life is unique, there is no one else in the universe exactly like you.   Life is transitory.  Our mortal lives have a beginning and an end.  Scripture says: “Abraham lived 175 years and then breathed his last, and died in a good old age, an old man full of years, and was gathered to his people.”

The psalmist says: “Lord, teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom. For a 1000 years in your sight, are like a day that has just gone by or like a watch in the night.  You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning, though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered.”   Yes, life in God’s sight is short, brief; in the light of eternity it is like new grass in the morning and dry and withered by the evening.  Lord, Lord teach us to make good use of our days, to fill them, to love others, to witness to you, to honor God every day, to spend our days wisely and not waste them or use them against God.

Suffering, pain, grief and disappointment are part of life’s journey.   Human sin and evil take their toll.   We depend upon God, we depend upon Jesus, and one another to help us get through the setbacks and hurt of life.   But that doesn’t tell the whole story.  Because life is also filled with joy, adventures, surprises, blessings, laughter, miracles, hope and love, all of which comes from God.

We were created for positive and lasting relationships with God and one another.  The role of family, friends and the family of God, the church, is crucial along the journey.  The psalmist says: “Sing to the Lord a new song; sing God’s praise in the assembly of his faithful people.  For the Lord takes pleasure in his people.”

God establishes seasons or special times in our lives.  Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes: “For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven.”   We must seek to understand God’s timing, God’s lessons, God’s moment, God’s purposes and plans in the seasons of our lives.

God has given us physical bodies to care for.  And if we don’t abuse them, if we care for them, they usually serve us for many years.  We all know how important regular exercise is.  Walking, running, swimming, dancing, bike-riding, weight-lifting, it doesn’t matter.

l regularly see older people in their 70’s and 80’s working out at 24 Hour Fitness.  As a senior, it inspires me. Not long ago I had just finished doing a couple sets of shoulder presses with my highest weight ever.  I was very proud.  I stood up when a man much older than I, a slender man, one might even say skinny, asked if he could use the machine. I said of course.

I remember thinking I hope he doesn’t hurt himself.  That’s a lot of weight.  Maybe I should offer to remove some of the weight.  I waited for him to lower the weight.  Instead, he sat down, put both hands on the bar and pressed the weight I had been struggling with about 15 times over his head.  Then he added about 20 more pounds and repeated it.   I was shocked.   He stood up and said: “I’m finished young man, it’s your turn.”  I said, “No sir, I’m all done.”   After my pride recovered, I thought wow, we really can exercise and gain strength at any age.

God wants to use us for His glory and Kingdom throughout our lives, yes even in the twilight years.   I think of seniors in our own church, people who are singing in the choir, serving on session, volunteering with the Boy Scouts, visiting members in their homes and in the hospitals, doing projects at church on Wednesdays, volunteering in the community.  Such people are an inspiration in continuing to glorify God.

I read a story recently of an elderly woman who heard a sermon in which she felt God tugging at her heart to look for ways in which she could use her gifts to minister to the needs of others. She realized that she had the gift of hospitality. She lived alone in a small apartment near a large university.   She pondered the needs around her and she thought of the students nearby, who were so far away from home.   An idea came to her.  She got a stack of three-by- five cards and wrote on each one the following words: "Are you homesick? Come to my house at 4:00 p.m. for tea." She included a phone number and address and then posted the cards all around campus.

At first nothing happened, but then homesick students slowly began trickling into her house each week for tea. When she died ten years later, eighty honorary pallbearers attended her funeral.   Each one of them had been a student who, once upon a time, found a hot cup of tea, a sense of home, and the gospel of Jesus in the hospitable heart of this faithful servant.

Some persons become bitter as they age.  They focus on the negative.  They feel like they have no purpose, that no one cares, that their life is virtually over.  They feel like they have been cheated.  They focus on their limitations due to age. They isolate themselves, feel sorry for themselves, and cut off ties with family and friends.

Jesus says:   Don’t do that.  Don’t go down that path.  Don’t go there.  You have a choice.  Stay positive, stay connected, stay engaged.  Believe that God has something to offer you and to offer others through you.

When John Quincy Adams, our 6th president, was an elderly man, a young friend asked: "How is John Quincy Adams today?" Adams replied: “John Quincy Adams is very well, thank you.  But the house he lives in is sadly dilapidated. It is tottering on its foundations. The walls are badly shattered and the roof is worn. The building trembles with every wind, and I think John Quincy Adams will have to move out before long. But he himself is very well, thank you.”

The Bible speaks of the importance of maintaining a positive and hopeful attitude along life's journey. I Thessalonians says: “Rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Jesus Christ for you.”   God desires an attitude of thankfulness, appreciation, humility and joy.

For how you spend your years matters, it matters to others, and it matters to God.   Just last week Jane Kay told Donna Pierce, our Coordinator for Congregational Care, that she wanted Donna to help her if one of our members died.  Jane said she would take care of the arrangements and Donna would take care of the day of the memorial service at church.  Jane was still thinking of serving God almost literally until her last breath.

The late Dr. Norman Cousins wrote: “Death is not the greatest tragedy which can befall a person; rather, the tragedy is in what dies in a person, while he or she is alive.”   This idea captures the heart of scripture.   A good prayer is: “God what do you want me to do with my life before I die?”   God is not finished with you.  Let us celebrate life’s journey in light of the one who is our dwelling place in all generations, from everlasting to everlasting, until the last trumpet sounds and Jesus welcomes into glory.   Amen!

Friday, July 28, 2017

In Times of Grieving (Matt. 5:4; II Cor. 1:3-7) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

In her book The Year of Magical Thinking, author Joan Didion tries to make sense of her world after the death of her husband.   She marvels at the capacity of grief "to derange the mind," that is, to throw its victims into a mode of irrationality.   It’s difficult to think and live as though the person you loved is really dead.  Surely there has been some mistake of diagnosis or identity "I was thinking as small children think," she writes, "as if my thoughts or wishes had the power to change the outcome."  One day Didion was clearing the shelves of her husband's clothes, putting them in stacks to give away to thrift shops. But she couldn't bring herself to give away his shoes. "I stood there for a moment, then realized why: he would need shoes if he was to return home."

Jesus said: “Blessed are those who mourn.”  We grieve when we have lost something or someone meaningful and significant and precious, someone integral to our identity.  Grief is our human response to loss.  The Greek word for mourning which Jesus uses in this beatitude is penthountes.  It is the strongest word for mourning in the Greek language.  It’s a word used for mourning the death of a loved one.

There is no question that people share much in common when grieving: like shock, denial, anger, confusion, emptiness, depression, loneliness, and fear. On the other hand, grief is unique; everyone mourns in their own way.   You must be careful not to judge someone for not grieving in the way you understand it or the way you grieved.

There is no well-ordered progression from one stage to the next. In reality, there is much looping back, or stages can hit at the same time, or occur out of order. The stages model, like Elisabeth Kubler Ross’ five stages, Denial, Anger, Depression, Bargaining, and Acceptance are still a good guide of what to expect, but it’s vital to interpret the stages loosely and expect individual variation.  For example, depression isolation, and loneliness often happen late in the grief process, months after the tragedy strikes.  It actually is normal and expected for you to be depressed and sad eight months or more later.  Friends often don’t understand this, and feel that it should be time for you to "get over it" or to “move on” and rejoin the land of the living.  Instead, you are acting normally.

Some describe grief like you are riding on a roller coaster, with its ups and downs, its sudden and unexpected turns and twists.  Sometimes you feel you are hanging on for dear life.   I recall unexpected waves of grief hitting me after my parent’s deaths as long forgotten childhood memories abruptly burst into my consciousness.  I tried but I couldn’t stop these waves of grief.  I gradually learned to cope with them and ride them out when they occurred.

Grief of course occurs not only in times of death, but whenever we have lost someone or something significant.  Mourning, grief or bereavement affects our entire being, it’s manifestations are physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. Grief is a process of separation, separating ourselves or detaching ourselves from someone or something we highly value.  We are breaking away, we are severing the bond from someone or something we love.   For instance divorce, moving away from friends and a familiar neighborhood, the loss of a job, breaking-up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or the death of a beloved pet bring on grief.

I learned that grief has a mind of its own.  It’s in charge; you can’t control or direct it. I recall church members who have asked, “Pastor, why is it that I always cry in those uncomfortable moments when I don’t want to and can’t seem to cry when I want to.” “Pastor: I’m so lost, I feel like I’m going crazy, I feel so guilty, I can’t concentrate on anything, I can’t make a decision, I just don’t know how I can go on, where do I begin?”

Grief is a serious emotional wound, and like any serious physical wound, it takes treatment and time to heal.  The book of Ecclesiastes describes grief as a season: “a time for every matter under heaven, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to weep and a time to laugh.”   There is no avoiding this season in the plan of God.

I share the view that there are three basic stages of grieving.  First, numbness.   You are in a state of shock, denial.  You struggle between fantasy and reality.  Everything is surreal.   You try to discern between what is real and what is unreal.  I recall after a good friend died, seeing him in a crowd or driving by for many weeks.  My mind refused to accept that he was gone.   I believe God initially shields us from the pain of our loss by wrapping us in an emotional blanket.  It can last from 2 weeks to 2 months or more.

The second stage is dis-organization.  You begin to recall and must deal with painful feelings and memories.  You feel like you’re beginning to unravel.  Emotions erupt and take on a life of their own – anguish, guilt, anger, depression, loneliness, fear, sorrow; sometimes we question God or have a faith crisis.  You often experience physical manifestations like anxiety attacks fatigue, a lack of energy or sleeplessness, and a loss of appetite.  You have trouble focusing or concentrating on anything.  You tend to withdraw, retreat from people and life.   This stage can last from 6 months to 1 & ½ years or longer.

The third stage is re-organization.  You find that your feelings and memories are less intense.  The searing pain of memory is not quite as acute.  Some memories actually begin to bring comfort and consolation.  You find a renewed desire to re-enter life and to re-connect with people.  You experience occasional times of peace.   You begin to come to terms with your loss.  At times you even begin to feel normal.  This stage can last from 18 months to 2 years or longer.

Listen to the advice of a seasoned Christian counselor who was asked what she advises people who are dealing with grief.  "I tell them to feel their feelings.  I also urge people to reduce radically the pace of their lives, to review their loss, talk about it openly, think about it thoroughly, write about it reflectively, and pray through it.  It's my experience that people want to run from their pain.  They want to replace pain with another feeling as soon as they can. To recover from pain, you have to face it.  You must stand in it and process it before it will dissipate.  That's God's way.  You see, I didn't do that when my husband died.  I replaced that pain real fast.  I think I missed only four days of work.   And I just replaced the feeling of loss and disappointment with a frenzied schedule.  I ran from it. That was a bad move for me and for other people around me. I wonder how many of us do that?”

When you are ready, reach out to others, talk to trusted friends.  Select those friends carefully.  Not everyone feels comfortable or has the patience to listen to you talk about your feelings regarding your loss.  Seek professional help like a psychologist or psychiatrist.  See your doctor especially if you are having concerns about your health.  Participate in a grief support group.   Visit some special places which meant a lot to you and your loved one.  Stay connected with people.    Don’t go through it alone.

What is God’s goal in times of grief?   First, God will accompany us through the journey of grief and help us complete our emotional relationship with the person whom we’ve lost.   Though as any of you who have grieved know, as I know, our grief is never fully resolved or complete and stays a part of you the rest of your life.  Mourning is a journey toward healing and wholeness which God calls us to walk.  But do not go it alone, Christ and others go with us.   So pray to God for help and strength.  Read the scriptures.  Be alert for surprises of God’s grace along the journey.  God is with us in our season of grief.

Further, God’s will is that you begin to re-direct your energies and hopes and goals toward the future, rather than concentrating on the past.   God desires for us to re-connect with others and renew attachments.  Jesus says in effect: “Blessed are those who mourn but do not become a prisoner of your mourning.”

Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Church and the author of The Purpose Driven Life, together with his wife, Kay, went through a devastating loss when their twenty-seven-year-old son Matthew took his own life after battling depression and mental illness for years.  About a year after this tragedy, Rev. Warren said:

"I've often been asked, 'How have you made it? How have you kept going in your pain?'

And I've often replied, 'The answer is Easter.'  "You see, the death and the burial and the resurrection of Jesus happened over three days. Friday was the day of suffering and pain and agony. Saturday was the day of doubt and confusion and misery. But Easter—that Sunday—was the day of hope and joy and victory.

"And here's the fact of life: you will face these three days over and over in your lifetime. And when you do, you'll find yourself asking—as I did—three fundamental questions. Number one, 'What do I do in my days of pain?' Two, 'How do I get through my days of doubt and confusion?' Three, 'How do I get to the days of joy and victory?'  "The answer is Easter. The answer … is Easter."

Jesus’ affirmation of blessedness in this beatitude is followed by a promise – “For they shall be comforted.”  Jesus’ promises that one day you will again experience comfort, peace, joy, the brightness of the morning, the beauty of creation, the joys of life.  You will again laugh, and feel, and find a renewed purpose and direction.

I close with the words of II Corinthians.  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.” Amen!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Seasons of Loneliness (Psalm 137:1-6) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Years ago Jim Reeves and Patsy Cline performed a song together entitled, "Have You Ever Been Lonely?"     Have you?

One evening, during a violent thunderstorm, a mother was tucking her 4 year-old son into bed.  She started to turn off the light when he asked with a tremor in his voice, "Mommy, could you lie down next to me until I fall sleep?"  The mother smiled and gave him a reassuring hug. "Honey you'll be fine, the thunder won’t hurt you, I have to sleep with your daddy."  In a shaky voice, he whispered: "The big sissy.”

A recent BBC news article said: Police respond to lonely man’s 999 call with tea.  "What else could we do but make him a brew of tea and have a chat," one of two officers reported on a Twitter feed.   The elderly man told the BBC he was touched by the visit, saying he felt he had been "locked off from everything." He added: "You feel somebody cares and oh that does matter … we talked about simple things, nothing very special, but the officers showed that they cared by being there and talking to you."

Reporter Billy Baker wrote an article in the Boston Globe in March of this year: “The Biggest Threat Facing Middle-Aged Men isn’t smoking or obesity.  It’s loneliness.”

Loneliness is a part of the human condition.  It touches all ages – youth, young adults, the middle-aged and the elderly.

The late Roman Catholic theologian Henri Nouwen writes:  “We live in a society in which loneliness has become one of the most painful human wounds.  The growing competition and rivalry which pervades our lives from birth has created in us an acute awareness of our isolation.  This awareness has in turn left many with a heightened anxiety and an intense search for the experience of unity and community.  It has led people to ask anew how love and friendship can free them from isolation and offer them a sense of intimacy and belonging.”

A fundamental human fear is the prospect of being alone.   Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone.  What are its manifestations?  You feel that no one truly knows you.  You feel that you don’t really belong.  You aren’t special to anyone.  There is no one you can really talk to or who will listen.  It’s the sense of being forgotten, overlooked, and excluded.  You feel like you’re missing out.  It’s the fear that no one really cares that you exist.

I have felt lonely at different times in my life.  I suspect you have too.  You can feel lonely when you’re by yourself, and you can also feel lonely in a crowd.   It’s not the number of people around you that matters, it’s your relationship to them.   Is there a connection or no connection?  I’ve talked to people who go to a movie or restaurant or shopping mall when they are lonely just to be around people.  Sometimes it really helps.  But other times it merely intensifies the awareness of their loneliness.

Can you be famous and wealthy and lonely:  Elvis sang – Heartbreak Hotel, “I’m so lonely, I’m so lonely, I’m so lonely, I could die.”

One psychologist describes three types of loneliness: transient, situational and chronic.  Transient loneliness is a sudden passing mood or feeling; it lasts a few minutes to a day or so.  Situational loneliness is a common reaction to times of transition and separation - divorce, a death in the family, the loss of a friend, a serious and debilitating illness, moving to a new location, changing or losing a job, retirement, or children leaving home for college.  Well, that one brings mixed feelings.  Situations loneliness lasts up to a year.  Chronic loneliness refers to people who feel lonely for two or more years at a time where no significant change has taken place.

In the Bible a psalmist cries out: “Turn O God to me and be gracious, for I am lonely and afflicted.”  Another psalmist expresses his feelings in the poignant Psalm 137.  It is the melancholy song about being strangers in a strange land.  The historical setting is when King Nebuchadnezzar and his armies of Babylon or modern day Iraq conquered Jerusalem.  The Jews were rounded up and deported to Babylon in 587 B.C.  Nebuchadnezzar didn't take the entire population of the city, but only the cream of Jewish leadership, the educated, the skilled, the wealthy.  He left the elderly, the sick and poor behind to harvest the crops.

This psalm captures the downcast spirit of the Jews in exile; they dearly missed their friends. The deported Jews grieved families who were broken up or killed, they missed worshipping together in the temple, they missed their home, their land and their culture.

The psalmist writes: “By the rivers of Babylon there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion.” Zion is another Hebrew name for Jerusalem.  In the middle of their loneliness they turned to God.

Since loneliness is part of the human predicament, it is important to learn ways of coping with it like other aspects of our lives.  There are certainly unhealthy and self-defeating ways of dealing with loneliness.  Becoming a workaholic, piling up debt, staying home all the time, turning to alcohol or drugs, watching television non-stop, not learning something new, sitting around doing nothing for yourself or others are clearly unhealthy ways.

Are there positive and constructive ways to overcome loneliness?  I offer these biblical principles.  First, God has given us the capacity for solitude.  Solitude is the other side of loneliness.  Solitude is the positive side of being alone.  Solitude expresses the glory of being alone.  You enjoy time alone.  Solitude is being able to spend time alone without feeling lonely.  It is spending time alone doing things like walking at the bay, gardening or knitting or resting or reading or meditating or playing a musical instrument or a crossword puzzle, or praying or recalling past memories.  It is a refreshing and revitalizing gift from God.

God has created human beings with two opposite needs.   We have the need for meaningful relationships and the need to be alone; we need companionship and we need solitude.   Henry David Thoreau, author of Walden Pond, wrote: “I never found the companion that was so companionable, as solitude."     Solitude is a gift of grace don't you agree?

Second, we must take responsibility for our loneliness.  God has given us a free will.  Loneliness is not a trap from which is no escape.  Loneliness is real, but it’s not life-long sentence without the possibility of parole.   We sometimes bring loneliness on ourselves.   We close ourselves off from others.  We shut the door to others.  We cut ourselves off from family, colleagues and friends.  We don’t take the initiative to contact someone, we wait for someone to contact us. Know this, God brings people into our lives.  Why:  Because God didn't create us to be alone.  God created us for family, for friendships, and for community.

Third, discern God’s presence and call in your loneliness.   Ask God to help you use your time wisely.  Don’t allow loneliness to paralyze you into doing nothing. God speaks to us in our loneliness, listen to what God is saying.  Henri Nouwen writes: “The more I think about loneliness, the more I think that the wound of loneliness is like the Grand Canyon, a deep incision in the surface of our existence, which has become an inexhaustible source of beauty and self-understanding.”

Loneliness can be a perfect opportunity for us to hear the voice of God.  Don’t let it be a missed opportunity.  Listen, pray, read Scripture.

God can use your loneliness to stir things up.  Loneliness can be a window for God to get your attention and help you gain new insights and self-understanding.  God may be coaxing you to be more empathetic to the needs of others. God may be saying you need to restore a broken relationship - go to that person you have hurt or who hurt you and ask for forgiveness and seek reconciliation.  God may be saying you need counseling for the grief you are going through, grief from a broken relationship, from an emotional wound that is draining your energy.   God may be saying take a class on a subject that interests you, take a day off and do something enjoyable. 

God may be calling you into service, into volunteering your time, into helping others.  Instead of focusing inward, focus outward on other people.  Use the time and talents God has blessed you with.   Visit someone in the hospital.  See the joy that your presence brings.  There are countless opportunities in the church and in the community.   Focusing outward upon the needs of others, and not only ourselves, fills us, and diminishes our sense of loneliness.

Fourth, God has called you into the family of God, the church; celebrate the gift of Christian fellowship.   As Christians we are members of a faith community.   The church, the body of Christ, as imperfect as it is, is both a human community and a Spirit-filled community in which Christ has invited us to belong to.

Don’t stay on the side-lines, don’t remain an objective observer.  Get to know your Christian brothers and sisters - worship together, serve together, praise together, learn together, pray together, witness together, laugh and cry together.

Jesus our Lord understands your loneliness.  He was fully human and fully God.  He experienced it during his ministry and in a profound way on the cross.  Grow to appreciate God's gift of solitude, take responsibility for your loneliness, listen for God’s call in the midst of a lonely time, and celebrate the gift of Christian fellowship.  Amen!

Friday, July 14, 2017

God's Will in my Life (Phil. 2:12-13; Ro. 12:1-2) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

"Why Am I here?" "Why Am I Alive?"  “Do I have a purpose or am I just taking up space?”  Have you asked such questions?   George Cameron thinks about these questions daily.  He is alive due to the kidney donation of Clay Jones, a high school football player in Texas, who died in an accident.  Cameron writes: "I gambled, I drank to excess, I didn't take care of myself.  But knowing that I carry the kidney of this young man has really affected me.  It awakened faith in me.  I wonder why God spared me.  I have changed for the better and now work harder at being patient and loving and respectful of my life and the lives of others.”

Yes, God desires for you and me to seek, to know, and to follow His will.  Listen to this scripture from Colossians: “We pray and ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will, in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way, bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might.”    Yes, Lord, fill me with the knowledge of your will.

Two weeks ago I spoke about God’s Will in general.  To review, first, God’s Intentional Will means that God created human beings to worship God, to live worthy lives, to bear fruit, to lead moral, just and spiritual lives. Second, God’s Circumstantial Will means that God is involved in the circumstances of our lives. God takes the disappointments, the defeats, the failures, the accidents, the set-backs, even evil and weaves them together for His good purposes.  Third, God’s Ultimate Will means that because God is the sovereign ruler, God’s will for history, the world and our lives will not be defeated but will ultimately be fulfilled.  Today we are examining the question of discovering God's will in our personal lives.

In what kinds of situations have you prayed for God’s will?  “Lord, I need guidance in this decision I’m facing.” “Lord, help me solve this problem.” “Lord, should I change jobs or go back to school to change careers?” “Lord, help me with raising my children.” “Lord where can I get help for my marriage.” “Lord, where can I get help for my aging parents?” “Lord, help me with my finances.”  “Lord, should I have this surgery or not.”   Perhaps you can identify with one or more of these concerns.

First, Scripture declares that God’s Will is knowable; you and I can know it.  This is good news.  God’s Will is not some life-long quest where you must travel to India or Nepal to find it.  Some claim that God’s will is in the searching, the seeking, the journey itself, not the destination.  That is not the word of the Bible.  Romans: 12: “Don't be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  It can be discovered, perceived, discerned, and experienced.  Faith is the gift which enables us to personally understand God's will.  Yes, it is a mystery on the one hand, and yet God will unveil this mystery to us when we sincerely pray about it.

Further, scripture says God's Will is not only knowable, it’s achievable.  By faith, God gives us the power and grace, the insight and ability, to fulfill, to obey, to accomplish His will, to be where God truly wants you to be and to do what God wants you to do.  This is confirmed in these words in the Gospel of Matthew: “Well done, good and faithful servant, well done, enter into my kingdom.”    Again, this is good news.

Further, God’s Will for your life may be right in front of your nose.  In fact, you may be fulfilling God’s will today.  I have spoken with people over the years who tell me they have been searching for God’s will but haven’t found it.   “I don’t know what God’s plan for me is, but I hope I find it before I die.”   Some believe it will be something extraordinary, like saving the environment, making a major difference in their community, saving lives or becoming a missionary and winning thousands of people for Jesus.  I remember talking with a fellow pastor one day.  He was incredibly frustrated.  He said he was waiting for God to give him his opportunity to be like a Billy Graham and lead crusades around the world, but was currently stuck being a pastor in a small church. Is it possible that he was already doing God’s will but was blind to it?

Sometimes we know God's will in advance.  Recall God’s call to the Apostle Paul.  “During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, come over to Macedonia and help us.  After Paul had seen the vision, he got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called them to preach the gospel there.”

In another example, Christian song writer Amy Grant grew up in Nashville, in a Christian home imbued with faith, traditional values, love and support.  She knew from the time she was a child that God was calling her to a career in Christian music.  By the time she was 16, Amy had released her first album and today she’s a dominant voice in the Christian music movement.  She has sold over 30 million albums and taken Christian music to a wider audience than any other artist in the Christian genre.  I have known grandparents who heard God calling them to raise their grandchildren or people who knew God was calling them to adopt a child.  People who know God’s will early on and are fulfilling it have told me:  “I was born to do this.”   God’s will is for them is a life-time calling.

On the other hand, Scripture also teaches that we don’t always know God's purpose in advance.   God called Abraham to go forth to a land that God would show him in the future and to trust that God would be with him.  God didn't tell him where the land was but to simply obey and trust.  God says place your hand in mine and walk forward trusting in me.

For example, a pastor writes: “I have found that God’s will for me is meaningful more in retrospect than in prospect.  I find when I step out in faith, rather than waiting around for a sign from God, and move ahead, God shows me His will.   How He desires to use my life becomes clear.  I see God’s hand far more when I look backward than when I try to look forward.”

I find this is often true in my life.  God decides how and when he wants to use us for His glory.   Our role is to be alert and ready and have the courage to trust in God and go forth in faith.

Recall the verse from Philippians: “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure “ The biblical truth is this: God has a lifelong purpose for some people like Billy Graham or Amy Grant.

On the other hand, God has changing or different plans for other people.  God’s will may change in your life over the years.  God's will for you and me is to please him at the different stages of our lives.  God used David, from being a lowly shepherd, to a fighter who killed Goliath, to the king of Israel over his lifetime.  Likewise, God’s will is often to use us in temporary or short-term ways: like serving in the church in different roles, or volunteering at a hospital, or an animal shelter or in the public schools, or taking on some cause in the community i.e., crime or homelessness, or cleaning the beaches, or raising children or caring for an ill neighbor.   I still haven’t figured out whether being a parent is a temporary or lifetime role.   Psalm 138 vs.8 says: “The Lord will work out his plans for my life; the Lord will fulfill his purpose for me, your love oh Lord, endures forever.”

Where do we find God's will?  How can you discover God’s will?  Here are some biblical ways God reaches out to us.  God doesn't use the cookie cutter approach.  God uses the tailored approach.

First, God speaks through His Word, the Bible.  Read it prayerfully and regularly.  Everything we need for living a life that pleases and honors God is found in Scripture.  Psalm 119 says: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”

But we need to be a little careful and pray for God’s guidance.   A man was facing a major dilemma in his life and decided to seek an answer by turning to the Bible.  He flipped open the Bible and randomly put his finger on a page and read the verse: “and Judas went away and hanged himself.”  He was a little startled, so he tried it a second time, and placing his finger on another verse read: “Go and do likewise.”  He thought, I’ll give it one more try and randomly selected a third verse, and read: “Thus saith the Lord.”

Second, God speaks through your own faith and intuition and judgment and common sense and conscience.  You will be in-tune with God’s will if you are daily walking with God, the Holy Spirit will guide you.  Pay attention to the voice within you.  Often I've found that a thought arises: call this person or go see this person, a church member or family member, and they say:  “Wow, I was just thinking about you,” or “I really needed to talk to someone.”  Listen when God speaks to your inner self.

Third, God speaks through the circumstances of your life.  Oswald Chambers put it this way: “God speaks in the language you know best, not through your ears but through your circumstances.”  Think about those times when you said: “It was meant to be, it happened for a reason, it was a God thing.”  What you do each day matters to God.   You may now be where God wants you to be and doing what God’s wants you to do. Rejoice in it.  Give thanks for the opportunity to serve the Lord.

Fourth, discover God’s will by knowing how God has shaped you, designed you, wired you in terms of your spiritual gifts, attitude, aptitude, abilities and talents, your personality, your passion, your interests.  What motivates you?  What energizes you?  What could you see yourself doing?  God strives to match your divine design with your work, your tasks, your opportunities, your decisions, your service, your vocation and avocation.   When there is a match, you are doing God’s will.

If you are not good with numbers, like I am not, God’s will is probably that you not become an accountant or church treasurer.  If you can’t sing a note, God’s will is not likely that you should sing professionally or sing in the church choir.   If you have a poor sense of direction, God’s will is not likely that you become an air traffic controller.  We discern God’s will by knowing ourselves or our divine design and how God has put us together.  I remember a Sunday School teacher at a former church who told me after teaching her first day of Sunday School: “I am sorry pastor, I resign, I realized something today, I don't like children.”

I thought God wanted me to become a cop.  I majored in Criminal Justice Administration at SDSU.  I worked as a police intern for three years during college.  I realized at the end of that time that I was not cut out to be a cop.

Fifth, we discern God's will through the wisdom, counsel and faith of others.  As you seek God’s will, talk to others, to people you respect and trust.  Listen with open ears.  Don’t get defensive if someone says something you don’t want to hear.  You want to hear the truth.  Listen for the word of God from these people.

Sixth, sometimes you must take a leap of faith to find God’s will.  I’m sure you’ve experienced times in which you have prayed and prayed but nothing seems to happen.  I have.  God are you listening?  We must step out in faith and trust that our decision is in accord with God’s will.  Only later, do we find the answer.

Finally, sometimes God reveals his will in a time of need, the needs of others or in a time of our own need.  We are most vulnerable in a time of need.  I have known people who responded to another person’s need, say illness, and they felt God calling them to become a doctor or nurse.  Likewise, I’ve know people who deal with illness in their own lives, and decided they heard God calling them to medicine.

We go to God in our own time of need because we have nowhere else to turn.  It is a time of crisis or confusion or illness or brokenness.  Here we are most receptive and open to God’s word and will.  In such times God can reach us because we are ready to listen.   Yes, discovering God’s personal will is so important.  I close with this prayer:  “Dear Lord, fill us with the knowledge of your will.”  Amen!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Seeking God’s Will (Ro.12:1-2; Phil.2:12-13) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Are you in charge of your life?  We like to think so, but you wonder, with all of the  twists and turns of our lives.  And we look at this world, with its joy and sadness, good and evil, justice and injustice, health and illness, the thrill of success and the agony of failure, and we wonder.

And where does God’s will fit in?  Have you ever prayed: “Lord, your will be done,” or “Lord show me your will.” or “Lord, I want to follow your will?”  I have.  Scripture is clear: God desires for you and me to seek, to know and to follow His Will.   God wants us to open our hearts and minds to His voice and guidance in all times and in all places and in all our years.

What is God’s will?    I doubt that this sermon will answer all of your questions, especially since I still have questions, but it will give you some biblical insights.  Discerning God’s will is not simple.   Any minister who says he or she understands and can explain God’s will to you is, let us say, not lacking in self-confidence.   Are you hearing God speak to you or is it something or someone else?

A man goes ice fishing for the very first time. All of a sudden, he hears a voice. "There are no fish under the ice!" He ignores it and moves to another area, cuts a hole, and tosses his line in. Again, he hears the booming voice: "There are no fish under the ice!" He nervously looks up and asks, "Lord? Is that you?"  "No, this is the ice rink manager!"

First, Scripture teaches that we live out our lives in a context of conflicting wills.  Our own free will, your will, my will, other people's free wills, Satan's will and God's will.  Toss accidents into the mix and you have a real conundrum.  Second, scripture says that God's sovereign will is not only at work in individual lives, but in the universe, history, in time, in the destiny of nations.  Jesus prays in the Lord's Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  The terms God’s kingdom, God’s Will, God’s rule, God’s Plans or Purposes are synonyms/interchangeable.  They mean the same thing in scripture.  These terms mean God is alive and active in this world and in our lives.  God’s Will has existed in the past, is a reality today, and it is coming in the future.

In the letter of Romans, we read: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  We cannot discern God’s will by thinking like the world thinks, but only when we allow the Spirit to transform and renew our minds.  And in the letter of Philippians we read: “For it is God who is at work in you enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”  God’s Spirit is speaking to your spirit helping you to grasp God’s will.  We must always pray to discern God's will vis-a-vis the world's will.

These are amazing biblical passages.  They bring comfort, encouragement, assurance and hope.  They affirm the truth that God’s will is not silent or make-believe or a fantasy.  God's sovereign and powerful will is a tremendous force in our lives and our world.     You and I are not merely pawns in life; victims of capricious and impersonal forces like fatalism over which we have no control.   God's will is present and active and God has given us a free will to seek and follow His will.  God calls us to align our will with His, to get in tune-with His will through faith.   Conversely, we also have the freedom to disobey God.

Nothing that happens in life is God’s will!  Is that true?  Can we make that claim?  No. We would be saying God is dead or apathetic or complacent or on permanent vacation in the Bahamas.  We claim through faith that God’s will comes in many forms: blessings, answers to prayer, miracles, small and great, coincidences, surprises of grace which we never saw coming, good coming out of bad, new opportunities emerging out of dead ends.   Well then can we state this:  Everything that happens in life is God’s will?   No we can’t say that either.  We are then speaking about pre-determinism or even fatalism and we are immediately ruling out human free will.

Was 9-11 God’s will?  Are terrorist attacks God’s will? If a child dies of an illness or in a car accident is that God’s will?  If a person is diagnosed with cancer is it God’s will?  If you or I do something foolish, which we later regret, it is God’s will?  As a Christian and pastor I believe the answer is no.  You have no control over a drunk driver who T-bones you or the cancer that your physician diagnoses.  The God of the Bible just doesn’t operate that way.  Why not?  We again live in a context of conflicting wills and individual responsibility.  Jesus acknowledges the existence of Satan, of free will, of sinful of human beings, of a fallen creation and of accidents which occur in life.

Think about Jesus, the Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the World.  In Jesus we see God’s will being played out.   If sickness was God’s will, why did Jesus heal people in his ministry?      Jesus does not tell a man with leprosy that his disease is God’s will; Jesus cures him.  If hunger was God’s will, why did Jesus feed people?   Jesus does not say to the hungry crowds go away, hunger is God’s will; Jesus feeds them.  Jesus does not tell people racked with guilt that guilt is God’s will, Jesus forgives them.  If ignorance was God’s will, why did Jesus teach his disciples and teach the crowd’s through stories and parables?

In his classic book, The Will of God by Leslie Weatherhead, we find some key insights into this question.  The author divides the concept of the Will of God into three aspects – the Intentional will of God, the Circumstantial will of God and the Ultimate will of God.

First, God’s Intentional Will means God’s original plan for creation, God’s original purpose in creating the world and human beings before the Fall.  Genesis says: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”  Neither the earth nor the heavens existed.  God created the universe and human beings with a purpose in mind.  God created people with the free will to love Him and obey Him, to love their neighbor, to worship God alone, rather than self or idols, to be whole - spiritually, intellectually, relationally, physically, and emotionally rather than broken, to treat one another with fairness, respect and dignity, to  live together in unity, to lead spiritual and moral lives, to care for the earth rather than exploit it, to gain knowledge rather than live in ignorance, to live a meaningful and joyful and fulfilling life in fellowship with God.   This was God’s Intentional Will.

Second, God’s Circumstantial Will.   Now we enter a gray area.  Our eyesight becomes a little blurry.  Why, because scripture says we walk by faith, not by sight.  Because of human disobedience, the Fall destroyed man’s relationship with God.  Humanity as represented by Adam and Eve, turned away from God, fell from God’s grace; Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden.

God’s Circumstantial Will refers to the truth that despite the problems, sin and evil that resulted from the Fall, God is present in this world working through us and with us in our circumstances.  God promises to help us by His grace and power to not let us be defeated by our circumstances, but rather to get through, to endure, and finally triumph over them.

God sent His Son Jesus to seal this promise.   Jesus is the seal of God’s promise to be with us, to not forsake us.   The letter of Philippians says: “I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me.”  Scripture says: “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

God promises to instill hope in the midst of seemingly hopeless times.   God promises to impart courage to us when we are overcome with fear and anxiety.  God promises to provide strength for us, when we feel weak, exhausted and helpless.  God’s promise means don’t give up.

And so we look at today’s world war, with radical extremist Muslim terrorist groups like Isis, dedicated to establishing Sharia Law world-wide, infidels against other moderate Muslim nations and democratic nations in Europe and the USA.  Some say they can’t be defeated, they are too strong.   Others say we need the will and a plan.  What do you say?   God’s will is that though we don’t know how, God’s plans and purposes are at work today to defeat this barbarous and evil threat to civilization.  This is the promise of Easter; Jesus’ resurrection was a victory over evil.

I Corinthians says: “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing, he will also provide the way out, so that you may be able to endure it.”  God brings good things out of bad circumstances.  God uses challenges for our good.  God redirects our lives when we are lost or misguided.  This doesn’t mean that everything will always turn out perfect or the way we want it to be.

Like the story about a police officer in a helicopter who spotted a car speeding down the freeway.  He radioed his partner on the ground and a few miles later the patrolman in the car stopped the speeder and began writing a ticket.  “How did you know I was speeding,” the man asked.   The patrolman kept writing and pointed skyward. The man looked up and moaned, “Oh, no, you’re not against me too.”

Listen to this story of a couple whose son was born with a congenital heart defect.  When he was four, he went to Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles for open-heart surgery.  Despite their prayers, and the skills of the doctors, sadly, the child died.  His mother said: “God helped us through our grief in such a loving way, that we continually marveled at what was happening.  The people who brought us the most comfort were those who had also lost a child.  They knew what we were experiencing and when they softly said, ‘We understand what you are going through; there was a bond between us that really lightened our load.  The Bible verse that popped into my head was: “In everything God works for good with those who love him.”’  We hung onto it for dear life and watched it come true.  In the weeks and months to come, we were led to accept Philip’s death without bitterness and other people’s faith was strengthened as they watched what was happening to us.”

Lastly, we come to God’s Ultimate Will.  This means that God’s purposes in the world will ultimately be achieved, will ultimately be realized, will ultimately be established forever.   They will be fulfilled forever.   God's plans and purposes cannot be defeated or destroyed by any power or nation or evil charismatic person or group.  God will make sin and evil serve His final purposes.

I close with a beautiful picture of the future, a future which one day will be realized.  We find it in the book of Revelation: “See, the home of God is among mortals.  He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them, he will wipe every tear from their eyes, death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will cease.”   “Lord, Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Amen.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Fathers of the Bible (Genesis 21:1-5, 35:27-29; I Chronicles 23:14-15) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A teenage boy had just gotten his driving permit.  He asked his father if they could discuss his use of the family car.  His father said, "I'll make a deal with you. You bring your grades up, study the Bible more, get your hair cut, and then we'll talk about it."   After about a month, the boy came back and again asked his father if they could discuss his use of the car. The father said, "Son, I've been very proud of you. You have brought your grades up, you've studied the Bible, but you didn't get your hair cut."  The young man replied, "You know, Dad, I've been thinking about that. I read in the Bible that Samson had long hair, Moses had long hair, Noah had long hair, and even Jesus had long hair."  "True son," his father said, "and everywhere they went, they walked."

Welcome on this Father’s Day.  A study from Penn State researchers published in the journal Child Development tracked nearly 200 families over a seven-year period.  The study found that time with mom and dad starts to drop when teenagers hit about the age of 15.  The study noted that, generally speaking, the more time teens spend with their dads, the higher their self-esteem, social competence, and sense of well-being.  Teens with involved fathers "may develop higher general self-worth because their fathers go beyond social expectations to devote undivided attention to them."   Yes, fatherhood is a critical role.

Are some fathers born great?  Leonard Ravenhill tells about a group of tourists visiting a picturesque village in Europe who walked by an old man sitting beside a fence.  In a rather patronizing way, one tourist asked, "Were any great men born in this village?"  The old man replied, "Nope, only babies.”

Today, we remember, honor and pray not so much for the ideal of fatherhood, but for real flesh and blood fathers.  Fathers who take fatherhood seriously and strive to be the best fathers they can be.  For fathers who treat their wives with love and respect as an example to their children.  We remember single fathers, married fathers, young and old fathers, foster fathers, step fathers and adoptive fathers.  We honor fathers who make promises and keep them, who stand by and support their families emotionally, spiritually and financially.

Today we pray for fathers who are separated from their children because of military service or because of problems in the family.  We pray for fathers who are grieving the death of a child, and for fathers who have a passionate desire to pass on spiritual and moral values to their children, and who give, not just material things - but their time, their love, their energy, their knowledge, themselves.

We also pray for fathers who do not support their children – emotionally or financially.  We pray for a change of heart, a change of mind, a change of attitude, that they will turn to God in repentance, that they will see the light and by God’s power and grace, mend their ways, and become the father’s God wants them to be and the father’s they are capable of becoming.

Who are some well-known fathers in the Bible?   Abraham left his home to follow the call of God.   Abraham was the father of the people of Israel, a leader and visionary.  He was constantly challenged by God and he met those challenges head-on.  When he and his wife Sarai were unable to conceive, God blessed the couple with their son Isaac.

God challenged Abraham by ordering Isaac be sacrificed. Though Abraham's heart was broken, he knew to trust in the Lord and at the last moment Abraham’s hand was stilled by God and Isaac's life was spared.  Abraham's difficult life is a reflection of difficult lives today.  Many modern fathers meet such challenges and learn, through experience, how to trust God.  Once that trust is developed, fathers pass that unyielding faith and trust to their children, who grow to love God as well.

Isaac is another well-known father.  Isaac married Rebekah, who was barren, like Sarah had been.  As a good husband, Isaac prayed for his wife, and God opened Rebekah's womb. She gave birth to twins:  Esau and Jacob.  No, Isaac wasn’t perfect, he favored Esau over Jacob. Isaac reminds fathers today that we are not perfect.   We need to grow and mature and learn, and be humble and grateful.  God calls ordinary men to be fathers, capable of doing extraordinary things.

Isaac obeyed God and followed his commands.  He became a leader and patriarch of the Jewish nation.  Isaac was faithful to God.  He never forgot how God saved him from death and provided a ram to be sacrificed in his place.   Isaac watched and learned from his father Abraham.  In an era when polygamy was accepted, Isaac took only one wife, Rebekah. He was a loyal husband and loved her deeply all his life.

Moses was another father.  He was the father of two sons, Gershom and Eliezer.  He also served as a father figure to the entire Hebrew people.  Moses trusted in God and led the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt to the promised land.  He loved them and helped discipline and provide for them on their 40-year journey to the promised land.  Moses seemed to be a larger-than-life character, but he was only a man. He shows today's fathers that overwhelming tasks can be achieved when we stay close to God.

Our last father is Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus.  Though Jesus takes center stage, it is important to remember Joseph.  Joseph was responsible for raising the Christ child together with Mary.

It was a father’s job to prepare children for a trade.  Joseph passed on a skill to Jesus and trained Jesus to become a carpenter.  Joseph loved Jesus, protected him, provided for him, and raised Jesus up in the Jewish faith and tradition.  Joseph was a righteous man and was chosen to help care for Jesus in his childhood.  Joseph is an exemplary father figure for Jesus and the several children he later fathered.  Today, fathers can learn to be compassionate, loving and righteous after the model of Joseph.

In this light, I remind you of some basic biblical principles of Fatherhood.  God is our eternal Father.  Since human beings were created in the image of God, fathers are to reflect the image of God’s fatherhood.  Yes, that’s a tall order, a seemingly impossible one.  It is a role fathers strive to fulfill with humility and patience, trust and faith, and constantly seeking God’s grace, forgiveness and power.

Fathers are to love their children.  Jesus told the parable of the prodigal son to demonstrate both God’s love for sinners and a father’s love for his children.

Fathers are to teach and train their children.  A good father is an example and teacher for his children.  Ephesians 6:4 says: “Fathers, do not provoke your children, instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.  Fathers, control your temper, practice self-control, do not provoke your children to anger.”  This includes teaching about God and faith.

A good father protects his children from harm.  This is one of the basic duties of a father.  Jesus used the analogy of a shepherd protecting his sheep, those in his charge, and likewise, fathers are to protect their children whom God has entrusted to them.

A good father provides for the family.  The father who loves his family strives to and works hard to provide for them.    This is understood broadly as providing material necessities, but also providing emotionally and spiritually in terms of prayer and being a Christian example.

Writer Mark Twain said: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant; I could hardly stand to have the old man around.  But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”

Our culture has dramatically changed.  Whom do we hear about?  We hear about superstar and super-paid athletes, successful entrepreneurs, celebrities and entertainers.  Yesterday I scanned the internet. I found hundreds of articles on almost every subject, but not one about Fathers or Father’s Day.   So how about elevating an important person and role in our society; a father, a committed father, a loving father, a man of faith, a good family man.  It is a role established by none other than God.   Amen!