Friday, December 2, 2016

You Don’t Know When the Time Will Come (Mark 13:32-37) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Christians start your engines.  Perhaps that is a good slogan for today.  We have scarcely      recovered from our Thanksgiving meal, we are still catching our breath, we are just finishing putting things away, Black Friday is a frightening f because you put yourself in harm’s way fighting crowds and already it’s the First Sunday in Advent which leads us to Christmas.   But ready or not, Advent is upon us.

Advent is the time we prepare for the coming of the Lord Jesus.  It is a season of waiting, watching and expectation; a season where we look to the future.  Are you curious about the future?  I think human beings in general are interested in the future.  What is going to happen in the future?  What will the future hold?   What are the first 100 days going to be like with a new Commander and Chief?  We think about and sometimes worry about our own future, the future of our family, our children and grandchildren, our church, our nation and of our world.

Christ is coming!   A biblical word which captures the spirit of Advent is Maranatha!  It is an Aramaic word.  It means “Come Lord” or “Our Lord, Comes”.  It is both a prayer and an affirmation of faith which has emboldened Christians down through the ages.  Advent says the future belongs to God.  Wow you got to worship God and learned a little Aramaic too.

Do you think about Jesus coming?  Robert Lee imagines the different headlines we might see on the day of Christ’s return:  Time Magazine might read: “He’s the Man of the Millennium.”   The National Enquirer might say: “Christ Comes Back and He’s Seen Elvis.”  And the headline for Atheist Monthly would simply read: “Oops.”

Some people are inherently optimistic about the future?  They are filled with hope.  They see a light at the end of the tunnel.  They envision a better future for themselves and their children and the world.

Other people are filled with dread about the future, they are pessimistic and anxious.   They believe the problems in our world with the environment, terrorism, disease, and war will only increase and bring a future filled with darkness and disaster.

How do you see the future?  And yet, in spite of our questions, our uncertainty and our fears, Advent says - Don't lose heart, stay the course, hold on, you have a bright future, a hope-filled future because the future belongs to God and God’s plans for the future will be fulfilled.

Advent announces that Jesus is coming!  Do we know precisely when?  Despite some who claim they do know the day and the hour, those who make such predictions are at best misguided and at worst deceivers.  You must always be on the alert for false prophets. No, we don’t know.

Advent declares that Jesus is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end.  Life has a purpose.  History has a direction.  The world is headed somewhere.  Everything in the world is temporary.  There is an end time for history.  The earth as we know it is coming to a close and a new earth will dawn.  We are not just accidents in an empty universe.  The universe sis not just a random occurrence.

The Stoics of Roman times believed human history was an eternal treadmill.  Every 3,000 years civilization would be destroyed by some catastrophe.  Then history would start over once again.  That cycle of world destruction and rebirth would repeat itself forever.  Advent says No!  God has a plan and pattern for all human life.  The culmination of God’s great plan will be the coming of Jesus Christ.

Pastor Steve Brown tells about a car he saw one day parked along the side of the road while he was driving home.  It was the ugliest car he had ever seen.  It had a large gash on its side, the windows were all smashed, the roof was dented in, one of the doors was held together with bailing wire, several body parts were missing, the rust had eaten away most of the paint and what little paint was left was of different colors.  But the most interesting thing about the car was the bumper sticker.  It said: “This is not an abandoned car; the owner will return.”   The message of Advent is that this is not an abandoned world and you are not an abandoned person.

We read in I Thessalonians: “Now concerning the times and seasons brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you.  For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”

Jesus says in the Gospel of Mark: “You will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”  “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father.  It is like a man going on a journey when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.  Keep awake, watch, for you do not know when the master of the hour will come, in the evening, or at midnight or at cockcrow or at dawn.”

Who are those servants left in charge?  We are.  You and I are.  Christ has put us in charge.  We each have a work to do.   And while we work we are to be on watch, to keep awake.  The days are coming.  We are to await that day and that hour.

Finally, Advent says the days are coming when the Messiah will bring shalom throughout the land.   The 8th prophet Isaiah envisions a future time of peace throughout earth.  Here his prophecy: “God will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”  Isaiah says further: “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.  The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox, the nursing child shall play over the hold of the asp.  They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”

A Christian woman recalls her trip to Israel and a holy moment, when she experienced a foretaste of the peace Christ will one day establish on earth.  She writes:

“We walked through the dusty streets of Bethlehem town and soon came to the entrance to the Church of the Nativity. We stood in line for what seemed like hours, winding our way downward into a series of caves.

Once there, I was hushed by the holiness of it all. There were candles lit here, there, and everywhere. Hundreds of people were on their knees in prayer, scattered about on the cold, damp floor. We made our way to the traditional cave of the birth where we read Matthew's story once again. Soon we were singing. "O Holy Night," "O Little Town of Bethlehem," and "Silent Night."

Right there in a church that has been ravaged by war and terrorism and today is owned by four different religious groups, we prayed for peace.  As we left, I passed by all the pilgrims yet again. Some were from Germany, Poland, or Italy and others from England, Spain, or China. They, too, sang and prayed.  Anger and violence wrestled about in all our worlds, but in that moment we had all come together in Bethlehem to worship and celebrate the Prince of Peace who was working shalom into the folds of our lives, as he will, until the day he returns to work it into all things, once-for-all.

I too as have some of you experienced that moment of peace, serenity, in a cave under the Church of the Nativity where Jesus was born.  Yes, we justifiably question whether peace in our world will ever become a reality.  While we await, the scriptures, and our Christian faith, remind us that we too can experience today a foretaste of Christ's coming peace.   The prophet Isaiah says: “God will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on him, because he trusts in God.”

Peace comes when we trust in God's control of events and circumstances, of both our yesterdays and our tomorrows.   Nothing is beyond the control and will of God.  Advent stirs our hearts.  It declares that the future belongs not to evil, not to sin, but to God.  Jesus is coming to establish an unimaginable world.  C.S. Lewis writes: “When the author appears on stage, you know the play is over.”

I close with these inspiring words from the Book of Revelation: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 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, for these things have passed away.”   Amen 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

I Give You Thanks (Psalm 100) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

You may have heard this story before, but I think it’s worth hearing again.   A couple days before Thanksgiving, a father living in Phoenix telephones his son in New York and says: “I hate to ruin your day son, but I have to tell you that your mother and I are divorcing.  45 years of misery is enough.”  “Dad,” his son shouts, “what do you mean, what are you talking about?”  “We can’t stand the sight of each other any longer,” the father says.  “We’re sick of each other and I’m tired of talking about this so you can call your sister in Chicago and tell her.”  Frantic, the son calls his sister who explodes on the phone.  “Like heck they’re getting divorced, she shouts, I’ll take care of this.”  She phones her Father and says: “You’re not getting divorced.  Don’t do anything. We’ll both be there tomorrow.”  The father hangs up, turns to his wife and says: “It’s OK honey, they’re both coming out for Thanksgiving and paying their own fares.”

Thanksgiving, our national fall festival, will soon be upon us, a day set aside for our nation to pause and give thanks.   Let’s go back for a moment in history.  We remember the Pilgrims, who sailed from England to Plymouth Mass, in 1620.  A year later they celebrated a feast in the autumn of 1621, after a year of sickness and scarcity. They celebrated together with the local Indians, to give thanks to God for their first successful harvest.  Half their number had died, they were people without a country, but to these people of strong Christian faith, this was a joyous outpouring of gratitude to God.

In the midst of a brutal Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln, in 1863, established a special day called Thanksgiving.  He wrote: “I invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father.  And I recommend that they fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty’s hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as may be consistent with the Divine purpose to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and union.”

Clearly, the origin of Thanksgiving Day was not merely a generic day of gratitude, but a day to specifically give thanks and praise to God and to seek God’s intervention in bringing reconciliation and healing amidst our War Between the States.

I, like you, am grateful for many things.  For my wife, for my family, for friends, for serving as pastor at PBPC.   What are you thankful for?   I am also thankful for our American time tested process of changing the highest office of the land, the President of the United States.  It is an orderly and peaceful transition.  Yes, the campaigns by both candidates were spirited, to say the least.  But rather than power being changed by a coup, by assassination, by wars, by violence, we heard how President Obama and President-elect Trump met for a private conversation for over an hour.  Power is handed over from the current president to the incoming president.  And now as one administration is moving out of the White House and another is moving in, we await the final step, the inauguration scheduled for January 20, 2017.  However you feel about the outcome of the election, you must respect the orderly and smooth transfer of power in some 73 days.

The Bible exhorts you and me as people of faith to give thanks to God.  Psalm 100 says: “Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise, give thanks to him, bless his name for the lord is good, his steadfast love endures forever.”  We are to give thanks because the God we worship is good and because his love is steadfast.  In Psalm 138, listen to how this poet jubilantly expresses his faith: “I give you thanks O Lord, with my whole heart, before the gods I sing your praise; I bow down toward your holy temple, and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness.  On the day I called, you answered me; you increased my strength of soul.”  This psalmist had prayed to God for inner-strength, for God to lift his soul, and deliver him from some ordeal and God answered his prayer.  Has God answered a prayer you have made for inner-strength and courage in a difficult situation?  Has God ever delivered you from a threatening or troubling situation?

In the letter of I Thessalonians, we hear this exhortation: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  Why have a thankful heart in all circumstances?   God knows that giving thanks and being thankful is good for our character as human beings and for our faith as God’s people.  If we have a thankful spirit, we can perceive special blessings, small miracles, new possibilities, second chances, hints and flashes of God’s amazing grace through unexpected people and events.     If we lack a grateful heart, we miss these things.

How does God desire for us to give thanks?  To worship Him, to pray, to express thankfulness in words and actions.  It is after-all Thanks-giving, not Thanks-taking.  One example is churches which are planting community gardens all around the country including Northminster Presbyterian Church in Clairemont.  Some churches in New Jersey have become part-time farmers, growing more than 300,000 pounds of food for needy people last year.  Christians are supplying a critical need for families who rely on food banks and soup kitchens, where fresh fruits and vegetables are often in short supply.   What a glorious way of giving thanks.

Reflect for a moment on these key biblical truths.  First, a thankful heart can reduce stress in your life by making you more content with who you are and what you have.  You will be freer from the anxiety that goes with being resentful and dissatisfied.  Second, a grateful heart can increase joy by enlarging your sense of God’s abundant blessings.  Focusing on blessings, for which you are grateful, helps to develop a sense of just how much there is to be thankful for.  Third, a grateful heart builds relationships.  Thank-less, ungrateful people repel; thankful, appreciative people attract other peoples.  Expressing our gratitude to others draws us closer to people and them to us.  Fourth, giving thanks for the gift of life brings us ever closer to the Giver of life, to God.   Fifth, if we cannot learn to be a thankful person, we can become bitter and callous and insensitive toward others. Further, we can become totally self-absorbed and thereby develop an attitude of entitlement and narcissism.  Praying steadily to God, walking humbly with God, sharing with others builds a thankful spirit.

A thankful heart can positively affect the people around you.  It can influence their attitudes, their identity, their spirit, their self esteem, their behavior.   Like the story about a couple named Larry and Jo Ann.   The author writes:

“One day, a most extraordinary event took place.  The husband Larry said to his wife: “Jo Ann, I’ve got a magic chest of drawers.  Every time I open them, they’re full of socks and t-shirts and underwear.  I want to thank you for filling them all these years.   Jo Ann stared at her husband over the top of her glasses.  “What do you want, Larry?”  “Nothing, I just want you to know I appreciate those magic drawers.”  This wasn’t the first time Larry had done something odd, so Jo Ann pushed the incident out of her mind until a few days later.

Jo Ann, that was a great dinner,” Larry said one evening.  I appreciate all your effort.  Why, in the past 15 years, I’ll bet you’ve fixed over 14,000 meals for me and the kids.”  A few days later, Larry said: “Jo Ann, the house looks spiffy.  You’ve really worked hard to get it looking so good. Thanks Jo Ann, for just being you.”

Jo Ann was now growing worried.  Where’s the sarcasm, the criticism, the impatience she wondered.  Whatever was wrong, Larry didn’t get over it.  Day in and day out he continued focusing on the positive.  Jo Ann’s step was now a little lighter, her self-confidence higher and once in a while she hummed.  She didn’t seem to have as many blue moods anymore.  She rather liked Larry’s new behavior.  That would be the end of the story except one day another most extraordinary event took place.  This time it was Jo Ann who spoke. “Larry, I want to thank you for going to work and providing for us all these years.  I don’t think I’ve ever told you how much I appreciate it.”

The author continues: “Larry has never revealed the reason for his dramatic change of behavior.  No matter how hard I pushed for an answer; it will likely remain one of life’s mysteries.  But it’s one I’m thankful to live with.  You see, the author writes, I am Jo Ann.”

Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise, give thanks to him, bless his name for the lord is good, his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”   May God bless you and yours on this Thanksgiving!  Amen

Friday, November 11, 2016

Not in Vain (l Corinthians 15:58) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

The weekend following September 11th, 2001, syndicated columnist and former presidential speechwriter Peggy Noonan drove to Lower Manhattan to witness the relief effort taking place at Ground Zero. She found herself focusing on the convoy of trucks filled with rescue workers coming off their 12-hour shifts. The men in the trucks were construction and electrical workers, police, emergency medical workers, and firemen. It was a procession of the not-so-rich and famous.

She writes: “These New Yorkers had become celebrities, more significant than any Broadway act.   A large crowd of onlookers were cheering the workers with shouts of "God bless you!" and "We love you!" They clapped and blew kisses.  I looked around and saw who were cheering. Investment bankers! Orthodontists! Magazine editors! A lawyer, a columnist, and a writer. We had been the kings and queens of the city, respected professionals in a city that respects its professional class.  And this night we were nobody. We were so useless, all we could do was applaud the somebodies, the workers who, unlike us, had not been applauded much in their lives…. I was so moved and grateful. Because they'd always been the people who ran the place, who kept it going, they'd just never been given their due.”

On that tragic day, rather than talking them for granted, the world recognized how useful, how indispensable construction and electrical workers, police and firemen, and emergency medical workers are to a city.

Which leads us to our scripture lesson: “Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord, your labor is not in vain.”

How ironic.   The apostle Paul who wrote these words, personally knew not only success and joy in his life and ministry, but failure, discouragement, disappointment, and frustration.  He had endured persecution and threats, but in his hearts of hearts, he still knew God would honor his ministry to the Gentiles.

Paul writes: “I have been shipwrecked on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, in cold and exposure.  And apart from other things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches.”   That is, the churches which he and other apostles had planted.

In the Lord your labor is not in vain.”   Here are words of wisdom, words of spiritual maturity, words of truth, words used to depending upon the grace of God.   I admire the apostle Paul.  Despite daily facing obstacles and setbacks in his work, he believed in his heart that God was blessing his preaching, his pastoring, and his work of planting churches.   He believed that his work was not in vain.

By faith, you too have the power to endure, to push on, to not allow yourself to be defeated in your work.  You have the power to persevere.   You have the power to devise new plans and approaches.  You have the power to cast off bad habits and learn good habits.   And that power is the power of our Lord, the power of his victory over death, the power of the Holy Spirit, which comes to us through faith.

There is a work of difference between feeling useless and useful, helpless and helpful.  Spiritual wisdom is the conviction deep in your soul, that whether your efforts and energies produce results or not, they mean something in the purpose of God, in the mind of God, in the kingdom of God.  They weren't wasted.  That conviction lifts our soul.

We must never forget that we are engaging in a spiritual battle, in spiritual warfare.  The book of James says – “Resist the devil and the negative thoughts which can poison our life.”  Why - because Satan promotes a defeatist attitude.  The devil knows that a discouraged Christian is ineffectual, your power and influence to be a vital witness to Jesus Christ is mitigated at best and shut-down at worst.   You can’t share Christ’s joy when there is no joy in your heart to share.  

What is your deepest frustration today?   You are putting forth effort, but feel like you’re getting nowhere, you are just spinning your wheels?  God’s word is clear.  First, always abounding in the work of the Lord means be steadfast in the work of the Lord.  Don't allow others to discourage or stop you.  Stand firm and steady.  Don't give up, or give in or give out.  Second, always abounding in the work of the Lord means give yourself daily and fully to God, relying upon God’s strength, and not just your own, praying for how God wants to use you in His service.   Sometimes we are completely surprised with how God decides to us.

And third, knowing that in the Lord, your labor is not in vain.  It’s never in vain when you prayerfully commit your efforts to God, when you ask for God's inspiration and power and blessing, when you humbly and sincerely dedicate your work to God, even though at times you fail to reach your goal or produce results.   Results may not be visible, but that doesn’t mean God is not working in an imperceptible way using your time and efforts and energy and prayers.

The book of Hebrews reaffirms God’s promise: “God is not unjust; he will not overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in serving the saints.”    God never forgets work done in His name.  God remembers your labor.   God knows your efforts to love others and serve and glorify Him.  God sees what you have done and are doing and what these things mean for His kingdom.

I recall an intervention I was involved in with a family in our church in Monument, CO.  One of the family members had been an alcoholic for over 20 years.  The family had tried everything but to no avail.  This time it worked. The son made the commitment and joined AA. This family had the joy of seeing the results of their prayers and work over many years come to fruition.  Their work in the Lord was not in vain.  Praise God.

I remember a mother at our church in Santa Monica.  I knew she had been estranged from her daughter for many years.  The daughter had refused to have any communication at all with her mother.  The mother continued to pray and reach out through the mail and leave occasional phone messages on her daughter’s voice mail.  After 10 years, one day, the daughter phoned her and invited her mother to lunch.  It was a glorious day of where a mother and daughter were reconciled.  Praise God.

Open your heart.  Allow God’s word to encourage you.  God may bless you and you see results immediately.  Hallelujah.  God may bless you and you see results later on in your life.    Hallelujah.  God may bless you and you see results, not in this life, but in the life to come.  Hallelujah.    God has made you a promise.  Have confidence in the promise of God.   Amen!

Friday, November 4, 2016

What God Requires! (Micah 6:6-8) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A man named Jeff, living in Denver, after reading an advertisement offering firewood for $60.00 a cord, including delivery, decided to phone in an order.  When the man came by and finished stacking the order, Jeff was upset saying, “that’s not a full cord of wood.”  The seller replied firmly, “That’s what I call a cord.”  Grudgingly, Jeff pulled some bills out of his wallet and handed them to the man.  Hey, just a minute, the man complained after counting the money, you only gave me $30.00 dollars.  Jeff shrugged his shoulders and replied, “That’s what I call $60.00.”

Let us now turn to the passage from the prophet Micah.  Micah is preaching to his fellow Jews and asks a rhetorical question: “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow myself before God on high?  Shall I come with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?  Shall I come with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil?  Shall I give my firstborn for my sins, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”   The prophet answers the question – “God has told you Oh man what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God.

Our Judeo-Christian tradition, based in Scripture, declares that justice, fairness, righteousness, in our relationships with God and one another, is grounded not in society, and not in man, but in our understanding of the nature or being of God.  God is just.  God is righteous.  God treats us fairly and in turn God expects us to treat one another fairly.

God wills that his people be good, that we lead righteous lives.  Goodness has something to do with practicing justice or righteousness, kindness and humility.  This a command from God to you and to me.  It is not a request, not a recommendation, not a suggestion, not an option; it’s a requirement for believers and followers of God.

In the eighth century, Micah lived during a time of when the social order, the moral structure of Israel’s society, was in decline.  The rich and powerful were exploiting the poor.  Corruption was rampant.  Immorality was flagrant.  Idolatry was in vogue.   Social and economic injustice was widespread.   Merchants used false scales, weights and measures to exploit the poor peasants and farmers.  Officials and judges took bribes. Farmers suffered at the hands of powerful landlords.  Micah writes: “When they want fields they seize them, when they want houses, they take them.  No man’s family or property is safe. The righteous are sold for silver; the needy for a pair of shoes, the poor were trampled upon.”

Temple worship was strong, attendance was high, animal sacrifices were at an all-time high, people brought generous offerings to the temple, but hypocrisy ruled the day.  Micah’s message was a warning that God’s judgment was coming and he was giving people an opportunity to repent.  Prophet Amos says: “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.”

God has a special concern in his heart for the poor, the oppressed, and powerless.  The book of Proverbs says: “Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”  Prophet Isaiah says: “Stop doing wrong, learn to do right.  Seek justice, love good, encourage the oppressed, defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.”  I John says: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?”

When you think of justice what comes to mind?  It’s an abstract concept.  We think of social justice, criminal justice, legal justice, justice in heath care, justice for crime victims, racial justice, religious justice, economic justice, environmental justice, all of which fall under the rubric of justice.

Here is a tragic example.  In an article in the San Diego Union Tribune, date June 14, 2016, just a few months ago, we read:

Human trafficking investigators have dismantled what they described as the first - members-only Internet prostitution ring of its kind in San Diego, run by two local men who lured in vulnerable women and allowed customers to post reviews of their “performance.”  These men picked up women who were down and out on the streets, many of whom had drug problems, and persuaded them to entrust their care to them.  The men are alleged to have given these women drugs and money. Then they would post their photos on a Facebook page, where they were made available for paid sex.  About 900 members were active when authorities shut down the website, police said.

“This is ground-breaking,” San Diego police Capt. Brian Ahearn said of the sex ring. “This is a very covert operation that was very well-planned and very sophisticated.”  The case wrapped up with the arrests of Dale Vinzant, 68, of Mission Beach, operator of San Diego Adult Service Provider and Christian Koalani, 66, of Pacific Beach, who ran American Escort Company.  They are in jail pending a trial.  I say thank you and praise God for the San Diego Human Trafficking Task Force of the SDPD.

What are you and I doing for others in the name of fairness and justice?  Perhaps God is calling you to help someone in this important way.

Further, God calls us to practice kindness, to love mercy.   Kindness was desperately needed in Israel during the prophet Micah’s time.  So it is true today.    God is merciful, compassionate, kind and God’s word to us is to love kindness.

Herbert Prochnow wrote: “You may be sorry that you spoke, sorry you stayed or went, sorry you won or lost, sorry you thought the worst, sorry so much was spent.  But as you go through life, you’ll find you were never sorry, you were kind.”

Like the story a teacher writes about a little boy in elementary school.   “In our town's elementary school at the beginning of the year, the school secretary routinely collects the lunch money from the new kindergartners.  This solves the problem of lost money. But for nervous 5-year-olds, it took a while to understand what was happening.   For the first few of days, the school secretary would come into the classroom and announce:  "Does anybody have any lunch money for me?" Her question was met with no response.  On the third day, one little boy came in at the bell, walked hesitantly to my desk, held out his hand and whispered, "Here is money from my piggy bank for that poor lady who needs money for lunch.”

I recall the story of the woman who pulled up to a tollbooth at the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge, and said: “I’m paying for myself and the six cars behind me.”  The next six drivers arrive at the booth, money in hand, and were told: “Some lady ahead already paid your fare, have a nice day.”  The woman, it turned out, had read a note taped to a friend’s refrigerator, “Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty.

I personally notice it when I’m driving.  Those unexpected acts of kindness, which we used to call courtesy, when someone lets you change lanes or enter the street from a driveway.  If I were to ask tell me a story of when someone was mean or rude, or disrespectful or unkind to you or someone you know, we might be here all day.   But can you also point to stories of someone who was kind to you or to someone else?

When was the last time you were kind to someone?  When was the last time someone was kind to you?  People remember when you have been kind to them.  They don’t quickly forget.  Even small kindnesses make a big difference in another’s life.   Just when you are down, just when you are discouraged, a simple and timely act of kindness can renew your faith in God and humanity and lift your downcast spirit.

One of my favorite quotes is by Quaker William Penn: “I expect to pass through life but once.  If therefore there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.”

Finally, the prophet says, “God has told you, O man, what is good; the Lord requires of you to walk humbly with your God."  Now let’s be honest.  In our aggressive, assertive, competitive culture who wants to walk humbly?  Who really believes Jesus when he says in Matthew: "Blessed are the humble, for they shall inherit the earth."

But God says there’s something good about being humble, something noble about being meek. It’s out of fashion in our culture, this is true, but God says be humble, which does not mean being submissive or subservient or passive!   It doesn’t mean being weak or being a doormat.   Walking humbly simply means you’re comfortable in your own skin.  You accept who you are.  You know yourself.  You are not racked by insecurity or neediness.  You aren’t always trying to prove something to others.

It frees you to do things for others without a need for recognition or praise. It doesn’t mean thinking less of yourself; it means you think of yourself less, and think of others more.    Walking humbly before God means we don’t take ourselves too seriously.  You can laugh at yourself. Humility enables you to recognize that life is a gift from God that you accept with gratitude, rather than an attitude of entitlement.  Pride, hubris, insecurity low self-worth are the enemies of humility.  Walking humbly means you put your ultimate trust in God and believe with all your heart that you are valued and loved by God.

Dr. John Ortman, pastor of a large church in N. CA. tells the following story. 

“We were with friends at an open-air street fair, when we spotted a mechanical bull that tries to buck people off. The guy operating the bull said, "Watching it isn't nearly as fun as riding." So I told the bull operator that I wanted to ride. He took one look at my middle-aged body and asked, "Sir, are you sure?”

He explained to me that the bull has 12 levels of difficulty. "It might not be easy," he said, “you have to follow the bull. You have to shift your center of gravity as the bull moves."  So I got on the bull and it started slow, and then it started moving faster and I was holding on real tight.

It kept moving and twisting and jolting and bucking and jumping.  I was huffing and puffing. I was hanging on sideways. My arms were flailing around. But I hung on and finally the bull slowed down and stopped, and I was still on the bull.  I imagined how impressed my friends were, not to mention the operator.  I felt pretty good.  I gave him a look and he smiled and said, "Nice job, that was level one."

Jesus says lead good lives.  True worship, true belief, true obedience must translate into an ethical concern for others.  And God clearly tells us what it means to be a good person: “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God."  Amen!

Friday, October 28, 2016

“Our Gifts in God’s Hands” (Chronicles 29:14) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A mother gave her 8 year old daughter a one-dollar bill and a quarter.  "Sweetheart," she said, as they entered church, "you can place either one in the offering plate.  It's entirely up to you.  As they were driving home, the mother asked her daughter what she had decided to give.  "Well, at first I was going to give the dollar," said the daughter. "But the man behind the pulpit said God loves a cheerful giver, and I felt I would be a lot more cheerful if I gave the quarter instead."

A pastor in Salt Lake City was challenging his congregation to give money so that the church might reach its goal for their mission.  He said: “God gave you talents, use those abilities to give money to the church and glory to God.”  So a member of the church, James Hatch, robbed a Salt Lake City bank of $2500.00 and gave it to the church.  He said he was following the pastor’s sermon and using his God given gift to give back to the Lord.  I have to wonder if being good at robbing banks is a gift of the Lord?  Oh and please know I that I am not suggesting anything like that today.

It is stewardship time and our theme for this coming year is: Our Gifts in God’s Hands!   Our gifts, your gifts and mine, are from God’s Hands and for God’s Hands.  God is the author and creator of life.  God is the source of our existence.  God breathed life into us.   Everything is owned by and belongs to God.   Our lives were not an accident, the result of a sudden explosion of some primeval gases.   Your life is on loan from God.

The book of Genesis tells us that God created us in His image and commanded us to be fruitful and multiply.  God delegated to us the task of exercising responsible authority over all living things.  God created us to live purposeful, meaningful and loving lives.  God gave us gifts/talents to help us fulfill His plan and purpose for us. We are God’s stewards, managers, representatives.  We have the resources of the world at our disposal.  We are ultimately accountable to God in terms of how we spend our time, our years upon this earth.

Perhaps that’s one difference between an atheist and a theist, one who believes in God.  An atheist says: “It’s my life, I can live it any way I choose.”  A  believer says: “My life is not my own, it belongs to God.”   The one says:  “I’m not accountable to anyone.”  “The other says: “I am accountable to God.”

Switzerland is known for its luxury watches.  Swiss watchmaker Patek Philippe has also become well-known for clever advertising slogans, such as: "You never actually own a Patek Philippe; you merely take care of it for the next generation."   And so it is with our lives.

What gifts come from God?   We hear God’s word in our lesson from I Chronicles.  It’s the story of God calling the people of Israel to build the temple in Jerusalem.  King David gave generously toward the project.  We are told: “Then the leaders of families, the officers of the tribes of Israel, the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds and the officials in charge of the king’s work gave willingly.”

The temple was to be a sacred place where God was worshipped, but it was also to be a symbol that Israel was to be a light to the world.  David praises God:  “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours.  Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things.  In your hands are strength and power to exalt, and give strength to all.  Now our God we give you thanks and praise for your glorious name.  But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to give as generously as this?  Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.”

What gifts has God given you that you are grateful for?  What gifts have come from God’s hands to you?  – the gift of relationships, families, the gift of mentors, the gift of friendships, the gift of children and grandchildren, the gift of meaning and purpose and hope, the gift of freedom to use our minds and hearts, the gift of the ability to plan for our future, the gift of caring for others and being cared for by others, the gift of creating, the gift of having the power and courage to make changes in our lives, the gift of adapting to new environments and to social change around us, the gift of our body, athletic abilities, leadership gifts, artistic gifts, gifts of imagination, teachings gifts, the spiritual gift and discipline to lead a moral life, the gifts of time, and resources.

As Christians we have the gift of religious belief, the gift of faith, the gift of trusting in one who is our Lord, the gifts of prayer, the Bible and the family of God.  We have the gift of the gospel, that God sent Jesus to the world to bring repentance, salvation from sin and new life.  We have the gift of Eternal life, the gift of the Holy Spirit.  We have gifts of one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.  We have the gift of being able to love because God first loved us.  When we bring our gifts before God, we are giving back, as King David said, what has come from God’s hands. We offer them in humble adoration and praise.  God blesses them and our gifts are used in God’s hands for God’s purposes.

The Bible also speaks about our attitude toward giving.  We are to cultivate and use our gifts and not waste them.  We are to share our gifts and not hoard them.  We are to give thanks to God for our gifts and not be smug about them.  We are to honor and glorify God with what we do with our gifts and not only please ourselves.  We must not become overly attached to our gifts, that is, turn them into idols which we worship or become slaves to them.    We are expected to be disciplined and responsible in the way we use these gifts.

Further, I think we must watch out about being ungrateful, unappreciative, about not being content with our gifts.  Like the story about the mother and son who were walking in a forest. One day when they were outside a tornado surprised them.  The mother clung to a tree and tried to hold her son.  But the swirling winds carried him into the sky.  He was gone. The woman began to weep and pray: "Please, O Lord, bring back my boy!  He's all I have. I'd do anything not to lose him. If you'll bring him back, I'll serve you all my days." Suddenly the boy toppled from the sky, right at her feet, a bit mussed up, but safe and sound. His mother picked him up, brushed him off, paused, looked upwards and said, "Oh one thing more Lord, He wore a hat?"

Our gifts in God’s hands.  We honor God when we are involved in and sharing in the work of His Kingdom, that is, when God’s will is being accomplished.   Like our weekly Youth program where youth from the community and our congregation are growing in their Christian faith, led by Robert Gerow and his dedicated volunteers.  And our weekly Kingdom Kids program, where children from our preschool and community, led by Grant and Kat, and volunteers, learn about Jesus and the Bible and enjoy games, meals, crafts and music.  And our wonderful Pre-school under the capable leadership of the director Brigitte together with her dedicated teachers.   Our Preschool now has an enrollment of over 55 children and babies.  It provides a healthy spiritual, intellectual and social foundation for children and builds community among the preschool families.  Some of those families have joined the church.

Our Sunday Evening Roots worship service and ministry, reaches young adults in our community under the leadership of Grant.   Some of these young adults have joined our church.  We celebrate our music program, the Sounds of Worship and our Chancel Choir, under the talented leadership of Esther Jordan and our organist Anne Bay.   We are moved in worship by the music of hand bells from our Crusader's under the leadership of Esther.

We see God at work in our prayer and healing ministries and in our congregational care ministry under the leadership of Donna Pierce and volunteers, which brings Christ’s love to members and friends.  We offer Bible study and Christian education opportunities for all ages during the week and on Sunday mornings.  We have faith-filled and committed leaders – deacons and elders, who enthusiastically serve Christ in our church.   We serve in partnership with the Lord in reaching out to our community in events such as Pacific Beachfest and Graffiti Day.  We see God’s hand at work in military and other families which attend our Friday Pizza and Movie Night ministry. 

God has blessed the community through our congregation's Sunday Night Ministry, by providing meals for nearly 100 homeless people each week for over two decades under the leadership of Janice Minor and Neil Charette and many volunteers?  We weekly serve nearly 300 homeless people through our mail service, where we provide our church address as a way for homeless people to receive mail, from government checks to personal mail.  No other churches in our community offer this service.  I often hear homeless people say: “God bless you, thank you for this mail service,” as people pick up their mail under the direction of our office manager Meri Murch and the office volunteers.

We see God’s hands at work as we provide clothing and food, volunteers and financial support  to CCSA, Meals on Wheels, Monarch school, Voice of the Martyrs, Baja Presbyterian Ministries, Military Outreach Ministry, Intervarsity, Heifer Project, Presbyterian Urban Ministry, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, and international missionaries like Esther Wakeman in Thailand.   We are greatly blessed by your generous giving to our Endowment Fund which annually contributes money to our ministry under the leadership of George Shoemaker and other volunteers.

I want to both personally and on behalf of the elders, thank you for your faith, your generous commitment and your support this year.   We are asking for your prayerful support of your time, talents and money for this coming year, as together we reach people for Christ's Kingdom.

Jesus Christ cares deeply about your life, your growth in faith and your participation in His Kingdom.  Christ will use your giving for His work in our community and world.  Every pledge, every donation, every gift, every offering counts.    Commitment Sunday is next week, October 30.  We will have a basket on the chancel and invite you to place your pledges of commitment into the basket.  And be confident, knowing that your gifts are securely in the Hands of God.  Amen!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Shalom (Psalm 122:8-9) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Here are some of the most expensive meals in the world:

  • At the Fijimake restaurant in Tokyo you can get a bowl of Ramen for $110.
  • The Capital Dawg restaurant in Sacramento, California serves up "The Ultra-Dog," the world's most expensive hot dog at $145.99.
  • The Westin Hotel in New York City offers a white truffle bagel that sells for $1,000.
  • You can enjoy Britain's Wagyu Meat Pie and its savory combination of six pounds of Kobe beef and matsutake mushrooms which sells for $16,000 per pie.
  • And in Italy, Chef Viola's "Louis XIII" pizza, loaded with lobster, caviar, eight different types of cheese, and seasoned with hand-picked pink Australian river salt, sells for $12,000. 

Are you ready to make a reservation and invite someone to dinner?   It makes the hot dogs at Petco park seem inexpensive.

And yet, there is meal far costlier than these!   Today is World Communion Sunday and God offers Salvation and Holy Communion or The Lord's Supper, the most expensive meal in the world.  What is the price; free of charge.  This supper is an expression of salvation by grace, because Jesus paid the ultimate price on the cross, that we could never have paid, no one can pay it, not even Donald trump, in order to forgive our sin, heal us, make us right with God and restore our relationship with God.

World Communion Sunday was established by the Protestant Church in 1936 and this year marks its 80th anniversary.    I believe the day has taken on new relevancy and depth of meaning in a world often divided by fear, hatred, violence and ideology, exemplified by our war with radical extremist Islam.   On this day we believers celebrate our oneness in Christ, the Prince of Peace, in the midst of a world we are called to love in the name of Christ, a world in need of unity and harmony and justice.

This table to which the Lord invites you this morning is God's table - not ours.  It’s an open table, not a closed one.  It is a table which welcomes repentant sinners and forgiven sinners, flawed men, women, and children of every culture, language, age, racial/ethnic group, social/economic level, and nationality.  We are invited by our Lord to enter into spiritual communion with Him and one another, together with those who have died and are now members of the Communion of Saints in glory.

We come to the table united with our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, reminded that while being fully aware of our differences, while we are cognizant of the things we don’t have in common, we also celebrate all that we have in common – one Lord, one baptism, one faith, one gospel, one church, one message and one mission.

Today is represented by the Hebrew word for peace, shalom.   Shalom is a Jewish greeting – it means “hello or good-bye.”  We say: “Have a nice day” or “How are you” or “How’s your day going” or “later.”  Young people say – “Yo dude” or “Hey” or “Wass Up.”  They are simple greetings and don’t have any hidden or deep meanings or connotations.  Shalom is very different.  It is also a spiritual reality.  And it’s a prayer.  I don’t think “later dude” is a prayer.  I pray that you might experience God’s shalom.

God sent His Son Jesus as the Messiah to bring shalom to the world.  God desires for us to experience life as shalom, life in its fullness, in its completeness, in its wholeness.    We say: “Wow, today was a great day.”  A Jew says: “Today I experienced Shalom.”  And when we look at our lives and life with eyes of faith, we will discover that shalom is a reality in life.

So Shalom is a comprehensive Hebrew word containing many layers and facets of meaning.  It means to experience God’s wide range of blessings: like a spiritual encounter, a divine human encounter, where you know, in your heart of hearts, that you just had an encounter with God or you experienced God’s grace.  You know beyond a doubt that it could only have been God acting in your life.  Shalom includes God’s blessing of material prosperity, where God makes provision for your material needs; it includes a sense of satisfaction,  fulfillment, of feeling whole and complete, rather than broken or fragmented;  it includes the blessing of health or recovery from illness;  it includes spiritual well-being or inner-peace in your relationship with God; it includes receiving courage from God to face the unknown or something that frightens you; it includes experiencing righteousness and justice where there has been injustice in your life; it includes experiencing the blessing of harmony in your relationships, where before there had been discord; it includes the blessing of peace, where before there was conflict and hostility; it includes the blessing of true joy, enjoyment, and it includes the blessing of rest.  So you see the depth and the many layers of God’s shalom.  The Bible is not speaking about some fantasy or pie in the sky, but a reality in life today.

Hebrew wraps all that into a single word.  It is one of the most important words or concepts or realities in the Bible and in our Judeo/Christian tradition.  There is no word in the English language which even comes close to it.

The psalmist says:  “Pray for the Shalom of Jerusalem.  May they who love you prosper.  Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers.  I will say peace be within you.  For the sake of the House of the Lord our God, I will seek your good.”  Another psalmist writes:  “May the Lord give strength to His people.  May the Lord bless His people with peace.”  Jesus says: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”  Hear the many layers of God’s Shalom in the psalmist’s prayers.

But Shalom is even more: it’s a calling, a divine commission, to God’s people and to you and me.  God calls us to bring shalom wherever we are, in whatever we do, and to whomever we are with.  Shalom also means to work for the highest good for others.   We are to seek good for others.  We are to bring people into God’s kingdom so that they might experience communion with God.

I think of homeless people, families, men, women, and children living on the streets of our city.  We know there is a human personality, a human story, behind each face.  It is a tragic reality of life.  God calls us, the church, the synagogue, the government, the Veteran’s Administration, non-profit organizations, to bring Shalom to these people.  To not be stopped by negative or pessimistic or prejudicial feelings, but to let our faith and values move us to bring a word of God, a word of love, a word of Shalom.

And so we here at PBPC offer our Sunday Night Ministry, meals and hospitality, to homeless people, and our partnership with CCSA and our mail service to hundreds of homeless people in our city.  We are not alone, but in partnership in God’s work of shalom.

God also calls us to look at our family, our friends, our relatives, colleagues, people close to us, and further ask the question, how does God want me to work in partnership with him in bringing Shalom to these people.

One writer put it this way: “Unless I'm at peace with God, I'm not part of the solution; I'm still part of the problem.  But in Jesus I can be an instrument of God's peace.  Following Jesus is not only a matter of enjoying peace in my heart or in my relationship with God.  Jesus calls us to join his movement of bringing shalom to a broken world.”

The Bible reminds us that God has a plan to one day fully bring his shalom to the world.  We pray for God’s peace and pray that God will use us in His great work. Shalom is here in this world now. Where God’s will is being done, wherever the Kingdom reigns, wherever people experience salvation, we see Shalom.  But Shalom is also coming. We look to the future.  It’s a guaranteed hope which God is bringing to this world.  Here is the vision in book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible.

See, the home of God is among mortals.  God will dwell with them as their God and they will be his peoples, God will be with them and will wipe every tear from their eyes, death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will cease.”

I close with the Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi, founder of the 12th century Franciscan order of monks: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith in you; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.  O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”   Shalom!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Don’t Lag, be Ardent (Romans 12:9-21) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A visitor to Minnesota writes about his experience.  “In the community of Nisswa, Minnesota, an event happens a couple times a year which draws people from all around, the popular Nisswa Turtle Races. Every Wednesday evening in the summer months, the people of Nisswa and the surrounding communities gather at a designated parking lot for the weekly races.

It's big excitement and big business. Vendors rent turtles; others sell "turtle products." And the fans gather early, placing their chairs and blankets in the best viewing sites. In one recent contest, 435 turtles raced in heats of fifteen over a six-foot-long course.

Bif, the announcer, calls the turtles to their mark, gives them the "Go!" . . . and the crowd goes wild. People stand, jump, and wave their hands in the air, imploring their turtles to be unturtle-like. The excitement grows and finally reaches a boiling point as the preliminary winners all gather for the championship race.

Amid unrestrained shouts and cheers, the first turtle crosses the finish line, and the winning "trainer" receives five dollars—along with a turtle necklace. What an uncharacteristic frenzy of emotion for the normally reserved folks of Northern Minnesota!”

Exuberance, enthusiasm, what do you get excited about?  The stress and tension, the hurt and
disappointments, the pressure and demands of life take their toll; they constantly threaten to deplete our energy and vitality.  Life can lead us down dark roads of pessimism. You know people who have lost their zest for life.  Who have given up?  The truth is that life can become routine, we can become stagnant and lose our vivacity.

When you think of someone you know who is enthusiastic who comes to mind?  The word "enthusiasm" is actually derived from the roots of two Greek words; en — “in or within” and theos — “God.”   It means having God within or being inspired or possessed by God.   I don’t know but there’s just something about enthusiasm, it’s contagious.   It’s catchy.   It rouses people out of their lethargy.

Enthusiastic people light up our lives.   They stir us up.  They have an ability to radiate energy.  They are curious, inquisitive.  They are intensely interested in other people.  They aren’t afraid to try something new.  They focus on the positive, when things are negative; on what’s possible, when things seem impossible, on clearing roadblocks rather than being stopped by them.  They look for solutions to problems, rather than blame.  They look for options, possibilities.  They feel deeply and laugh often.  A sense of humor is key.  They don’t take themselves so seriously.  They give themselves fully in what they do, no matter how small the task. They serve a greater purpose than themselves.

In her book Exuberance: The Passion for Life Kay Jamison profiles Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir, whose passion for the glories of the natural world touched and influenced millions. This buoyant quality enables people to do great things.   Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: "Every great and commanding moment in the annals of the world is the triumph of some enthusiasm."  There is a playful dimension in the spiritual writings of the Christian Saints like Hildegard of Bingen, a twelfth century mystic, who wrote: “Be Juicy people, filled with wonder, delight, and optimism.”

If all we do is complain, we need a change of attitude.  If we are negative much of the time, often feeling sorry for ourselves, if we see darkness rather than light most of the time, we need a change of heart.   Why?  It’s not healthy.  It’s not what God intended for your life or mind.  And further it’s not a great way to make friends.  People get tired of hearing us.  Let’s be honest, people stop listening after a while.

I remember a woman who was extremely critical, negative, always complaining, and a poor listener. She was difficult to be around for very long.  She said one time, “I just no longer have any friends, they are all busy, they don’t have time for me, no one calls me anymore.”  How do you want to be remembered?   “She was a glass half empty person; we called him Mr. Crabby.”  God didn’t say, “I think I’ll create a race of grumblers.”  God wants us to live passionate, helpful, hope-filled, positive, committed, and energized lives.  A lack of enthusiasm often stems from ingratitude, a sense of entitlement, a lack of appreciation, and self-centeredness.  As a Christian I also believe it stems from a lack of faith.  You think it all depends on you.

The Bible in the letter of Romans says: “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.   Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”  Another translation says: “Never lag in zeal, be ardent, be aglow and on fire, serving the Lord.”   God’s word is talking about being enthusiastic followers of Jesus, in your witness, your faith, and your attitude.  Jesus is talking about letting others know you are his follower regardless of the circumstances.   And that takes the power of God working in our hearts.

We read in I Thessalonians: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Jesus says: “Everyone who acknowledges me before others, I will acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.”

God wants you to do your work, to fulfill your responsibilities, whatever they are, to serve, wherever you are, with such ardor that others see Christ in you.   If it’s being a mom, what a gift from the Lord, give it everything you’ve got.  If it’s being a dad, what a gift, give it your all.  If its serving in the church or community, what a privilege, give it your whole heart.  If it’s babysitting, what a blessing, give it your all.  If its being a student, what an opportunity, give it 100%.  If it’s being a grandparent, now that’s an easy one, most grandparents I know are quite exuberant.  God wants us to give our heart and soul, to radiate His love and care, and God will bless such an attitude.   Yes, such an attitude makes all the difference.  When you hear it, when you see it, when you smell it, when you sense it, when you feel it, you are blessed.

I remember a woman at another church who said: “Pastor, why do other churches have women’s retreats and we don’t?  I said well, we need leadership.”  She said: “Would you mind if I starting talking around to see if there is interest in a women’s retreat?”  I said “By all means.”  She started talking to other women of the church, gathered a small planning group together, recruited a speaker, and that fall our church sponsored our first women’s retreat.

That’s the difference between enthusiastic people and grumblers.  Grumblers say, “Look at this problem, isn’t it awful, whose fault is this.”  Enthusiastic people say: “We have a problem.  What do we need to do to solve it, Lord, how can I help?”  Vehemence, ardor finds solutions where there appear to be none, and seeks breakthroughs where it was thought impossible.

God has given you power, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.    Take time to renew your spiritual resources each day.   Our lives need to be infused with the goodness and power and joy of God every day.  A good prayer is: God, grant me a grateful heart.  I want to be aglow with your presence?   I want to serve and support others joyfully and freely without feeling obligated.   Enliven my Spirit.  May people see Christ in me.

Our member Judi Hauser texted me recently about a visit with member Jean Stone, who is in her 90’s and back in the hospital.  Judi wrote: “I wanted you to know I spent an hour with Jean Stone today.  She is such a strong willed determined person and so cheerful.  She says she is doing very little exercise, but her left arm and the pelvic area are improving. She has a doctor’s appointment on Monday and hopes to see significant improvement.  We had a great visit and I deeply admire her strength and faith.”

Retired baseball player Cal Ripken, the ironman, of the Baltimore Orioles played a record-breaking 2,632 consecutive ball games.  Ripken's mother tells the story about the night before Cal's first Little League baseball game.  “When I tucked him in that evening, I noticed he was wearing his baseball uniform. I told him he didn't need to do that; he'd have plenty of time to dress in the morning. So I made him get up and change into his pajamas.  Several hours later before turning in for the night, Mrs. Ripken went in to check on Cal one more time. He was sound asleep, snug and comfy--in his uniform!”  Sometimes we adults can learn something from the unrestrained enthusiasm of our children.

Where do you get inspiration?    I like what Rev. Robert Schuller wrote: “Add up your joys; never count your sorrows.  Look at what you have left in your life; never look at what you have lost.  Relive your happy memories.  Treat yourself to replays of that great collection of joyful experiences that have occurred in your past.  There are many wonderful things that have happened to you in life.

I close with these words of wisdom: "Do not judge whether what you are doing is impressive or mediocre.  Just give yourself to whatever you do fully and with this knowledge: God is within me. All actions that I perform are an offering to God."

Let us be positive, exuberant followers of our Lord.  Never lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord, rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.  Why,   because our days and our lives are an offering to God.    Amen!