Friday, September 22, 2017

Let Your Light Shine (Matt 5:14-16; Mark 12:13-17) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

  
Let me ask you this question, is our nation engulfed in political turmoil?  Is the Pope Catholic?     Here’s a test for you.  Just say to a group of people, friends or strangers: “I love Donald Trump” or “I hate Donald Trump” and see what happens.

Our turbulent times revolve around political and social issues and political personalities.  People it seems for the most part, argue, rant and rave about, rather than rationally discuss issues today.  The tone of political discourse is bad.  Some people including Christian leaders, have said on Facebook, “If you voted for the person I didn’t vote for, I will unfriend you.”   We daily see examples of finger pointing, blaming, fraud, divisiveness, name calling, character assassination, cover-ups, politicizing, investigations on questionable grounds, fear, distrust in our elected leaders, party loyalty over national loyalty, baseless accusations, and incidents of some of the media reporting stories based on rumor or hearsay.  What fun.  What a great time to be alive.  

The question is: How do we as Christians and as a church follow Jesus in such a politically charged and polarized climate?

We know that politics is a broad concept and has multiple meanings, positive and negative.  Governing, running the government, getting things done in cities, counties, states and at the Federal level is politics.  Another meaning relates to power, using power to further one’s personal or political agenda, using power to defeat or demonize your opponent whether a person or a political party, using power for personal and political gain, rather than the common good.  From any office in the land to the office of the White House politics has been around since the first society was established.

The complex and controversial issues today are seemingly endless:  healthcare, homelessness, racism, religious liberty, LGBT issues, elections, the role of the media, immigration, gun ownership and control, energy policies, tax reform, military spending, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the infrastructure, sanctuary cities, federal versus state authority, employment, climate change, free speech, hate speech and incidents of violence associated with it,  and being true to the constitutional balance of powers between the three branches of government to name a few.

Politics existed in Jesus’ day.  In our lesson from the Gospel of Mark, the religious leaders try to trap Jesus with a political question.  No, they didn’t ask it because they were simply interested in Jesus’ thinking about taxes.   They knew taxation was a hot button issue.  They decide to politicize the subject of taxes by asking Jesus a question designed to get him in trouble no matter what his answer.  Jesus was growing in popularity.  Crowds were getting larger. Jesus was a threat. The religious leaders wanted to get rid of him once and for all.

Is it lawful to pay taxes to the Roman emperor or not?”  If Jesus said “no, it’s not lawful,” he and his fellow Jews would incur the wrath of the Roman government for advocating breaking the law and inciting a tax revolt among the Jews.   If he said “yes, it’s lawful,” he would incur the anger of Jews who hated the Romans and were already overtaxed.   Jesus’ answer – “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperors and to God the things that are God’s,” amazed the religious leaders.  Their strategy failed, at least this time.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says to his followers: “You are the light of the world, let your light shine before others.”  The question is how do we as a church do that?  It’s easier said than done in today’s climate.  The thing is that Christians, churches, have different answers; we don’t agree on the answer to this question about how we shine the light of God to the world.

One answer is chill out, forget about it, the political atmosphere today is no different than any other time in our history.  It’s politics as usual.  Get over it.  It’s the same old thing. It’s nothing to be concerned about.  Every president, every administration, has had its problems.

Another answer is stay out, stay out of politics.  That is not the church’s business.  The church must keep out of the political and social issues of today.  Never bring issues up in worship, that is, in sermons or prayers or even in adult classes.  Stay on the sidelines.  Let people vote on politics as American citizens, but stay out as a church.  Some churches do.

A further answer is get involved, but don’t take sides, try to stay neutral, non-partisan, and fair.  Realize that people in the church have different viewpoints.  We don’t all agree.  Some people are liberal and some conservative, some Republican and some Democrat, and others are Libertarian or unaffiliated.  The idea here is let’s work together in the world for the Lord.  Don’t condemn this political figure or that political party.   Pray for God to guide the church on what issue or issues it should become involved in.  God loves the world and wants his followers to engage in His work in the world.

Another answer is take sides; the church should be in the forefront of political involvement. We saw it in the American Revolution.  We saw it in the Civil Rights Movement.  Be honest and say - our church is liberal or our church is conservative.  Promote, be an advocate for the issues which support your perspective.   For example, the worship committee and I could bring in political speakers and analysts from time to time.  Worship could on occasion become like watching CNN or Fox news.  Some churches do.

I have had people, not church members, but people outside the church ask me, “Where does your church stand on immigration?  You are close to the border.  Do you believe in building a wall?”  If I say yes, I’m a racist and bigot and so is our church to some, and if I say no, I am anti-American and a law breaker to others, since I’m not endorsing America’s history of orderly legal immigration.  I answer by saying I am not speaking for the church, but here is my opinion.  I speak for myself.  How do we follow Jesus in such politically turbulent times?  I offer these guidelines.

As followers of Jesus, who sent his disciples into the world, to engage in their mission, we need to engage in issues and problems of the world, but give our ultimate allegiance to no one party or leader.  We certainly give our allegiance to our government, we are Americans, but our ultimate allegiance, our ultimate loyalty, belongs to God alone.  We follow Jesus’ principle about rendering unto Caesar and rendering unto God.   We place our deepest trust in Jesus alone.

Second, as Jesus’ followers we proclaim the worth of every human being, no matter their birth, gender, ethnicity, culture, or creed, because they bear the image of God and are the object of his costly love in Jesus’ death on the cross.   We proclaim that God is a God who created and loves every human being and therefore is deeply concerned about justice and compassion and the welfare of the poor.

Third, as Jesus’ followers we need to train ourselves to listen to others even when we disagree.  Communicate reasonably.  Listen respectfully and patiently.  No personal ad-hominem attacks.  Be bridge-builders.  Be a Christ-like example.  As one pastor said: “Jesus started a revolution that still changes the world. But it is not rooted in coercive human power; it is rooted in God’s love.”  People do get rather emotional and unreasonable discussing politics.  It becomes extremely important, as a follower of Jesus, to control your emotions to an extent so we can communicate with those with whom we disagree.  We should try to speak with facts as well as opinions.  Is this easy? No, but this is what Jesus wants of his followers as a way of obeying his command to love our neighbor.

Fourth, as Jesus’ followers we should be informed.  Study the issues.  Read about them. Think about them.  Talk about them with both people you agree and disagree with.  Connect your thinking to scripture and to your faith.  Try to speak from your understanding of God and your faith in Christ.

Fifth, as Jesus’ followers we must remember our central mission.  We are a church which operates in a broken world.  Our mission according to Jesus’ Great Commission in Matthew 28 is to go out and make disciples, to witness to the gospel of God’s saving love in Jesus by word and deed.  We are not in the policy-making business; we are in the disciple-making business.

Sixth, as Jesus’ followers we should continually engage in prayer.  Prayer changes things. God responds to prayer.  Jesus called us to pray: “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  I Timothy says: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

A Christian said: “I realized there have been presidents where I spent more time complaining about them than praying for them.”   A pastor wrote: “It’s interesting that the Bible never commands us to complain about our leaders or to defend them.  But it says a lot about praying for them.” Pray for our nation. I am committed to praying for our President and our government and our country daily.  How about you?  Pray for the media. Pray for people who feel vulnerable.  Jesus said: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:44-45)

Seventh, as Jesus’ followers we must act wisely.  “Be as gentle as doves and wise as serpents” Jesus teaches.  We must seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  We are tax exempt as a church.  Churches and religious organizations have a tax exempt status under the Internal Revenue Service.  There are certain rules which must be followed.  There is a line that one needs to be careful not to cross.  By breaking this rule, the IRS may deny or revoke the tax-exempt status of the church.

Jesus never called his followers to be passive, to run, to hide, to become hermits.  Jesus said go into all the world.  God so loved the world.  Jesus calls his followers to act, to teach, to serve, to witness, to care for the least of these, to love their neighbor, to give sacrificially, to share joyfully and to make disciples.

Yes, it’s a great challenge for Christians and the church today.  Maybe it has been for every generation through the centuries.  Let’s trust in God, for Christ is coming and will establish a new earth.  Trust in God, in God’s power and grace.  Let us be a light to the world and let our light shine before others.    Amen!

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Struggle of Faith (I Tim 6:11-19) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel


A philosopher, an engineer, and a simple man, none of whom could swim, were trapped in a cove looking upward at sheer cliff faces. They began to shout for help as the tide rushed in.   Rescuers lower a rope. The philosopher said, "Ah, this looks like a rope, but I have to be certain there is no material fallacy in my logic; I need more time to ponder it, it might be an illusion." So he didn't attach himself and drowned.  The engineer said, "Ah, this is an 11 mm polyester rope with a breaking strain of 80 Kilograms. It conforms to the MR 10-81 standard," and continued analyzing the rope's physical properties. But he didn't attach himself either and also drowned.  The simple man said, "A rope, thank God,” grabs hold and is saved.

When it comes to the subject of faith, faith in God, faith in Jesus Christ, the ultimate question is always, will you take the leap of faith?  Trusting our lives to God does not come easy nor is maintaining it always easy.  Yes, sometimes our fears, our questions, life’s changing circumstances threaten to overcome our faith.   What is Christian faith?    Sometimes you just have to grab hold of the rope and seek understanding over time.

Faith didn’t come easy to Christians in the early centuries, who were persecuted, arrested and died for standing up for Jesus Christ rather than bowing down to worship Caesar.  It doesn’t come easy today when Christians are persecuted and killed for their faith by radical extremist Muslims in the middle east.  It doesn’t come easy when faith must deal with tragedies in life.  These are times when our faith is tested.    No, believing in God and trying to follow his will, is not always simple or easy.  Faith in God is a spiritual journey, something we grow into and mature in over the years.  Faith is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

Christianity points out the biblical paradoxes of faith!  This will give you something to think about.  What are those paradoxes?  To be strong, you must be weak, to save our lives, we have to lose them, to know God, we have to know ourselves, to truly live, we have to die, to receive we have to give.

Faith is God’s divine gift and our response, our decision, perhaps multiple decisions, an act of will, a commitment.  Faith is belief, trust, confidence in God and faith is a task, obedience, action, following the call of God, serving God, being involved in the work of God’s Kingdom in the world.  Faith is emotional.   Sometimes we say: “Praise God, thank you God for helping me!”  and other times we cry out: “God do you hear, I pray but you do not answer, help me.”  Faith is also intellectual – We think deeply about questions of God’s nature, God’s will, Jesus as God and man, the Trinity, the incarnation, sin and forgiveness, morality, evil, the atonement, God’s creation, God’s final revelation, Everlasting life.   Faith is personal, individual, unique.    But faith is also communal, it exists in community, among the family of God, the church, the worshipping body of Christ   Faith says God is transcendent.  Faith says God is immanent.

I Timothy says about faith: “Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness.  Take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called.”   This passage reminds us that God calls us to pursue faith.  Take hold of your faith in God and God’s eternal love for you.  And sometimes you have to take hold of it again and again.

One writer said: “Treat another’s faith gently; it is all he has to believe with.”   Yes our Christian experience and the scripture both say that faith is sometimes a struggle.   Sometimes you have to fight to believe, you have to fight to trust, you have to fight to maintain your confidence in God, you have to fight to hope.   It is an inner battle, yes, a spiritual battle.   Sometimes you have to struggle against yourself, or against the devil, or against someone else.  Have you experienced this in your faith journey?

Today I have found that people ask not only the question - is the Christian faith true, but does it work, does faith really help you in your life, does faith truly make a difference in your life?   They want to know if its pragmatic.  How would you answer that?   How is your faith when things are great or when things don’t turn out the way you had hoped?

In our lesson from I Timothy the apostle Paul is writing to his younger missionary associate Timothy.  They had endured many hardships together on past missionary journeys.   We read: “Fight the good fight of the faith, take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and for which you made the good confession, in the presence of many witnesses.”

Why? Because if something is worthwhile, isn’t it worth fighting for?  Some things in life are worth struggling for, and faith is one of them.  It’s also true, some things in life aren’t worth fighting for.  We need to let go of them and move on.  This is the dichotomy we face and we must be discerning and distinguish between them.

Timothy is facing hostile enemies and challenges to his ministry and is deeply discouraged.  He feels overwhelmed.   His self-confidence is shaken, the situation seems beyond his ability, have you ever been there?   The apostle Paul charges Timothy to stand fast, to remain steady, to stay the course, and to continue preaching the truth of the gospel.

Listen to Paul’s words:  “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.  Do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace.”   Faith declares that God saved us by grace in order to call us to a holy calling.

Do those words resonate with you?  It’s a good word for today as well, isn’t it?   In what situations or circumstances have you found that your faith is sometimes a struggle?  I think about the people in Texas and Florida facing Hurricane’s Harvey and Erma.   What a strong faith in God that takes.

Sometimes we desire faith but our mind wrestles with skepticism.   Lee Strobel, former journalist and professed atheist, in his book The Case of Faith writes:  “Faith is not always easy, even for people who desperately want it.  Some people hunger for spiritual certainty, yet something hinders them from experiencing it.  They wish they could taste that kind of freedom, but obstacles block their paths.  Objections pester them.  Doubts mock them. Their hearts want to soar to God; their intellects keep them securely tied down.”   This was his story, until he came to faith in Jesus Christ in 1981, after two years of investigating the truth of faith in light of the intellectual challenges of today.

There are times where we must deal with broken relationships, hurt, disappointment, adversity and grief.  The irony is that sometimes the most profound and intimate spiritual experiences occur in your darkest days, when your heart is broken, when you feel abandoned, when you’re out of options, when the pain is great, and you fall on your knees and turn to God alone, because you have no one else to turn to.  And you carry on because your faith just won’t let you quit.

I recall an older woman who was a member of our church in Monument, CO.  She visited people in nursing homes a couple of days a week.  One day she told me she had a terminal lung condition which caused her to cough frequently throughout the day.  The coughing, of course, was very painful.  But I remember her saying: “Pastor, I belong to God. Sick or healthy I am God’s. I feel so blessed that I still have the strength to continue going to nursing homes and helping these people.”   There is a faith worth struggling for.

I like what author William Bennett writes:  “Faith is a source of discipline and power and meaning in the lives of the faithful.  It is a potent force in human experience.  A shared faith binds people together in ways that cannot be duplicated by other means.  Faith contributes to the form and content of the ideals that guide the aspirations we harbor for our own lives, and it affects the way we regard and behave with respect to others.  A human being without faith, without reverence for anything, is a human being morally adrift.”

Faith, according to scripture, declares that ultimately God’s power, God’s grace, God’s strength, God’s mercy, God’s love is greater than our own.  We need the strength of someone greater than ourselves.  God can supply what is impossible for us to supply.  God can meet our needs which we can’t meet ourselves.

An 85-year-old woman, flying for the very first time, heard the following announcement over the plane’s intercom: “This is your captain speaking.  Our number four engine has just been shut off due to mechanical trouble.  However, there is nothing to worry about.  We will continue our flight with three engines and will land in Chicago on schedule.  By the way, I have some reassuring news for you; we have four bishops on board.”  With her hands tightly grasping the arms of her seat, and her face pale, the woman called to the flight attendant: “Miss, if you don’t mind, would you please tell the captain, that I would rather have four engines and three bishops.”

Faith is knowledge of God, the knowledge comparable to the knowledge we have of our loved ones or friends, not the knowledge of the contents of a scientific textbook.  Faith is the assurance, the knowledge that God has forgiven your sins, that God truly loves you, that God has bestowed upon you righteousness and salvation, out of sheer grace solely for the sake of Christ’s reconciling purpose in the world.

How is your faith in God?  Is it strong or weak, solid or shaky, static or growing, exciting or boring, new or mature, tested or untested, clear or confusing, lethargic or alive?  Ponder that question for a moment!

No matter what you may be struggling with in terms of your faith, know this as the Bible says: God is for us and not against us.  God will not leave you nor forsake you.   Know that you have my pastoral support.  Know that you have the support and prayers and guidance of the elders and of this congregation.   Yes, faith is sometimes a struggle, but a struggle that’s always worthwhile in the end.  Amen.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Come to the Table (I Cor. 11:26-35) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel


In his book, titled The Gospel According to Jesus, pastor Chris Seay shares the following story:

"One week I was preaching in our church about God’s kingdom that is coming, and on the way out a young man grabbed me. He said, ‘Pastor, the Kingdom of God is already here.  I grew up in this neighborhood. I used to go to a bar called Emo's and I'd start every night with a drop of ecstasy on my tongue and wash it down with Bicardi 151. That's what I did Sunday after Sunday. Now I come to your worship service instead, and I finish the evening service with the body of Christ on my tongue, and I wash it down with the blood of Christ.  I love this Supper.  It reminds me that Jesus saved my life.’”

This supper is a reminder that Jesus saved our lives. Where do you go to renew your spirit?  What do you do to experience a moment of peace?  I know where you don't go.  You don't open up the newspaper and read the headlines or go to the television or the radio or the internet to hear the news.  You don't get into your car to take a relaxing stress-free drive on interstate 5.

The Lord’s Table is one place we can go to.  Jesus invites you and me by name to His table.  Today, Jesus invites you and me to come as a community of faith, which includes baptized children.  During his earthly ministry Jesus sat for Seder meals many times with his followers.  This meal was a bond for their small community.  These meals strengthened Jesus’ followers not only physically but spiritually for their mission.  They were breaks, respites amid their travels with Jesus from village to village ministering in His name.

Jesus says: “Come to my table.” The Lord’s Supper proclaims the good news, that is, God’s story or gospel.  In verse 26 we read: “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death.”  The Lord’s Supper proclaims the gospel of God’s sacrificial love on the cross in Jesus Christ, the gospel of God’s forgiving love in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our salvation. Jesus died for our sins and through repentance and faith we receive the gift of salvation.

Come to my table. The Lord's Supper is God's seal on the promises of Jesus: “You did not choose me, I chose you,” “Lo, I am with you always to the end of the earth,” “Come to me all you who are overburdened and I will give you rest.”  Like the wedding ring is a seal on your marriage vows the Lord’s Supper is God’s seal on Jesus’ promises to us.

Come to my table; do this remembering me.  What do we remember?  We come remembering Jesus' life and ministry: his travels to towns and villages, and to Jerusalem, his ministry of healing people, exorcising demons, his accepting outcasts, lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, and women by breaking the cultural stereotypes of the day, his teachings like the sermon on the mount, his conflicts and struggles with his enemies, his disciples who both listened and learned and deserted him.  We come remembering the crucifixion as God's way of forgiving our sin, and yet, we remember the empty cross and Jesus' resurrection and the hope it means for us.  Memory plays an important role when you receive communion.

Come to my table, I am here!  Jesus is personally and spiritually present at this table.  We gather around the table to eat and drink with one another and with the risen Lord.  The broken bread and the poured wine are occasions of his Christ’s spiritual presence.  Christ is present as the host.  Christ is present in our minds and hearts by faith.  We enter into spiritual union or communion with Christ and one another.  We share a common guilt from sin and a common word of forgiveness by the risen Lord.  We come to the table to be spiritually fed by the Holy Spirit.  As food feeds our bodies, this meal feeds our souls, renews our spirits, nourishes our faith, and brings courage to our hearts.

Come to my table and renew your covenant with me.  Jesus said: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”  God established the Old Covenant with Abraham which promised land, descendants and blessings to the families of the earth.  God established the New Covenant through his Son, Jesus Christ.  God promises new life and eternal life and in this meal God renews His covenant with us and we rededicate our lives to God and one another.

Come to my table and catch a glimpse of our future life together.  The passage says – “Until He comes.”  The Lord's table is a foretaste of the supper of the Lamb which we eat together in heave.  Today is a glimpse of the Messianic supper in glory.  Taking communion is like watching the preview or screening for a movie that is soon to be released.  One writer said: “Don't ever forget that the meal we share together once a month or so in the church, with a piece of bread and a cup, is a foretaste of the heavenly feast of the Lamb that we will celebrate together for eternity.”  Yes, this meal says a celebration awaits us.

Come to my table with thanksgiving.  The Lord's Supper is also called the Eucharist, a Greek word which means “Thanksgiving.”  This is a meal where we give thanks to God for God's gifts, for atonement for our sins on the cross, for relationships, for God's blessings, for God's forgiveness, for God's courage, for God's leading in our lives, for God's sustaining and strengthening us in the midst or ordeals and trials.

Someone wrote: “The Lord's Supper is a most ordinary and extraordinary experience all at once.”  We don't come because we deserve a place or are worthy to be here or have earned the right to sit at the table.  We come because by faith we know that Christ has declared us righteous before God, because Christ has pardoned us before God, because Christ has reconciled us to God, because Christ has made us worthy to stand before God.  Scripture says: “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The Table is set with a meal, a gracious meal, a free meal, for it has already been paid for.  Keep your wallets and purses closed.   Though it appears simple, the meal was outrageously expensive, more that any meal you have ever paid for.  It cost the death of God’s Son Jesus.  May we receive it with gratitude and understanding.  Receive it with joy, and thanksgiving.  Jesus invites us to come to His table.  Amen.

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!