Friday, August 5, 2016

Celebrate the Journey (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

An elderly man had some serious hearing problems.  His family tried repeatedly to convince him to get a hearing aid.  Finally, he went to the doctor and was fitted for a set of hearing aids that dramatically improved his hearing.  A month later he went back to the doctor for a checkup. The doctor said with a smile, "Your hearing is perfect. Your family must be really pleased that you can hear again."  The old man replied, "Who said I told them?   It’s been fascinating just listening to their conversations.”

Welcome to celebrate the journey.  I want to thank Mavis Qualsett, our former Coordinator for Congregational Care, who due to health problems is not able to be with us today, but who organized this celebration of life and is still very involved in our caring ministry.  Today we are recognizing 17 members of PBPC who have reached the exceptional age of 90 or older.   Yes, they have been on life’s journey longer than the rest of us, but don’t despair, keep breathing, keep moving, keep praying, for one day it will be our honor to recognize you when you reach this esteemed age.

The number of senior citizens, a club of which I am a member, is rapidly increasing in America.   By the year 2030 one out of every five Americans will be a senior citizen.   Life expectancy in the United States in 1900 was about 47.  Today, the average lifespan for men is 75 and for women about 80. By 2040 its projected that the life expectancy for men will be 86 and for women 91.

We value life.  From diet to exercise, from advances in medicine to the finest hospitals and doctors, from cosmetics to plastic surgery, we strive to look and feel younger and extend our days upon this earth.  One’s lifespan depends upon several of factors: genetics, family history, social and environmental factors, health care, positive social relationships, a positive mental attitude, a healthy lifestyle, finding effective ways to cope with stress, the grace of God and more.

Yes we are getting older and living longer.  But are we also getting younger?  We constantly hear that today’s 70’s are yesterday’s 50’s.  Studies show that today’s 70 year old’s are performing physically, mentally and attitudinally the way 50 year old’s did in the past.  So it looks like we are getting older and younger at the same time.

Studies also point out the positive role that spirituality/religious faith, prayer and worship play in our journey of life.   Many books and articles have been published on the subject of retirement, aging, reaching the final years of our lives.  Some call it the twilight or sunset of life.  Now are sunsets beautiful or what?

Many articles focus upon the material aspects of growing older, encouraging traveling, spending your money on fun things, etc.   But often the literature excludes or downplays the spiritual values of aging, developing faith in God, service in God’s name, which brings joy, meaning and purpose as one ages.  I know our 17 special people today would all affirm how indispensable faith has been to their journey.  The spiritual realm is important for all people, but as one’s mortality and the reality of death draws nearer these questions often become more significant.  I believe God has placed this spiritual characteristic or instinct or need into our nature because we are made in God’s image.  God earnestly desires for human beings to be in fellowship, in a right relationship with Him, but sin, sin blinds us to it or buries it.

C. G. Jung, the famous 19th and 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.   We didn’t create ourselves, we didn’t will ourselves into existence.  You and I exist by the grace of God.  The book of Genesis says: “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them, male and female God created them.”  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.  The psalmist writes: “O God, we are like a dream, like grass which grows up, that in the morning is fresh and flourishing, and in the evening fades and withers.”  When you look back over the years, don’t you agree.

Suffering, pain, and disappointment are part of life’s journey.  Because of human sin and evil life is not always fair and just.  So we depend upon God, we depend upon Jesus, and one another to help us get through the upsets, the hurt, the challenges of life.

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.   We need to recognize them, to grow in them, to learn from them, to be patient in them, to persevere in them, to maintain courage and a positive outlook in them, and to trust in God’s guidance.  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.  I regularly see people in their 60’s,70’s and 80’s working out at 24 Hour Fitness as well as young people. We may not be as agile as we once were, or as strong, but that should never stop us.  An elderly husband writes: “One day as my wife and I were walking our two-mile course, I secretly determined to keep up with her--a feat thus far never accomplished.  I huffed and puffed most of the way trying to keep pace. I figured that with some effort, I could hold out until we got to her usual slow-down point. When we finally reached it, Deb kept right on walking at the same rate. Breathlessly, I asked, "Honey, aren't you going to slow down like usual?" She cheerfully replied, "Sweetheart, I never sped up!"

God wants to use us for His glory and Kingdom throughout our lives, yes even in the twilight years.   I think of people I’ve known over the years, like Bob, who started a prison ministry at a former church I pastored when he was 65, Katherine who was visiting Alzheimer’s patients in her eighties, Jan who in her nineties was writing letters to church visitors, and Virginia who in her nineties was active on the church prayer chain.  Such people are an inspiration.  We must always maintain a willingness to grow at whatever stage we find ourselves.

Some persons become bitter as they age and withdraw from those around them.   They isolate themselves, cut off ties with family and friends, and become virtual hermits.   Don’t do that.  Stay positive, stay connected, stay engaged.  Believe that God has something 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.”

God will let you know when he’s finished with you, but in the meantime keep moving, keep breathing, keep serving, keep glorifying and sharing in His Kingdom.

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.”  Life is to be lived in thankfulness and appreciation and joy for God’s grace and mercy.

In psalm 90:12 we read: “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”   Lord teach us to number of days, to think about them, to examine them, in light of our faith.  God earnestly wants us to gain wisdom.  For how you spend your years matters, it matters a great deal to God.

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.”

What is God’s purpose for the years before you?”  How and where can you put your experience, wisdom, talents and resources to use in God’s kingdom?  William Courtenay wrote: “I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow-creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again."

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 29, 2016

Can I Forgive (Matthew 6:14-15; Ephesians 4:29-32) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Christian author Max Lucado tells the story of being dropped by his insurance company because he had one too many speeding tickets and a minor fender bender that wasn't his fault.  As he reflected on how he wasn't good enough for his insurance company, the spiritual tie-in was obvious.  He writes this imaginary letter sent from the Pearly Gates Underwriting Division:

Dear Mr. Smith,
“I'm writing in response to your request for forgiveness. I'm sorry to inform you that you have reached your quota of sins. Our records show that, since employing our services, you have erred seven times in the area of greed, and your prayer life is substandard when compared to others of like age and circumstance.  Further review reveals that your understanding of doctrine is in the lower 20 percentile and you have excessive tendencies to gossip.  Because of your sins you are a high-risk candidate for heaven. You understand that grace has its limits. Jesus sends his regrets and kindest regards and hopes that you will find some other form of coverage.

How would you like to receive a letter like that?

Think of a person whom you are having trouble forgiving.  From families to friendships, from the workplace to worship places, the potential to be hurt or wronged or wounded by another is always present.  Someone hurt you, maybe yesterday, maybe many years ago, and you cannot forget it.  You did not deserve the hurt.  It went deep, deep enough to lodge itself in your memory.  And it keeps on hurting you now.  The question is – will you forgive, should you forgive, can you forgive?

Yes, forgiveness is a beautiful notion, a lovely ideal, until you are faced with the messy reality of having to actually forgive someone who has wronged you.  And yet, if the gospel says anything; it’s the message of God’s forgiveness of us in Jesus and God’s call for us to forgive others.  For who are Christians but believers who recognize that are forgiven sinners.

As human beings God did not give us the power to change the past.  God did give us the power to forgive the past.  God did not give us a delete button to erase the past.  God gave us memory.  God gave us the power to forgive.

What does forgiveness mean?  Biblically it speaks about changing your head, your heart, your attitude toward someone who has sinned against you.  It doesn’t mean you must forget what has happened or minimize it.  It doesn’t mean you deny the other person’s responsibility in hurting you.  It doesn’t mean you must make an excuse for their action.  It doesn’t mean the other person is not accountable for his or her actions. It doesn’t mean you must become best friends.  It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t report them to the police if they are physically hurting you.  It doesn’t mean allowing or tolerating abusive or bullying behavior toward you.  Remorse, repentance, making things right is also a part of the biblical understanding of forgiveness.

In the Old Testament there are some Hebrew words for forgiveness – nasa - means “to remove or lift up or carry away” a barrier or obstacle which stands between you and another person, which then opens up the possibility for restoring the relationship.

Another Hebrew word is – Salach - means to “let go,” to let go of the resentment or anger you harbor toward another.  Forgiveness is a means of letting go of bitterness and thoughts of revenge.   Forgiveness can sometimes lead to feelings of understanding for the one who hurt you.

How do we forgive?   I like the way the late theologian Lewis Smedes answers the question: “How, you do it slowly, with a little understanding, in confusion, with anger left over, a little at a time, freely or not at all.”

We forgive slowly.  Forgiveness is an intellectual, emotional and spiritual process.  You might forgive someone in your head, but in your heart you are still wounded.  It takes time for your heart to catch up with your head.  Today we like things to happen fast: fast food, fast computers, fast cell phone service, but some things take time and forgiveness is one of them.  Forgiveness is a journey.  It happens a little at a time. It requires patience.  One's commitment to it has to be renewed every day.  Late theologian Lewis Smedes writes: “You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well.”

We also forgive freely.  You cannot be forced to forgive someone.  The person who hurt you may try to pressure you into forgiving him or her or even your friends might pressure you to forgive, they might plead with you, beg you, but no one can force you.   It must come freely from inside of your soul.

I remember a cartoon where one guy has his hands around another guy’s neck and is choking him.  The guy in the chokehold says: “But you’re a Christian, you have to forgive me.”  The other guy says: “I know, I’m trying, I’m trying.”   For me, the bottom line is that the ability to truly forgive someone is an act of God’s grace.  The power comes from God.  It’s an answer to prayer.  God empowers us to do what we cannot do ourselves.

Scripture teaches about forgiveness.  “Don’t keep a record of how many times someone has hurt you and how many times you have forgiven them.”   Have you ever done that?

Jewish scribes in Jesus’ day taught that one should forgive someone three times.  Peter in the Gospel of Matthew approaches Jesus and asks him: “How many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me, up to seven times?”  Peter thought he was being more than fair given the custom of the day.   But Jesus answers: “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.”  That equals 490 times, is that the limit?  No, this is a Jewish maxim that means “without limit.”  There is no limit to forgiveness.

Why forgive?  First, remember who you are – a child of God, a follower of Christ.  Jesus commands us to forgive in His name.  We in the church are a community of forgiven and forgiving sinners.  We aren’t perfect, far from it.  I like that old bumper sticker – “Christians are perfect, just forgiven.”  Christians haven’t earned God’s grace; we didn’t earn a bronze, silver or gold metal before God in the Spiritual Olympics.  God forgave us in spite of ourselves.  We have received God’s free gift of salvation by grace through faith.  Forgiveness is one of the marks of being a Christian.  It’s a sign of living in-Christ.  It is a witness to the world.

God’s forgiveness abolishes the walls that separate us from Him and restores our relationship with God.  Because God has forgiven you, Christ says I want you my followers to forgive others.  Jesus says: “If you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will forgive you; but if you don’t forgive others their sins, neither will your heavenly Father forgive your sins.”  Forgiveness is serious business in the mind of Jesus.

Second, we are to forgive because our ability to share the forgiveness of God possesses an incredible power to change and impact lives.  There is power in a parent forgiving a child or a child forgiving a parent.  There is power in a wife forgiving a husband or a husband forgiving a wife.  There is power when a friend forgives another friend.  The power to erase shame and guilt.   It is a potent gift you can give to another.  “I forgive you.”

You never know what a difference that can mean in another person’s life.  It can totally change a person’s life.   There are many stories which bear this out, like the woman who was mugged in broad daylight, her purse was stolen in the robbery.  The man was arrested.  She visited him in jail for over a year after he was sentenced for the crime.  He came out of jail a changed young man because of the love he experienced from her in the form of forgiveness.

Third, forgiveness opens up the possibility, and I say possibility, for restoring a broken relationship which you once valued.  You invite the person who hurt you back into your life.  If the person is remorseful, repents, comes honestly there is a chance for creating a new beginning.  Nothing else can do this.  No, there are no guarantees.  Forgiveness brings a hope for reconciliation. If the person refuses to acknowledge his or her responsibility, you have to be healed alone.  We know sometimes reconciliation happens and sometimes it doesn’t, it’s as they say, complicated.

Third, we are to forgive because you shall ultimately find healing, renewal and peace in forgiveness. You will discover healing inside of you from the hatred, the resentment, the anger, the desire for revenge.  The inability to forgive the past robs you of joy and gladness for today.  It can sour your soul.   Forgiveness, as a friend told me - “Is in the long run the only remedy for the pain which you didn’t deserve and the pain that will not go away.”

When you ask God to help you forgive another person, then you open yourself up to experience God’s grace and peace in your heart.  Bitterness, unresolved anger or hostility slowly fades.  If not, such negative emotions will poison your soul. They will become toxic and bring sickness to your body. God’s grace can begin to bring healing to our lives.  “Anger makes you smaller, while forgiveness forces you to grow beyond what you were,” wrote Cherie Carter-Scott.

Forgiveness can change the power that a negative past experience can have on our lives today. Lewis Smedes wrote: “Forgiving does not erase the bitter past.  A healed memory is not a deleted memory.  Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember.  We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.”

A good way to begin the process of forgiving someone and to begin healing is to pray for that person.  What?  Pray you say!   This is difficult, I know, I know this personally, but ask God to give you the strength to pray for that person.  And God will.   And remember the Lord’s Prayer. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

I believe forgiveness is a paradox.  It is something you can do only on our own.  At the same time, we can only truly forgive, when we open ourselves to God’s grace and allow God’s Spirit to empower us to forgive.  God began by forgiving us in Jesus.

I close with these words from Ephesians: “Get rid of all bitterness, passion and anger.  No more shouting or insults, no more hateful feelings of any sort.  Instead, be kind and tenderhearted to one another, and forgive one another, as God has forgiven you through Christ.” Amen!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Facing Goliaths (I Samuel 17:1-11; 48-51) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Who is the tallest person you have ever met?  I remember years ago seeing this tall guy in San Diego.  I asked a friend who he was and my friend said that’s Bill Walton.  He is 6’11”.  He played basketball for the San Diego Clippers in the early 1980’s.  Now that’s tall.  Our son Matthew told me that years ago he saw Shaquille O’Neal (Shaq) in L.A.  He is 7’1” tall.  Now that’s really tall.

But do you remember a man by the name of Robert Wadlow?  He was an American from Illinois.  He was known of the Giant of Illinois.  He died in 1940.  He was 8’ 11”.   According to official records Robert is confirmed as the tallest human being to have ever lived.

Would you consider these people giants?  Do giants exist?  And I’m not talking about the San Francisco Giants.  No, giants don’t exist.  Giants are the stuff of folklore and legend.  They are an archetype, a universal mythic character of the collective unconscious, a product of the fantasy and superstition of ancient cultures.  Giants are the characters of stories like the English fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk, the trolls of German literature, the Cyclops of Greek and Roman literature and Paul Bunyon of American literature. They are the myths of ages past when people personified evil or fear of the unknown or the unexplainable in the form of giants who walked the land.   In these modern sophisticated times we know that giants aren’t real or are they?

What is our traditional image of giants?  They are superhuman aberrations of prodigious size and power.  They possess extraordinary strength and physical proportions, they can inflict havoc and destruction at will, and it’s nearly impossible to stop them, which leads us to our story from I Samuel about a giant, Goliath.

Goliath, a Philistine, was a real person. He was an historical figure.   He was not a figment of the Jewish imagination.   In our story the armies of the Israelite tribes of King Saul, the king of Israel and their enemies, the Philistines, are lined up preparing for battle, each camped on a mountain with a valley between them in the area we know today as the Gaza strip.  The year is about 1000 B.C.

Goliath, the champion of the Philistines, we are told was 6 cubits and a span, a little over 9 feet tall.  A height that is believable.  Reaching a little over nine feet is not much of a stretch of the imagination.  A giant of a man, he was heavily armed, was a champion soldier, had fought in many battles, and was obviously a terrifying adversary.

Goliath shouts to the Israelites: “Why have you come out to draw up for battle?  Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul.  Choose a man for yourselves and let him come down to me.  If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants, but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.  Today I defy the ranks of Israel. Give me a man that we may fight together.” The story says:  “When King Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.”  Can you blame them?

David, a boy and servant of the kind approaches King Saul and offers to fight Goliath.  Saul tells him he is just a boy and is no match for the warrior Goliath.  But David argues that as a shepherd who has taken care of sheep for many years, he had become skilled with the slingshot.  He tells Saul that over the years he has killed lions and bears with his slingshot to protect the sheep.  He says this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them.  David goes on to say:  “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.  So Saul said to David, Go and may the Lord be with you.”   David’s faith in God is strong.  He believes God has called him and is sending him for just such a time as this.   Saul has David put on a heavy coat of armor, but David says:  “I cannot walk with these, for I am not used to them.”  So David removes them.  Then he takes his staff in his hand, and selects five smooth stones, he puts them in his shepherd’s bag, takes his sling in hand and goes to meet Goliath.

Goliath begins to taunt David. “Am I a dog that you come to me with sticks?”  David replies:  “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.  This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand.”  And David puts his hand in his bag, takes out a stone, slings it and strikes Goliath on his forehead, and the giant falls dead to the ground.

It’s a factual account, an inspiring story.  But that was a long time ago.  Are giants still a threat today?   Yes, they may take other forms, but giants do exist today.  I consider crime, where you or I can become a victim any time of a robber or mugger or murderer a giant.  I consider life-threatening illnesses giants which we must face with today.  I consider problems that we wrestle with, problems which seem overwhelming and insolvable, giants of today.  I consider fears which haunt you and sap your courage and energy giants of today.  I consider bullies as modern day giants; whether on the school playground or in the workplace.   I consider radical extremist Islamic terrorism a giant, a giant which continues to stalk, and wreak havoc and murder at will in America and around the world.  The attacks are increasing.  And if we are honest, people are afraid.  Governments are trying to figure out a way to come together and with their collective wisdom and strength defeat this terrifying giant.

Giants are things that appear beyond our ability to control alone, they overwhelm us, they are powerful.     Giants make us feel small and insignificant.  And giants can be real or imagined.  They may exist in reality or in our minds as irrational fears, delusions, but if we believe them to be true, they are real to us.   Are there giants you are dealing with in your life?

Dr. David Jeremiah, pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church writes: “Listen, can you hear them coming?  You can run, but you cannot hide.  You might as well come out and fight.  Yes, the giants are abroad.    They cast their long shadow over everything we aspire to do, every new land we seek to inhabit, every dream we hope to pursue.  They have long intimidated us.  There are other kinds of giants that lurk around every corner to bring ruin and destruction in the land of our lives?   If we think a little more carefully, if we think a little more deeply, we might begin to identify some modern day giants in our lives.”

Giants may be real or in our minds.  Like the bus driver who was driving along his usual route.  Everything was going well.  And them at one stop this large burly man boarded the bus.  He was built like a wrestler.  He glared at the bus driver and told him, "Big John doesn't pay money!" Then he sat down at the back of the bus. The driver was a short slender man, so he didn't argue with Big John.  But he wasn't happy about it.

The next day big John boarded the bus again, said he didn’t pay money, and sat down. It happened day after day. The bus driver began to lose sleep over the way Big John was taking advantage of him.  He felt Big John was intentionally intimidating him and taking advantage of him.

Finally, the bus driver couldn’t stand it any longer. The next Monday, Big John stepped onto the bus and declared, "Big John doesn't pay money!" Enraged, the driver stood up, got into Big John’s face and bellowed, "And why not?"  With a surprised look on his face, Big John replied, "Cause Big John has a bus pass."   Yes, some fears and problems aren’t real, but become giants in our minds.

Dr. David Jeremiah writes about emotional giants in his book: Facing the Giants in your Life. He identifies 12 of them: Fear, Discouragement, Loneliness, Worry, Guilt, Temptation, Anger, Resentment, Doubt, Procrastination, and Failure.  Yes, giants do exist in different forms today.  They still pose a threat to our existence.  They are still a menacing presence.  I think there are lessons to be learned from our O.T. story.

First, like David, face the giants in your life.  Don’t deny them, or try to run away or hide from them and hope they will magically disappear.  No, it isn’t easy that’s true.  Denying or trying to escape always seems like the best path.  But I believe God is saying in this story that we need to stand up and stand tall and face those giants which threaten our lives today.

Second, practice self-discipline, stay in regular training, intellectually, physically, emotionally and spiritually for you never know when a giant will appear.  David had years of training as a shepherd in using the slingshot and staff to defend and protect sheep before God sent him to face Goliath.  God desires that we continually prepare ourselves as followers of Jesus Christ.  We must be forewarned and forearmed.

That can mean to prepare ourselves physically in terms of regular exercise and eating a healthy diet.  It can mean preparing ourselves spiritually in terms of regularly practicing the spiritual disciplines of prayer, worship, reading the Bible, growing and developing and maturing in our faith.  It can mean facing little challenges, mini-giants in life, addressing them and gaining confidence for the larger challenges to come.   It can mean making close and trusted friendships, people whom you can count on for support, love, strength and encouragement in a time in which you will face a giant.  What else comes to your mind in terms of training and preparation for the giants of life?

Third, like David, fully and completely place your trust and confidence and future in God.   Remember this.  God himself makes you and me two promises.  God is with you when you face a giant.  God goes with you.  You will never walk alone.

Hear again this promise from the letter of Romans: “What are we to say?  If God is for us, who is against us?  He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else.  In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, and I would add giants, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

God will empower you. You will never walk in weakness.  Jesus says:  “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”  Jesus says: “Be of good courage.  I am with you.”  God has the strength and will give you the strength you need when you must face a giant.   You are not alone.  The church, the family of God surrounds you and will support you in a variety of ways.

Do you need to confront a giant in your life?   Have you put on the helmet of salvation and the shield of faith?    Or perhaps you are carrying a slingshot?  Yes, giants are real.  But so is God.  And our sovereign God is greater than any giant that you or I will ever face in life.  Amen!

Friday, July 15, 2016

God Has Brought Laughter (Genesis 21:1-7) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Do you ever have a senior moment?  Those of us who are seniors know all about them, and you younger people will one day learn about them.  Like the man who telephoned the newspaper office and shouted: “Where is my Sunday paper, I’ve been waiting all morning?”  ”Sir,” said the calm employee, “today is Saturday. The Sunday paper is not delivered until tomorrow, on Sunday.”   There was a long pause on the other end of the phone and then the man replied: “Well, heck... so that's why no one was at church today.”

There are some key propositions which pertain to life.  One life is hard. Don’t think anyone would argue with that.   Two, life is not always fair.  Sadness, tragedy, injustice is a part of life like we saw in Dallas last week.  Proposition three - Life is also enjoyable and can be humorous.  I believe all three propositions are true.   What about you?

Which takes us to our morning lesson.  First, laughter is a gift from God, a marvelous gift, which God has blessed us with!  We may infer that God has a sense of humor since we are made in God’s image.  Sydney Harris wrote: “God cannot be solemn or he would not have blessed man with the incalculable gift of laughter.” I agree. God must have a sense of humor because He made aardvarks, orangutans, and me.  I truly believe God has a sense of humor which He has passed on to us.  Comedians play an important role in our culture.  They get us in touch with the humorous said of our nature.

Second, having a sense of humor is critical in life.  If you don’t have a good sense of humor, I suggest you work on it.  It is an invaluable resource, an essential quality, which can help get one through many of the trials we face.  It means we need to remember not to take ourselves too seriously.  It means we need to be able to laugh at ourselves.   It’s important to recognize and appreciate our own imperfections and idiosyncrasies, and not get all worked up when others tease us, or when we say or do something foolish or when we don't get the respect we believe we are due or when we make a mistake and feel embarrassed or frustrated with ourselves.    I remember when our family first came back to visit FPC Santa Monica, after we were in CO for a couple of years.  We knew the people in Santa Monica well having served there as pastor for many years.  I walked in and people crowded around Nancy and me welcoming us back.  It felt good to be back and to get all this attention.  Then one woman looked at me and said: “Hi pastor, welcome back.  You look about the same, except your cheeks are chubbier.”  There are times when we take ourselves and the things which happen to us too seriously.   English author G.K.  Chesterton said: “Angels can fly because they take themselves so lightly.”

We need a balancing factor in life with all of the bad and sad things that are part of life and one of the best is humor.  Humor is one of the most important qualities for good mental health and a balanced state of mind.   I get a little suspicious when I'm around someone who never laughs, who doesn't seem to see humor in anything, especially in themselves.

What a joy to not only see something that strikes you as funny and sets you laughing, but to see and hear others laugh around you.  What a gift to have a friend whom you can laugh with.    Laughter is contagious.  It brightens the day.  It lifts the mood.  Being around such people is a blessing from God.

Our granddaughter makes us laugh.  I’m sure you who have grandchildren know what I mean.  Our 3-year-old granddaughter Haven was down last weekend.  She calls me Hopper.  She loves to listen to stories and read stories to you.  Of course she makes up the words since she doesn’t know how to read.  She was reading me a story and I said something and she said: “Hopper, don’t talk, the other children’s can’t hear.”  Then I stood up for a second, and she said: “Hopper don’t stand up, the other children’s can’t see.”  Then I apparently broke another rule and she asked me to leave the room and sit in the hallway with the toys in a time out.

Being able to see some humor in life’s surprises or unexpected twists and turns is indeed a blessing.  There are people who live unhappy, miserable lives because everything is serious and they can't seem to see humor.  A life without laughter, is empty and barren and joyless.

So how is your sense of humor?   What kinds of things strike you as funny?  God has created us to be able to appreciate irony, satire, to see humor in the mundane, to see hilarity in the ordinary and be amused by amusing things.

If one can learn to see humor in life's events, one will be able to experience the joy and happiness which is fundamental to the life God has given to us.   Laughter generates the equilibrium we need, it becomes a stabilizing factor, when things begin to reel out of control around us.  Laughter is an essential ingredient in one's life survival kit.

You never know when funny things will happen.  At another church I was serving, I was wearing my robe and had a cordless mic underneath.  The receiver was hooked on my belt.  Somehow the receiver dropped off my belt and was dangling down.  The weight of it began to tighten the cord around my arm.  I was leading communion at the time.  As I tried to loosen the cord, and break the bread at the same time, the cord tightened around my arm and began pulling my hand toward my shoulder.  I had to lean down to try to pour the wine and break the bread but as I did I became more and more twisted up and tangled up and realized I now had only one hand to use for communion.  At first I started to panic, I thought, do I say hold on a second, and take my robe off and untangle myself, or just push on through.  Finally, I just relaxed, saw the humor in it, and God somehow guided me to finish the sacrament.  I don’t know if anyone noticed or not.

I like the stories in the book of Genesis where Sarah, Abraham’s wife, speaks about laughter.  In Genesis chapter 18 mysterious visitors come to visit Abraham and he offers them the customary hospitality.  One of them tells Abraham that Sarah will have a son.  Sarah overhears the man and laughs at this preposterous idea given her advanced age.   The visitor says to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh, is anything too wonderful for the Lord?”  Sarah quickly says, “I didn't laugh.”  The visitor says, “Oh yes you did laugh.”

In Genesis 21 we celebrate the joy of the birth of a son and Abraham names him Isaac.  The name Isaac in Hebrew means – he laughs.    The earlier promise of the three mysterious visitors is fulfilled.  And Sarah exclaims, “God has brought laughter for me, everyone who hears will laugh with me.  Who would ever had said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children.  Yet, I have borne him a son in his old age.” God surprises Abraham and Sarah with the gift of a son in their old age.  And they are filled with joy.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, we read in the third chapter: “For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven, a time to weep and a time to laugh.”  The psalmist in psalm 126 writes: “Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with shouts of joy.”

We read in the book of Proverbs: “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones.”  Laughter is good for the soul.  Having a sense of humor helps to keep us healthy: spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically.  It’s a powerful antidote to stress, pain and conflict.  It lightens your burdens, inspires hope, connects you with others, and keeps you grounded.

Studies have shown that laugher has healing properties and powers.   Norman Cousins, a well-known writer at the time was diagnosed in 1964 as having a serious disease involving the connective tissues.  He was told that his chances for survival were 1 in 500.  Dr. Cousins’ decided to design his own plan for recovery.    He designed a program which required daily use of all the positive emotions.  Among them were faith, love and hope and laughter.  He asked: “How do you laugh when you’ve been told you have an irreversible disease and don’t have long to live?”

Cousins’ developed a systematic program for getting daily doses of hearty laughter.  He watched reruns of the old Candid Camera programs and the Marx Brothers movies, anything which would make him laugh.  Later on he wrote of his healing experiences in his book Anatomy of an Illness. He writes: “It worked.  I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain free sleep.”  Yes, laughter is good medicine.  It stirs up the blood, it expands the chest, it electrifies the nerves, it clears the brain and renews the body and mind.

A sense of humor contributes to healing, to changing attitudes, to reducing oversized egos, to expanding undersized egos, to deflating inflated pride, and putting a smile on a solemn face.  It opens up a fresh breeze of humility and spontaneity, self-acceptance, gratitude and appreciation for life.

Thomas Edison attributed his success in the seriousness of life to appreciating the less-serious.   He was renowned for working long hours and enduring thousands of frustrations.   What’s not well known are his methods for sustaining himself while working on scientific experiments.  He discovered that humor put his mind at ease.  In addition to maintaining hundreds of notebooks full of scientific equations, he filled several others with nothing but jokes.  He found that comic relief was valuable for both him and his staff.  He used it as a tension breaker and as a morale builder.  He said that people who laugh together can work longer and more effectively together.

The Psalmist says: “Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with shouts of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’ May God fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy.”  Amen!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Free in Christ (John 8:31-32; Galatians 5:1-2, 13-14) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Do human beings desire freedom more than anything else?  Is freedom what human beings value most?   Thirteenth century Scottish knight William Wallace led Scotland in a war for independence from England.  In the movie, Braveheart, he inspires his warriors before the battle with these words: “Aye, fight and you may die.  Run, and you'll live... at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin' to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they'll never take... OUR FREEDOM!”   If people are willing to die for it; it is all-important.

In the Mariners' Museum in Newport News Virginia, there's a special display of a rickety, home-made aluminum kayak. This tiny makeshift boat seems out of place among thousands of Navy vessels from significant battles throughout history.  But there is a story behind this kayak.  In 1966, an auto mechanic named Laureano and his wife Consuelo decided that they could no longer live under the oppression of Cuba's totalitarian regime.  After spending months collecting scrap metal, they pieced together a boat just barely big enough for two small people. Then Laureano jerry-rigged a small lawn mower engine on the back of the kayak.

On a moonless night, they set out in their kayak toward the treacherous Straits of Florida. They had only enough water and food for a couple of days.  Finally, after they had floated in open water for over 70 hours, the U.S. Coast Guard found and rescued the couple in the Florida Keys.

Laureano was asked if the risk was worth it?  He replied: “When one has grown up in liberty, you realize how important it is.  We lived in the enormous prison which is Cuba, where one's life is not worth one crumb. Where one goes out into the street and does not know whether or not one will return to one's home, because the political police can arrest you without any warning and put you in prison. Before this could happen to us, we thought that going into the ocean, and risking death or being eaten by sharks, is a million times better than to stay suffering under political oppression.”    Yes, freedom is everything when you see people willing to risk their very lives for it.

Tomorrow America will celebrate its Independence Day.  It's a day worth celebrating.  It's a day which should be remembered.   According to many global observers freedom is what America still represents to the world.   Historically, political, economic and religious freedom was the motivating force in the American Revolution.  Voices cried out for independence from Great Britain, for self-government, freedom of worship and fair representation.   You recall the words from our famous declaration in authored in Philadelphia:

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.  We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”   Ideally liberty can't be taken away or given up because it is an unalienable right, a right that comes from God not man.

Our nation was founded upon the Judeo/Christian covenant, a covenant with and under God.   We believe that freedom is an indispensable right and gift from God.  We believe freedom is worth sacrificing for.  We believe freedom must be protected and defended.  We believe freedom always comes with a cost.  We seek God's guidance and blessings as we strive to live out what freedom means in our nation in a changing and complex world.   We see this example and spirit epitomized in the military, and in first responders, who stand on the front lines of freedom.

Today, in the light of increasing terrorist attacks both here and abroad, the government and public debate many issues, such as individual privacy vs. the government's right to know, individual liberty vs. national security, the Second amendment's right to bear arms vs. the governments role to protect its citizens, and racial profiling vs. civil liberty for all.

We value both freedom and security for ourselves, our children and grandchildren.  In regard to immigration, the emotional debate continues about the God given human right and freedom to travel, to move from one country to another, verses a nation's right and duty to protect its borders, and ensure an orderly process of immigration.  The immigration issue is made more complicated in the light of Islamic terrorists who take advantage and use it as a means to gain entry to our nation.

The Bible also speaks to the notion of freedom.  The Bible is the source of the idea in the Declaration of Independence that freedom is an unalienable right which comes from God.  But it goes a step further.  It further spells out what true freedom is.

The Bible doesn't romanticize the notion of freedom.  It declares that we are never so free that we can do anything we want.  It declares that we are never totally free.  We human beings are always subject to some dominating power, we are always vulnerable to some yoke of slavery.  If not God's lordship, then some other ruler or power or person in this earthly life, that is, our own weaknesses and vices, culture, tradition or to a political system.  Why - scripture says human beings are slaves to sin, that is, to self-centeredness, to self-worship, to idolatry, to rebellion against their creator.  Sin is what drives people to dreams of world conquest or to dominate another human being.  And yes, we can become slaves to the evil one, to Satan.

But the good news is this – in Christ we can find freedom.  Through faith in Christ, we can begin to experience the freedom which God intended for us.  What is biblical freedom or independence?  It is a paradox, Judeo Christian freedom is becoming a slave to Christ.  Judeo Christian freedom is being a servant to God.   We are truly free, when we are bound to God and God alone.

Our scriptures state that human freedom originates from God, not from a powerful human, like a king, but from God.  The letter of Galatians says:  “For freedom Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”   John's Gospel says, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.”  Faith in Christ set's us free; the truth of Christ makes us free.

We are free from the paralyzing power of sin, free from the power of evil, free from the fear of death, free to love our neighbor, free to care for others, free to worship God, free to be honest, free to practice justice and morality, free to sacrifice for others, free to even give our lives for others.  You and were created by God to live free lives in our relationships with God and one another.  Christian freedom is a divine gift; it is rooted in the liberating work of God in Jesus Christ.  We receive it by faith, and it's sealed upon our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Author Elden Trueblood writes:  “We have not advanced very far in our spiritual lives if we have not encountered the basic paradox of freedom, to the effect that we are most free when we are bound.  But not just any way of being bound will suffice; what matters is the character of our binding.  The one who would like to be an athlete, but who is unwilling to discipline his body by regular exercise and by abstinence, is not free to excel on the field or on the track. His failure to train rigorously and to practice abstinence denies him the freedom to go over the bar at the desired height, or to run with the desired speed and endurance.  Slavery to self-discipline is the price of freedom."

The Christian faith declares that God sent Jesus, who submitted himself to the slavery of death, so through faith in Him Jesus' followers might be set free from the power of sin and free to serve God.   Christ has set us free.   Let us use our freedom not for self indulgence but to glorify God.  Amen.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Carpenter's Son (Matthew 13:54-56; Ephesians 6:1-4) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

One Father's Day weekend, a father and mother drove many hours to visit their daughter who was in her first year of college.  They spent a week with her.  As they were getting ready to leave, the father offered his daughter some medication for headaches, since she had suffered several migraines during their visit.   A few days after the parents returned home, the father was talking to their daughter on the phone and asked, how did those pills work out honey?  I don't know, she replied,  “I haven't had any headaches since you and mom left.”

A third grader asked his mother why his father brought a briefcase home and did work at night.  She explained that he had so much work to do, he couldn't get it all done at the office.  The youngster carefully pondered this and then asked, “Well why don't they put him in a slower group?”

On Father's Day we honor and pray for single fathers, married fathers, young and old fathers, foster fathers, step fathers and adoptive fathers.  We remember men who take the role of father seriously and responsibly.   Fathers who treat their wives with love and respect as an example to their children.  Fathers who make promises and honor them, who stand by and support their families emotionally, spiritually and financially.  Fathers who recognize their shortcomings, who feel like they have failed as fathers, but are still determined to strive to do better.

We remember and pray for fathers who are on deployment, away from their family for long periods of time and fathers alienated from their children, because of unresolved issues in the family.  We pray for fathers who are grieving the death of a child.  We remember fathers who have a passionate desire to pass on spiritual and moral values to their children and are committed to giving their time and love.

We remember fathers who were heros this past year.  There was the father who gave his son part of his liver for a transplant and the son lived, the father who administered CPR and saved his 11 year old son's life, the father who fought a fear with his bare hands and saved his teenage son's life and the father who saved his daughter from a kidnapper.

In our first lesson from Matthew, we read about the time Jesus returned to his hometown in Nazareth.  He taught in the synagogue and performed deeds of power.  He simply astonished the people.  Jesus' knowledge of the Jewish scriptures and traditions and wisdom astounded everyone.  They said, “Is not this the carpenter's son?”  By the carpenter' son, they of course, meant Joseph.  So today we reflect upon the example of Joseph as a father.

We know more about Mary, Jesus' mother, than Joseph since so little was written about him.  Now Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and was born of a virgin.  This is the truth of our faith.  So technically, Joseph was Jesus' step-father.  Scripture also says Joseph was the father of other children, boys and girls, by Mary, after Jesus was born.  Joseph and Mary raised Jesus and their other children as loving and responsible parents.

What kind of father was Joseph?  We have to look between the lines and catch glimpses in the story to find out.  There is no indication that Joseph harbored any misgivings about not being the biological father. Nor is there any hint that Joseph was resentful about the amazing role Mary played when God called her to give birth to the Son of God.   The few glimpses of Joseph as a father that we catch in the Bible are impressive.  Joseph is a positive and attractive figure – considerate, courageous, protective, skilled, mature, a truly good man.

He was a man of faith, he believed in God, listened to God and followed God's will in his life.  He was a Jew.  He was a faithful member of the Jewish community.  He respected and followed the Jewish traditions and festivals.   Joseph plays his difficult role, as one married to the mother of the Son of God, respectfully and obediently.

Joseph wasn't afraid when the angel spoke to him in a dream saying that the child conceived in Mary's womb was from the Holy Spirit.  He listened carefully to the angel who spoke to him again in dreams telling him to take his family to Egypt for protection and then later on, telling Joseph in a dream to return to Nazarath.  Joseph didn't resent the intrusion of the shepherds and Magi but rejoiced with them in the birth of Jesus.  He saw to it that Jesus was circumcised when he was 8 days old and presented in the temple according to Jewish tradition.

He was a good provider for his family.  He guided and protected them on lengthy trips to Bethlehem and Egypt across the desert.  Joseph, a carpenter by trade, taught Jesus to be an apprentice carpenter.

When Jesus was 12 years old, the family traveled to Jerusalem for the festival of Passover.  After it was over, the family, including many relatives started their trek home and after a day's journey, suddenly realized that Jesus was not with them. They quickly returned to Jerusalem and after searching for three days, found Jesus in the temple, sitting among the teachers listening to them and asking questions.  Mary said:  “Your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”  That is the last mention of Joseph in the story.  We can assume that he died when Jesus was in his early teens.  Joseph was a good man, a good father and a good example for father's everywhere.

In our second lesson in Ephesians 6:4 we read: “Fathers, do not provoke your children, instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”    Scripture is saying: “Fathers exercise self control.”  Control your emotions, control your anger, control your impatience, do not provoke your children to anger.  The Greek word means “Do not incite, or inflame or aggravate your children.”  We parents know that raising children requires an extraordinary amount of patience.

For example lovingly disciplining a child is a far cry from shaming a child.  An out of control temper can easily slip into the act of bringing shame upon a child.  A man tells a story about when as a young man his car stopped and he had to call a tow truck. The tow truck driver towed the car to the young man's home.   He called his father and explained what had happened.  His father simply responded, "I'll come up there tomorrow after work and have a look." The father lived 215 miles from him.  His dad was going to head up to see his son after driving a city bus for 10 hours.  His father arrived after three hours, said hello, hugged his son, and walked back out to the car to have a look under the hood.

It took about 15 seconds.  His father emerged from under the hood, looked at his son, and returned his wrench to his toolbox. "What's wrong dad?”  “Is it going to be expensive?”  “Son, you’re out of gas."  We talked, ate dinner, and dad headed home.  Another 215 miles.  430 miles round trip.  My father didn't denigrate or belittle me that evening over dinner or at any time since and he certainly would have been justified in doing so.  Sheepishly I thanked him.   We gave each other a hug and he said:  “Be safe, love you.”

Scripture says bring children up in the training and instruction of Lord?   What does this mean? Pray for and with your children.     There are many examples in scripture of fathers praying on behalf of their children like the royal official who went to see Jesus and asked Jesus to heal his son.  Pray for their protection, their strength, their faith, their needs, and their character.   Pray for children to grow to be good persons, responsible, productive, faith-filled and to glorify God in all they do.  When a man prays for and with his children he creates a powerful bond.

It means fathers help children to develop their identity.  Children need to be able to answer the question, who am I?    Pass on traditions and values, heritage and stories from your family.  Affirm that you are a family where Christ is the center, that prays and reads the Bible together.   Pass on that you are a patriotic family that respects our country.  Be a family that enjoys adventures together.  Be a family that discusses current events.  Be a family that emphasizes the value of learning.  Be a family that holds one another accountable and yet is always ready to forgive.

It means bring your children to worship and to Sunday School.  Make worshipping God a high priority.  Children learn from the example of their parents.  If the father is not going to church, the children will most likely follow their example and not grow up in a faith community, develop friends in the church, and learn the value of faith and participating in the family of God.

It also means fathers give your children responsibility.  Children need to know that you have confidence in them to do things.  Responsibility instills in them a sense of competence and self-confidence.   Children see that you trust them, that you believe in them, that you have confidence in them, and that knowledge is invaluable in helping children to develop self-confidence and self-esteem.  They will believe in themselves because you believed in them.

Mitch Albom, the author of the international best-seller Tuesdays with Morrie, wrote a short article for Father's Day titled "When did fathers become expendable?"  In our PC culture, the uniqueness of the father and what a father contributes is sometimes called into question.  What does a father bring to the table?

The author writes:  I can cite a few things I got from my own father: Strength. Quiet confidence. Discipline. Responsibility. And love—all displayed differently than my mother, which was fine. My father also taught us how to be a husband, how to respect a woman, when to lead and when to support.  It's true, not all men are like my dad.  But plenty are. And fatherhood didn't suddenly, after thousands of years, lose its value as some claim today. Funny thing is, I remember someone from my childhood frequently saying, "He needs his father to do that." It was my mother.  Happy Father's Day.  Amen!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Good Words to Live By (Ecclesiastes 11:1; Galatians 6:7) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Parenting can often be reduced to one word – help!   Parents, sometimes out of curiosity and other times out of desperation, will resort to almost anything to do their best in trying to figure out how to raise their children.  For example, I recall my mother drawing from the Bible and reciting the Golden Rule when my brother and I were fighting and bickering.  She also drew from other sources, like her own mother's wisdom from the old country, Norway, when she would mutter something in Norwegian when we were misbehaving.  We didn't understand what she was saying and it was probably better that way.  She drew wisdom from asking the advice from other mothers she knew, and she also drew from the Greeks, yes, in the form of Aesop's fables.  I learned the lessons, but I didn't know it was Aesop at the time.   I just thought she made up these stories.  I spent time studying these fables of Aesop in depth in college.

For example, depending on what kind of trouble or problems my brother and I were having, she would apply a story to teach us a lesson.  Like the story of the Tortoise and the Hare and the moral, slow and steady wins the race, or the story of the Lion and the Mouse and the moral, little friends may prove to be great friends, or the story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf and the moral, if you lie to others, even when you tell the truth, no one will believe you, and the story about the Early Bird Catches the Worm when we didn't want to get out of bed for school.

The Bible too, has spiritual lessons, moral axioms, good words for life, to teach us and guide and direct our lives, so that we might live in accord to the way God created us.

The verse from the letter of Galatians says:  “Don't be deceived.  God is not mocked, for whatever one's sows, that also shall one reap.”  This is a biblical law.  This is a spiritual truth or lesson, you reap what you sow!   You and I aren't trapped in an invisible cage, our lives aren't pre-programmed or pre-determined.  We have free-will, the freedom every day to sow good things or bad things, to be productive or unproductive.   God has given us freedom and grace.  Praise God.

This scripture is using seed as a metaphor for anything we sow in life that can multiply and produce more.  Everything begins with a seed.  For example, being deprived of a farm background, since I grew up in San Diego, I recently learned you can plant a small kernel of corn and it produces two cornstalks.  Each stalk produces two ears of corn.  Each ear of corn contains over seven hundred kernels of corn.  From one small kernel of corn, 2,800 more kernels are created.

God has created you and me to be sowers.  Seed is anything you plant or give or invest or pass on or multiply that benefits someone.   Time is like a seed.  An idea is like a seed.  Faith is like a seed.  Mentoring is like a seed.  Knowledge is like a seed.  Money is like a seed.   Wisdom is like a seed.  A word of comfort is like a seed.  Helping others is like a seed.  Brainstorming, creativity, experimentation is like a seed.   Love is like a seed.  An encouraging word is like a seed.  Prayer is like a seed.  Everything in your mind or that you own can be planted back into the world as a seed.  What are you sowing in your life?

And this spiritual lesson of life, established by God, promises that God blesses us with benefits.  God gives back to you and me, when we sow seeds.  We reap what we sow.   When we sow good seed, we may reap knowledge, joy, confidence, peace of mind, good friendships, a sense of satisfaction/accomplishment, success, hope, finances, a stronger faith, health, discovering new insights about ourselves.

20th Century African American scientist and inventor, George Washington Carver wrote:  “How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in life, you will have been all of these.”

This good word works both ways of course.  There are also consequences, repercussions from what we sow.  Drinking and driving is a classic example.  If we sow evil, we reap evil.  If we sow hatred, we shall reap hatred.  If we sow trouble, we reap trouble.  If we sow gossip about friends, we shall lose their friendship and reap loneliness.  If we sow negativity, we shall reap negativity.  If we sow dishonesty, we shall reap the loss of friendships and opportunities.

God's law of life is as fixed as the law of gravity.  It's God's word of justice in life.  God is not mocked.  God has established this rule and it will be carried out.    It is God's word about responsibility.  God has given everyone unique responsibilities and we will be most satisfied when we fulfill them.

Further, our Scripture in Ecclesiastes says:  “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.”   These verses declare that life is uncertain, it involves both risk and opportunity.  Waters, raging rivers, strong currents, like life, are unpredictable.  I know, I went white water river rafting in CO.  There are no guarantees, we can't control things around us.  Despite this reality, that the rivers of life can be fearful, God says cast your bread upon the waters.  Now bread was valuable in the life of the Jews.  Bread is something you cast that is important or valuable to you.  Bread is a metaphor for anything you cast out in life.  It can mean take the initiative, be proactive, be ready to face the delights and crises of life.  Seize the opportunities life offers, rather than always playing it safe.

Cast your bread on the unforeseeable, seek after possibilities, don't stay sheltered and hidden, seeking security and safety and protection from the vicissitudes of life. “It's the nothing ventured, nothing gained idea!”   If you fail, so be it.  Everyone fails. I have failed.   Sooner or later we all fail and more than once.  We can learn from failures and grow from failures and mature from failures.  Trust in God's guidance and strength, and pray for God's courage for your heart and light for your way.

Doing nothing out of fear or worry is not God's way.  Cast your bread on the waters means to see life as an adventure, to have an adventurous spirit and go forth with a God directed enthusiasm and faith.  Waiting for perfect conditions, for perfect circumstances, means we will wait forever.   If we wait for the perfect school, we will never enroll.  If we wait for the perfect church, we will never join.  If we wait for the perfect friend, we will be friendless.  If we wait for the perfect job, we will be jobless.  If we wait for perfect weather, well, except for living in San Diego, but in most places we will never go anywhere.  If we wait for God to prove his existence to us, we will never come to faith.  Faith, always, in the best of times and the worst of times is a leap.  It's only after we take that leap, that faith can grow and blossom and mature and bear fruit.

Cast your bread upon the waters.  Invest in others generously and freely, with no conditions or requirements.  Don't only do good if you know you shall receive approval and recognition and praise, or you know you shall see immediate results, or you know your resources will be used the way you want them to, or that the results of casting your bread will meet your expectations or standards.

This is not the way of the Lord.  This is about control, not trusting in God.  The bottom line is that results, outcomes are God's business, not ours.  Our business is casting the bread.  God will let us know in His good time what became of what we did.  That's what the words “many days” in this passage means.  We shall see it or find it again in God's time and in God's way.   God's business is using what we cast for His purposes and glory.  Remember God's promise that nothing you do in the Lord's name, like casting your bread, is in vain.

You reap what you sow, cast your bread upon the waters, good words for life from the Lord. Amen.