Monday, June 29, 2015

Father's Day (Ephesians 6:1-4; Luke 7:1-10) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A father writes:  “My five-year-old son Jimmy seemed to always demand my attention just when I was doing something.  My standard reply was "I'm busy right now, go ask your mother."   My wife told me that I needed to make time for our son.  And I must admit the disappointed look on his face, as I sent him away, finally convinced me to change my ways.  I resolved to give him my immediate attention whenever he asked.  My resolve was quickly tested.

I had just climbed to the top of our two-story house, paintbrush and bucket in hand.  As I dipped my brush into the paint, I heard his little voice call, "Daddy, Daddy."   This time I was determined to give him my full attention.  I immediately laid paintbrush and bucket aside and climbed back down to the ground to see what he wanted.  Out of breath, I got down on both knees, looked him straight in the face and asked, "Well, son what can I do for you?"  He replied: "Daddy, daddy, where's Mommy?"   

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

Today, we remember and honor and pray for fathers: 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 keep them, who stand by and support their families emotionally, spiritually and financially.   Fathers who have strengths and weaknesses, no father is perfect, but who strive to do their best.

We remember and pray for fathers who are separated from their children because of military service or alienated from their children because of problems in the family.  We pray for fathers who are grieving the death of a child and for fathers who have a passionate desire to pass on spiritual and moral values to their children, and are commited to giving their time, their love, their energy, their wisdom, themselves. 

In this light, we turn to our story from the Gospel of Luke about a Roman centurion.  He was a professional soldier whom Rome had commissioned to be in charge of 100 soldiers.  He was a proven leader, a courageous man, who commanded respect.  And yet, the story brings out some surprising antitheses in this man’s make up.  I believe he is an appropriate example for Father’s Day.

The Centurion was a strong man with a tender heart.   He cared dearly for his servant; he valued his servant highly.  The servant was critically ill, close to death, so this centurion requests Jesus to come and heal his servant.  We can presume that there was a close emotional bond between the two of them.   Fathers having a close emotional bond with their children is critical.  Some fathers are uncomfortable when it comes to expressing their feelings or showing affection.  Some fathers are too busy and don't spend necessary time with children that is so crucial.  Fathers need to learn to be open and to affirm their children, communicating with them, complimenting them, encouraging them, listening to them, being empathetic, and being fully involved in their children’s lives.   They need to be strong men who have tender hearts.

The song by Harry Chapin Cat's in the Cradle poignantly captures this truth.  Here are a couple of verses:

“My child arrived just the other day, He came to the world in the usual way,
But there were planes to catch and bills to pay, He learned to walk while I was away,
And he was talking 'fore I knew it and as he grew, He'd say I'm gonna be like you, Dad
You know I'm gonna be like you.
And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon, Little boy blue and the man on the moon,
When you coming home dad, I don't know when, But we'll get together then,
You know we'll have a good time then.

My son turned ten just the other day, He said thanks for the ball, dad, come on let's play
Can you teach me to throw, I said not today, I got a lot to do; he said that's OK
And he walked away, but his smile never did, and said I'm gonna be like him, yeah
You know I'm gonna be like him.”

And sadly, the son turns out to be just like his father, for when the father grows old and wants to spend time with his grown son, the son says he is too busy and doesn't have time.  Being there for one's children is the Christ-like mark that is possible for any father.

Further, the Centurion was authoritative and yet a man of humility.   He sends Jewish elder friends to Jesus to ask him to come to his home and heal his slave.  When Jesus arrives, the Centurion says: “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.” Can you believe this?  He acknowledges Jesus’ authority by referring to Jesus as Lord.   The centurion shows a surprising attitude toward the Jews.  “I am not worthy to have a Jew enter my house.”   This Roman Centurion was backed by the power of Rome and could have ordered Jesus to come and threatened him, but instead, he says he is unworthy to have Jesus enter his home.  He respectfully requests Jesus to heal his slave.

Asking for help, admitting that one needs assistance is difficult for some men to do.   Being self-reliant, in control, in charge is the norm for most men.  I have seen marriages flounder and sometimes end up in divorce, I have seen the relationship between father and children deteriorate, because the husband or father lacks the humility to recognize that a problem exists and that he is part of the problem.  His pride says: “I don't need anyone's help, if there's a problem I can fix it myself.”

Admitting times of not knowing what to do, confessing that you are a sinner in need of forgiveness, having the humility to say “I’m sorry”, or “I was wrong,” or “I need help” in essential for a father.    Such is the Christ-like mark that is possible for any father.

The Centurion was also a man of faith who respected the faith of others.  Here was a Gentile Roman soldier, who worshipped Caesar as a god, sending Jewish elders to a Jewish Rabbi.  What an astounding gesture of respect and honor.  What an example of faith.  The Jewish elders give the Centurion a ringing endorsement:  “Jesus, this centurion is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, he built us our synagogue.”   This soldier was a man of faith who respected the faith of others.   He trusted Jesus, believed in Jesus and had confidence in Jesus.    Our Lord wants fathers to be men of faith who respect the faith of others.

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 control your temper, practice self-control, do not provoke your children to anger.  The Greek word here means “Do not incite, or inflame or aggravate your children.”  We parents know that raising children requires an inordinate amount of patience.

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.  Pray for their protection, their strength, their faith, their needs, and their character.   Pray for children to grow to be good, resilient, responsible, to lead productive lives, 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, history and heritage, and stories from your family.  Affirm that you are a family where Christ is the center, a family that worships God and prays and reads the Bible.   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 and getting an education.  Be a family that is accountable to one another and yet is always ready to forgive.   Identity is essential.

It also means fathers give your children duties and responsibility.  Children need to know that you trust them to handle things.  Giving them duties instills in them a sense of competence.  If we give them responsibility when they are young, they will handle it better when they are older.  Teaching our children responsibility takes patience.   It is giving them freedom within limits, based upon their age, to succeed or fail, both of which provide important lessons in life.

As I reflect upon being a father and the years Nancy and I spent in raising our sons Matt and Eric, and now in subsequent years of interacting with them as adults, I realize fatherhood, even with its challenges, worries, frustrations, and trials is an adventure and a gift of grace.  Being a father brings meaning and purpose, gratitude, joy and satisfaction to one’s life.

When Jesus heard the Centurion, he said to the crowd:  I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”  May Jesus find such faith in us, in you and in me, as well.   Amen! 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Worrying about Tomorrow (Matthew 6:25-34) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A man had a big reputation as a worrier.  He drove his friends’ bananas worrying about things which might or might not happen.  Suddenly his friends noticed a drastic change in his demeanor.  He was happy and calm.  He stopped talking about being worried all the time.  A friend asked him what had changed.  The man said he recently had a revelation and decided to hire someone to worry for him.  “How much does this cost you?" the friend asked.  "Oh, about $1,000 a week," the man replied.  His friend exclaimed:  “But that's a lot of money, how can you afford to pay him?"  The man answered calmly, "Oh, well that's his worry!"

Do you ever worry?  Silly question I know.  Worry seems to be intrinsic to the human mind.   What do you worry about more than anything else?  So be honest and ask yourself this question - why do you worry?  I'll tell you why, because there is a heck of a lot of things to worry about, that’s why.

What is your worry du jour, your worry of the day?  We worry about our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, our health, our jobs, our finances, our education, social security, government shut-downs, disease, illness, crime, floods, fires, earthquakes, terrorist threats, the economy, growing older, global warming, the Padres winning and I've just begun.    

We worry about things we can control and things we can't control and often get confused about which is which.  The more we can’t control the more we worry.  We worry about things that might happen, that most likely won't happen, and that have never happened.   Yes, there is no dearth of things to worry about.   Worry seems to be natural to human nature.  The longer we live the more we realize that life itself is worrisome. 

So if this is patently true, is the subject of worry even worth talking about or is it a waste of time?   Jesus apparently didn’t think it was a waste of time.  He specifically addressed it in the Sermon on the Mount when he spoke to the crowds.   Jesus believed it was a salient subject.  Jesus says:  “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life.”   Someone said - “I just finished a 12-step program, I am now a recovering worrier.”

Why is worrying about things a problem?  It’s a problem because at the core of worry is fear, underlying worry is fear, and fear is a powerful emotion.   Worry wears us down, it saps our strength, it drains us of energy and joy and hope.  It can change our personality, break our spirit, and cause us to be downcast all the time.  We know worry is detrimental to our physical health, our mental health, our spiritual health and our relationships.   Worry can paralyze you and immobilize you.  

Therefore I tell you, Jesus says, do not worry about your life.”  Now think about what Jesus is NOT saying in these words.  He is not saying: “Life is easy, it doesn't have any troubles or problems, it's just your imagination.”  He is not saying: “Life is always fair.”   He is not saying: “Everything always turns out all right, it will happen the way you want it too.”   He is not saying:  “It's OK to make irresponsible decisions and to lead a reckless life.”  He is not saying: “Your mistakes or poor choices won't have consequences.”   He is not saying:  “You don't have to work hard, you can get by on your charm and good looks.”  Jesus isn't saying any of these things.

What is Jesus saying?   First, the Greek word Jesus uses is merimnao; it means to “worry anxiously.”  Jesus here is not speaking about the normal ordinary worries and concerns which pass through our minds on a daily basis.   A good translation of the Greek is: “Anxiety, anxious-worry, fearful worry or worried fear.”  It’s the kind of worry that plagues you, that haunts your ever waking moment, that negatively affects your spirit and health, that can harm relationships, that confounds your thinking, that draws the joy out of you.

I remember my wife Nancy telling me about sitting on plane getting ready to fly from CO to CA.  She said a young woman sat down next to her obviously extremely agitated.  The young woman said:  “I hate to fly and just saw something very upsetting but I won't say what until after we land.”  She proceeds to order drink after drink during the flight.  After the plane lands, the young woman turned to Nancy and said:  “Did you know a woman was flying this plane?” 

Second, Jesus says that “anxious worry” is useless, futile, pointless, unproductive.  It is a colossal waste of time and energy.   Mark Twain said:  “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them have never happened.”  Matthew 6:27 points this out.  It is ambiguous and can have one of two meanings.  It can mean that no one by worrying can grow taller or add a cubit or 18 inches to his height.   It can also mean that no one by worrying, can live longer or extend one’s life.  You may add time to your life by a healthy diet or through exercise, but you won't add one day, or one hour or one minute by worrying.    Someone said that worry is like a fog bank.  Fog can blanket a city for blocks and be as much as 100 feet deep.  But if we were to take that fog and convert it into water, it would only fill up a single glass. 

Third, Jesus is saying remember this truth, you are of ultimate value to God, you are precious in God's sight.  “Look at the birds of the air, your heavenly Father feeds them, are you not much more valuable than them?”  Knowing this, believing this, trusting this is crucial for faith.  It is having the assurance that God gave us the gift of life and that we can trust God to give us the lesser things of life

One way to remember this is through prayer.  Turning worries over to God, and doing it again, and again.    Worry is passive, prayer is active.   Pray unceasingly.  Pray for God to deliver you from the weight of worry.  Pray for a strong and life-giving faith.  Trust God in the things that are beyond your control, turn them over to Him, because those are especially the things we worry about.  Give thanks to God for your blessings.  Give thanks always.  Trust that God is ultimately in charge of life and of your life.  Include God in the details, in the little problems, as well as in the major crises.  

The letter of I Peter says: “Cast all your anxiety on God, because he cares for you.”  There is that same word again, anxious worry.  Ask God to unburden you, to free you, from the anxious worry that is weighing you down.  Ask God to help you experience His power and strength in the midst of stressful and worrisome circumstances. 

Phil. 4:6-7 says:  “Don’t worry about anything, instead, pray about everything.  Tell God what you need and thank Him for all He has done.  If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand.  God’s peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”  I love this verse.  Peace is one of God's greatest gifts.  You are of ultimate value to God; don't lose your sense of humor and your joy.

Fourth, Jesus is saying that you and I are to put God first in our lives.  God is to be the center, not ourselves, not our family, not our career, not our money.  “Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given you.”  We are to center our lives on God.  Is God at the center or at the periphery of your life?   If we let something or someone else become our number one priority, it will eventually become our number one worry.  Concentrating upon God, upon God's kingdom, upon accepting and following God's will and way, will help to defeat the burden of worry in your life.

Finally, Jesus is saying cultivate the art of living one day at a time.   Today is known.  Live each day as it comes, handle each demand as it comes, carry out each task as it appears, and don't worry about the unknown future.  “Don’t worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will bring worries of its own, today's trouble is enough for today.”  Plan for tomorrow, set goals for tomorrow, dream dreams for tomorrow, think about tomorrow, but don't allow tomorrow to consume you with worry. 

Here are the first four steps from the twelve steps for worriers: 

1. Prepare for the worst - Hope for the best.  Accept the worst possible outcome and then take action to improve it.

2. Get Busy. When you find yourself beginning to worry - get busy on your to-do list.  List your goals and the action steps required to meet them. One of the benefits of your to-do list is you will stop worrying about forgetting something important.

3. Distract Yourself. Call a friend. Read a good book. Watch a funny movie. Take the kids to the park. Take a walk. There's dozens of things you can do.

4. Get Support. Friends and family can be an excellent source of support. Especially if they will tell you how they see things. Sometimes just talking things out, helps the worry go away.  People are ready to help.  I have always found that true in my life, there is always someone who is willing and ready give support. 

An author wrote:  “There are two days of every week about which we should not worry. There are two days which should be kept free from fear and apprehension.  One of these days is Yesterday, with all its mistakes and cares, faults and blunders. Yesterday is passed, forever beyond our control. All the money in the world cannot bring back yesterday. We cannot undo a single act we performed and we cannot erase a single word we said. Yesterday has gone.

The other day we should not worry about is tomorrow with all its possible adversities, its burdens, its large promises, and poor performances.  Tomorrow's sun will rise in splendor, or behind a mask of cloud, but it will rise.  Until it does we have no stake in tomorrow, for it is yet unborn.

That leaves only one day, today.  Any person can fight the battles of one day.  It is only when you add the burdens of those two awful eternities, yesterday and tomorrow, that we break down. It's not the experience of today that drives people mad, it is remorse or bitterness for something that happened yesterday, or the dread of what might happen tomorrow.  Let us journey together, with God, but one day at a time.”  Amen

Friday, June 12, 2015

Come Unto Me (Matthew 11:28-30) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

 A son writes:  “My mother volunteered to help me with my wedding invitations while I visited her and my father in North Carolina.  We spent two long nights addressing envelopes and I added a handwritten note at the bottom of each invitation, "Please stay for dinner following the ceremony."  When I got back home, I realized I hadn't sent an invitation to my parents.   I also personalized it with a note at the bottom: "Mom and dad, please pay for dinner following the ceremony. Your loving son."

The Republican Party mistakenly sent an invitation to an Ohio prisoner for a $2,500-a-plate fundraising dinner in Washington with President Bush.   The invitation was sent to Robert Kirkpatrick at the Belmont Correctional Institution in eastern Ohio.   Kirkpatrick, 35, had been sentenced to three years for drug possession and escape.   He said: "I'm going to write and tell the president that I'd be happy to attend, but he's going to have to pull some strings to get me out of here."

Sending and receiving invitations are a part of life.  In this morning's text Jesus extends a personal invitation:  “Come unto me!”   Jesus our risen Lord and savior extends this invitation to you and me this morning - come unto me.  What comes to your mind when you hear Jesus’ words?   What is your response?   Jesus' words touch our hearts.   And when we respond, we open ourselves to a whole new spiritual world.  When we admit: “Lord, I can’t go it alone, I need you, I surrender myself to you,” Jesus’ words penetrate our hearts like a song in our soul, they are the most welcome and comforting and hopeful words in the world.

Jesus says:  “All who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens!” To be human is to carry burdens, we understand that well.   The question is not if you are carrying burdens?  The question is what burdens are you carrying or have you carried?   Burdens of broken relationships, burdens of guilt and shame, burdens of unrealized hopes and dreams, burdens of stress, burdens of pain and hurt, burdens of failure, financial burdens, burdens of grief, burdens of addiction, burdens of loneliness, burdens of jealousy and anger, burdens of ill health, burdens of feeling lost and aimless.   How ironic that burdens seem to have a way of inserting themselves into our relationships and activities no matter how noble, meaningful and joyful.  Sooner or later, they appear with parenting, friendships, marriage, being single, employment, health, to name a few.

Sometimes, even religion becomes a burden.  This was the context in which Jesus spoke to the people.  From the time the Law was given to Moses, where the fourth commandment instructed the Jews to remember the Sabbath and rest from work, over centuries Jewish teachers had written hundreds of additional rules and regulations regarding Sabbath observance – the time between sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.  The Hebrew word Shabbot or sabbath as we pronounce it in English means “a time of rest.”  

But it was difficult to rest when you were worried about not breaking the religious rules of the day.  For example you were prohibited from working on the sabbath, but how was work defined?  You couldn’t carry anything, you could only walk a certain number of steps, you couldn't cook, you couldn't talk about business,  and you could only help people or rescue animals, if their lives were in danger, because in all these things you were exerting energy and violating the command to rest.   Yes, anything, even religion, can become a burden.

Jesus continues: "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart." Jesus is gentle and humble and offers us the opportunity to take upon ourselves his yoke and to learn from him.   Do you find it surprising that Jesus offers burdened people a yoke?  When we are burdened we need an escape, a party, a day at the beach, not a yoke. 

What is Jesus saying here?  He offers to ease our strain, to share our burden, to shoulder our load, to be our burden-bearer.  Nobody else can do that quite like Christ because he is portrayed in the New Testament as the supreme burden-bearer.  Jesus bore our burden of sin on the cross by His sacrificial death.  Scripture says: "Behold the Lamb of God who bears our sins away."

Jesus offers us a new kind of yoke.  Jesus compares the crowds he is addressing to oxen struggling under a heavy load.  He is borrowing an image from the agriculture of his day.  A yoke is the piece of farm equipment that binds the ox to the plow.  Whenever a young ox needed to be trained, he would be attached to the yoke of an older ox. The older ox would pull the yoke and the younger ox would follow in his footsteps and learn all the steps, even though he wasn't actually pulling any of the load.

Jesus calls us to take on his yoke: to submit to his authority, to learn his teaching, to receive his Spirit, to obey his word, to follow his way, to surrender our hearts and minds to him, to turn to him in prayer.  Jesus is saying: “Yoke yourself to me.  Let me help you carry your load and I will lead you and teach you how to live."  "My yoke is easy and my burden is light."  

Jesus' words call to mind the poem “Footsteps in the Sand.”  “One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord.  Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.  In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there were one set of footprints. This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints. So I said to the Lord, ‘You promised me Lord that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there have only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you  not been there for me?’ The Lord replied, ‘The times when you have seen only one set of footprints in the sand, is when I carried you.”

And Jesus concludes his invitation – “I will give you rest.  You will find rest for your souls.”  What a comforting word -  Rest.   Jesus here uses the Greek word anapauo, which means “to cease from any activity or labour in order to recover and collect one's strength.”  It means “to refresh, to keep quiet, calm, to take one's ease, a time of rest.    Does that word appeal to you?  Are you tired, physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually?

Well it's no secret as to why.  Do you realize that in the last 24 hours your heart beat 103,680 times?  Your blood traveled 168,000 miles.  You breathed 23,040 times.  You inhaled 438 cubic feet of air.  You gave off 85.6 degrees in heat.  You turned in your sleep 25-35 times.  You spoke 4,800 words.  You moved 750 major muscles.  And you exercised 7,000,000 brain cells.  If you weren't tired before how about now?

In 2013 the news reported that many orthopedic surgeons have noticed a disturbing trend—a serious spike in debilitating knee injuries among teenaged athletes.  Dr. Frank Cordasco calls it "an epidemic." Cordasco said that he and his team are operating on 200 to 300 kids a year, unheard of even a decade ago. Since the year 2000, there has also been a fivefold increase in the number of serious shoulder and elbow injuries among young baseball and softball players.

What's causing this epidemic of reconstructive joint surgeries?  The article put the blame on one factor,  the lack of rest. The current emphasis on playing one sport all year long leaves virtually no time for muscles and joints to recover from the microtrauma that occurs during practice and play.

You see our bodies, our minds, our souls were not designed by God for overuse.  We need time to recover from the "microtraumas" of life.   Jesus invites us to find rest for our souls.   The Greek word here literally means “an intermission.”  Jesus makes a promise: “If you accept my invitation and come to me; you will have an intermission, a respite, a break from the day-to-day struggles of everyday life.  You will experience spiritual renewal, relief, refreshment, a time of peace.”

It takes humility, it takes swallowing our pride, to say: "Jesus, I need your power and your strength.  I accept your invitation.”  Resting in Christ is like feeling the heartbeat of God.

I close with Jesus word's from the Message, a contemporary paraphrase of the Bible: “Come to me.  Get away with me and you'll recover your life.  I'll show you how to take a real rest.  Walk with me and work with me, watch how I do it.  Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.  I won't lay anything heave or ill fitting on you.  Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Jesus' gracious invitation is before you.   Let us prepare our hearts to come to the Lord’s Table.  Amen!

Friday, June 5, 2015

Shaped for a Purpose (Eph 4:7-8,11-16; Rom.12:3-8) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel


A man was attending a community prayer breakfast and sat down at a table with a group of other men.  He writes:  In the course of our conversation, the subject of retirement came up. The man sitting next to me, who appeared to be in his early fifties, was excited by the prospect of early retirement.  He said how much he was looking forward to stopping working and related a conversation he had with his wife that morning.  His wife had asked him: 'What are you going to do when you retire?'  I told her, 'I'm going to sit on the couch, drink beer and watch TV all day.”  The table turned suddenly silent, but I couldn't keep quiet for long. "If you do that," I said, "you'll be dead in a year."  He looked at me, wide-eyed and asked why.  I said, "If doing nothing with your life doesn't kill you first, your wife will.

Religious truth is generally expressed as a paradox.  For example, the Bible and Christian faith make this biblical and theological claim, you are God's creation.  You were created by God.  You were created in God's image.  God breathed life into you.  You were born by God's purpose and for God's purpose.   Obviously, there is the counter-claim, the anthropological claim: “But what about my parents who conceived me, and my DNA and genetics which shaped me, and the environment I grew up in which formed who I am?”  Yes, both are true, it's a paradox. 

Notwithstanding, we confess this biblical and theological truth-claim that God created you as a unique person, one of a kind and made you wonderfully complex!   God didn’t make us simple.   Are you always predictable?  How many of you married somebody who is or was wonderfully complex?   How many of you have a friend or colleague or family member who is wonderfully complex?  Just when you think you understand them, just when you think you've got them dialed in - they surprise you.  Sometimes we are a complete mystery to ourselves.   Have you ever acted in a certain way or said something and later thought - “Now why did I do that?”  “Why did I say that?” “What was I thinking?”  God fashioned and shaped you and me.  We are unique and marvelously complex.

God further shaped us for a purpose.  I like the locution, “One enthusiastic flea can worry a whole dog.”  God created the world and God created us for a purpose.  You’re not an accident or a mistake.  You're not an oops!   You're not just taking up space or gulping air.  God made you for a reason.  You were designed by God; you were God's idea.  The Bible declares that you were  personally, purposefully, planned and designed by God.  God didn't just randomly throw some stuff in the air and see where it landed to make you.

Further, God didn't create us to squander or waste away our lives or to use and exploit people around us.  God didn't create us for some trivial purpose.  God didn't create us as a joke.  God created us for a reason.  God made and saved us for significance, to live and to lead significant lives in the years God has given us.

We are reminded in this Pentecost season, that God, through His Holy Spirit, has shaped our lives.  The letter of Ephesians says:  But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift.  When Christ ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive and gave gifts to his people.”  When Jesus ascended to heaven, he sent his Holy Spirit at Pentecost to impart gifts to his followers. 

The purpose of these gifts was to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that we might mature in the fullness of Christ.   The letter of Romans speaks about the “grace God has blessed us with, a grace which brings humility and means we are not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to.  By grace, through the Holy Spirit, God has given us gifts and abilities.

The Bible says you and I have a God inspired shape, your Godly design affects every area of your life - your relationships, your career, your intellect, your emotions, your values, your priorities, your interests, your passions, your enjoyment, your faith.   Your shape combines five factors.  God has shaped you for a purpose in the years you are blessed with on earth.  And what is critical is that your shape is in sync, in alignment, congruent with, in accord with your purpose.  We shall use the acronym SHAPE to identify how God has made us.

The S is for Spiritual Gifts.  The Bible says:  Each one has a gift from God; one has this gift and another has that gift.”  There are many gifts listed in the Bible, like being an encourager, a teacher, a server, a leader, a healer, a caregiver and others.  I recall a man at our church in CO who taught adult education classes in the church and taught classes at his company.  He excelled at teaching and loved it.  Clearly God had blessed him with this gift.   The Bible says every believer has at least one gift and oftentimes two or more gifts which are to be used to glorify God, upbuild the church and benefit others.  Every time you do something and do it well, and find satisfaction in doing it, you are revealing your giftedness.    Do you know your spiritual gift?

The H is for Heart.  It’s what motivates you.  All of us have different motivations, different things that drive us, different interests, different passions.  Would you agree that there are some things you care deeply about and other things you couldn’t care less about?  We have different hearts.  Scripture says, “God has put it into their hearts to accomplish His purpose.  For it is God who works in you, inspiring both the will and the deed, for his own chosen purpose. I was talking with a preschool teacher who told me how much she loves children.  She said she is doing what she was meant to do when she is teaching and caring for children.  You cannot get away from a basic interest or passion that God has implanted in your life.  It’s not by accident that you have certain interests.  God blesses us with different motivations in life to accomplish different things.   Ask yourself.  “What do I love to do?  What am I passionate about?”

The A is for Abilities. God has given us abilities.  I Cor. 12:6 says:  There are different abilities to perform different services.”  Some people think they don’t have any abilities, but we all do.
Some are athletes and exhibit impressive athletic ability.   Some are proficient at computers; while others are computer phobic.  Some of you have a natural mechanical ability, you can fix anything, while others aren’t sure which end of a hammer to use.  Some of you are good cooks or amazing gardeners.  Some are blessed with mathematical abilities, others eyes glaze over when confronted with a set of numbers.  Some are visionaries – they dream of curing cancer, or they dreamed of flying to the moon, or of inventing an automobile or an airplane.  One dreamed of building a theme park called Disneyland.   Disneyland celebrates its 60th anniversary this year.

Some are analytical and are exceptional problem solvers.  Some are effective communicators.  Some are excellent managers and can manage projects and people.   Others are weak in their people skills and are better working with machines.  Some possess marvelous artistic abilities, in writing, poetry, music, art, and others couldn't draw or paint a stick figure.  We have different abilities.  Your abilities are not by accident.  What are your abilities?

The P is for Personality.   Are you a Lucy Ricardo?  Are you a Bill O'Reilly or a Tiger Woods or a Tina Fey or a Megan Kelly?  Personality is the dynamic and organized set of characteristics possessed  by a person.  It especially refers to the way you act, the way you feel and the way you think.  The five broad traits described by contemporary personality theory are extraversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, and neuroticism.   The Bible points to the root of your personality in your thought life.  Proverbs 4:23 says:  Your life is shaped by your thoughts.”  Without question human personality is complex.  One researcher discovered at least 18,000 different personality traits. 

Is personality something you’re born with or is it the product of your environment?  It’s the old nature verses nurture debate.   More researchers are saying that from the moment a child is born, they already have a set pattern of personality characteristics long before their environment influences them.  Parents see this.  At the same time, personality is not just something that happens accidentally.   Faith claims that God has shaped your personality for a reason.

Finally the E is for Experiences.  God plans experiences in your life and mine to help form us.  The bible speaks about times and seasons.  Romans 8:28 says:  And we know that in all that happens to us God is working for our good for those who love God.”  God works with and through us in our life experiences.  God uses things in our lives to teach us and to build character.   Experiences help us to grow and mature.  God tests us on occasion for his purposes.   God doesn't cause terrible things to happen, but faithfully works with us and through others to bring good out of bad experiences. 

The apostle Paul says:  By the grace of God, I am what I am.”  Why is it important to understand how God has shaped you?   It explains how you and I react and deal with life.  It reduces stress.  It increases your sense of fulfillment and success.  It helps us accept and appreciate ourselves.  It deepens satisfaction.  It builds self-esteem.  It builds faith.   It glorifies God.

God has shaped us not for an insignificant life, but for significance.  God desires to hear this confession from us: “I want to contribute my uniqueness to the world for the glory of God.”  Do you know your shape?

I close with a quote from the late author Og Mandino, a Christian inspirational speaker and writer.  It's from his book The Greatest Salesman in the World.  I am nature’s greatest miracle.  Since the beginning of time never has there been another with my mind, my heart, my eyes, my ears, my hands, my hair, my mouth.  None that came before, none that live today, and none that come tomorrow can walk and talk and move and think exactly like me.  All men are my brothers and I am different from each. 

I am a unique creature.  I am nature’s greatest miracle.   None can duplicate my brush stokes, none can make my chisel marks, none can duplicate my handwriting, none can produce my child, and in truth, none have the abilities to sell exactly as I.  I am rare, and there is value in all rarity; therefore, I am valuable.  I am not on this earth by chance.  I am here for a purpose and that purpose is to grow into a mountain, not to shrink to a grain of sand.  No beast, no plant, no wind, no rain, no rock, no lake had the same beginning as I, for I was conceived in love and brought forth with a purpose.  Let us give thanks and  glory to God for our uniqueness.  Amen!