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. 

Friday, June 3, 2016

In Remembrance (John 15:12-17) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance.  Memorial Day remembers and honors those Americans who have died in this nation's wars and made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of our country.  Today we honor the fallen heroes, America's armed service members who never came back.

Memorial Day was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic and was first observed on May 30, 1868, Flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.  The day was originally called Decoration Day.

I quote a section of that original order:  “The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, hamlet and churchyard in the land.” After WWI, the holiday changed from honoring those who died fighting in the Civil War, to honoring Americans who died fighting in all wars.

Memorial Day events locally have been scheduled at two national cemeteries – Miramar National Cemetery on Sunday and Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery on Monday.  Memorial Day is of course about sacrifice.  We have the freedom to choose to sacrifice for our nation, or for a person.  God doesn't force you or me to give our life away in helping other people, encouraging other people, or serving our country.

In light of this, we ask: what is it that makes life worth living?   What is it that brings meaning and joy and purpose in life?  Is it achieving celebrity status, is it wealth, is it power?  Yes, many would answer, “that's exactly what life is about.  Grab as much as you can before you die.”

But scripture is clear – the answer is to love God and to love others.  To love God with your heart, soul, strength and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself.  It's to give, to share, to sacrifice, to share your gifts and talents, your time, your passion, your energy, your resources, and sometimes, sometimes, you are called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice and give your life as those whom we remember on Memorial Day.

Civil War General William T. Sherman said: “It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.”  An appropriate question then is can anything good come out of war, can God bring anything good out of the horrors of war?

For example, is there any good news in the Middle East?  Yes!  Despite intense persecution, we are hearing about Muslims turning to Christ.   When you think of Christianity in the Middle East, the first word that probably comes to mind is persecution.  But another word should come to mind – harvest.  I quote from a recent article titled Growing Converts to Christianity in Muslim Countries by pastor Tom Doyle and his wife Jo Ann, who have been serving the persecuted church in the Middle East since 2001.

“The year 2015 was certainly a year of persecution for followers of Jesus Christ in the Muslim world.  One of the reasons for this is the large number of Muslims who have left the religion of Islam and now embrace Jesus as their Savior.  That said, persecution is not stopping the spread of the gospel. To the contrary, the killing of Christians is accelerating the spread of the gospel and the growth of the church.  In fact, over the centuries, oppressors have never recognized that the persecution of Christians is always a failed initiative.  It doesn’t destroy the church; it makes the church grow.

Muslims all over the region are coming to faith in Christ.  What’s more, they’re willing to suffer persecution for the Lord Jesus Christ in part, because they see a great harvest of other Muslims and want to be faithful in proclaiming the good news of salvation in a world of such darkness.

The pastor goes on to say:  Here is one of many examples of the things my wife and team and I have been seeing as we travel in and out of the region:  In Syria, Farid – a pastor and national Christian leader said: “We’ve never seen Muslims come to Jesus like this. The ongoing civil war in our country has soured many to religion since this is essentially a religious war.  Jesus brings something that religion can never deliver. He brings hope and reconciliation. ”Farid says that the Syrian underground church is growing rapidly and in some home groups Alawites and Muslims worship together. “In the streets of Syria, they are killing one another, but when they find Jesus and reconcile with the Father, only then can they reconcile to one another. Jesus is the only hope for Syria. We have seen more than 1,000 Muslims come to faith in Christ in Syria in the last few years. This brings us great joy in Syria.”

The Gospel of John 15 says: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”   We have the paramount example of a sacrificial life in Jesus.  This is the life God calls us to emulate.  We're talking about a giving life-style, a sacrificial life-style.  But why would anyone in his or her right mind do that?   For Christians the answer is because God sacrificed His Son for me, for us, for the world and because God in Christ offers new life today and forever.

God sees what you are doing.  God remembers your sacrifices.  Hebrew 6:10 says: "God is not unjust.  He will not overlook your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped his people and continue to help Him."  God will remember.   God rewards the disciplined and obedient and loving heart.

The question is are you investing your life in something that's going to outlast it, the kingdom of God, the will of God, the purposes of God, other people, family, even strangers.

I close with this story.  In 1993, Lt. Col. Gary Morsch joined the Army Reserves as a doctor to care not only for U.S. soldiers, but also for wounded civilians and prisoners of war. In 2005, as a part of the war in Iraq, he was called up to serve as the field doctor for a battalion near the Iranian border. He writes:

“The Saturday before I left Iraq was one of the most amazing days of my life. I was scheduled to see patients and make rounds at the POW camp, and I asked the chaplain to join me. I wanted to say goodbye to the prisoners. Many of these Muslims had become Christians, and they had been asking for a baptismal service.

The chaplain suddenly decided to conduct a simple service. The POWs gathered their water bottles, and we pulled a cot out of one of the tents, setting it in the middle of the compound. One by one, the POWs sat on the cot and leaned back while we poured water over their heads and baptized them in the name of Christ. We baptized about a dozen that day.

During the baptisms, we asked each man if he wished to take a Christian name. One man named Afshin, asked me to suggest a name.  I suggested James, the brother of Jesus, and told him that my father and brother are named James.  Since my family name was on my uniform, Afshin asked about Morsch as well.

The chaplain asked me to baptize Afshin. I asked my friend what name he wished to take.  He said, "I wish to take the name James Afshin Morsch." With tears in my eyes, I poured water onto his head, baptizing my Muslim friend into the fellowship of Christ.   We hugged and said a tearful goodbye, and then I walked out of the POW compound. It was time to return home.

I left on a plane full of wounded soldiers. The airstrip was under attack even as we taxied for takeoff.  But I was at peace. God had brought me to Iraq to serve soldiers, civilians, and the enemy. But I saw that those categories are meaningless before God. He loves them all, and calls us to serve them all.”

Jesus says: “My command is this, love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for one's friends.”  Amen!