Wednesday, February 15, 2017

On Love (I Corinthians 13) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel


Hannah Peterson, 23 years old, was involved in a serious car accident just one month before her wedding in Ontario.  She broke her pelvis in three places, punctured a kidney, broke some ribs, and suffered a concussion.  Despite being temporarily confined to a wheelchair; Hannah was determined not to let the accident affect her Wedding Day on August 25, 2016.   When it came time to walk down the aisle, her fiancé Stuart, tenderly carried her.

Hannah said that despite her predicament, the only emotion she allowed herself to feel on the day was joy.  Because of her injuries, Hannah sat in a wheelchair during most of her wedding, but she said: "I was determined to stand for my vows."  "That was difficult, even with Stuart holding me up.”  Hannah has continued to heal and after two months is able to walk around the house using a cane.  She added: "Stuart has never left my side during all of this.   He was strong for both of us. He always made me see how blessed I was."

We are thinking about love today because Tuesday is Valentine’s Day.  Valentine’s Day is named after a real person.  He was a Catholic bishop who lived in Rome in the 5th century.  He was young, handsome, wealthy and passionately in love with his fiancé.   As the wedding day was drawing near the Roman emperor declared that all Christians were guilty of treason.  To escape punishment, they had to worship the Roman Emperor and declare "Caesar is Lord."   As a Christian, Valentine affirmed that Jesus alone was Lord.   He refused to worship the emperor.   He was summarily arrested, tried, and condemned to death.  While awaiting his execution, Valentine wrote love letters to his fiancée, assuring her of his never-ending love.  On February 14, 259 A.D. he was martyred for his faith.

What does it mean to love someone?   Is that a simple question?  We turn to the New Testament where we find not one, but three different Greek words for love.   The first is philos from which is derived our word Philadelphia.  It refers to brotherly love or sisterly love.  It symbolizes the love between family members or the love between friends.  It refers to the love Brigitte and her teachers have for the children of our preschool.

A second Greek word for love in the New Testament is Eros, from which our word erotic comes.  It refers to romantic love, passionate love, sensual desire.  It is a love that is attracted to someone because of the qualities that person possesses: a free spirit, beauty, cuteness, lovableness, personality, intelligence.  Both of these biblical words for love are grounded in our feelings for one another.

The third Greek word is agape.  Agape love is not grounded in feelings.  It is grounded in principle, in faith, in obedience to God.  It is love in action.  It is a giving, not a receiving love.  It is a unilateral, not a mutual love.  It is helping a person you may not like.  It is reaching out to someone because of their need, not because you care for them.   It is giving money to a cause because you believe in the cause, not because you personally know those who will benefit from your act of charity.  “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death, your right to say it.”  I think that is a contemporary example of agape love.

Agape love is about doing the right thing, the good thing, acting justly out of obedience to Jesus, rather than acting out of emotions.  It is a decision one makes to honor someone.   It is love motivated by the power and love of God in our lives.  Agape love is loving like God loves.  By grace through faith, God gives us the ability to love like God does.

Our passage from I Corinthians 13 uses the third word, agape, when it speaks about love.   It reveals love’s qualities and virtues.   As you listen, think about how you have expressed agape love to someone or how someone has expressed agape love to you.

Love is patient!   It is grounded in self-awareness, an awareness of your own imperfections and flaws and foibles.  It is rooted in humility.  It knows relationships take time.  It acknowledges that people are a work in progress.  Patience means we make allowances for another’s shortcomings because we are acutely aware of our own.   We allow time for another person to grow and learn from their mistakes just as we are growing and learning.

I strive to give thanks every day because I know Nancy is more patient with me, than I am of her.   I am still enrolled in Patience 101 and hope to graduate to Patience 102 someday.  Patience is a vital dimension of love.  Can I get an amen!

Love is kind!  Kindness expresses love in pragmatic ways.    Kindness is helping another person simply because that person is in need.  Kindness means you are willing to share your time and resources without expecting anything in return.   Kindness is a phone call, listening, a visit, a gift, taking a meal, watching someone’s children, inviting to church, standing up for someone, helping financially.  Ephesians 4:32 says:  “Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God has forgiven you.”  Yes, kindness is a vital dimension of love.

Love is secure!   Love is mature.  Love does not envy others; it isn’t boastful, resentful, rude or arrogant.   Envy and jealously reveal insecurity.  A loving relationship does not keep secrets or keep a record of wrongs or hurts against another.  Love forgives and let’s go and moves on.   Love says: “I will stand by you. I am there for you.”  Such commitment is possible when we are in a secure relationship with God in Christ.  We can love because we know God loves us.   Being secure is a vital dimension of love.

Love is generous.   It doesn’t insist on its own way.   Someone said there are four kinds of relationships.  First, take and take relationships.  I take from you and you take from me; I use you and you use me.  Second, give and take relationships.  I give and you take.  Know any relationships like that?  Third, fair exchange relationships or quid pro quo; you do this for me, I’ll do that for you, you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.  Fourth, give and give relationships, relationships which are agape centered and God-centered, where both people are willing to share, to sacrifice, to compromise as an expression of their love for one another. 

Agape love is pro-active, it takes the initiative.  It is not afraid to give first or to forgive first or to apologize first.  God was pro-active.  Scripture says: “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.  Jesus gave himself to us before we even knew him.”  Love is based in truth and honesty.  It is not deceptive.  Love values integrity.  Loving involves being vulnerable, even risking one’s life for another.  I think of the exemplary men and women of our military and the stories of heroism which we often hear.   To give one’s life for another is the ultimate act of agape love.

Love endures forever.  It perseveres.  It’s tenacious.  It honors commitment.   It doesn’t quit or run away at the first sign of trouble.  It bears all things, and believes, and hopes. It grows in wisdom and rises above childish thinking and expresses itself in mature and responsible ways.

I close with this story.  Roger Zerbe suffered from early onset Alzheimer's disease.  His wife, Becky, remembers a journal entry he left on her pillow after a particularly troubling bout of forgetfulness.  “Honey, today fear is taking over.  The day is coming when all my memories of this life we share will be gone. In fact, you and the boys will be gone from me. I will lose you even as I am surrounded by you and your love.  I don't want to leave you. I want to grow old in the warmth of memories. Forgive me for leaving so early and painfully.”

Blinking back tears, I picked up my pen and wrote: “My sweet husband, what will happen when we get to the point where you no longer know me? I will continue to go on loving you and caring for you—not because you know me or remember our life, but because I remember you.  I will remember the man who proposed to me and told me he loved me, the look on his face when his children were born, the father he was, the way he loved our extended family.  I'll recall his love for riding, hiking, and reading; his tears at sentimental movies; the unexpected witty remarks; and how he held my hand while he prayed. I cherish the pleasure, obligation, commitment, and opportunity to care for you because I remember you.”

To love another is an amazing privilege and honor.  Indeed, it’s a gift from God.   “These three remain, faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.”  Amen!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Peace of God (Philippians 4:4-7) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

A man went to visit his psychiatrist.   He said:   “Doctor I am anxious all the time.  I can’t sleep at night.”   The doctor said: “I am finding it difficult to understand the source of your anxiety.  You have a luxury townhouse, a motor home, three cars, a powerboat, and you’re planning another trip to Hawaii.”  The patient replied:  “Yes, I know, doctor, but I only make $100.00 dollars a week.”

What worries you most today?   There is certainly no shortage of things to be anxious about.    There is insecurity about the future, rapid and overwhelming social change, political turmoil, economic uncertainty, fretting about relationships, concern about the costs of education, worries about our health,  radical Islamic terrorism, natural disasters, crime, the challenges of raising children, climate change, and maybe I better stop before you all go home.

It’s no wonder people search for peace of mind.  It’s an age old quest.    Where do people search for peace?  In money and the dream of financial security, in the comfort of food, in plastic surgery, in denial and avoiding problems; in drugs and alcohol, in nutrition and exercise, in meditation and religious faith, in the life of the mind, in music, in travel, in nature, in self-help books, and staying busy to name but a few. You decide which of these examples are healthy and which are unhealthy pursuits?  Jesus spoke about peace in his teachings.   He often said Peace be with you.  Isn’t that a beautiful word?  Peace. What did Jesus mean?

First,   the peace Jesus speaks of does not mean being completely free from life’s problems or the absence of conflict or adversity or sorrow or escaping the storms of life.  God’s peace is an in-spite of peace.  In spite of disappointments, and in spite of uncertainty and difficulties, God promises peace.

Second, Christ’s peace is not something that the world can give.  You can’t buy it or manufacture it or import it.   You can’t order it on which frankly surprises me because you can order everything else there.  Peace is a gift of grace.  God’s peace is a gift to his followers.  Jesus said to his disciples; “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.”   It comes only from God and the world cannot take it away.  God’s peace is a different peace; it’s a unique peace, a peace from above.    God’s peace can surprise us and come when we least expect it.

Third, the peace of God comes from knowing, claiming and remembering your identity.  Say to yourself – “I am a child of God.”  “I was baptized into God’s family.” That’s your identity.    You belong to God, you belong to God’s family, you are known by God, you are created in His image, you have abilities from God.   God loves you.  Your sins are forgiven through Christ’s death on the cross, before you were God’s enemy, now you are God’s friend.  It’s knowing that God is for you and not against you.  You are free to accept yourself because God accepts you as you are.

How do we know God knows us?  Listen to the Psalmist: “O Lord, you have searched me and known me.  You know when I sit down and when I rise up. You discern my thoughts from far away.  You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.”

Fourth, the peace of God comes when you believe you are living in accord with God’s purpose.   You believe you are living the life God wants you to live. You trust that God is working out his purposes in and through your life. You know God is using you for His ends.  You know you are loving and serving and worshiping and witnessing in the light of your faith.  You are confident that God is carrying out His will in your life for His glory.   Having an identity and a purpose rooted in God, is basic to experiencing God’s peace.

Fifth, scripture says: “Rejoice always, again I say rejoice.”  Even in dark and disturbing times, you are able to perceive rays of light, glimmers of light, surprises of grace, unexpected blessings, small joys where you can praise God.  Make it a habit to be alert in your spiritual life.  In prayer let God know everything in your heart and everything that is on your mind.

The letter of Philippians says turn your worries into prayers; worry less, pray more.   Rejoice in the Lord and pray daily.  Is that rationale?  Is this logical?  When we are dealing with the peace of God we are dealing with a mystery.  It is a mystery which transcends our understanding.    You may think – “How come I feel O.K. when things around me are not O.K.?  Am I sick?”  Despite things swirling around you, you have an inner calm.   The peace of God is a blessing which goes beyond our understanding.   It’s alright if you don’t understand it.  You and I don’t have to.  All we have to do is open our hearts and minds, receive it and experience God’s peace.

Sixth, what is the aim of God’s peace?   Philippians says: “The Lord is near, do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayers and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

God’s peace will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.   Your heart will be calm rather than troubled, minds will find courage, rather than being afraid.  The peace of God stands like a sentry to restrain life’s hostile and negative forces and offer serenity in place of conflict and courage in place of fear.   God’s peace puts our anxious thoughts at rest.   It puts our anxious hearts at rest.  It is a peaceful confidence and a peaceful rest.  It is a time of quiet when things around you are in an uproar.  It is an inner assurance, a feeling of tranquility.  How long does it last?  That’s up to God.   God’s peace is a sense of well-being which comes from the presence and graciousness of the Holy Spirit.  Can you recall such times in your life?

The peace of God means different things depending upon your circumstances.   Like when God grants you inner forgiveness, when you have struggled with a memory which has plagued you with guilt, or when you suddenly feel an inner-strength, an inner-power to face and overcome something that was sapping your strength.  Something you thought would surely defeat you.  It is like a time when you are suddenly filled with hope, where once you were trapped in despair.

Do you want to experience God’s peace?  Then learn to know Jesus better, walk closer with Jesus.  Spiritual peace is a by-product of your faith, and Christ’s power, presence and inspiration in your life.   Our spiritual journey with Christ is where we learn to know him, love him, confess to him, and follow him.   God’s peace arises out of a commitment to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

The late Christian author Catherine Marshall wrote:

My friend had a spiritual experience aboard a plane bound for Cleveland, waiting for takeoff.  As she settled into her seat, she noticed a strange phenomenon. On one side of the airplane a sunset bathed the entire sky with glorious color. But out of the window next to her seat, her friend could only see a sky dark and threatening, with no sign of the sunset.

As the plane's engines began to roar, a gentle Voice spoke within her.  "You have noticed the windows. Your life, too, will contain some happy, beautiful times, but also some dark shadows.  You see, it doesn't matter which window you look through; this plane is still going to Cleveland. So it is in your life. You have a choice. You can dwell on the gloomy picture. Or you can focus on the bright things and leave the dark, ominous situations to Me. I alone can handle them anyway. The final destination of being at home with me is not influenced by what you see and hear along the way. Remember this and you will experience my peace.”

I close with the blessing of Aaron, the brother of Moses:  The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you, the Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon you and grant you His peace.  Amen!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Make a Joyful Noise (Psalms 100 & 150) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

One Sunday morning in church, the older Pastor glared at the young new worship leader they had just hired.  It was the worship leader’s first Sunday.  The pastor said to the congregation:   "Please disregard our worship leader’s instruction when he said: “During the next hymn, I want you to clap your hands, stomp your feet, and boogie till you drop.”

This morning well over a billion people around the world will go to worship God in cathedrals and chapels, sanctuaries and schools, storefronts and living rooms or gather in the great outdoors. 

I prefer the phrase “Going to worship” rather than “Going to church.”  It’s a subtle difference I agree.   Why?   Going to worship implies going to do something, going to participate in a sacred activity.  Going to church focuses on going to a building, a location. The question Christians face each Sunday is: “Am I going to worship God this morning?”

Now there are 168 hours in a week.  And it has inspired me over the years at how many believers worship God regularly each week, but it also has amazed that other people can’t commit to spending one hour a week or even one hour a month worshipping God.  I realize there are good reasons for having to miss church, no question, but I have also heard many excuses.  I am not going to insult you by giving examples of the difference between them; you are intelligent people and you know the difference.

What is worship?  What does it mean to worship God?   The word is derived from the Anglo-Saxon language and it means “to ascribe worth.”  To worship God is to ascribe to God supreme worth.  It is as the Psalmist says, “to give unto the Lord the glory due His name.”

Who is God?  God is that which nothing greater can be conceived.   The 16th century Reformer, Martin Luther wrote: “If you have a God, you must of necessity worship Him.” “Oh, God, I believe in you, thou art my God.  You are worthy to be glorified.”   If worship acknowledges God’s supreme worth, then worship is the expression of our faith, our belief, our love for God.

Christian worship is our faithful response to the living God, the triune God: God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Worship expresses our trust and gratitude for God.  It expresses our thankfulness for what God has said and for what God has done, is doing and will do.   Worship is an encounter between people of faith and the living God.    We worship God privately and publicly.   But worship is always personal, a personal encounter, with a personal God.

People respond to God in worship in a variety of ways.   A young mother writes: “An elderly woman was sitting with eyes closed and hands raised in prayer and praise.  Our three-year-old son was standing on my lap in the pew in front of her.  Suddenly, he turned around, raised his arm, and gave her a high-five!”

The Bible says: “God is a Spirit and we must worship God in spirit and in truth.”   Worship flows in two directions: the downward movement of God’s revelation and presence and the upward movement of our response to God in Christ through the Spirit.  Worship is the response of our whole being to God’s amazing love and mercy.

According to the Bible and the tradition of our Christian faith, both individual and community worship are necessary in the Christian life.   Now this differs from the opinions of some in our culture today.  Some people say: “I can worship God at the beach or at home reading the newspaper or on the golf course.  I don’t need to go to church.”  That’s of course our culture talking, not our Biblical/Christian tradition.  Can you really play golf and worship God at the same time?  Not the way I play golf that’s for sure.

The letter of I Peter says: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  Psalm 22 says: “Yet you God are holy, enthroned on the praises of your people.”

God is here. We are standing on sacred ground. God invites you to worship Him.  God desires for you to worship Him.  God is glad you have come to worship Him.   God is open to your joys and concerns, your gladness and needs.

What is the tone or mood of worship?  It’s a celebration.   The psalmist captures it beautifully: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.  Worship the Lord with gladness; come into His presence with singing.  Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise.  Give thanks to him, bless his name.  For the Lord is good, His steadfast love endures forever and His faithfulness to all generations.”

The psalmist says: “God made you, you belong to God; you are His people and the sheep of His pasture.”  Worship says God is my creator, redeemer, and sanctifier.  I am here to thank God and honor God.    To worship anything else in this world is idolatry.  Many things compete for our worship and allegiance in this life.  The first commandment is: “You shall have no other gods before me.”   This commandment is as applicable today as it was 4,000 years ago.  Worship is praising God.

Like the story of a poor, elderly lady who sometimes visited a church.  The elders of the church were always embarrassed when she did, because she got so excited in the service.  She would shout “Praise the Lord,” “Hallelujah.”  That was more than the dignified members of this congregation could stand.   One Sunday morning the elders greeted her at the door and promised her a brand new heavy coat for the winter months if she would not shout in the service.  She agreed, and took a seat near the front of the sanctuary.  She held her silence at first, but as the pastor got into his message, and as the choir enthusiastically praised God, she was overcome with joy, stood up and shouted – coat or no coat, Amen!

We worship because God sent his son Jesus to earth, to live for us, to die for our sins, to save us, to forgive us, to restore us to fellowship with God and to promise us eternal life.   Worship is the heart of the church.  Like the heart beating in your chest, worship is the heart-beat of the church’s life.  And music is that life-blood which courses through our veins, lifts our souls, and stirs our hearts.   And I am so appreciative of our music here at PBPC.  Everything – our desire to learn, to give, to witness, to serve arises out of our worship of God.

Does worship require spiritual discipline?  Absolutely.   There are so many things that compete for our time on Sundays.  To worship takes spiritual discipline. What is your attitude when you come to worship?   Are you coming expectantly?     We offer ourselves to God in humility and gratitude and love because in Jesus Christ’s life, and death on the cross on Good Friday and resurrection on Easter, God first loved us.   Jesus says: “Love God with your heart, soul, strength and mind.”  In the 17th century, in Puritan New England, it was customary for preachers to preach two to three hour sermons.  It may have taken a little more spiritual discipline in their day than in our day.

God is deeply concerned about the attitude we bring to worship.   God invites us to offer to Him our doubts and struggles, as well as our joys, to listen and to raise our voices.   God says: “Come to seek my will for your life, come and draw closer to me, come and seek my power to change things about yourself.”

We worship as a member of God’s family.  Worship is individual yes, but it’s also communal.  It is both/and.  This is where our culture differs from our Biblical and Christian tradition.  Our culture says you can worship by yourself, you don’t need the church.  Christian tradition and the Bible says worship is communal, the celebration of the family of God, the body of Christ.  The psalmist says: “We are God’s people.”  It’s a time to celebrate that we belong to the same family of God.  We are spiritual brothers and sisters.

In worship we find encouragement and support.  We pray to God for one another, for our community and our world.  We sing together and affirm our faith in Christ together.  We laugh together and cry together when fellow members have passed on.  Worship reminds us that we are a covenant community.  We are stronger together than separately.   In worship, we are saying: “You are my brothers and sisters in Christ, you are important to me; I have come to worship with you as members of my spiritual family.”

When we worship we witness to others.  Worship is also a witness to God.  Going to worship shows others that you value God, you value the church, and that God is central in your life.  Going to worship demonstrates to God, to the congregation, to neighbors and friends that God is important to you.  It says we care about one another and God.

I truly believe God blesses us in the context of worship.  God surprises us with His grace.  I have heard many times: “Pastor, I just feel better after I’ve been to worship; it gets my week started off right.”  Frances Roberts wrote: “Rejoice in the lord always, for as you rejoice and give thanks, you release heaven’s treasures, and shower upon your head the blessings of a delighted Father in heaven.  Nothing so thoroughly delights the Father’s heart, as the praises of His children.”

The meaning of Christian worship is captured brilliantly by the 19th century Danish theologian and philosopher Soren Kierkegaard.  He wrote: “Worship is a drama.  Some people think of God as the director, the worship leaders as the actors, the stage as the chancel and the people as the audience.  Worship is a drama.  However, the stage is the sanctuary, the worship leaders are the prompters, the people are the actors and God is the audience.”

Make a joyful noise.  I close with psalm 150: “Praise the Lord, Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament.  Praise Him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his surpassing greatness.  Praise him with trumpet sound, praise him with lute and harp, praise him with tambourine and dance, praise him with strings and pipe, praise him with clanging cymbals, praise him with loud clashing cymbals, let everything that breathes praise the Lord.”  Amen.