Tuesday, February 27, 2018

"Only by prayer" (Mark 9:14-29)

"ONLY BY PRAYER" (Mark 9:14-29)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2018

Prayer is a skill best learned when young and best taught as a thoughtful, unhurried act of devotion.
A 4-year-old boy was asked to give the meal blessing before a holiday dinner. The family members bowed their heads in expectation. He began his prayer thanking God for all his friends, naming them one by one. Then he thanked God for Mommy, Daddy, brother, sister, Grandma, Grandpa, and all his aunts and uncles. Then he began to thank God for the food. He gave thanks for the meat, the gravy, the salad, the deserts, even the Cool Whip. Then he paused, and everyone waited—and waited. After a long silence, the young fellow looked up at his mother and asked, "If I thank God for the broccoli, won't He know I'm lying?"
Prayer is a skill best learned when young. Some situations do require a thoughtful, unhurried approach, such as when Jesus teaches the disciples that certain evil spirits are exorcised "Only by Prayer."
Peter, James, and John return from their experience on the Mount of Transfiguration, only to find the rest of their group in an intense discussion about an unsuccessful expulsion of an evil spirit. What should have been a joyful reunion' was instead a heated debate over the perils of demon possession, when...
I. The disciples encounter a difficult exorcism (Mark 9:14-24).
Mark 9:14 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the. teachers of the law arguing with them. 15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him. 16 "What are you arguing with them about?" he asked. 17 A man in the crowd answered, "Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not." 19 "O unbelieving generation," Jesus replied, "how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me." 20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. 21 Jesus asked the boy's father, "How long has he been like this?" "From childhood," he answered. 22 "It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us." 23"'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes." 24 Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"
The people who follow Jesus range from those who are curious about him, like these "teachers of the law" (v. 14), to those who want something from him, like the father of this demon-possessed boy. in both cases they are "overwhelmed with wonder" (v. 15), and this is before the exorcism. Jesus is not, however, enamored by their obsequious fawning. He seems rather annoyed: "How long shall I put up with you?" (v. 19). Jesus has been ministering in Galilee for several months. He has healed many diseases and exorcised numerous demons, never encountering an obstacle he could not overcome. What would make people think this challenge with the boy might exceed his ability? His record is one of complete victory over the forces of evil. Still, "the powerlessness of the disciples...has led [this father] to doubt Jesus' ability to offer real assistance to his son" (Lane 1974:353).

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The priority of the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-28)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2018

Sometimes different people have different ideas about addressing a problem, like losing weight.
A nurse asked a fairly hefty patient: "Are you on any special diet?" "Yes" he replied. "I drink Slim-Fast twice a day, but it's not working. In fact, I've gained several pounds." "Really?" the nurse asked. "Do you think skipping meals to drink a shake makes you so hungry that you overeat later?" The patient replied, "What do you mean... 'skipping meals'?"
Sometimes different people have different ideas about addressing a problem, like when the disciples were walking through a grain field and were hungry. Jesus proposed one solution—"Pluck and eat the grain. Some Pharisees preferred a different solution—"It's the Sabbath, so you'll have to go hungry." Their disagreement was about The Priority of the Sabbath.
When God redeems the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob from Egypt, among the blessings He gives these former slaves is something they did not previously enjoy—a regular day off. They may have received an occasional period to renew themselves but nothing consistent.
Although God established the Sabbath for Himself at the beginning of creation, there is no indication then that He intended it for anyone else and no evidence that anyone else in Genesis observed it. God made the Sabbath a requirement only for Israel and only after the exodus: "The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant" (Exod 31:16). In fact, God's stated purpose for the Sabbath is to make Israel separate, not to make everyone else the same. The only gentiles who observe it are those attracted to Israel's God (i.e., resident aliens).
In the late Second Temple period the Sabbath is a point of contention between Jesus and other Pharisees, and their dispute raises the question of relative priority: In the larger scope of God's precepts, how important is the Sabbath command? Please turn to Mark 2 where some question if hunger is a permissible reason to suspend the command to rest.
I. Jesus feeds his disciples on the Sabbath, despite the prohibition against harvesting on that day (vv. 23-24).
Mark 2:23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, "Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?"
The command to rest is both clear and consistent.
"The seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work" (Exod 20:10a).
"For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a Sabbath of rest to the Lord" (Exod 31:14a).
"There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest" (Lev 23:3).
To explain what God meant by work, He gives several examples:
  • No gathering manna
  • No lighting fire
  • No collecting wood
  • No transporting goods
  • No doing business
Moreover, the penalty for disobedience is both clear and costly:'
"Whoever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people" (Exod 31:14b).
"Whoever does any work on it must be put to death" (Exod 35:2).

Friday, February 23, 2018



Because of its length (50 pages) most of this study is only available as a pdf
Dr. Paul Manuel—2018

I. Salutation: John addresses seven churches in Asia Minor (Rev 1:1-3:21).
A. He introduces himself to his audience (1:1-20).
B. He addresses each of the churches (2:1-3:22).
  1. He writes to the church at Ephesus.
  2. He writes to the church at Smyrna.
  3. He writes to the church at Pergamum.
  4. He writes to the church at Thyatira.
  5. He writes to the church at Sardis.
  6. He writes to the church at Philadelphia.
  7. He writes to the church at Laodicea.
Application: As a Christian, your life is not a private matter, as some might assume, but a public testimony of your faith (2 Cor 3:2).

II. Judgment: John predicts the seven seals of God's wrath (Rev 4:1-6:14).
A. He describes the heavenly court (4:1-5:14).
B. He describes each of the seals (6:1-17).
  1. The first seal is about conquest (white horse and rider).
  2. The second seal is about war (red horse and rider).
  3. The third seal is about famine (black horse and rider).
  4. The fourth seal is about death (pale horse and rider)
  5. The fifth seal is about martyrdom (saints requesting vengeance).
  6. The sixth seal is about upheaval (nature in turmoil).
  7. The seventh seal is about announcement (seven trumpets).
C. He describes five angelic representatives (7:1-3).
D. He describes 144,000 Jewish servants (7:4-8).
  1. He describes innumerable gentile martyrs (7:9-17).
Application: Being a follower of Jesus may entitle you to more than a normal share of difficulty (John 16:33).

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Kingdom parables in Matthew 13

Dr. Paul Manuel—2017

"The Different Soils" (Matt 13:1-23)
"The Meddlesome Weeds" (Matt 13:24-30, 34-43)
"The Mustard Seed" (Matt 13:31-32
"The Leavened Loaf" (Matt 13:33)
"The Hidden Treasure" (Matt 13:44)
"The Precious Pearl" (Matt 13:45-46)
"The Fisherman's Net" (Matt 13:47-50)
"The Productive Scribe" (Matt 13:51-52)

Jesus introduces several of his parables by noting that they are descriptive in some way of the divine program: "The kingdom of God is like..." Of the parables Matthew includes in his gospel (26), he concentrates the greatest number (8) in chapter thirteen, and they are all in some way about the kingdom. Because these parables appear together, the initial step in understanding them—determine the setting—is the same.
Matt 13:1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3a Then he told them many things in parables.
The variety of parables in this chapter accords with the diversity of occupations in first century Judaism. Five of these eight parables relate in some way to food, growing it, preparing it, or catching it. Two parables are mercantile, and one parable is scribal. As such they are akin to the lifestyles of most people in Jesus' audience.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Funeral: "Abundant life" (John 10:7-10)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2015

Where below you read "the deceased" Pastor Manuel
inserted the name of the individual.

When a person is a Christian as long as the deceased was, he develops a cadre of favorite biblical passages, those that express for him the essence of life with God. One such passage (NASB) is what Jesus said:
I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10b)
This portion of scripture comes at the end of a extended pastoral metaphor Jesus uses to depict the central role he has in God's program, especially for his followers, whom he describes as sheep. Jesus makes two important claims about his mission, claims that the deceased recognized and embraced.
Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. (John 10:7-8)
This section follows a debate with some religious leaders about whether or not Jesus is the messiah, the one who would enable people to approach God. In his first claim, Jesus likens himself to the door on a sheep pen, indicating that...
I. He is the means of access to God.
Jesus introduces his comments here in a distinctive way, with a word that typically closes legal testimony or a public pronouncement ("Amen"). certifies a speaker's veracity, that what he asserts is factual, and Jesus doubles it here for emphasis: "Truly, truly."
He then says that those who came before him were selfish. Caring only for what they can take, they were "thieves and robbers," attempting to lure the sheep away from the safety of the fold. Nevertheless, the sheep could resist their trickery. Whether or not they recognized the attempt to deceive them, the sheep knew that the safest place for them was inside the fold, and they ignored whoever would lead them astray.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Funeral: "Safe in the arms of Jesus" (Mark 10:14,16)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2001

Where below you read "the deceased" Pastor Manuel
inserted the name of the individual.

There is much about life we do not understand, much about life we cannot explain. When things go wrong, we try to find the cause, perhaps even someone or something to blame. Occasionally, we can identify the reason for an accident or an illness...often we cannot. Ultimately, such things happen because we live in a fallen universe, in a world that has been broken, because sin has introduced serious flaws into God's perfect design. We can make certain repairs, temporary fixes that keep things and us running, but we cannot resolve the basic problem. Only God can do that.
It is curious that God did not erase it all, that after our repeated and persistent defying of His will, He did not just destroy us or abandon us. Instead, He offered us a remedy that would not only fix the problem, it would improve our situation by drawing us close to Him. This He did by sending His Son Jesus to pay the ultimate penalty for our sin. The cure is not automatic. It requires conscious and deliberate action on our part: a turning from our sinful past and a commitment to serving God. When we take that decisive step, we must still live in this fallen universe, but God gives us purpose, direction, and hope for a life with Him that will never end.
What about those who are unable to take that step, those who cannot understand the problem, let alone the solution? Does God make provision for people who pass from this life while they are very young? The biblical writers suggest that He does, and Jesus, before his own death, confirms God's concern for children. When parents wanted Jesus to ask God's blessing on their children, he said to his disciples:
"Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them...." And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them, and blessed them. (Mark 10: 14b, 16)
At other times and on several occasions, Jesus makes clear that he represents the Father, that Jesus' words and works are precisely what God the Father would say and do. Jesus said:
Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. (John 14:9b)
Jesus does not mean that he physically resembles the Father but that he represents the Father, speaking and acting on His behalf. So, Jesus' attitude toward children here reflects God's attitude toward them. In these verses, we see that...
  • He welcomes children.
Jesus was both busy and tired, so the disciples wanted to turn them away, but he would not have it. When Jesus welcomed the children, he showed that God the Father welcomes them too. Unlike us, God is never too busy or too tired or too distracted. He always has time for people, including children. We also see that...

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Funeral: "A cheerful look" (Prov. 15:30a)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2011

Where below you read "the deceased" Pastor Manuel
inserted the name of the individual.

When Solomon, David's son, assumed the throne of Israel, he knew that with great authority comes great responsibility, and that if he were going to rule well, he would have to rule wisely. To that end, he asked the Lord for "a discerning heart" (1 Kgs 3:9). It was a prayer God answered in abundance. So great was Solomon's wisdom that he authored "three thousand proverbs" (1 Kgs 4:32), many of which appear in the biblical book by that name. A proverb is a short, pithy saying that captures a practical and often obvious truth, expressing it in a memorable way.
Among the many observations Solomon made are those that describe the effect a person's attitude can have on him. For example, on the one hand...
An anxious heart weighs a man down (Prov. 12:25a).
 On the other hand...
A happy heart makes the face cheerful (Prov. 15:13a).
In other words, a person's attitude, whether negative or positive, can affect him in other ways, including his appearance.
Another observation Solomon made described the effect one person's attitude can have on other people. Most notably...
A cheerful look brings joy to the heart (Prov. 15:30a)....
Here Solomon is stating that one person's appearance can affect how other people feel.
When I met the deceased, she and her husband were spending winters in Florida, so my contact with them was limited and sporadic. After her heart attack, they decided to remain in PA, and I was able to see them more regularly. Whenever I visited, her husband did most of the talking. The deceased was quiet and reserved. It generally took some effort to engage her in conversation. Otherwise, she seemed content to listen. After her husband's passing, she spoke a bit more but mostly to answer my incessant questions.
Despite her taciturn nature, though, she always seemed genuinely happy to see me and greeted me with a smile. In fact, that is what I looked forward to seeing when I came. Even when she was not feeling her best, she always managed a smile, and I always left with my spirit lifted a bit. It illustrated the truth of Solomon's proverb.
Prov. 15:30a A cheerful look brings joy to the heart....
For the deceased, it was a simple act, but it demonstrated how a positive appearance can have a positive effect on others—a good lesson for anyone, including a minister.

For a pdf see here.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Funeral: "Reflections from Psalm 139"

Dr. Paul Manuel—2001

Where below you read "the deceased" Pastor Manuel
inserted the name of the individual.

When I visited with the deceased, I would often ask if he had a favorite Bible passage that I could read. He usually left the choice to me, saying that he liked them all. As I wondered what passage to use in my meditation today, I asked his daughter if I could borrow the deceased's Bible, thinking that he might have marked a passage I could use. You can tell a lot about a person by looking at what he marks in his Bible. What I discovered was not much help, not because the deceased did not mark his Bible, but because he marked it so much. It was testimony to the time he spent reading God's word, testimony to the priority God had in his life. I settled on Ps 139, a section he marked completely and, as I read it, I understood perhaps why he found it so significant.
In Ps 139, David offers some reflections on his relationship with God. What impresses the biblical author is how much God knows. "In particular," he says...
I. God knows me (Ps 139:1-4).
Ps 139:1 O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.
That God knows us is not news. Omniscience is part of being God. What amazes David is the detail of God's knowledge, and that He is even interested. The psalmist says...
A. He knows my schedule.
He is aware of every moment, however common or casual. He knows "when I sit and when I rise." David also says...
B. He knows my thoughts.
If you live with someone, you become familiar with how that person thinks, and you can even begin to predict it. My wife often knows what I'm thinking but not always, and only when we are together, not long distance. God, however, never misjudges, and He can "perceive my thoughts from afar." The psalmist says further...
C. He knows my activities.
He misses nothing, even what I think no one notices. God knows not just some of what I do but "all my ways." Finally, David says...

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Funeral: "The Lord is your guardian" (Ps 121)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2009

Where below you read "the deceased" Pastor Manuel
inserted the name of the individual.

The deceased was aware that God was caring for him. Throughout his life here, the Lord was watching over him. That is the theme of his favorite biblical text, Ps 121. What stands out in this passage is the simple yet compelling way the author uses repetition to underscore his conviction that God keeps those who belong to Him.
The author is on a journey to Jerusalem to celebrate one of the festivals. He will traverse some difficult terrain and may encounter any number of dangers along the way. Therefore, he is understandably concerned about...
I. The Issue of Security (Ps 121:1-2)
...and he opens the poem with a question in v. 1:
A. Who will help me?
This is not unreasonable. The mountains lie between him and his destination, and he knows that much can go wrong as he travels over them. So he asks...
I shall lift up my eyes unto the mountains. From where does my help come? (v. 1)
The question, though, is not for his benefit but for that of other travelers. He already knows the answer, which he offers in v. 2, asserting...
B. The LORD will help me.
My help comes from the LORD, maker of heaven and earth. (v. 2)
The psalmist's experience has shown God to be a dependable protector—committed to His people, involved in their lives, and faithful to His promises. He is the "maker of heaven and earth," which is an important title, because a traveler faces many natural dangers, and it is comforting to know that these dangers are not outside the Lord's control.
The deceased was on a journey, the same journey every child of God is on, not to an earthly Jerusalem but to a heavenly one. This journey, too, is fraught with danger, and as we look at the mountains before us, we may ask: "Who will help me?" Like the psalmist, the deceased knew the answer to that question: "The LORD will help me?" The deceased spoke out of personal experience, but even if that journey from his time in Viet Nam to his recent collapse in the pond, and he would have recommended that answer to any who wondered about their own journey.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Funeral: "To praise the Lord" (Ps 117)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2013

Where below you read "the deceased" Pastor Manuel
inserted the name of the individual.

I did not have the pleasure of knowing the deceased well. She had moved to State College several years before I came to the church in Salemville. I met her, though, when she would return to visit friends and would arrange those visits so she could also attend a service here.
She may have had several favorite biblical passages, perhaps some in the Psalms I have already mentioned. I have chosen Ps 117 to help us reflect on her life and on our own. Ps 117 is the shortest in the Psalter—only two verses—and easy to skip, but it expresses some fundamental truths about God and about His relationship to His people.
I. Call to Praise the LORD
The psalmist begins with a call to praise the LORD, inviting others to join with him:
Praise the LORD, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples. (Ps 117:1)
II. Cause to Praise the LORD
Then he gives two reasons that God deserves such acclaim:
Great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever. (Ps 117:2)
A. His love
God's love is one of the most prominent themes in all of scripture. It is one of His chief attributes, coloring so much of what He does that the apostle John says, "God is love" (1 John 4:8). Yet equally important, at least from our perspective, is that God has shown His love "toward us." He does this in many ways, of course, but the most important way is the one Paul identifies in his letter to the church in Rome:
God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:8)
John also speaks in his gospel to the greatness of God's love in Christ what is probably the most familiar passage of the New Testament:
God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
This is the ultimate benefit of God's great love—to gain eternal life with Him. The deceased knew this, and she is now enjoying the fulfillment of her faith.
B. His faithfulness
The other reason God deserves praise is that He is faithful, dependable, reliable. We can count on Him to do what He says He will do, to act according to His loving nature, to keep His word to us. God's promises have no expiration date. This is so different from what we experience in other areas of life, where the relationships we form are quite fragile and often suffer from a lack of faithfulness. When we turn to God, the relationship He establishes with us is permanent because it relies on His utterly dependable character. We can then have confidence that "he will never leave [us] nor forsake [us]" (Deut 31:6, 8). This is the assurance the psalmist and the deceased had.
This psalm joins the attributes of God's love and faithfulness, the very qualities that make it possible for us to know Him...in this life and the next. There is sorrow at the deceased's passing, yet there is also comfort in knowing that she is, even now, in the presence of God, extoling Him for His great love and eternal faithfulness.
Praise the LORD, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples. For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever. Praise the LORD. (Ps 117:1-2)
For a pdf see here.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Funeral: "Bless the Lord" (Ps 103:1-5)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2010

Where below you read "the deceased" Pastor Manuel
inserted the name of the individual.

Who is God? What is He like? ...Some people go their whole lives without even considering those questions. Other people spend their whole lives in search of an answer. For those in that second group, those who want to know God, He promises success in their quest. He says...
You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. (Jer 29:13)
King David was such an individual, someone the Bible describes as "a man after [God's] own heart" (1 Sam 13:14a; Acts 13:22b). He knew God well, and he wrote extensively about Him. One of those descriptions is in Ps 103, where David calls others, including us, to Bless the Lord.
While other psalms of David hint at the reason he wrote them, this one offers no such clues. It is likely there was no specific occasion; it was simply in recognition that because of God's presence with David, life is good. In the opening verses, the reason he does give for his optimism is...
I. The Character of God (Ps 103:1-2)
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits. (vv. 1-2)
David had a deep and abiding relationship with God, developed over many years. During that time, the king had come to know what God is like, including the one particular divine trait mentioned here, that God is good.
If we were familiar only with the later years of David's life, we might think that he had it relatively easy, especially given what the biblical author writes:
David became greater and greater, for the LORD of hosts [was] with him. (1 Chr 11:9)
Were that a descriptive of his whole life, his positive attitude in this psalm would be quite understandable. God had favored him with success and prosperity, and David recognized it. But that passage in Chronicles was not descriptive of his whole life, only the latter part. Earlier, he faced numerous hardships and heartaches, from his persecution and banishment by King Saul to his loss of family and friends. David had a difficult life, but through it, he learned about the character of the God he served, that He is good. Despite whatever hardships God's people face, He favors those who serve Him. That was David's confidence, and God responded positively, enabling him to get through those difficult periods.
I came to know the deceased later in her life, and her sweet spirit impressed me. Our conversations in church and in her home indicated a person who walked long with the Lord. Only later did I learn that, like David, her earlier journey included numerous hardships and heartaches. The deceased, too, had a difficult life, and those of you who have lived here longer than I, may be familiar with some of the details. Yet, also like David, through it, she learned about the character of the God she served, that He is good. Despite whatever hardships God's people face, He favors those who serve Him. That was the deceased's confidence, and God responded positively, enabling her to get through those difficult periods.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Funeral: "Reflections on God's protection" (Ps 91)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2002

Where below you read "the deceased" Pastor Manuel
inserted the name of the individual.

Although it was only in the last few weeks of her hospitalization that I came to know the deceased, I appreciated the times we had together. On one such occasion, she mentioned her enjoyment of the Psalms. When I asked which were her favorites, she cited Ps 23, which we heard earlier. Then she read Ps 91 to me, which speaks about God's protection, and I thought that might be an appropriate text for some reflections as we remember her. What attracted the deceased to this psalm? What did she find compelling or comforting in this portion of God's word? Let me suggest a few reasons, some that she might have recommended to us. We do not know who wrote this psalm. Tradition ascribes it to Moses or to David. Whoever the author might have been, he was well-acquainted with God's protection, probably from his own experience in distressing situations, and he begins with a confident assertion:
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust!" (vv. 1-2)
I. God's protection is selective (Ps 91:1-2).
Here we see that God's protection is selective. Although God offers it to all, not everyone benefits from it—only those who dwell and abide with Him. This may seem impossible, given that God is in heaven and we are on earth, but it is a metaphor, a figure of speech. The psalmist explains that having God as a refuge and fortress is not a matter of being in the right place but of trusting in the right person. The deceased trusted in the right person. She knew that, while the hospital may have been the right place to treat the physical difficulties she was having, God was the right person to trust with her future.... The psalmist continues...
For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark. (Ps 91:3-4)
II. God's protection is steadfast (Ps 91:3-4).
It is not just God's ability that makes people seek His protection, although He is certainly a very capable champion, it is also His dependability that they find attractive. God's protection is steadfast. No matter what happens, He will stand by those who put their trust in Him. Unfortunately, this is not something we learn well just by reading about it. Only by experiencing it does this truth make a full impression upon us. Only as we need God's protection repeatedly, do we come to appreciate the reliability of His care. The deceased certainly had ample opportunity to test this principle. As she experienced one physical problem after another, she could have given up hope, yet she did not.... The psalmist goes on to say...
You will not be afraid of the terror by night, or of the arrow that flies by day; of the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or of the destruction that lays waste at noon. (Ps 91:5-6)

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Funeral: "God is the source" (Ps 90:1-12)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2003

Where below you read "the deceased" Pastor Manuel
inserted the name of the individual.

The sudden death of a loved one can raise many questions:
  • Why did this happen?
  • Could it have been prevented?
Some of these questions can become personal:
  • Why did God allow it?
  • Should I have done something?
In time, we may discover the answers but, until then, we may wonder how we should respond. Thankfully, there is both solace and guidance in scripture.

Moses, who encountered many difficulties, including the sudden loss of family members, wrote in Ps 90 some reflections on his experiences, and his words can offer comfort and perspective when we encounter difficulties. He begins with a reminder that...

I. God is the source of our protection.
Ps 90:1 Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. 2 Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.... 4a For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by....
Moses says of God that...
A. He has been with us for a long time.
"our dwelling place throughout all generations." Each generation, though, must seek God's shelter. Children cannot rely on the faith of their parents or their grandparents.

I did not know the deceased, but God did. A friend of the deceased said to me that the deceased had turned to the Lord earlier in his life, and that this friend had been encouraging him to turn again, to make the Lord his "dwelling place" (Ps 90:1). We do not know how God may have been working with the deceased, but we can be confident that God will do what is right for him. We can also be confident that God will do what is right for us, if we make Him our "dwelling place." He has been with us for a long time, patiently waiting for us to seek His protection.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Funeral: "A temperament of contentment" (Ps 86:12)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2006

Where below you read "the deceased" Pastor Manuel
inserted the name of the individual.

Some people are oblivious to what is happening around them. They are content to drift along with no particular direction. Others are aware of what is happening around them and are unfazed by it. They are content because they have direction, not a course they control but one under the sovereign hand of a loving God. The deceased was among that second group. Despite the twists and turns he or others he knew encountered, his response to a troubling situation was the same: "It will work out."
The deceased was not a fatalist, resigned to endure what life threw at him. He was an optimist, ready to embrace what God had for him. What enabled him to face uncertainty and change with such aplomb, such composure? There may have been several reasons, but one we can cite with some certainty is that the deceased had A Temperament of Contentment, the assurance that someone larger and more powerful than he is directing events to a good end. This did not mean that the deceased sat back and simply watched things unfold. He knew he had to be involved in the process, but he also knew there was a limit to what he could do...although he sometimes pushed that limit beyond what others thought he could do.
Many Christians have a "life verse," a biblical passage especially meaningful to them that expresses their approach to life. I do not know if the deceased had such a verse, but if I were to select one based on what I know about him, it might be...
I will give thanks to You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and [I] will glorify Your name forever. (Ps 86:12)
This is from "A Prayer of David," a plea that God would answer the petition of an "afflicted and needy" person (Ps 86:1). We do not know what David's problem was, but punctuating his pleas for help are profound expressions of his confidence that the God who had helped him in the past would also meet his current need.
David's confidence enabled him to say that, no matter what circumstances he might encounter,
I. He was committed to giving unconditional thanks to God.
I will give thanks to You...with all my heart (Ps 86:12a).
Despite his situation, David was not only grateful for what God had done, David was ready to tell God and to hold nothing back in the process. That was the deceased: grateful for what God had done and willing to hold nothing back in expressing it. One of his favorite hymns was Count Your Blessings, which is an admonition to list the good things God has done for you. It is an exercise designed to stir the heart in gratitude, an exercise the deceased must have employed regularly, because he was grateful for what God had done, and he expressed it with all his heart... often at the top of his lungs. Like David, the deceased was committed to giving unconditional thanks to God.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Funeral: "The measure of a man" (Ps 37:21,26)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2006

Where below you read "the deceased" Pastor Manuel
inserted the name of the individual.

What is The Measure of a Man? How do you evaluate his life? What qualities impressed people about him? When we lose a member of our congregation, as we did yesterday with the passing of the deceased, especially someone who meant so much to so many, it is fitting to ask these questions, not just to remember him, although that is certainly important, but to remind us about what is important in life. That is what I would like us to do this morning: to remember. It is an occasion to honor him, yet it is also an opportunity to check our own priorities, to make course adjustments, whether large or small, and ensure we are on track with God.
In recalling and recounting elements of the deceased's life, we do not suggest that he had reached the level of Christ-likeness to which we all aspire, merely that he made progress toward that goal, progress we noticed and progress we hope to make. Some of us came on the scene later in the deceased's life, so our contact with him was not as extensive as others. Some of you grew up with him. Many of you knew him all your life. I knew him relatively briefly but, in those few years, I saw what he became, the finished product, or at least as much as we see now.
Think for a few moments about what you might like to say.... David writes in Ps 37,
The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously (Ps 37:21).
What impressed me about the deceased was his generosity. For example, he was generous with his time. The Choraleers prepare for a singing engagement by rehearsing extensively. It is a prerequisite to ministering effectively, and members of the group make a significant commitment to realizing that goal. Occasionally, the deceased would miss a rehearsal, not because he was tired or simply felt like staying home, but because he had another engagement, another request or obligation to be somewhere. His extensive schedule probably frustrated some people, and I would rather have seen him at rehearsal, but his absence was a sign of his generosity, his willingness to spend time with people. He was also generous with his money. As I sat in Diaconate meetings with him, where we discussed the needs of various people both inside and outside the church, he was never reluctant to recommend that we help, and he was always among the first to contribute. He also offered financial incentives for students to improve their grades, and there are probably other examples as well, because the deceased was generous with his money.
Occasionally, the media report that a celebrity donated a substantial amount of time or money to some charitable cause and, while that may be noteworthy, the quality of generosity is not defined by a single event. After stating that "the righteous give generously," David goes on to say,
They are always generous (Ps 37:26a)....
In the years I had known the deceased, I found that to be true of him. He was always generous.
Now it is your turn. Perhaps you recall other examples of his generosity, perhaps something else. What qualities impressed you about the deceased?
[Individual reflections]
What is The Measure of a Man? One day, others will reflect on your life, perhaps not this way, but they will note your passing. What will have impressed them? What would you like to have impressed them? ...If you could write your own obituary, what would you want it to say? ...While you are living, that is what you are doing. You are writing what will become the testimony of your life. Paul says to the Corinthians:
You yourselves are [a] letter...known and read by everybody (2 Cor 3:2).
That is a sobering thought.... It is also a wonderful opportunity to show others what is important in life, because how you spend your life is a measure of how you want to spend eternity. Paul goes on to say,
You...are a letter from Christ...written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God (2 Cor 3:3).
We have reflected upon what God said through the deceased. Now, from his new heavenly vantage point, the deceased would be asking, "What is God saying through you?"

For a pdf see here.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Funeral: "Home at last" (Ps 23:6b)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2013

Where below you read "the deceased" Pastor Manuel
inserted the name of the individual.

In Ps 23, David draws from his own boyhood experience tending his father's sheep, and paints a vivid picture of pastoral life. As a shepherd leads his flock, he looks for "green pastures [and] quiet waters" (Ps 23:2) but knows he will encounter difficulties. The flock may even have to pass "through the valley of the shadow of death" (Ps 23:4) before returning home. David likens these early experiences to his later life's journey under the guidance of his shepherd, the LORD (Ps 23:1). David describes the end of that journey at the end of this psalm, when he would be Home at Last, saying...
I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever (Ps 23:6b).
While much of life, especially with God as one's shepherd, should be enjoyable, there are periods when a person welcomes less activity, a quieter existence. For example, when a person is traveling, whether for business or pleasure, it is often a welcome change to return home. In fact, the longer a person is away, the more one may look forward to getting back to a more regular and less demanding schedule. This was probably true for David. He may have had his father's flocks out for extended periods, moving them from place to place in search of suitable pasture, while at the same time watching out for danger from wild animals or robbers. After some time away, he probably looked forward to returning home.
In my visits with the deceased at the VA, I would report to him what was happening at church, significant events in the lives of people he knew, what special services we had planned, when the choir would be singing a holiday program. He often said that he hoped he could be there, but first, he would have to get home. He looked forward to returning home and mentioned it often. Even as more time passed, and it looked less and less likely that he would be able go home, he held on to that hope in....
  • The place of God's care
When David composed the words at the close of his psalm, "the house of the LORD" had not yet been built. There was only the temporary structure of the tabernacle, which did not have room to "dwell in." The permanent and much larger edifice, the temple, would not exist until his son Solomon erected it. What David had in mind as he wrote this final verse was probably God's house in heaven which, as Jesus told the disciples, has plenty of room (John 14:2a). Regardless of how long David spent away from his earthly home, he could look forward to a heavenly home, a home he would never have to leave, a home where he would be with the LORD "forever."
  • The permanence of God's care
Although the deceased was not able to return to his earthly home, he knew, as David knew, that regardless of how long he spent away, he could look forward to a heavenly home, "the house of the LORD." The deceased also knew, like David, that his heavenly home would be a permanent one.
Despite his hope, the deceased was never able to go back home while he was here. But because of his hope, the deceased will always be home. He is there now, with the LORD "forever." He is Home at Last.
If the deceased could get a message to folks here, especially to his family, it would surely be to confirm the value and veracity of what David wrote in Ps 23, that there is great advantage to having the LORD as one's shepherd, not the least of which is assurance about what awaits you at the end of life's journey: to "dwell in the house of the LORD forever." It is what David knew and what the deceased knows. It is the satisfaction, the contentment, the joy of being Home at Last.

For a pdf see here.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Funeral: "Through the valley" (Ps 23:4)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2012

Where below you read "the deceased" Pastor Manuel
inserted the name of the individual.

However carefully you plan, whatever preparations you make to do this or that, there are often unexpected events that require you to adjust.
  • The boss needs you to work late, and you miss dinner with the family.
  • The car breaks down, and you cannot make that important meeting.
  • The mail brings an unexpected bill, and you must put off replacing that worn-out appliance.
These are the speed bumps of life, the unexpected twists and turns that make you change your expectations of what lies ahead.
There are also events you can anticipate, things we do not welcome but that we know lie ahead.
  • The company is downsizing, and your job is being eliminated.
  • The police arrest your best friend for stealing to support his drug habit, despite your repeated warnings to him.
  • The doctor gives you the bad news about your condition.
These are also the speed bumps of life, perhaps more difficult because you see them coming and cannot avoid them. Whether expected or unexpected, seen or unseen, there are events we must all face.
Ps 23 was a familiar passage to the deceased, as it is to many, one especially significant because it describes God's care for His people in a personal way that is easy to grasp and appreciate. David, the author of this psalm, was a shepherd, so he understood the needs of sheep. He also understood that people are like sheep in many ways and that, as a shepherd looks to the needs of his flock, so the Lord looks to the needs of His people. One need common to sheep and people is that both require someone smarter than they are to watch over them. That is especially true when they travel through unfamiliar territory or unsafe terrain. Just as sheep need the presence of one they can trust, one who will look out for them, so people need the presence of one they can trust, one who will look out for them. The author frames this particular need and the way God meets it in v. 4.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me (v. 4).
Much of life takes us through areas that are somewhat familiar or relatively safe. The experiences may not always be easy or enjoyable, but they do not pose a particular danger to us. They are also experiences we may, perhaps, avoid by choosing a different path. Redirecting our way, however, is not always possible. In fact...

I. There are some things we must all do.

...some things we cannot escape as long as we live in this world.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Funeral: "The continuity of God's Care" (Ps 23:1,6)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2008

Where below you read "the deceased" Pastor Manuel
inserted the name of the individual.

In Ps 23, David draws from his own experience and paints a vivid picture of pastoral life: the responsibility a shepherd has to protect and provide for his flock, the responsiveness of the sheep to follow the shepherd wherever he leads. David likens the shepherd's task to the protection and provision God offers to His people, and likens the flock's compliance to the obedience God expects from His people. In the first and final phrases of this psalm, especially, we see The Continuity of God's Care.
David opens the psalm with his...
I. Commitment (promise) to God's care
In David's early years, he was a shepherd, so he knew what tending a flock entailed. He knew that sheep do not fend for themselves very well, that they need direction:
  • To find the most nourishing food sources and
  • To survive the perilous conditions of life in the wilderness.
David compares the needs sheep have to the needs people have.
  • Like sheep, people need help in finding the most nourishing food sources, not just for physical sustenance but for spiritual sustenance as well.
  • Like sheep, people need help surviving the perilous conditions of life, not just the normal uncertainties but situations that press one's physical limits and tax one's emotional reserves.
David's own experiences, as a shepherd, as a military leader, and even as a king made him familiar with such needs and with the importance of relying on God to meet those needs. So David's opening statement in this poem is his commitment to God's care: "The LORD is my shepherd" (Ps 23:la).

I had the privilege of knowing the deceased for ten years and, while that was a relatively short portion of his one hundred plus years, we had many opportunities to talk about spiritual matters. I did not know this psalm was one of his favorite biblical passages, but I would not have found that surprising. Ps 23 is a favorite for many people. What I did not realize until recently, however, is that he made it a regular part of his devotions, something he would recite every evening before retiring. That practice speaks to the commitment he made to God's care, that like David, the deceased was dependent on Him as his shepherd:
  • To help him find the most nourishing food sources, and
  • To help him survive the perilous conditions of life.
Like David, the deceased could say and did say repeatedly, "The LORD is my shepherd."

Monday, February 5, 2018

Funeral: "The Decision to serve the Lord" (Josh 24:15)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2008

This was delivered by Pastor Manuel at his father's funeral.

We value our independence, the ability to make decisions, both great and small. While the smaller decisions—the music we enjoy or the clothes we wear—have little affect on the course of our lives, the larger decisions—whom we marry or what job we take—can have a profound affect, on our present as well as on our future…on us as well as on others. This is especially so for the choice everyone must make, whether positively or negatively, whether by deliberation or by default—The Decision to Serve the Lord.
After the initial conquest of Canaan, the Israelites are ready to begin their settlement of the land. It marks the realization of a 500 year-old promise God made to their ancestors. It also marks the culmination of a forty-year pilgrimage in the wilderness, a delay in the fulfillment of that promise because of their disobedience to God. As they begin this new adventure, Joshua, Israel’s leader, challenges the people to review and, if necessary, to revise their loyalties. He says:
“If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Josh 24:15)
In issuing this challenge, Joshua alludes to his own choice. Whatever they decide, he and his household will serve God. It is a significant choice, but it is not a sudden
one, because…
I. Joshua made the decision to serve the LORD early.
We do not know when Joshua’s commitment to God began, but his first appearance in scripture, aiding Moses, was as “a young man” (Exod 33:11). Consequently, this was a decision he made early in life and, as later references show, it was a firm commitment, one that kept him from the troubles others of his generation encountered. When many Israelites grew disillusioned with the course God laid out, Joshua remained faithful and “followed the LORD fully” (Num 32:12). As a result, God allowed him to enter the Promised Land, while others did not.
Dad also made a commitment to God as a young man and, as one mark of that decision, he often mentioned his having taken the Methodist [Temperance] Pledge in the 1930s, which included a vow to abstain from alcohol. He did not consider it a way to earn favor with God but simply an expression of his devotion to God. It, too, was a firm commitment, a promise he took very seriously, and one that kept him and his family from many of the troubles those less disciplined encountered. It is also one his children have followed and from which we have reaped the same benefits.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Wedding: "Two are Better Than One" (Eccl 4:9a)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2013

Where below "Bride" and "Groom" are indicated Pastor Manuel
inserted the names of the individuals being married.

As a minister, I have had the privilege of officiating at several wedding ceremonies, most of which involve couples first starting a journey with another person. Despite the fact that in premarital counseling sessions I attempt to prepare couples for some of the challenges they might encounter, especially as they get to know each other better, I am aware that there will be many things only experience will enable them to face successfully. Consequently, I sometimes wonder if they will make it together.
Bride and Groom enter this union with the experience that eases my mind considerably. Moreover, having seen them together, I have little doubt that they will do well, although I cannot be absolutely sure, because they are usually on their best behavior in church when I see them. Nevertheless, I am more confident of their success and happiness, especially as I have noted their commitment to God as well as to each other.
They asked me to choose a biblical passage that I thought appropriate for the occasion. I considered Gen 2:18 where, after creating Adam...
The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone."
...but my wife's modified translation of that verse, which she is fond of reciting (especially to me), always comes to mind. According to her version, and with a certain inflection, after creating Adam...
The LORD God said, "This is not good; I cannot leave this man alone.
...which implies something else.
However true that may have been in my case, there are some men who are able to function without supervision. Knowing that Groom is quite capable, I decided to select a different passage, three verses from Ecclesiastes:
Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if [an adversary] can overpower [one] who is alone, two can resist him. (Eccl 4:9-12a)
Here Solomon mentions some of the practical benefits of life with another person, life that marriage exemplifies, beginning with the general assertion that a couple can work together to accomplish a common goal, a mutually beneficial goal, one that yields "a good return for their labor."
Bride and Groom, you will have opportunities to work on projects together that have the prospect of "a good return," in fact, a better return than anything you might attempt alone. Perhaps it is that missions trip you have been considering. In any case, it is certainly not just one thing. You will work on many things together, and whatever those projects might be, the outcome will be better because you will be involved together:
Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Wedding: "The Pursuit of Happiness" (Eccles 2:26; 3:12)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2010

The "Declaration of Independence" includes the assertion that God has endowed man with certain "unalienable rights," namely, "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." It is that last one, The Pursuit of Happiness, I would like us to consider on this occasion, noting in particular two aspects of happiness.
  • First, God's intention for you is that you be happy. Solomon said...
There is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. (Eccles 3:12)
That goal is what He wants for you, to be happy.
  • Second, God's instruction to you will help you be happy. Again, Solomon said...
To the man who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, (Eccles 2:26a)
That guidance is what He provides for you, helping you to be happy.

Looking at these two principles more closely we see how they actually bear out.

I. God's intention for you is that you be happy.

From the beginning of time, God had you in mind, and He made provision for your happiness. In Genesis...
God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. (Gen 2:18,24)
Through the institution of marriage, God made provision for your happiness...but He did not guarantee it. It is up to you to pursue happiness in your love for each other. Many people gauge the success of that pursuit, the degree of their happiness, by the way they feel. They say such things as...
I'm so in love that my heart races whenever we're together.
She's always on my mind. I can't wait to see her.
We're soul mates.
While there is a romantic element to love, the tensions of life will occasionally overshadow it (e.g., argument, financial difficulty, fatigue)—there will be times when you do not feel very loving. That is when there must be more to love than romance, something that holds you together, something that enables you to pursue happiness no matter how you feel.... Is there an alternative, a more reliable way for you to accomplish this together?