6Dec

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - The God of the Living

Below is a new devotion I just left on the Cove Presbyterian Church prayer line. You can find a recording of this devotion at the end of the devotion. 

 

If you find this meaningful, please consider sending an offering directly to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.

 

Luke 20:27-40

 

Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, "Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her."

 

Jesus said to them, "Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive." Then some of the scribes answered, "Teacher, you have spoken well." For they no longer dared to ask him another question.

 

The God of the Living

 

It seems as though a lot of Christians focus much of their attention on death-related issues. For example, they debate the nature of our future life, you know, what’s going to happen after we’ve left this mortal toil. And they discuss rival views of the afterlife, like whether it’s going to be in a “Family Circus” kind of heaven or a more mystical reality. And they spend time focusing on when this will occur and how Jesus will bring our current time-line to a close. But more than anything else, they expend a whole bunch of brain cells trying to determine what a person needs to do in order to enjoy the life after. And even if they say it’s all about faith, they then argue about what faith means and how it’s shown. And all this is done so that they can know how God will handle the dead.

 

But, you know, it’s interesting, that’s exactly what the Sadducees were doing in the passage we just read. They were focused on life after death. But Jesus called them to shift their attention. You see, instead of debating what’s going to happen after death, maybe it makes more sense to pay attention to the kind of lives they can live before death. In other words, rather than going on and on about what might or might not happen later, maybe folks should spend more time thinking about what they’re doing right now. And all that just makes sense, because as Jesus said, “...he is God not of the dead, but of the living.”

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5Dec

Cove’s Celebration Service - Sunday, December 2, 2018

The members and friends of Cove gathered to worship on Sunday, December 2. Our worship is intended to be a free expression of our love for God and the joy we feel when we accept that love. Of course, there are many ways for us to express that love and joy. 

We concluded our series entitled Tiptoing Through the Tulips: A New Series of Messages Exploring What We BelieveFor five weeks, we’re exploring the beliefs on which the Presbyterian Church is grounded, a theology call “reformed.” And when you break them down, these ideas spell out the word “TULIP:” Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and the Perseverance of the saints. And without using a lot of theological language, we looking at what these ideas mean and how they can shape the way we the lives we live and the decision we make. During this fifth and final week, we’re discussing the meaning and significance of Perseverance of the Saints in a message entitled, “Once In .”

After the announcements,the bells played "We Three Kings." Since we’re in the season of Advent (the time before Christmas), we lit the Advent Wreath before the service begins. As the candles are lit, we sang "We Light the Advent Candle." 

We sang the hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” When we’d finished the song, we shared prayer concerns, prayed together and closed with the Lord’s Prayer and the Gloria Patri. As we collected the offering, the choir sang Let Your Light Shine.

For five weeks, we explored the beliefs on which the Presbyterian Church is grounded, a theology call “reformed.” And when you break them down, these ideas spell out the word “TULIP:” Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and the Perseverance of the saints. And without using a lot of theological language, we looking at what these ideas mean and how they can shape the way we the lives we live and the decision we make. During this fifth and final week, we discussed the meaning and significance of Perseverance of the Saints in a message entitled, “Once In .” After the sermon, we sang “Come Lord Jesus Come.”

A podcast of the entire service is below. Next week, we’ll start a new series entitled Those Around the Birth: The People in the Nativity Story. During the first message will look at Zechariah & Elizabeth.

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3Dec

Sunday’s Sermon - Once In

Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, December 2, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. This morning we concluded our sermon series entitled Tiptoing Through the Tulips: A New Series of Messages Exploring What We Believe. During these five messages, we're exploring the beliefs on which the Presbyterian Church is grounded, a theology call "reformed." And when you break them down, these ideas spell out the word "TULIP:" Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and the Perseverance of the saints. And without using a lot of theological language, we're looking at what these ideas mean and how they can shape the way we the lives we live and the decision we make. During this last message, we discussed the meaning and significance of Perseverance of the Saints.

You can hear a podcast of the sermon on the Cove Presbyterian Podbean page. Printed copies of the sermons are available at the church or upon request.

If you find this sermon meaningful, please consider supporting this ministry by sending an offering to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.

 

Well, this morning we’re going to bring this series home, or maybe better, we’re going to tie a nice bow on these messages. Now, that’s got to be the right way to put it, because Christmas is almost here. I mean, about a week ago we rounded the Thanksgiving corner and yesterday, we entered December and the next stop, the big day itself. 

 

And since we’ve entered the Christmas season, I thought it would be appropriate to use a holiday theme this morning. And because our focus is on something called the perseverance of the saints, I don’t think there’s a better image to use than a great big Christmas present. In fact, in a very profound way, that’s really a pretty good image for the entire series. Let me explain what I’m talking about.

 

Right now, I want y’all to image that you’re doing whatever it is you do the week before Christmas. And as you look back on what you’ve done during the prior year, well, let’s just say it’s been a mixed bag. Now don’t get me wrong, you’ve done some pretty good stuff, but nothing particularly remarkable. And there’s a lot of really nasty stuff you could have done but didn’t. And so you certainly avoided some checks in the naughty column. But as it relates to the nice list, well, that’s also kind of sparse. Now that’s who you are, in other words you’re exactly like most of us. 

 

Well anyway, while you’re doing your thing on let’s say December 20, UPS delivers this big box to your house. It’s from your niece, not the one who’s never sent you so much as a birthday card, but the one who’s always been like a daughter to you. And so the package comes, and you open it up. And inside, there’s another box, but this one is all wrapped up in Christmas paper, with ribbons and a bow, you know, the whole nine yards. And on the card, “To my favorite aunt, from your favorite niece.” Well, isn’t that nice. And so you take the present and put it right in front of the fireplace, because it’s really too big to squeeze under the tree. And there it stays. And you walk pass it on the 21st, the 22nd, the 23rd, the 24th. And even though you’re tempted, you’re not going to touch it until Christmas morning. 

 

And when that wonderful, magical day comes, right there, you have a decision to make, don’t you? I mean, on one hand, you can decide to ignore the gift completely. Good night, you can open up the other stuff, you know, from sons and daughters and friends and neighbors, while leaving that big, beautiful box alone. And if you want, you can ignore it all day long. In fact, you can simply pretend it doesn’t exist for the rest of the year. And as winter turns to spring and spring to summer and summer to fall, the gift can continue to sit there in front of the fire place, unopened. Of course, there’s a medical term for this kind of behavior. It’s called “stultus,” which in Latin means “stupid.” But regardless of what it’s called, you can decide to ignore your gift. 

 

On the other hand, though, you can also decide to claim it. You know what I mean, you can open this present your favorite niece sent you. And you can take whatever it is out of the box, and you can start to enjoy it, right? And because it’s such a great gift, it makes your life better. And you’re so grateful that you take out some special stationary that you really love, stationary that by-the-way, your niece gave you two Christmases ago, and you can write a nice “thank you” letter. You see, on Christmas morning, you can also decide to claim it. 

 

But I’ll tell you, whatever you decide to do, you know that your niece won’t be showing up on New Year’s Day to take it back if you haven’t opened it. That’s not how she is. You see, she loves you. And even though she wants you to enjoy it as much as you can, if you decide to leave the box unopened, the gift still belongs to you, and it always will. And so, if you decide to open and to use it next week or next month or next year, it’ll always be there. In fact, if you remain afflicted with stultus to the day you die and you never enjoy it, the gift still belongs to you, it always has and always will. 

 

And that my friends is what perseverance of the saints is all about. I mean, like we talked about when we were looking at total depravity, none of us are God, because unlike our heavenly father, we’re limited. Now that’s really not our fault; it’s just the way it is. We’re creatures, not creators. And even though we’re still capable of doing some pretty remarkable things, unfortunately, those limitations can also cause us to do some other stuff that’s just stultus, the worst of which is assuming that somehow God got himself lost and we have the ability to find him. And so we look, but because we’re limited, instead of finding the Lord and Creator of the Universe, we find gods that look and sound like us, gods who condemns what we think should be condemned and who bless with the stuff we want, gods who are extremely comfortable and easily manipulated. And since we found them ourselves, we begin to worship them. That’s who we are. 

 

But, of course God is different. While, in every aspect, we’re limited, God is not. In fact, he’s perfect in both his freedom and his love. And that’s a good thing, because for reasons I’ll never be able to understand, he chose to have relationship with us, creatures who are so stultus that we run around looking for gods we have to find rather than trusting the one who surrounds us all the time. And he made this choice before he created the heavens and the earth. As Paul wrote, “Before the world was created, God had Christ choose us to live with him and to be his holy and innocent and loving people. God was kind and decided that Christ would choose us to be God’s own adopted children. God was very kind to us because of the Son he dearly loves, and so we should praise God.” [Ephesians 1:4-6, CEV] Now that’s unconditional election.

 

And since God knows us so well (I mean, he made us for crying out loud), instead of expecting us to reach up to him, he came down to us as the person Jesus Christ. The light entered our world. The word became flesh. In a real way, that was God’s gift to us. And even though, during his life, Jesus offered an example of what living could be, it was through his death that this gift became one-of-a-kind. You see, when he was nailed to the cross and died, we died too. And as a result, all those for whom he died received the benefits of that death, namely freedom: freedom from our limitations and freedom to respond to God. Which had to happen, because he still wants a relationship with us. Now this is what we call limited atonement, the death of Jesus applies to those for whom he died. Now this is the gift. 

 

But remember, we’re still limited. And we still assume that we’ve found god, and he looks more like us than the Jesus we read about in the Bible. And we’re still satisfied worshiping the idols we’ve created. In other words, the gift is right in front of us; the trouble is that our eyes are closed. But God is perfect in both his freedom and his love, and so God send his Spirit, the Holy Spirit simply to open our eyes so that we see the gift. And that same Spirit opens our minds so that we can understand what’s inside. And that Spirit even empowers our hands so that can pull off the paper and claim what’s there. And that’s what God does without our permission and help. And for that reason, it’s called irresistible grace. 

 

And so, here we are: knowing the giver and receiving the gift and having the ability to claim it. And I’ll tell you, just like we saw with the example I gave in the beginning, right here we have a decision to make. I mean, on one hand we can decide to ignore it, and I’m talking about ignoring this incredible gift the Lord of the Universe gave us. And we can continue to worship all those gods we’ve created, gods that may have names like Jehovah or Allah or Jesus but who are, in reality, just reflections of ourselves. And we can be satisfied, because our gods generally tell us what we want to hear and command us to do what we what to do and ask us to give only those things we’re willing to give. And all this is fine, that is until it’s not and we need something more. For example, maybe we’re facing a loss we didn’t choose or a problem that we don’t want or a tragedy that we don’t deserve. And since the gods we’ve chosen to worship only repeat our words, when we’re in a difficult place and we don’t know why, all of a sudden we’re left both scared and alone. It’s like Paul wrote, “Don’t forget that you are Gentiles. In fact, you used to be called ‘uncircumcised’ by those who take pride in being circumcised. At that time you did not know about Christ. You were foreigners to the people of Israel, and you had no part in the promises that God had made to them. You were living in this world without hope and without God, and you were far from God. But Christ offered his life’s blood as a sacrifice and brought you near God.” [Ephesians 2:11-13, CEV] You see, we can ignore God, and of course, pay the consequences. That’s one decision we can make.

 

Or, on the other hand, we can decide to receive what we’ve been given, in other words, to enter the relationship. I’m telling you, thanks to the Holy Spirit, we can trust in God, the giver. You see, we can do what King David did when he said, “Lord All-Powerful, you are God. You have promised me some very good things, and you can be trusted to do what you promise. Please bless my descendants and let them always be your chosen kings. You have already promised, and I’m sure that you will bless my family forever.” [2 Samuel 7:28-29, CEV] We can trust in God. And then we can claim the gift, claim the benefits of Christ’s crucifixion, something that Paul did when he wrote, “I have been nailed to the cross with Christ. I have died, but Christ lives in me. And I now live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave his life for me. I don’t turn my back on God’s undeserved kindness. If we can be acceptable to God by obeying the Law, it was useless for Christ to die.” [Galatians 2:19b-21, CEV] Man, we can claim the gift. And then we can see how both the giver and gift can change our lives. And I think that was the conclusion Paul reached. He wrote, “If I live, it will be for Christ, and if I die, I will gain even more. I don’t know what to choose. I could keep on living and doing something useful. It is a hard choice to make. I want to die and be with Christ, because that would be much better. But I know that all of you still need me. That’s why I am sure I will stay on to help you grow and be happy in your faith.” [Philippians 1:21-25, CEV] You see, we can receive what God has given. 

 

But whether it’s to ignore or to receive, the decision is ours. But the decision we make isn’t going to change either the giver or the gift. Remember, our God was the one that Isaiah described like this: “I once promised Noah that I would never again destroy the earth by a flood. Now I have promised that I will never again get angry and punish you. Every mountain and hill may disappear. But I will always be kind and merciful to you; I won’t break my agreement to give your nation peace.” [Isaiah 54:1-10, CEV]  You see, God and his love never changes. It’s eternal, which means, it is always present regardless of our decision. Of course, choosing not to trust in the one who loves us and who frees us and who inspires us may seem to show a bad case of stultus, but we can still do it. But who knows; we may change our minds tomorrow. And I think that’s what John of Patmos had in mind when he wrote this about Jesus in his Revelation: “I correct and punish everyone I love. So make up your minds to turn away from your sins. Listen! I am standing and knocking at your door. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and we will eat together. Everyone who wins the victory will sit with me on my throne, just as I won the victory and sat with my Father on his throne.” [Revelation 3:19-21, CEV] As a friend once told me, we’re going to have to live with fact that God loves us. Now what are we going to do about it. 

 

And that, brothers and sisters, is what perseverance of the saints is all about. And there it is, reformed faith in a nutshell, or maybe better a flowering bulb. And as we move forward into both Christmas and the rest of our lives, please remember who we are and what God has done for us and the relationship that we can make complete. And with that in mind, as brothers and sisters who have courage and faith, let’s pull up our stockings  and carry our tulips into the future.

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1Dec

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - Mankind Was My Business

Below is a new devotion I just left on the Cove Presbyterian Church prayer line. You can find a recording of this devotion at the end of the devotion. 

 

If you find this meaningful, please consider sending an offering directly to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.

 

Philippians 2:1-11

 

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

Mankind Was My Business

 

One of the more striking lines in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was spoken by Marley’s ghost during his visit with Ebenezer Scrooge. You see, when Scrooge said that Jacob was always a good man of business, the ghost replied with these words: “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” Now that’s what he said. In other words, during his life, Marley now accepted that his  focus had been all wrong. Instead of spending his time seeking personal gain and satisfaction, he should have considered the needs of those around him, especially those who had less then himself. As a matter of fact, he should have been willing to sacrifice some of his selfish ambition and conceit so that he could humbly care for the poor and suffering. Sadly, it took death for him to realize that mankind was actually his business.

 

And I’ll tell you, I think that same perspective was reflected by Jesus Christ. As Paul reminds us, Jesus “...emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” In fact, he even died on a cross to save the people who drove the nails. And even though I don’t believe Paul was suggesting that we should all die, I think he does challenge us to sacrifice for the sake of others, to turn away from arrogance and pride so that we might humbly love our neighbors as we love ourselves. In other words, while we still have time, we might need to recognize that mankind is our business too.

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29Nov

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - To Infinity and Beyond

Below is a new devotion I just left on the Cove Presbyterian Church prayer line. You can find a recording of this devotion at the end of the devotion and on the prayer line (1-304-748-7900). 

 

If you find this meaningful, please consider sending an offering directly to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.

 

Ephesians 1:15-23

 

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

 

To Infinity and Beyond

 

Of course, that was Buzz Lightyear’s catch phrase in the movie Toy Story. And when you get right down to it, that really described the function of this character. You see, Buzz traveled throughout space, and his job was to fight for justice by battling all the forces of evil. And since the universe represented his territory, he could legitimately look to the very edge of our reality to do his work. Now that’s who Buzz Lightyear was. But maybe even more important than that, “to infinity and beyond” is one cool phrase. One might even call it inspiring, certainly more exalted than something like “Made in China” or “For children, age 6 and over.” But in reality, those other phrases are actually more appropriate for Mr. Lightyear, because he’s a toy for crying out loud. And regardless of what the movie may lead us to believe, toys generally move from boxes to bedrooms to rummage sales. To aspire to go to infinity and beyond is probably more than anyone could expect from something made of plastic. 

 

But you know, there is someone to whom this phrase is right on the mark. As Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians, Jesus Christ is the ultimate source of wisdom and revelation. He offers those who trust in him an inheritance of greatness and power. And right now, his rule and authority, his power and dominion stretches beyond our senses and our reality. As a matter of fact, when it comes to the extent of both his grace and love, it really is to infinity and beyond.

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28Nov

Cove’s Celebration Service - Sunday, November 25, 2018

The members and friends of Cove gathered to worship on Sunday, November 25. Our worship is intended to be a free expression of our love for God and the joy we feel when we accept that love. Of course, there are many ways for us to express that love and joy. 

 

We continued our series entitled Tiptoing Through the Tulips: A New Series of Messages Exploring What We Believe. During these five services, we're going to explore the beliefs on which the Presbyterian Church is grounded, a theology call "reformed." And when you break them down, these ideas spell out the word "TULIP:" Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and the Perseverance of the saints. And without using a lot of theological language, we'll look at what these ideas mean and how they can shape the way we the lives we live and the decision we make. 

 

After the announcements, the service began with the entry of the Word. We sang the hymn “We Gather Together.” When we’d finished the song, we shared prayer concerns, prayed together and closed with the Lord’s Prayer and the Gloria Patri. As we collected the offering, the choir sang Let Your Light Shine.

 

For five weeks, we’re exploring the beliefs on which the Presbyterian Church is grounded, a theology call “reformed.” And when you break them down, these ideas spell out the word “TULIP:” Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and the Perseverance of the saints. And without using a lot of theological language, we looking at what these ideas mean and how they can shape the way we the lives we live and the decision we make. During this fourth week, we discussed the meaning and During this fourth week, we’re discussing the meaning and significance of Irresistible Grace in a message entitled, “Like Prime Rib on a Buffet.”

 

After the sermon, we shared the sacrament of communion. When we gather around the Lord’s table, we believe that even though Christ's body and blood are not physically present in the bread and the juice, he’s with us in a special spiritual way. Jesus is the host of this meal and when we share the communion, we can experience his presence in a special way. For that reason, the elements are spiritual nourishment in Christ by faith. In fact, when the community as the Body of Christ gathers around table and celebrates the Lord's Supper, it’s “transformed” into the Body of Christ, or “reformed” into the Body of Christ each time it participates in this sacrament. And since we’re entering the season of Advent this morning, most of this communion service was sung to  Christmas carols.   

 

Below is a podcast of the service. Next week we'll look at the meaning of perseverance of the saints.

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28Nov

Sunday’s Sermon - Like Prime Rib on a Buffet (Irresistible Grace)

Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, November 25, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. This morning we continued our sermon series entitled Tiptoing Through the Tulips: A New Series of Messages Exploring What We Believe. During these five messages, we're exploring the beliefs on which the Presbyterian Church is grounded, a theology call "reformed." And when you break them down, these ideas spell out the word "TULIP:" Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and the Perseverance of the saints. And without using a lot of theological language, we're looking at what these ideas mean and how they can shape the way we the lives we live and the decision we make. During this message, we discussed the meaning and significance of Irresistible Grace.

Printed copies of the sermons are available at the church or upon request.

If you find this sermon meaningful, please consider supporting this ministry by sending an offering to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal .

 

Now, do you realize that we have exactly one month before Christmas? Fortunately, that means I have at least twenty-eight days before I need to worry about getting presents. But for most folks, well, y’all don’t do their shopping at Marathon; therefore, y’all probably need to start a little earlier. But before we head on to the big day, let’s pause for just a minute and linger around Thanksgiving for just a while. In other words, let’s put to the side what happened in Morgantown on Friday and Columbus yesterday and focus on Thursday. 

 

And you know, for my family, well, it really had a different feel. As most of y’all know, it was the first major holiday since my Mom’s passing. And although I think my brother, sister and I felt it, it was particularly hard for my Dad. And even though he said that he wanted to be alone on the day, my brother took him to a buffet for dinner. And as they were deciding where to go, Gary said it had to be a place that served oyster dressing, something that my Dad loves more than any food I know and a delicacy Mom always made for Thanksgiving. 

 

Of course, for me, there’s a buffet food that’s higher on my list than oyster stuffing. Again, as most of y’all know, I love prime rib cooked as rare as they’re legally able to serve. And I’ll tell you, whenever I’m at buffet, which isn’t nearly as often as it use to be, and I see prime rib, I’d be happy parking right in front of where the guy who’s carving the meat. As far as I’m concerned, prime rib on a buffet is just about as irresistible as you can get: certainly, more than a bowl of collard greens or me in high school or the Creeping Terror, which by the way, didn’t really creep but was definitely terrible.

 

And speaking of being irresistible (another segue), that’s our topic this morning; something else that can’t be resisted, only in our case it’s not meat. It’s grace. In other words, we going to talk about the “I” in the word “TULIP,” irresistible grace. And since this has everything to do with the work of the Holy Spirit, we’re going to look at two questions: first, what does the Holy Spirit do and what does that mean for us right here and right now.

 

But you know, for this to make sense, I think we really need to remember what we’ve talked about to this point, in other word, the “T” and the “U” and the “L.” I mean, remember how, when we looked at total depravity, we considered how we’re all creatures and we’re all limited and left all by ourselves none of us are God. Now that’s just reality. And yet we kind of get it in our heads that we’re actually creators and our minds and spirits are unlimited and even though we’re not God, we can sure as heck find him. 

 

And that’s exactly what we do. In spite of the fact that everything about us is limited, we assume that we have the power and the smarts to find the Lord and creator of the universe. And as a result, we’re just as happy as shrimp in a cocktail when we think we’ve succeeded, and left by ourselves, our futures are just about the same. But here’s where the good news comes in. For reasons that I’ll never understand, God loves us, but not because of us. Rather it’s because of him. But more, he also wants a relationship with those arrogant creatures he made in his image. And with that in the background, God chooses to reach out to us. In other words, he unconditionally elects to invite and draw us into a relationship with himself. And since he understands our limitations and knows that we’re just not able to come up to his level, he comes down to ours. And I’ll tell you, what he does is better than that show Undercover Boss. You see, he assumes all our limitations as the person Jesus Christ. And on the cross, he died to free folks from their sins. And the atonement, you know, the benefits of the cross, well, they’re limited to those for whom he died and 100% effective. And so now, as result God’s work and without our help or permission, we, with all our limits, have been both chosen and freed. T-U-L.

 

And it’s right here where the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Trinity, enters, because it’s though the Spirit that all God has done enters our lives. That’s what grace is all about. And since this is the work of God, the coming of this grace is irresistible. Put another way, it’s right here that God gives us the information and the ability to respond to his love and his sacrifice. And I’ll tell you, that’s a pretty good outline of what the Spirit does. You see, first, according to the Bible, the Holy Spirit informs us. In other words, it teaches us what we need to know about Jesus Christ. And I’ll tell you, this is exactly what Jesus himself said would happen after the resurrection. He told his disciples, “Then I will ask the Father to send you the Holy Spirit who will help you and always be with you. The Spirit will show you what is true. The people of this world cannot accept the Spirit, because they don’t see or know him. But you know the Spirit, who is with you and will keep on living in you. ...I have told you these things while I am still with you. But the Holy Spirit will come and help you, because the Father will send the Spirit to take my place. The Spirit will teach you everything and will remind you of what I said while I was with you. ...I will send you the Spirit who comes from the Father and shows what is true. The Spirit will help you and will tell you about me. Then you will also tell others about me, because you have been with me from the beginning.” [John 14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27, CEV] You see, Holy Spirit comes to teach us, to teach us about Jesus Christ, which is a good thing because, unlike the disciples he was talking to in the passage we just read, we don’t have Jesus physically instructing us any more. But that’s alright, because we have the Spirit who teaches us about who Jesus was, you know, how he offered an example by his life and forgiveness through his death. I guess you can say the Spirit opens our closed minds so that we can begin to understand grace. But that’s not all.

 

Because second, the Holy Spirit gives us the ability to respond. You see, all this information about God and Jesus and grace isn’t worth a hill of beans if our hearts are still hard, you know, if we’re still determined to worship and to follow all those comfortable plaster gods that we’ve created ourselves. For us to respond, we need to change, and that’s exactly what God does. You see, the Spirit doesn’t just fill our heads, it fills our entire lives. It literally changes who we are. Let me give you two examples of what I’m talking about. According to the Evangelist John, this is how the disciples received the Holy Spirit and understand this happened after the resurrection: “The disciples were afraid of the Jewish leaders, and on the evening of that same Sunday they locked themselves in a room. Suddenly, Jesus appeared in the middle of the group. He greeted them and showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they became very happy. After Jesus had greeted them again, he said, ‘I am sending you, just as the Father has sent me.’  Then he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” [John 20:19-22, CEV] You see, just like God breathed into that little mud man Adam, and he became a living being, God breaths his Spirit into us and we are changed. That’s one example. And two, I think the Apostle Paul also believed the Holy Spirit was God’s presence within us. Listen to what he wrote to the Romans: “My dear friends, we must not live to satisfy our desires. If you do, you will die. But you will live, if by the help of God’s Spirit you say ‘No’ to your desires. Only those people who are led by God’s Spirit are his children. God’s Spirit doesn’t make us slaves who are afraid of him. Instead, we become his children and call him our Father. God’s Spirit makes us sure that we are his children. His Spirit lets us know that together with Christ we will be given what God has promised. We will also share in the glory of Christ, because we have suffered with him.” [Romans 8:12-17] You see, we carry the very presence of God, and that presence gives us the ability to respond. You see, that’s what the spirit does. 

 

And what does that mean for us, well, it means that we can now do something we were never able to do before. You see, when we were by ourselves, well, we were a mess. It’s like Paul said to the Romans. Quoting both the Psalmist and the Prophet Isaiah, he wrote, “The Scriptures tell us, ‘No one is acceptable to God! Not one of them understands or even searches for God. They have all turned away and are worthless. There isn’t one person who does right. Their words are like an open pit, and their tongues are good only for telling lies. Each word is as deadly as the fangs of a snake, and they say nothing but bitter curses. These people quickly become violent. Wherever they go, they leave ruin and destruction. They don’t know how to live in peace. They don’t even fear God.’” [Romans 3:10-18, CEV] Not something you’d find in a Christmas card, but it’s true. But it was this mess that God chose to love unconditionally and for whom Jesus died. And since God has sent his Holy Spirit, we can now know it. It’s like Paul wrote, “But God was merciful! We were dead because of our sins, but God loved us so much that he made us alive with Christ, and God’s wonderful kindness is what saves you. God raised us from death to life with Christ Jesus, and he has given us a place beside Christ in heaven. God did this so that in the future world he could show how truly good and kind he is to us because of what Christ Jesus has done. You were saved by faith in God, who treats us much better than we deserve. This is God’s gift to you, and not anything you have done on your own. It isn’t something you have earned, so there is nothing you can brag about. God planned for us to do good things and to live as he has always wanted us to live. That’s why he sent Christ to make us what we are.” [Ephesians 2:4-10, CEV] Now this is what God has done for us.

 

And I’ll tell you, that’s why it’s called irresistible grace. It was a gift given and not a wage earned. As a matter of fact, when you think about election and atonement and grace, this is all the work of God, things that he’s done for us and that are true whether we accept them or not. But remember, God wants a relationship with those whom he chose and freed and inspired. And as we all know, relationships must be both voluntary and mutual. And even though we have the ability to respond, what we choose to do is still up to us. And that’s what we’ll talk about next week when we consider the perseverance of the saints.

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28Nov

Two Ridges Presbyterian Church Worship Service - Sunday, November 25, 2018

Below is the podcast of the worship service I led in Two Ridges Presbyterian Church, Wintersville, Ohio on Sunday, October 14, 2018. The service focused on the Gospel Lectionary reading for Christ the King Sunday.

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28Nov

Sunday’s Sermon - A Reason for Thanks

Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, November 25, in Two Ridges Presbyterian Church, Wintersville, Ohio. It's based on the Gospel Lectionary reading for Christ the King Sunday. You can hear a podcast of the sermon at the bottom of the page. Printed copies of the sermons are available at the church or upon request.

If you find this sermon meaningful, please consider supporting this ministry by sending an offering to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.

 

John 18:33-37

 

Then again Pilate went into the praetorium, and he called Jesus and said to him, “You, are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “On your own accord are you saying this or did others say [this] concerning me?” Pilate answered, “I myself am not a Jew, am I? Your nation and the chief priests handed you over to me. What did you do?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If from this world was my kingdom, then my attendants would fight so that I might not be handed over to the Jews. But now my kingdom is not from here.” 

 

Then Pilate said to him, “So then, you are a king, aren’t you?” Jesus answered, “You yourself said that I’m a king. For this I myself have been born and for this I have come into the world, so that I might bear witness to the truth. All who are from the truth hear my voice.”

 

A Reason for Thanks

 

Well here we are, the Sunday after Thanksgiving. I mean, it was just four days ago when most of us sat down to eat some of that wonderful food we only eat once or twice a year, and I’m talking about turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce. And for some of y’all, this very afternoon, some of the folks 

who came to eat the turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce will be heading home, and even though that might be hard to see them go, man, it’ll sure be nice to settle back into the old routine. 

 

And of course, since then, the Lions and the Cowboys played their annual games. And there was a defensive battle in Morgantown Friday night. I think Oklahoma just scored again. And from what I’ve heard, there was even a game played somewhere out in Columbus, at least that’s what I heard. 

 

And even though that’s the way Thanksgiving was around a lot of our houses, I know it was back home when I was growing up, I think most of us recognize that there’s something more important about this day than worrying about how you can stuff yourself at 4:00 and still work in a turkey sandwich before going to bed. Like the name implies, Thanksgiving is or at least should be a day for giving thanks. And you know, I think that’s something we really need to remember, because no matter how lousy the last twelve months have been, there are at least a couple of things for which we can be thankful. I mean, without minimizing or ignoring the genuine pain and heart-ache some of y’all have been through, right now, in this place, you’re surrounded by friends and neighbors who really care about you. And if that’s all you’ve got, that’s still a reason to give some thanks.

 

But you know, I think there’s another reason, one that’s even better and I’ll tell you, it applies whether your year has been wonderful or the pits. And it centers on the meaning behind this particular day. You see, today is the last Sunday in the church year. Next week we start Advent, with everything pointing toward to the birth of Jesus. And every year, on this last Sunday we focus on Christ the King.  And although it’s only a coincidence that these two days are always in the same week, I think one really has a lot to do with the other. You see, I think one of the things for which we can be thankful is that Christ is not only our king, but one that’s so much more than anything we’d find on earth. For this, we can be thankful. But let me be specific.

 

You see, I believe that Jesus is without question our king. I mean, isn’t that the point of the passage we just read from John, and I’m talking about that conversation Pilate had with Jesus right before his crucifixion. My goodness, as you read just these verses, it sure looks like Pilate was moving to that conclusion. I mean, think about it. He started by asking Jesus, “You, are you the king of the Jews?” But then a little later in our passage he said, “So then, you are a king, aren’t you?”, to which Jesus replied, “You yourself said that I’m a king.” Now, to me, that sure sounds like Pilate is coming around. And remember, a little bit later, not only does he try to release Jesus, but above him, nailed to the cross, Pilate hung a pretty profound sign. And although the chief priests tried to get him to change it and to add the words, “This man said, I am...,” Pilate refused. And the sign he, himself ordered, well, it read in Hebrew, Greek and Latin: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” You see, the longer Pilate was with Jesus, the more convinced he became that Jesus really was a king.

 

And I’ll tell you, that’s just as true today as it was two thousand years ago. Jesus is still a king; he’s still our king. And I’ll tell you, he offers us exactly what we’d expect from a good ruler. I mean, he certainly demonstrates power. My gosh, right in the opening verses of his gospel, John wrote that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” You see, the divine word that “became flesh and lived among us” rules with the kind of authority than makes all those powers that scare us so much, you know, those people and groups that cause us to doubt the future, to give up hope; man, he makes them look like a joke. Jesus is a king who has power. 

 

And I’ll tell you, he also rules with justice. I mean, even though we run into people all the time who are arbitrary and capricious, men and women who seem to base their decisions on their feelings and change their minds more often than their socks, there’s a consistency and a coherence to Christ. In other words, in an unstable world, he offers something you can count on. (And I’ll tell you, I thought about comparing this to Baker Mayfield leading the Browns, but I thought that may be a little too much, you know, over the top.) But be-that-as-it- may, our’s is a just king. 

 

But one that also rules with compassion, which I think is something we always need to remember. You see, unlike what we often value, Christ’s justice is neither blind or impartial. Instead, he rules with mercy and grace, giving us far more than we deserve. And even though we may not always want this quality in the people we elect to office, when you’re talking about the one holds our destiny and the destiny of the universe in his hands, and who can see what we’re doing and who knows what we’re thinking, I don’t know about you, but personally, I want my lord to look at me with as much mercy and grace as possible. You see, like a good king, Jesus rules with power and justice and compassion, and for that I think we can all be thankful.

 

And if that were all there is, for me that’s enough, but you know, when it comes to his kingdom and his reign, Christ is so much more than anything we find on earth. I mean, that sure seems to be what he was getting at when he said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not from this world. If from this world was my kingdom, then my attendants would fight so that I might not be handed over to the Jews. But now my kingdom is not from here” and then a little later, “You yourself said that I’m a king. For this I myself have been born and for this I have come into the world, so that I might bear witness to the truth. All who are from the truth hear my voice.” Now that’s what Jesus said, and although I think Pilate picked up on the king stuff, I’m not sure he ever realized how much more Jesus was than that.

 

But you know something, we can. I mean, we can recognize that Jesus’s kingdom is not from around here, because, praise the Lord, he does some things that would be impossible for any person, king or not, to do. You see, Jesus is the one who comes to us with the presence of God himself, as John wrote at the beginning of the gospel, “he was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” That’s what John wrote. And like Jesus said in our passage, “for this I myself have been born and for this I have come into the world.” You see, we don’t have to find him. Right here and right now, Jesus has come to us and he’s found us. 

 

And more than that, he also gives us the ability to believe and to follow. What does the passage say; he bears witness to us. In other words, through his word and spirit, he bears “witness to the truth.” And you know, this is exactly what he promised would happen when he said to the disciples, “the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” You see, not only does our king come to us, he enables us to understand who he is, which in turn gives us the ability to believe. And that’s absolutely amazing. It’s just like he said to Pilate, “All who are from the truth hear my voice.” This is the one we recognize as our king.

 

And I’ll tell you, we can sure remember that fact on this Sunday after Thanksgiving. You see, right along with the all the food and all the family and all the football, we can be thankful that Christ is not only our king, but one that’s different from anything we’d find on earth. In other words, we can spend a little time thinking about what it means to say that Christ really is our king, you know that he rules with power and justice and compassion, just like the best king the world has ever produced. But you know, even more important than that, Christ is a king that comes to us with God’s presence and actually gives us the ability to believe and to obey. And you know, when you think about it, if that’s not a reason for thanks, I don’t know what is.

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27Nov

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - Are We as Smart as We Think We Are?

Below is a new devotion I just left on the Cove Presbyterian Church prayer line. You can find a recording of this devotion at the end of the devotion. 

 

If you find this meaningful, please consider sending an offering directly to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.

 

1 Corinthians 3:18-23

 

Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, "He catches the wise in their craftiness," and again, "The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile." So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future - all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

 

Are We as Smart as We Think We Are?

 

Now I’ve got to tell you, I think that’s an excellent question and one that would be challenging for a lot people in our world today. I mean, bragging about one’s intelligence seems to be both acceptable and encouraged. But maybe more common than that, folks are always calling one another stupid and idiots. And it’s not just individuals, they lapel entire groups foolish, usually because they don’t share a particular ideology or policy perspective. And even though name-calling has now become expected in almost every political discourse, I still find it disconcerting that so many people, including more than a few Christians, assume the arrogant position of the judging the intelligence of men and women they don’t know and have never met.

 

But, according to the Apostle Paul, maybe we shouldn’t be offended when those who disagree with us call us fools. And maybe we should resist the temptation to prove to them just how smart we are. You see, in some very fundamental ways, the idea of the crucified God is actually pretty ridiculous. And the concept of the first being last and the last being first violates both reason and common sense. And of course, a person’s willingness to put their trust not in political leaders who claim to know so much but who actually deliver very little but in a God who commands that we love our neighbor whether we like him or not, well, that just doesn’t make sense. It’s not wise at all. In fact, it’s pure foolishness. And yet this is what must happen when we decide to follow Christ. And so, are we as smart as we think we are? Probably not, but you know, that’s actually a good thing.

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