Friday’s Essay - Along with Being Thankful

Below is the podcast of an essay I sent to the Cove Presbyterian Church emailing list. You can find other essays, sermons, devotions, videos, articles, and announcements on The Cove Community blog. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

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


Since this is the week before our annual bacchanalia centered around food and football, it would seem appropriate, at the very least, to give lip service to the idea of giving thanks. I mean, isn’t that what justifies the overeating and overindulging. Saying that this is all part of us being thankful for what we have seems to justify whatever we choose to consume on the fourth Thursday in November. Why? That’s a no-brainer; it’s Thanksgiving. I mean, dah.


And although I recognize that may sound pretty flip, I do believe that Thanksgiving is an important cultural celebration for Americans, especially American Christians. You see, if we can work a little sincerity between the oyster stuffing and the pumpkin pie, this day can push us to remember that most of us have plenty for which to be thankful. For example, even for us who may be standing on the base of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, most of us have enough to eat and clothes to wear and a roof to keep us dry. And most us have contact with some folks who care for us and for whom we can care. And for those of us who feel connected to the creator and the sustainer and the redeemer of the universe, we have a sense that there’s more than life right now and that there’s a loving force that’s guiding us into the future. You see, for all of this, most of us can be thankful. And these are the big things. There’s a plethora of other reasons we have to be grateful, specific things that may mean something to us but which might not to others. Now I think that’s the reality in which most of us live. And for that reason, it’s certainly appropriate to set aside one day to offer thanks to the one who loved us before time had meaning and will after that meaning disappears. Thanksgiving offers us the chance to have a positive cathartic experience, because it encourages us to get the thanks out before we move in the Christmas season. And I’ll tell you, that’s always been my focus in these pre-Thanksgiving essays.


But this year I want to challenge both you and me to do a little more than just be thankful. I want us intentionally to remember all those folks who may not be thankful right now. And I’ll tell you, if we choose to look, I think we might be overwhelmed by the number. You see, there are plenty of honest and sincere brothers and sisters in Christ who look at their lives and see very little cause to feel gratitude. Of course, there are all kinds of reasons a person might feel like that. For example, I think it would be really difficult for an individual who’s lost a loved one to be thankful even on Thanksgiving. And I’m not sure we can expect a guy or gal who’s personally facing disease or divorce or depression to do cartwheels regardless of the day. And some even may find it difficult to celebrate given the situations faced within our country and communities as well as our churches and congregations. You see, regardless of whether it’s caused by things coming from the outside or some insidious stuff festering on the inside, there are folks who feel no reason to be thankful in six days.


And so as most of us celebrate this day by expressing gratitude, I think it’s also important for us to remember those who aren’t nearly so optimistic. You see, rather than trying to guilt them into making expressions that may only increase their alienation and sadness, we might want to recognize the suffering and the sadness some folks are experiencing right now. And even though we might not be in a position to show our sympathy much less to address their needs, we sure can be watchful, in other words, keeping our eyes open so that we might see those who are struggling. And with our vision clear and focused, we might want to do something about the problems they may face. Of course, we won’t be able to address all their concerns, much less change lives enough that everyone feels thankful. Still, we may have the power to help those who are sad feel a little more happy and those who are worried feel a little more peace and those who are burdened feel a little more free. You see, we might be able to give those who can’t muster the emotions a genuine reason to be thankful.


And so, as we move toward another Thanksgiving Day, let’s not only remember to be thankful ourselves but also a little more sensitive and responsive to those who see little reason for thanks.



A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - Dogs and Human Food

Below is a new devotion I just left on the Cove Presbyterian Church prayer line. You can find other devotions, sermons, essays, videos, articles, and announcements on The Cove Community blog. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

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


Matthew 15:21-28


Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.


Dogs and Human Food


We became dog owners last year, and for me, that was a major switch. You see, for years, I considered myself a cat person primarily because cats are really independent. But dogs, I think you could say they’re  more emotionally needy. But be-that-as-it-may, last summer we got a dog, a little bichon shih tzu mix that my daughter named Coco Chanel. And although I never thought it would happen, I’ve fallen in love with that little dog. You see, she’s cute and playful and loves me far more than I deserve. Of course, there are two things that I find irritating. First, when I’m busy, she always needs to go out on what we call “a business trip.” And second, she’s right there whenever I’m eating something. But it’s not only with me; yesterday my wife asked Coco, “Why don’t you like your food as much as you like our food?” Coco didn’t answer. 


But you know, maybe there is an answer in the story we read about Jesus and the Canaanite woman, you know the one who came to the “Son of David” for a miracle. You see, Jesus used the image of a dog not being given human food to justify not granting the request of this foreigner, to which the woman responded that even dogs are allowed to eat crumbs, maybe even lick the plates. And evidentially, in this response Jesus could see her faith and trust. He recognized that in spite of the obstacles, she was confident that he would respond to her need. Now it’s this kind of trust that Jesus called faith. And I guess that might apply to Coco too. But whether it does or not, as we approach our savior with our needs, it sure can apply to us.



The Wedding Service for Nicole Koslow & Dustin Wiltrout - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Below is the podcast of the wedding service I led on Sunday, November 12, in Connellsville, Pennsylvania.



Cove Presbyterian Church Worship Service - November 12, 2017

Below is the podcast of the service I led on Sunday, November 12, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. It's the ninth service in a series entitled Christianity 101, during which we'll used The Apostles Creed to understand better the Christian faith. 



Sunday’s Sermon - He Descended into Hell

Below is the podcast of the sermon I preached on Sunday, November 12, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. It's the ninth message in a series entitled Christianity 101, during which we'll used The Apostles Creed to understand better the Christian faith.You can find other sermons, devotions, essays, videos, articles, and announcements on The Cove Community blog. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

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.




I BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. 


I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting.  Amen. 




He Descended into Hell


Now, this morning, we’re continuing the series we started a couple of months ago, you remember, when the temperature was in the eighties. I mean, during the last eight weeks, we’ve been using The Apostles’ Creed to understand better what Christianity is all about. And during our time together, we’ve talked about what it means to say that we believe or better, we trust in God, who is the Father and the Almighty and the maker of heaven and earth. And then we focused on how we also can trust in Jesus, who’s the Christ and the only son of our Almighty Father. And we talked about how we believe that Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary as well as how he suffered under Pontius Pilate and ultimately was crucified, you know, nailed to the cross, and he died, and he was buried. And as we went through all this, we talked about how each statement could affect our lives. Now, that’s what we’ve covered to this point.


And this morning, we’re going to talk about what may be one of the most confusing statements in the creed. Let me tell you what I mean. I remember when I was a kid, back when my family attended Ocean View Presbyterian Church, we used the old red hymnal called The Hymnbook. And right there on page twelve, you had The Lord’s Prayer, with the words “debt” and “debtors” which were different than the “trespasses” and “trespassers” we prayed every morning at school, all of us except some kids who just sit there and said nothing. I think they were either Jews or Jehovah Witnesses, but back then, we didn’t care. Anyway, The Lord’s Prayer was on page twelve. And so was something called The Nicene Creed, which was actually just taking up space on the page, because we never and I mean never said it. But then, down near the bottom was the good old Apostles’ Creed, something we said every Sunday. In fact, I remember we used to try to say it really fast. But when we got to this business about descended into Hell, a word that kind of made us feel a little naughty because we weren’t allowed to use it outside of church, well, after the phrase there was this asterisk. And then down at the very bottom of the page were the words, “Some Churches omit this.” Of course, we always said it, but you know, if we’d omitted too, man, we’d have been able to recite it even faster but wouldn’t have been able to say “Hell” without our mothers scowling at us. What the Lord giveth, he also taketh away. I guess some folks who used The Hymnbook didn’t believe that Jesus descended into Hell.


But you know, since that time, I’ve discovered that even folks who believe it, man, they have radically different ideas about what it means. As a matter of fact, two of the greatest Christians thinkers of all time saw something very different in these words. For example, the great German theologian, Martin Luther believed that, when it said he descended into Hell, man, that’s exactly what Jesus did; he went down to a place called Hell. This was what he wrote, “Before Christ arose and ascended into heaven, and while yet lying in the grave, He also descended into hell in order to deliver also us from it, who were to be held in it as prisoners ... However I shall not discuss this article in a profound and subtle manner, as to how it was done or what it means to ....descend into hell, but adhere to the simplest meaning conveyed by these words, as we must represent it to children and uneducated people.” [from Martin Luther’s sermon at Torgau] And a little later, he continued: “Therefore whoever would not go wrong or stumble had best adhere to the words and understand them in a simple way as well as he can. Accordingly, it is customary to represent Christ in paintings on walls, as He descends, appears before hell, clad in a priestly robe and with a banner in His hand, with which He beats the devil and puts him to flight, takes hell by storm, and rescues those that are His.”  [from Martin Luther’s sermon at Torgau] Now that’s what Luther believed. 


And he based this on a passage from the first letter of Peter: “For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.” [1 Peter 3:18-20] Now even though, the Greek word for “prison” wasn’t the word used in the creed for “Hell,” Luther believed they meant the same thing. 


And for him, this descent was all about the power that the crucified Christ had and has. I mean, as he described, we can sort of see Jesus doing all this, you know, with a banner in his hand, kicking down the gates of Hell and proclaiming the Good News to men and women who lived and died before he was born. I’m telling you, in contrast to the suffering son of man who’d just died on the cross, this is the triumphant Son of God, this is Christus Victor, the victorious Christ, destroying evil at it’s very core. And for Martin Luther, that’s why Jesus’s descent into the Hell was important. 


But I’ll tell you, the other great theologian of the Reformation had a radically different view. You see, for John Calvin, the one who’s interpretation of the Bible shaped what Presbyterian believe, he didn’t see Christ’s descent into Hell as some kind of victory lap. Instead, he believed it represented Jesus at his absolutely lowest point. He wrote, “The explanation given to us in God’s Word is not only holy and pious, but also full of wonderful consolation. If Christ had died only a bodily death, it would have been ineffectual. No — it was expedient at the same time for him to undergo the severity of God’s vengeance, to appease his wrath and satisfy his just judgment. For this reason, he must also grapple hand to hand with the armies of hell and the dread of everlasting death.” [from John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion] And a little later in the same section, he wrote: “The point is that the Creed sets forth what Christ suffered in the sight of men, and then [correctly] speaks of that invisible and incomprehensible judgment which he underwent in the sight of God in order that we might know not only that Christ’s body was given as the price of our redemption, but that he paid a greater and more excellent price in suffering in his soul the terrible torments of a condemned and forsaken man.” [from John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion] 


In other words, for John Calvin, Jesus’s descent into Hell represented his descent into the very core of human suffering and pain. Not only did he experience the physical pain of the cross, he also went through the emotional pain of doubt and fear and the spiritual pain experienced by those who feel absolutely alone and totally separated from God. 


And like Luther, Calvin grounded his view in Scripture. And even through he offered all kinds of passages that pointed to how Christ suffered and died like us, he wrote that it all came together when Jesus was on the cross. Calvin wrote, “For feeling himself, as it were, forsaken by God, he did not waver in the least from trust in his goodness. This is proved by that remarkable prayer to God in which he cried out in acute agony: ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ [Matthew 27:46]. For even though he suffered beyond measure, he did not cease to call him his God, by whom he cried out that he had been forsaken.” [from John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion] And so, while Luther saw the descent as a sign of divine power, Calvin believed it was an experience of human pain. Now these are the two views, and I’ll tell you, Christian scholars have debated which is right for almost five hundred years.


And even though we can continue to do that and we’ll probably sort of enjoy doing it because let’s face it, outside of eating at a carry-in dinner, there are few things Christians enjoy more than scrapping with one another and calling one another names and trying to convert one another to their own truth, I don’t think we should do that with his particular phrase, “he descended into Hell.” I mean, if we got to fight with other Christians, let’s fight over something really important, you know, like whether to say “debtors” or “trespassers” or whether songs should be sung from a hymnal or off a screen or whether preachers should wear robes or collars or nothing, well not nothing, you know, important stuff like that. But let’s do something truly radical with this little phrase from the creed, and let’s recognize that there’s truth on both sides of the coin, and I’m talking about the kind of truth that’s biblically-based and life-changing. Let me tell you what I’m talking about.


On one hand, let’s take a look at Jesus’s descent through the eyes of Calvin, because when we do, we’ll be able to see Jesus’s sympathy, and I’m talking about his ability to completely understand and to identify with us. It’s sort of like we talked about when we looked at his suffering, but in reality, a whole lot more. Now, I’d wager that at some time we’ve all suffered, either directly or as we watched someone we love go through something that they sure didn’t choose and that they certainly don’t want. And of course, that’s bad. But for some it’s even worst. You see, for some folks, man, they wish that all they had to face was physical pain. No, for them, they feel emotionally drained and spiritually exhausted. They feel as though they just don’t want to go through this anymore. Man, they feel as though they’ve been absolutely abandoned by everyone, and I’m talking about by their friends and their families and even their God. Trust me, they can really identify with a person who turns his face toward heaven and says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I’m telling you, there are folks who feel that way all around us. In fact, some may be right here this morning. But we may not know it, both because they’ve learned how to hid it and frankly we just don’t take the time and make the effort to find them. But it’s because Jesus experienced what they experience, it’s because he endured the very depth of human abandonment and pain, man, it’s because he descended into Hell, that his words have new meaning and power, words like, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” [Matthew 11:28-30] And when these folks pray to God and lay before him all their fear and doubt, all their anger and sadness, all their helplessness and hopelessness, they can trust that God understands. It like the writer of Hebrews said, “Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” [Hebrews 4:14-16] You see, we have a God who really does understand us. We worship a Christ who can sympathize, something we can know when we claim Calvin’s image of his descent.


But I’ll tell you, we should also take seriously how Luther saw the same event, because when we do, we’ll be able to see the one he saw. In other words, we’ll be able to see Jesus’s power, and I’m talking about his power to save us. And I’ll tell you why that’s important. It’s all well and good to worship a God who can sympathize with us, but that ain’t worth a bucket of spit if he can’t do anything about it. Well, brothers and sisters, believe the Good News, we have a savior who can do something about it. And isn’t that what we all really want and need? I mean, give me a break, our world is a mess, isn’t it? And even though some folks claim to have all the answers and they know exactly who to blame, things don’t seem to be getting any better, not for us. I’ve got to tell you, here lately, I’ve become particularly sad and frustrated when I think about the country and the world I’m passing on to my daughter. It just isn’t fair, because she should have the same opportunities to mess things up that I had, that we had, but I don’t believe she will. She’ll have to deal with a lot of mess that we’ve left for her to clean up. And I’ll tell you, that also applies to your sons and daughters and their sons and daughters. But before we just throw up our hands and throw in the towel, we need to remember that the suffering Jesus is also the victorious Christ, and that death didn’t have the power to keep him in the grave, and that what he did in those days before the resurrection gives new meaning and power to the promise he made to Peter at Caesarea Philippi: “And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’” [Matthew 16:17-19] I’m telling you, we also worship a Christ who has power, something we can know when we claim Luther’s image of the descent.


Now having said all that, I recognize that this business about how Jesus descended into Hell, well, it’s never going to be as important to us as the phrase the comes before, “crucified, dead and was buried,” or the one that follows, “on the third day he rose again from the dead.” And so, I understand why the asterisk is stuck in The Apostles’ Creed, at least according to the old, red Hymnbook. But even though it may not be on the same level as the crucifixion or the resurrection, that doesn’t mean it’s not important, and I’ll tell you why. I think there are times, when life is just plain overwhelming and we don’t know where to turn. And it’s at those times when we need a savior who can sympathize but who also has power. And I’ll tell you, he’s the one who descended into Hell.



Weirton’s Veterans Day Community Service

Below is a podcast of Weirton's Veterans Day Community Service, Saturday, November 11, 2017.



The Sermon Preached at the Memorial Service for Michael “Chunk” Tredway – Three Things I Know

Below is the podcast of Michael "Chunk" Tredway's memorial service, Wednesday, November 6, in Follansbee, West Virginia and a text of the sermon I preached.


You know, I've thought a lot about what to say this evening. I mean, after Karen called and told me about Michael and asked me to lead the service, I started to think about what I could possibly share with y'all that I hadn't about a month ago at JJ's memorial. I mean, although both the men and the circumstances were different, the sort of emotions y'all may be feeling aren't all that different. I guess the bottom line is that they were both unexpected and sure seem unfair, and right now we're left with a whole of questions that will probably never be answered and a with all kinds of emotions that aren't easy to express. And I'm sorry that's just the way it is.


But as I thought about Michael, and understand I know he was called Chunk, but that was what y'all called him, you know, your name for him. When I ran into him at Kroger's, I called him Michael. Anyway, I think there are three things that I believe are true, three things that just might help us all through this difficult and unfair time. 


And I'll tell you, the first one was about Michael himself. Now, from what I've heard, Michael was one bad man. He had him a temper, and he'd fight at the drop of a hat. And man, he could put a hurt on you, and he'd do it, because he was mean. Am I right? Now, before you say anything, I want you to notice that I said, "he was" and that this was something that I've heard, because I've got to tell you, that wasn't the man I knew for I think about seven years. Now, don't get me wrong, if he wanted to, I think he still could have scared the puddin out of somebody, but that's not the guy I'd talk to at a wedding or funeral or maybe in a parking lot.  Instead, the guy I knew always had this big smile on his face. And he'd ask me how things were going, and he'd tell me about what was happening in his life. And maybe, if we had a little time, he'd tell a joke. And I know that's a lot different from the guy some of y'all remember, you know, from high school or a little later. And I'll tell you, that's something we need to remember, and keep remembering. You see, Michael did something that very few people have the strength and courage to do. Man, he changed. He changed the way he lived. And he changed the way acted toward people. Of course, I think a lot of credit for that change should go to Chrissy, who stayed by his side for eleven years, and to Karen, his mother, who, outside of slipping him bologna sandwiches 

when he was suppose to losing weight, never stopped loving him and never let him go. I'll tell you, Michael changed and became a home-owner and a good husband and a great father and no doubt would have been a heck of a grandfather. You see, Michael did something that a lot of folks talk about, but few actually pull off; he changed his life. And that's one thing I know.


And I'll tell you, the second, I also know something about God. You see, I believe God loves us right this minute. Now I recognize we may not feel it right now, but that doesn't mean it's not true. God just plain loves us. In fact, he couldn't love us more than he does this very minute. And he showed us that love through Jesus Christ, who came so that we could better understand him and he could better understand us and who was hung on a cross to save the men who drove the nails and who was raised to show that death won't have the last word. And he shows us that love by the Holy Spirit that flowing around us now and always, something we can feel if we want to. But more than that, he loved and loves Michael. In fact, he loved him so much that he's already led him through the valley of the shadow of death to a new life on the other side. And I'll tell you what, the time's going to come when we'll see him again, and I'm talking about in a new heaven and a new earth, one where there'll be no more pain and no more departing, no more disease and death, no more suicides and accidents, because all that mess will be gone forever. And like I said, Michael's going be there, with a smile on his face and probably fishing f they got a river up there. You see, what we facing right now is a time of separation, and that's all it is, just a time of separation. And although it may hurt, times of separation end. And when it does, all the sadness, man, it's going to be washed away. And like I said, this is going to happen because God loves us. And that's the second thing I know. 


And finally, I think I know something about us, and I'm talking about us right here and right now. You see, Michael is fine and his future will be glorious. But for us, well, we're still here. And not only are we dealing Michael's death, there are folks who struggling all kinds of stuff, stuff that hurts others, including the people who love us the most, and that, when you get right down to it, hurt us. For example, some of us may be struggling with alcohol or drugs. And others may be fighting through anger and guilt. And still others, well, y'all may feel like you're absolutely worthless and you're just taking up space. In other words, I think most of us, maybe all of us are carrying around something we'd like to shed but we just can't seem to do it. But I'll tell you, when I start getting those feelings, I'm going to remember Michael, Chunk, because he did it. He changed. He let loose the past so that he could be the man he wanted to be in the future. Now that's what I'm going to remember. And I'll tell you something else, just like Chrissy and a lot of y'all helped him, there are also folks, and I'm talking about family and friends, who can help us. And we don't even need to reach out to them, because they're reaching out to us. But no matter what they do, it doesn't mean a bucket of spit, if we don't make the decision that we want to be the men and women God created us to be. I'm telling you, but y'all already know this, Michael made that decision, and so can we. And that's something I know, or at least I hope I know about us.


Now I know this is all fresh, and I think a lot y'all still feel sort of numb by what happened to Michael. But trust me, those feeling won't last forever. And when some of the pain and sadness eases, I'd like you to spend just a little time remembering how Michael, how Chunk, was a man with the strength and courage to change and how we have a God who couldn't love us more than he does right now and how we have the power to decide that we're going to become the kind of person that other folks want to remember, the kind of men and women we were created to be.



A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - Eyes on the Prize

Below is the podcast of a new devotion I just left on the Cove Presbyterian Church prayer line. You can find other devotions, sermons, essays, videos, articles, and announcements on The Cove Community blog. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

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


Matthew 14:22-36


Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”


Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”


When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. After the people of that place recognized him, they sent word throughout the region and brought all who were sick to him, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.


Eyes on the Prize


I’m a big college football fan. And as such, I know for a team to have any chance to win the national championship, they have to play each game as though it’s absolutely necessary. I mean, they need to win every contest in order to attain their ultimate goal. In other words, as they approach and play each and every game, they need to keep their eyes on the prize. If they do, they might succeed. But if they don’t, both the team and their fans better start looking toward next year.


And as the story reminds us, that’s also true of following Jesus Christ. I mean, although we may be supremely confident of our own spirituality and righteousness, we aren’t going to live the kind of lives we’ve been called to live if we allow ourselves to get distracted from the one who must always be our focus. As a matter of fact, if we allow anything else to intrude on our dedication to living a life of responsibility and love, not only will we fail, we’ll also expose to ridicule the one we claim to follow. And for that reason, if we’re serious about being the men and women we’re called to be, we need to always keep our eyes on the prize.



Friday’s Essay - Dedication, Openness and Joy

Below the podcast of an essay I sent to the Cove Presbyterian Church emailing list. You can find other essays, sermons, devotions, videos, articles, and announcements on The Cove Community blog. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

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


At the very end of his gospel, the Evangelist Matthew wrote the following: “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:16-20] Of course, the end of this passage is called “The Great Commission,” because right here Jesus told his disciples exactly what they were called to do, namely to make disciples by baptizing and by teaching. And even though this was almost two thousand years ago, Christians have always applied this passage to themselves. In other words, from the very birth of the church, this has been our mission, to share the good news of Jesus Christ to others through both our words and our work. This is our job, our reason to be. And for that reason, historically we’ve believed that God has called and equipped people to accomplish it in their particular time and location. That’s what we’ve been called to do.


But even though the call itself has always been clear, the way it might be accomplished is not nearly as obvious. Of course, that really shouldn’t be a surprise. I mean, we have a message that’s been communicated for two millennia, to people who speak languages that are constantly changing and who live in cultures that are constantly evolving; therefore, we’ve had to reshape the message, not the truth but the message, to those we hope will listen. And again, anything else would be foolish. I mean, it just doesn’t make sense for us to assume that a French-speaker living in Africa would be able to understand much less be drawn to a message that would resonate with us living right now in the United States. In other words, I think we all recognize that Christians really need to update the language and the images, if they’re interested in doing what Jesus called all disciples to do so long ago. 


And the church has been willing to do this kind of thing from the very beginning. I mean, we’ve translated the Bible to different languages and reshaped it so that it reflects the vernacular of the people for whom it’s directed. You see, rather than remaining static because the words themselves are divine, we’ve believed and believe that the truth conveyed by those words is inspired; therefore, we’re free to look for appropriate ways to share the old story to new generations. Of course, when we decide to do this, it means we might have to move beyond some things that may be personally meaningful to us so that the message might touch others. For example, most Christians no longer believe that the King James Version is the only English Bible a believer can use. No, most of us recognize that we might have to change some structures and practices, so that men and women who’d never really thought of responding may hear a message that might change their lives. 


And I’ll tell you, that’s what we’re facing today. You see, whether we like it or not, God has placed us within this particular locatio; therefore, we need to answer this question: how can we share the truth in ways that it might be heard? Now that’s the question, and sadly the answer may not be what we want. You see, we might have to accept the uncomfortable reality that the way we’ve always done it might not work any more, and God may be leading us in different directions. And although it’s difficult to let go of things that have been important in our lives, that may be exactly what we’re going to need to do in order to reach others. Put another way, if we’re serious about sharing the gospel to the folks who live across the street but who’ve never walked through our doors, we might need to change how we share it.


And even though I’m not sure there’s any way to make this easy and painless, I do believe we can intentionally claim three attitudes that just may make it a little easier. For example, first, we might want to become a little more dedicated to the mission we’ve been given. You see, I think God has put ourselves here to do the exact same thing Jesus told his disciples to do. As we go about our regular, daily living, we’re called to share: to share the one who loved us before the foundation of the earth and to share the one who died and was raised for people who frankly didn’t care whether he lived or died and to share that holy presence that surrounds us all the time. Just like it was then, this is our job now. And if we make it our vision, maybe we won’t be quite so focused on what we think and want. In fact, maybe that focus will shift to what others feel and need. You see, I believe this kind of thing can happen when we intentionally rededicate ourselves to our mission. 


And second, I think we can be more open to the opportunities and possibilities we have right now. As some of y’all know, I enjoy different kinds of music but some styles I like more than others. But since I now have a teenage daughter, I know that there’s a lot of stuff I like that she’ll immediately turn off. Therefore, if I want a pleasant ride to school, I need to be more open to styles I don’t particularly like. And I think that applies to mature Christians within the church. I mean, those who are strong in the faith understand that the good news isn’t about music or orders of worship or buildings. It’s about something more, something a whole lot more. And for that reason, those who are well-grounded, well, they’re open enough to see and feel the presence of God in all kinds of different ways. And who knows, if we let some of the assumptions drop, we might actually be moved by styles and sounds we may never have considered before. You see, openness may actually be a no-lose situation for all of us, the second attitude that might help us as we move into the future.


And third, if we don’t feel joy when we’re in the presence of God and his people, well, frankly we should be ashamed of ourselves, and I’ll tell you why. If I’m worshiping God but all I can think about is the stuff I don’t like, then my focus is way off. I’m concentrating on me rather than on God and neighbor. And if I choose to enter worship sure that I’m not going to like it, then I’m going to be the victim of some honest-to-good prophecy, but not the kind found in the Bible. Instead, I’m setting myself up for some self-fulfilling prophecy, because if, for whatever reason, I know I’m not going to be happy, I won’t be. But if I’m dedicated to my mission; therefore, I’m happy to sacrifice a little of what I like for the sake of my neighbor and if I’m open to all the different ways the Spirit can work within both them and me, then I’m going to feel joy, real joy, Christian joy when people are worshiping God. Frankly, if we’re not willing to feel joy, then probably we’d be better off staying home on Sunday, because if we’re not joyous in church, then there may be something wrong with us.


Now I say all this because here at Cove, we’re going to ramp up our efforts to make disciples of all nations. And to do this, the leaders of this congregations are going to be trying some new and different things that might communicate our message in new ways to different folks. Of course, some of the stuff we’ll try will work and some won’t, and that’s O.K. Groups that never try anything new, never fail; they simply die. But I believe if we all rededicate ourselves to our mission and decide to be open to the opportunities and possibilities all around us and approach the church and what it’s trying to do with joy, God may use us in ways we’ve never seen before.



Cove Presbyterian Church Worship Service - November 5, 2017

Below is the podcast of the service I led on Sunday, November 5, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. It's the eighth service in a series entitled Christianity 101, during which we'll used The Apostles Creed to understand better the Christian faith. 


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