17Jul

Cove’s Celebration Service - Sunday, July 15, 2018

The members and friends of Cove gathered to worship on Sunday, July 15. This morning, we continued our series entitled Kingdom Living: The Sermon on the Mount. During these 20 services, we’ll look at what Jesus taught his disciples about Christian living, according to Matthew 5–7. And we’ll take those lessons and apply them to our own lives.  During this service, we looked at Matthew 5:27-30 and focused on how we might maintain our integrity.

 

After the announcements, the service began with the entry of the Word. We sang the hymn "This Is My Father’s World.”  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, Josh Elias sang about the victory we have in Jesus.

 

During the message, we considered Matthew 5:27-30 and focused on how we might maintain our integrity. The passage is below.

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one." [Matthew 5:31-37, NRSV]

 

You can hear the entire service below.

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17Jul

Sunday’s Sermon - Maintaining Integrity

Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, July 15, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. This morning we started a new series entitled Kingdom Living: The Sermon on the Mount. During these 20 services, we’ll look at what Jesus taught his disciples about Christian living, according to Matthew 5–7. And we’ll take those lessons and apply them to our own lives. During this service, we looked at Matthew 5:31-37 and focused on how we might maintain our integrity. 

You can hear a podcast of the sermon at the end of this 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

 

As I hope most of y’all know, during our recent worship services, we’ve been talking about what we’re calling Kingdom Living, in other words, how we might live as citizens of Heaven’s kingdom right here and now. And to do that, we’ve been looking at the lessons Jesus offered his disciples in his Sermon on the Mount, as recorded in chapters five, six and seven of Matthew’s gospel. 

 

And during this time, we’ve talked about how The Beatitudes, you know, all those folks who Jesus called blessed, how they might inspire us to sympathize with good, moral folks who have it rough and maybe even to follow their examples. And then we considered how we’re responsible to be salt and light for our world and to be obedient with respect to God. And after that, we’ve kind of gotten a little more specific, because we’ve talked about why we should and how we might get a handle on our anger and how we might stay moral when we’re confronted with immorality. Now that’s what we’ve dealt with over the last six weeks. And if you’re interested in what we discussed, check out the messages on the Cove Community blog, the address is in the bulletin, or some of the printed material on the table most of y’all passed when you came in this morning.

 

And so, in a nutshell, that’s where we’ve been. And this morning, we’re going to deal with another issue that Jesus thought was important for his disciples to know, and right now, I’m talking about personal integrity. And I think that’s something pretty important for us to consider right now, particularly in light of some of the stuff we see going on in our world and our country. 

 

For example, yesterday morning, as I was getting ready to come into work, I ran across an article that appeared in a British daily newspaper called The Guardian. Now, the article was written by a woman named Michiko Kakutani, and it was entitled, “The Death of Truth.” Now her point was this: we’re reaching a time in our history when truth has actually become fluid, and not only do we tend to see only what we already believe as true, but the meaning of truth itself is totally in the eyes of the beholder. And for the writer, the reason for this shift is obvious. She wrote, “The term ‘truth decay’ has joined the post-truth lexicon that includes such now familiar phrases as ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’. And it’s not just fake news either: it’s also fake science (manufactured by climate change deniers and anti-vaxxers, who oppose vaccination), fake history (promoted by Holocaust revisionists and white supremacists), fake Americans on Facebook (created by Russian trolls), and fake followers and ‘likes’ on social media (generated by bots).” Now that’s what she wrote. And for her, that’s why truth is dying.

 

And to a certain extent, I think she’s right. I mean, I want y’all to think about it. Right here and right now, what do you believe is politically true, and what do you believe is fake? Well, if you’re on one side of the divide, it’s Fox News; if you’re on the other, it’s MSNBC, right? What is true varies depending on your opinions. Now I’m telling you, this is a pretty radical thought. But it’s not just about politics. It includes science. It includes culture. Good night, it includes what defines basic human decency. All of that is fluid. All of that is fake, not just wrong but fake as though there was some nefarious intention behind it. But of course, it’s only fake if we don’t like it.

 

And I don’t know about y’all, but this is so different from what I remember in the past. My gosh, when I was growing up, we did the exact same thing every weekday evening at 6:30. We watched Walter Cronkite read the news. And even though my dad didn’t always like what he said, he believed him, and so did we. I mean, my dad or grandfather saying that it was all fake would have been inconceivable, even during Watergate. And my dad really liked Nixon, almost to the end. Uncomfortable sure. But fake, never. And dad’s a mechanical engineer. Science and mathematics were two things that couldn’t be faked. Mistakes might be made and conclusions might prove to be wrong, but not faked. But now... I’ll tell you, we’ve changed a lot in less than fifty years. Integrity just ain’t what it used to be.

 

And that’s what we’re going to talk about this morning, and we’re going to do it, because that’s the next topic on which Jesus focused in the Sermon on the Mount. And specifically, we’re going to answer three questions and here they are. First, what is personal integrity? And second, why is integrity both challenging and important, especially for Christians? And third, how might we as followers of Jesus Christ maintain our integrity in a world that spends more time talking about what’s fake than what’s true? Now that’s what we’re going to do.

 

And like I said, I think it all begins with the simple question: What is this personal integrity business all about? And I’ll tell you, I think Jesus answers that question in the two little passages we’re considering this morning. For example, first, personal integrity is about keeping your promises, in other words, doing what you say you’re going to do. And I think that principle is pretty clear in what he taught about divorce. He said, “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” [Matthew 5:31-32, NRSV] Now I recognize that I could use these two verses to preach another sermon on the nature of marriage and divorce, but right now, I want to focus on what this says about keeping your word and honoring your commitments. You see, for Jesus, promises were meant to be kept. But of course, in the Bible, Jesus wasn’t the only one who taught this. For example, in the Old Testament, it says, “If you make a vow to the Lord your God, do not postpone fulfilling it; for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and you would incur guilt. But if you refrain from vowing, you will not incur guilt. Whatever your lips utter you must diligently perform, just as you have freely vowed to the Lord your God with your own mouth.” [Deuteronomy 23:21-23, NRSV] Now that’s what it says in Deuteronomy. You see, for Jesus, a person with integrity keeps his promises. That’s one.

 

And second, he also tells the truth. I mean, dah. Just listen to what he said to his disciples: “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.” [Matthew 5:33-37, NRSV] Now, I’ve got to tell you, this isn’t rocket science. Telling the truth isn’t about not telling lies, you know, swearing falsely. And it’s not about adding a lot of words to what we say, and I’m talking stuff like “I swear to God” or “you can trust me” or something I’ve got to admit I do, putting the words “to tell the truth” at beginning of what should be the truth anyway. No, telling the truth means...telling the truth. It’s like the writer of Proverbs said so secantly and so well: “Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment. ...Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight.” [Proverbs 12:19, 22, NRSV] And so, I think I’m safe in saying that for Jesus, personal integrity means, one, keeping your promises, and two, telling the truth. That’s what it is. And the people of God said, “dah.”

 

And I’ll tell you, understanding what it is really points us to the second questions: Why is integrity both challenging and important. You see, I think what makes personal integrity so hard to maintain involves something that maybe fundamental to human nature. Let’s face it, I believe most people want to look good and if that’s not possible, they want to avoid looking bad. In other words, I think most folks want to leave others with a positive impression, you know what I mean, to cause their friends and neighbors to think they’re good people, maybe even to get a little attention or better yet, a little praise every now-and-then. And I think we all know, one of the easiest ways to get there is to make promises, you know, promises that we’re going to give people exactly what they want to have or to tell them exactly what they want to hear. For example, I know that I can get Maggie to think I’m a great father, if I promise to buy her a car or if I tell her she’s always right when she has an argument with her mom. Man, I’d be father of the year. Of course, I can’t afford to buy and insure another vehicle, and there’s no way I’d ever say to Debbie that Maggie’s always right. I’m not an idiot. But if I make the promise, even though it’s really empty, and if I say the words, even though they’re false, Man, I’m going to soak up the immediate and short-term benefits. You see, that’s to gain the positive. 

 

And to avoid the negative, I’m telling you, every kid who didn’t do his homework and every driver who gets pulled over with expired plates and every businessman who thinks he’s about to be indicted knows how tempting it is to lie, lie, lie, and then, lie some more. You see, the dog eat it, right? And I was going to the DMV tomorrow, right? And I had absolutely no idea what the my employees were doing behind my back, right? Of course, even though some liars are better than others, the reason for these lies are pretty much the same. As a matter of fact, we see the same thing happening in the Bible, done by a Christian superstar. Man, he out-and-out lied right through his teeth, and he did it to avoid trouble. Just listen: “Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant-girl came to him and said, ‘You also were with Jesus the Galilean.’ But he denied it before all of them, saying, ‘I do not know what you are talking about.’ When he went out to the porch, another servant-girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, ‘This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.’ Again he denied it with an oath, ‘I do not know the man.’ After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, ‘Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.’ Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, ‘I do not know the man!’ At that moment the cock crowed. Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: ‘Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.” [Matthew 26:69-75, NRSV] When you want to pad your resume or avoid the consequences of our own behavior, breaking promises and telling lies seem to be a natural thing to do. And that’s why it’s challenging.

 

But I’ll tell you, resisting this temptation is really important, especially for Christians. You see, we’re not just hurting ourselves and others when we make false promises and lie. We’re actually undermining the gospel of Jesus Christ, and I’m talking about the message of grace and mercy and love. Put another way, when we do this kind of thing, we make the Good News fake news. As a matter of fact, it’s like what I wrote in the essay I sent out on Friday. You see, the Apostle Paul nailed the consequences of fudging the truth when wrote to some folks who didn’t believe in the general resurrection of the dead. He wrote, “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ—whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” [1 Corinthians 15:12-19, NRSV] You see, for Paul, if there’s no resurrection of the dead, then Jesus wasn’t raised. And since the resurrection of Christ was at the center of his message, then he must have lied. And if he lied about something as important as the resurrection, then his credibility was gone, and we can assume that he lied about all kinds of things. Salvation itself and eternal life might all be lies spoken by the same person who was lying about the resurrection. I’m telling you, our love and our faith and our witness is worthless if we choose to sacrifice our integrity. And for us, that’s why it’s worth the challenge.

 

And so, since we know what it is and why it’s both challenging and important, there’s really just one question left: How can we do it? I mean, how can we maintain our integrity? How we can we do a better job keeping our word and telling the truth? Now, to me, that’s a good question. And even though I think there are probably a lot of possible answers, I’m going to suggest two, and here they are. 

 

First, before making the promise or presenting the information, I think it’s pretty important to think before we speak. And I’ll tell you why. Although as they say, honesty is generally the best policy, there are times when keeping your word or even telling the truth can violate something even more important, you know like loving God and neighbor. For example, any promise that involves killing or hurting someone if they put pickles on your burger after you told them not to, well, that would seem to be a promise you probably shouldn’t keep. And if you’re in Nazi Germany and you know your neighbor has Jews hiding in his attic, you probably don’t want to tell the Gestapo the truth when asked. But I think we all recognize these are kind of exceptions to rule. But regardless of whether it’s an exception or not, I think it makes sense to think before we open our mouths. And when we think, let’s be as honest as possible. I’m telling you, I believe we as humans have an almost unlimited capacity to deceive ourselves into believing whatever we want to believe. And for that reason, it has to be a good thing to consider whether or not we’re making a promise or passing on information because we hope it’ll make us popular or innocent. And especially as it relates to telling the truth, we probably should check our facts before we make our statement. You see, whether it’s the result of intention or ignorance, a lie is a lie and the consequences are generally the same. And so, if we’re serious about maintaining our integrity, first, we should probably think before we speak.

 

And second, we need to have the strength and faith to face the consequences of keeping our word and telling the truth. I’ll tell you, promises can sometimes be really expensive, and if we’re not willing to pay the price we shouldn’t make the promise. But if we do anyway, then we just might have to pay up, even though it’s not something we want to do. For example, if I promise to help Debbie with dinner, it doesn’t matter that, when the time comes, I’d rather be watching American Pickers. A promise is a promise. And as to the truth, I just remember what Colonel Nathan R. Jessup said in A Few Good Men. When he was testifying and Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee demanded that he tell the truth, Col. Jessup said, “You can't handle the truth!” Well, I think there are a whole lot of situations when he’d be right, and not just at a court martial. I mean, even when we’re as gentle and loving as we can be, some folks are just not going to willing or able to handle the truth. And telling it could damage, maybe even destroy a relationship. In fact, we might even face some real problems, and I’m talking about severe problems, when we choose to stand up for what’s true. For example, the great theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed on April 6, 1945, a month before the end of the war, for telling the truth about the Nazis. Let’s just say, when the world is gripped by lies, the truth is dangerous. And that’s why strength and faith is important, strength because that’s what it took for Jesus to stand before Pilate and faith because that’s what Bonhoeffer reflected when, as he was being led away, he said, “This is the end—for me the beginning of life.” Right along with thinking before we speak, that’s how I believe we can maintain our integrity.

 

Now, I really hope we’re not actually seeing the death of truth. Although I think it may be on life-support right now, I hope my daughter will inherit a world in which those whom she’s told to respect keep their word and tell the truth. I pray that’ll be her world. But for us, if we’re interested in learning from Jesus, we can understand what integrity actually is. And we can recognize why it’s both challenging and important. And finally, we can take seriously how it can be maintained. And we can do it even though, in our world, the word “fake” might still be directed toward us.

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17Jul

The Wedding Service for Justin Oleszko and Teara Uphold - Sunday, July 15, 2018

On Sunday, July 15, I officiated the wedding of Justin Oleszko and Teara Uphold in Core Arboretum, Morgantown, West Virginia. Below is a podcast of the service and a couple of pictures of the couple. If you're planning your wedding and need an officiant, please give me a call at 304-479-3402.

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17Jul

The Wedding Service for Bradley Haworth and Samantha Ruff - Saturday, July 14, 2018

On Saturday, July 14, I officiated the wedding of Bradley Haworth and Samantha Ruff in Monaca, Pennsylvania. Below is a podcast of the service. If you're planning your wedding and need an officiant, please give me a call at 304-479-3402.

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17Jul

The Wedding Service for Charles McFadden and Windy Kolb - Saturday, July 14, 2018

On Saturday, July 14, I officiated the wedding of Charles McFadden and Windy Kolb in Wheeling Park, Wheeling, West Virginia. Below is a podcast of the service and a couple of pictures of the couple. If you're planning your wedding and need an officiant, please give me a call at 304-479-3402.

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13Jul

Friday’s Essay - Integrity

Below is an essay I sent to the Cove Presbyterian Church emailing list. You can find a recording of this essay at the bottom of the page.  

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

 

Personally, I think right below love and faith, integrity may be the most important virtue a Christian can have. Of course, I understand this is not necessarily a popular idea within our society. I mean, we seem more than willing to give our leaders mulligans when it comes to issues involving honesty and truth. Often we give them a lot of rope, even when we know they’re not being straight with us, just so long as they continue to tell us what we want to hear. I’ll tell you, integrity appears to be almost an arcane concept, one that no longer has a place in our modern world.

 

Still, I think it’s crucially important for Christians, and I’ll tell you why. It’s like Judge Judy says when a person in her “court” tells her a half-truth, “When somebody tells me a lie once, I tend to disbelieve everything they say!” In other words, a liar has no credibility, and even if he’s telling the truth, no one’s going to believe him. Now that’s what she says, and it’s not all that different from that story we learned when we were children, you know, about the little boy who cried “wolf.” Eventually, no one believed him either. And for him, the consequences weren’t very good. 

 

And in my opinion, it’s the consequences that make a lack of integrity so dangerous for Christians. I mean, even though a politician might get away with fooling all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, this really isn’t an option for the believer who’s seeking to share the good news of Jesus Christ to others. You see, as soon, as the Christian surrenders his integrity to make his message more appealing, as soon as he begins to make promises for God and fudges the challenges faced by people who follow Jesus, he undermines the entire gospel. In other words, if those who hear the message think he’s lying about one thing, why would that person assume he’s telling the truth about the rest? And this is something the Apostle Paul understood. Just listen to what he wrote to the Corinthians:

If we preach that Christ was raised from death, how can some of you say that the dead will not be raised to life? If they won’t be raised to life, Christ himself wasn’t raised to life. And if Christ wasn’t raised to life, our message is worthless, and so is your faith. If the dead won’t be raised to life, we have told lies about God by saying that he raised Christ to life, when he really did not. So if the dead won’t be raised to life, Christ wasn’t raised to life. Unless Christ was raised to life, your faith is useless, and you are still living in your sins. And those people who died after putting their faith in him are completely lost. If our hope in Christ is good only for this life, we are worse off than anyone else. [1 Corinthians 15:12-19, CEV]

You see, for Paul, if there’s no resurrection of the dead, then Jesus wasn’t raised. And since the resurrection of Christ was at the center of his message, then he must have lied. And if he lied about something as important as the resurrection, then his credibility was gone, and we can assume that he lied about all kinds of things. Salvation itself and eternal life might all be lies spoken by the same person who was lying about the resurrection. I’m telling you, our love, faith and witness is worthless if we choose to sacrifice our integrity.

 

And that’s going to be our focus during the worship service on Sunday. We’re going to look at Matthew 5:31-37 and consider these three questions:

  • What is integrity?
  • Why is keeping our integrity challenging?
  • How might we maintain our integrity?

 Now, that’s going to be the focus of our service on Sunday, something that’s important to ourselves and the message we share.

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12Jul

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - Bad Marketing

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 or 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.

 

Matthew 24:1-14

 

As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. Then he asked them, "You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."

 

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, "Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" Jesus answered them, "Beware that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, 'I am the Messiah!' and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places: all this is but the beginning of the birthpangs.

 

"Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come.

 

Bad Marketing

 

A long time ago, I earned my Masters in Business Administration, with a concentration in Marketing. And even though it feels like a lifetime ago, take it from me, what Jesus said to his disciples is bad marketing, assuming that he wanted to build his brand and expand his customer base. I mean, based on what he said, only a masochist would want to follow him to the end, what will all the handing over and the torture and the death going on. It’s really bad marketing.

 

And I’ll tell you, that stands in sharp contrast with what we see now-a-days, because, in my opinion, a lot of modern Christians have gotten the marketing down pretty well, as they invite folks to follow the one who blesses his followers with health and wealth and happiness. This is a feel good gospel that seldom challenges people to do anything they don’t want to do. As a matter of fact, if you’re in a real bind and either support someone or something that is obviously contrary to the life laid out by Jesus, you can always grant them or yourself either a mulligan or a pardon. Now, that seems to be the message of modern American Christianity, and I can tell you, that’s a message that sells.

 

Of course, there’s a problem. It’s not the message of Jesus. You see, even though his approach violates the essentials of Marketing 101, what he offers is something that’s becoming increasing rare and precious. He offers the truth, because in reality, living the Christian life has always been and will always be tough. It demands more focus and dedication than most folks are willing to show. And in return for that, we don’t get an immediate payback, rather the assurance of eternal peace that we may not be able to cash-in any time soon. And yet, for those who choose to trust in his words, we can receive both hope and comfort, even though the marketing really does stink.

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10Jul

Cove’s Celebration Service - Sunday, July 8, 2018

The members and friends of Cove gathered to worship on Sunday, July 8. This morning, we continued our series entitled Kingdom Living: The Sermon on the Mount. During these 20 services, we’ll look at what Jesus taught his disciples about Christian living, according to Matthew 5–7. And we’ll take those lessons and apply them to our own lives.  During this service, we looked at Matthew Matthew 5:27-30 and focusing on how we might confront immorality.

 

After the announcements, the service began with the entry of the Word. We sang the hymn "When Morning Gilds the Skies.”  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, Janice Torrance and Enid Williams played an organ and piano duet. 

 

We looked at Matthew 5:27-30 and focusing on how we might confront immorality.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.” [Matthew 5:27-30, NRSV]

 

The service ended when we sang the song “Lifesong,” by John Mark Hall. After the service, the congregation gathered for our annual Deacon-sponsored staff appreciation luncheon. Later, we watched the movie, "I Can Only Imagine." 

 

You can hear the entire service below.

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10Jul

Sunday’s Sermon - Confronting Immorality

Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, July 8, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. This morning we started a new series entitled Kingdom Living: The Sermon on the Mount. During these 20 services, we’ll look at what Jesus taught his disciples about Christian living, according to Matthew 5–7. And we’ll take those lessons and apply them to our own lives. During this service, we looked at Matthew 5:27-30 and focused on how we might deal with immorality.

You can hear a podcast of the sermon  at the end of this 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.

I’ll tell you, wasn’t yesterday a beautiful day? You know, it was the kind of day when you could do all kinds of stuff, especially outdoors. Of course, for me, yesterday was a little different, because my wife and daughter are visiting Debbie’s family in Indianapolis. And so it’s just me and the dog. And because of that, I think y’all know exactly what I did yesterday. I spent almost the entire day thinking about immorality and, in particular, adultery. Now, to be honest, that’s not entirely true. I also did a wedding and got together an agenda for our session meeting. But other than that, you got it, immorality and adultery was on my mind.

 

Of course, I hope y’all know it’s really not the way it sounds. About a month and a half ago, we started a series that I’m calling “Kingdom Living,” and each Sunday we’ve been looking at what the Sermon on Mount has to say about how we might live as followers of Jesus Christ. And to this point, we’ve talked about The Beatitudes, you know, how folks who were either born with certain disadvantages or who choose to live lives of dedicated sacrifice, we talked about how they’re actually blessed, you know, how they’re fortunate, because God will balance the scales later. And then we looked at how we have a responsibility to the world to be its salt and light as well as a responsibility to God to live good, moral lives. And then last week we considered both the problem with anger and why we really need to do what it takes to get our temper under control. Now that’s what we’ve already covered.

 

And this morning, as we continue to move through these lessons, we’re going to talk about what Christ taught his disciples about adultery and immorality. I mean, just listen to what Jesus said, according to the Evangelist Matthew: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.” [Matthew 5:27-30, NRSV] Now, that was what Jesus said, and so it was on my mind yesterday.

 

And I’ll tell you, if we took it just as it is, I think this is a pretty relevant passage now-a-days. I mean, with all the focus on #metoo, it would be hard to say that important and powerful men haven’t tarnished their images and reputations with adultery and other sexual sins. And so, a sermon on adultery all by itself might be more than appropriate. 

 

But this morning, we’re going to broaden our focus a little bit, and I’ll tell you why. I think what Jesus said about adultery can apply to a whole lot of other immoral acts that we might be better able to apply personally. And since what Jesus taught was directed to his followers, in other words, to them and not the entire world, we’re going to keep our focus on believers, you know, on us. 

 

And so, with that in mind, we’re going to talk about why Christians slip into some behaviors that they just plain know are wrong, you know, why they sort of drift into immorality. but more important than that, we’re going to consider how we might prevent it from happening, something that I believe can come in handy to us all whether we’re talking actions that are considered pretty big like adultery and theft or acts that may be relatively small, you know, like telling a little white lie or passing on a juicy rumor that we know probably isn’t true. 

 

And like I said, I think all of us can squirm a little bit when we think about this kind of thing happening, because let’s face it, most of us know it’s really easy to say things that we later regret saying and do things that we later regret doing. And even though the specifics may vary, I think there are some very definite reasons why people slip into immorality. And I’ll tell you, I think we can see the reasons right here in the passage I just read. For example, I believe a lot of us make the mistake of focusing on the act itself, you know, assuming that if we haven’t actually done the deed, man, we’re fine. And I think that’s why Jesus started this lesson by saying, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”[Matthew 5:27-28, NRSV] I remember, years ago, working with a couple who’s marriage was sort of rocky, in part, because the wife caught her husband having a lot of really intimate and explicit conversations with several women online. But I remember, as we were talking about it, she kept going back to the fact that he’d never really committed adultery. He fantasied about it. And he even shared his very specific fantasies with other women, and they did the same for him. But for her, technically, the marriage was still fine, because he’d never done the deed. Now that’s what she said, and frankly, I think a lot of Christians sort of share her perspective on immorality. You see, they think that the sin really doesn’t effect them and God will certainly never hold them accountable until the room is paid for or the money is actually removed from the till or real red blood is shed. 

 

And like I said, I think that’s a real problem, because as long as we focus on the deed itself, we completely miss Jesus’s point in these verses. You see, according to what he wrote, whether it’s adultery or stealing or murder, immorality begins before the action itself. As a matter of fact, it actually starts with an inner desire. And you know, that’s what the Greek word translated “lust” actually means. As a matter of fact, when Paul was writing about the Law, he used the same word, and it was translated “covet.” Just listen: “What then should we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law sin lies dead.” [Romans 7:7-8, NRSV] And when he contrasted the Spirit and the flesh, Paul used the word again, but this time it was translated “desires”: “Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.” [Galatians 5:16-17, NRSV] Now that’s what he wrote. And so you see, this one word was translated three different ways in the New Testament.

 

But I’ll tell you, it really doesn’t matter whether the word is translated “lust” or “covet” or “desire”, it still points to the exact same thing. Immorality actually begins when we lust after or covet or desire something another person has but that we want. In fact, we may want it so badly that we’ll do whatever it takes to get it. 

 

And you know, for Christ, once we allow this desire to push it’s way to the front, it’s really only a matter of time before we take action. And you know, the word Jesus used for this action, you know, the one he used when he said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell” [Matthew 5:29, NRSV], well, it’s not the usual word for sin. In fact, the Greek word is σκανδαλίζω, you know, scandalous, and it refers to a person who stumbles or who falls away. For example, Jesus used it when he talked about what was going to happen to the disciples after his arrest. “Then Jesus said to them, ‘You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.’ Peter said to him, ‘Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.’” [Matthew 26:31-33, NRSV] Of course, we know what happened with Peter. He stumbled. He fell away. 

 

And if this same sort of thing happens to us, man, that’s a big deal. As Jesus said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.” [Matthew 5:29-30, NRSV] Of course, this word translated “hell,” well, it really has nothing to do with a metaphysical place of eternal torment. The actual word is γέεννα, and Γέεννα was the name of an actually valley on the south and east of Jerusalem. But it had a horrible reputation, because it was where the people of Judah sacrificed children to the god, Moloch, something that the prophet Jeremiah described: “For the people of Judah have done evil in my sight, says the Lord; they have set their abominations in the house that is called by my name, defiling it. And they go on building the high place of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire—which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind.” [Jeremiah 7:30-31, NRSV] And so γέεννα was a horrible place with a horrible history, a place of cries and pain and lamentation, a place of complete separation from God and righteous society. And so, if living in that valley is your goal, let your eyes and hands and feet cause you to stumble into sin and to desert God. And I’ll tell you, the easiest way for that to happen is to forget that immorality actually exists long before the actions are taken. And because that’s easy to do, and I think that’s why Christians can slip into immorality.

 

But I also think that offers us some direction about how immorality might be confronted and prevented. You see, in my opinion, the time to nip immorality in the bud is right after those unhealthy desires arise and before the stumbling actually occurs. And I’ll tell you, I think that can be done, if we decide to do three things that I believe can make all the difference. 

 

For example, if we want to confront immorality in our own lives, first, I think it’s crucial for us to be honest with ourselves. I mean, let’s stop justifying the desires that we have or trying to find someone to blame when those feelings move us to act. For example, a woman shouldn’t try to justify the kind of lust that leads to adultery by blaming her husband, no matter how self-centered and obnoxious he may be. And a man shouldn’t try to explain why his coveting of his neighbors car led him to cheat his Uncle Sam by blaming society, even if everybody else is really doing it. And we shouldn’t overlook cruelty and murder by listing the reasons why it’s OK. Before it gets out of hand, we need look at our desires for what they are, a mixed bag, some positive and others negative, some directed to God and others focused on self, and some that lead to righteousness and others to γέεννα. And if this self-directed honesty causes us to feel uncomfortable, well, we’re in pretty good company. This was what the Apostle Paul had to say when he compared his actions with his intentions. He wrote, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. ...So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” [Romans 7:15, 21-24, NRSV] Now if this was a struggle for Paul, the super Christian, why should we expect it to be easier for us? I’ll tell you, we really to be honest with ourselves. That’s one.

 

And second, after being honest about the desires we’re experiencing, that’s the time we need to be open to others, and I’m not just talking about our fellow brothers and sisters but also to God. And let me be straight with y’all, being open means listening to things we might not want to hear, and that can be really uncomfortable. You see, when I’m all fired up about something, it’s really tempting to trust my own judgement and to seek out only those folks I already know agree with me. I’ll tell you, when the desire to possess and control is really strong, man, I don’t want to hear someone tell me that going for it may be wrong. And yet that’s exactly what I need to hear. I mean, if the lust is leading me toward adultery, I need to hear how it’s going to affect my family and my church. And if coveting is leading me to some very questionable actions, then I need to hear someone tell me that maybe I should question whether what I want is worth the price I’m going to have to pay. And if my desire to avoid trouble or to be popular pushes me toward saying things that I know aren’t true and doing things that I know aren’t loving, I desperately need to have someone remind me that it’s really lonely to feel separated from God and my good friends. You see, because they might tell me some stuff I don’t want to hear, I need to be open to others, if I want get a handle on the desires. And that’s the second thing I can do.

 

And third, after deciding to be honest and open, we need to be strong in resisting the pull. Man, we shouldn’t fool ourselves; when we give into our desires, we’re not victims. And we shouldn’t try to convince ourselves into believing that resisting temptations is easy. In fact, it may involve making major changes in our lives, you know, like avoiding those folks who seem to stoke the desires and those situations in which we find it easy and comfortable to do what’s wrong. It’s like an addict who knows exactly what will send him into a downward spiral and yet there are times when that drink or that drug seems to be the most desirable thing in the world. Man, it’s tough to avoid sliding down that slippery slope. And for that reason I think it’s really important that we remember that we don’t have to face this challenge alone, God is always with us and so are our Christian brothers and sisters. And along with that, we also need to remember that, when we resist, the results are going to be well worth the effort. It’s like John wrote, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desire are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.” [1 John 2:15-17, NRSV] It takes strength to do what’s right. And that’s the third way we can confront immorality.

 

Of course, just knowing why Christians slip and how we might deal with the slippage, well, that won’t save us from those desires that move us in the direction of immorality. I mean, just because we understand that a lot of folks focus on the acts themselves and forget about the desires that lead to the stumbling and of course, the consequences that come later, just knowing that doesn’t necessarily change the decisions we choose to make. Nor does knowing that, when we’re honest with ourselves and open to others and strong in resisting. We’re still the ones on the firing line, and ultimately, we’re going to stand or fall on our own. But maybe, if we have a better idea about why it’s easy to stumble into immorality and how we might actually become steadier on our feet, then maybe, just maybe, we’ll have fewer regrets as we move into the future.

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10Jul

The Wedding Service for Chris Katterson & Mariah Kehoe - Saturday, July 7, 2018

On Saturday, July 7, I officiated the wedding of Chris Katterson and Mariah Kehoe in Wampum, Pennsylvania. Below is a podcast of the service and a picture of the couple. If you're planning your wedding and need an officiant, please give me a call at 304-479-3402.

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