20Jun

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - The Same Attention

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, 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.

 

Luke 20:19-26

 

When the scribes and chief priests realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to lay hands on him at that very hour, but they feared the people.

 

So they watched him and sent spies who pretended to be honest, in order to trap him by what he said, so as to hand him over to the jurisdiction and authority of the governor. So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you are right in what you say and teach, and you show deference to no one, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But he perceived their craftiness and said to them,“Show me a denarius. Whose head and whose title does it bear?” They said, “The emperor’s.” He said to them, “Then give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they were not able in the presence of the people to trap him by what he said; and being amazed by his answer, they became silent.

 

The Same Attention

 

People often spend a lot of time trying to make sure everybody gets their fair share, no more or no less. For example, I know a person who has two children and has worked out, in great detail, what each will get at his death. He wants his estate to be equally divided; therefore, his plans are constantly changing because of fluctuations in both the stock and property market. You see, he wants to make sure that each gets the same inheritance. And even though I doubt that most people are so diligent in keeping track of this kind of stuff, I think we’re all very aware of who gets what. For example, nearly everyone I know complains that the government gets too much, as though the benefits they receive as an American citizens in no way justifies the taxes they have to pay. But even those few who honestly feel as though they’re under-taxed, and there are actually more than one might assume, even they are very aware of how much is going out.

 

But there’s one area where we may not be nearly as diligent and the idea of “fair share” doesn’t play a very big role, and I’m talking about what we offer God. In fact, sometimes what we offer our heavenly Father is either an after-thought or something we think about only when we have extra. But when we consider that the whole creation belongs to him and everything we have is somehow linked to him, our attention should probably shift a little bit. In other words, what we might offer God should probably get the same attention as what we might leave our children and how much we pay in taxes.

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19Jun

Sunday’s Sermon - Love Is…

Below is the podcast of the sermon I preached on Sunday, June 18, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. This was the second message in the series entitled "Living by the Spirit." You can find other sermons, devotions, essays, articles, and announcement 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.

 

As I hope some of y’all remember, last week we started a new series dealing with how we as Christians can reflect the Holy Spirit to the world around us. And to do that, we’re going to use a little of what Paul wrote to the Galatians as a guide: “...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” [Galatians 5:22b-23] You see, showing these traits is really what living by the Spirit is all about. 

 

But before getting into all this good stuff, we started this series by talking about the “what not to do,” the kind of life-style Paul called “the works of the flesh.” And during our time last week, we discussed how folks sometime misuse the freedom they’ve been given, and that’s the reason a person might slip into this kind of mess. And then we talked about how a flesh-centered life is shown by some very definite signs, you know, like “...fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.” [Galatians 5:19b-21a] And we tied it up by considering the results that always come from this kind of thing, and I’m talking about broken relationships with God and with one another. Therefore, we need to do whatever we can to avoid giving into the desires of the flesh. Now that’s what we talked about last week.

 

And so, with all that behind us, this morning we’re going to start looking at what living by the Spirit is all about, namely those fruits that God has planted within us and that we can allow to grow. And the first one is love. Of course, that’s not a surprise. I mean, even though Christians past and present 

have been less than compassionate and merciful, especially to people and cultures that they considered strange and different, I think we all know that love should still be a big deal for believers. I mean, I think Jesus might have agreed with John Lennon when he sang “All you need is love.”

 

But I’ll tell you, when I think about love, it’s not The Beatles song that comes to mind first. Instead it’s those little “Love is...” cartoons that I remember seeing everywhere when I was in high school. Of course, they’re still being published, but I haven’t seen them for years. And as I remember, once you got past the fact that they looked like two naked children, I think some of them were kind of funny. And some of the were extremely cute. And some of them, well, they were really sad. Of course, I don’t think you’d strain any brain cells on any of them. 

 

But, you know, it’s the two words up on the top of all of them, you know, “love is,” well, those words are really important, or at least they should be, especially for us as Christians. And so, for a few minutes, we’re going to look at what Paul had in mind when he wrote that love is the first fruit of the Spirit and for that reason, is probably the first thing we might want to get down if we’re serious about living a spirit-filled life. And I’ll tell you, when you look at what Paul wrote, I think there are two things he said about love  that are different from what we generally think. Of course, I have no idea about what he’d draw if he were cartoonist, but I believe I’m on pretty solid ground about what he’d write if he were here today.

 

For example, I think the first thing Paul would say is that love is a decision. It’s a conscious decision on the part of the one doing the loving. I mean just listen to what he wrote to the Corinthians, and this by-the-way is called the love chapter, something couples want read at most of the weddings I do. He wrote, and I’m reading this from The Message: “If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, ‘Jump,’ and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love. 

Love never gives up. 

Love cares more for others than for self. 

Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. 

Love doesn’t strut, 

Doesn’t have a swelled head, 

Doesn’t force itself on others, 

Isn’t always ‘me first,’ 

Doesn’t fly off the handle, 

Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, 

Doesn’t revel when others grovel, 

Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, 

Puts up with anything, 

Trusts God always, 

Always looks for the best, 

Never looks back, 

But keeps going to the end. 

Love never dies.” [1 Corinthians 13:1-8a] Now that’s what he wrote. 

 

And I’ll tell you, that seems a lot different from the way love is viewed in our society. I mean, based on what you see in movies and on television, in books and on billboards, in advertising and my gosh, printed on Hallmark cards, love is all about feeling, isn’t it? It’s liking on vitamins, but not steroids; that would be passion. It’s something that can make you feel deliriously happy or unspeakably sad or incredibly angry. I’ll tell you, it leads people to think that they’ve made either the absolute best or the absolute worse decision of their entire lives, and they feel that as they’re looking at the same exact person but at different times of the day. You see, I think this is the way we tend to view love, one that’s certainly mentioned in scripture whenever the Greek word φιλεω is used. But let’s face it, as applied in our world, it has more to do with Madison Avenue than the Bible.

 

But of course, that’s not the Greek word Paul used either in what he wrote to the Galatians or the Corinthians. Instead, he used the word ἀγαπη, and my friends, that kind of love is a decision. In other words, it doesn’t just happen. It’s not something you fall into or that hits you like a ton of bricks. It takes effort, because it’s not always easy to be patient and kind. And there are times when jealousy and envy and arrogance seem the way to go. And this business about bearing and believing and hoping and enduring all things, don’t tell me that’s a cinch, because it’s not. No, it takes work to show the kind of love about which Paul wrote. But with enough effort it’s possible, if we decide to do it, something that may be impossible if love is all about how we feel. And something else, if love is just our emotions, it’s ridiculous to say that we can love people we don’t like. But if it’s about a decision, well, we can even do what Jesus told us to do, and I’m talking about when he said, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you...” [Matthew 5:44] You see, we don’t have to like our enemies; we just need to show love to them. And that we can do, because, for Paul, first, love is a decision. 

 

And this business about Jesus telling us to love, well, that really leads to the second thing love is. For Paul, not only is it a decision, love is also an obligation. In other words, it’s our responsibility as followers of Jesus Christ. And this is something that’s really clear in what he wrote to the Romans. Paul said, “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.” [Romans 12:9-17] Now I want you to notice that he didn’t say “I’d like you to contribute to the needs of the saints, if you have a little extra this month.” And he didn’t say, “If you’re able, it might be a good idea to bless those who persecute you” And he didn’t say, “Wouldn’t it be neat if we all could live in harmony with one another?” He didn’t say that, but I think most of us kind of wish he did, because, in our world, love is generally seen as an option, you know, something you do if you’re feeling it. And if you’re not, well, sorry about your luck. 

 

But that’s sure not the way Paul described it. Love is something we’re expected to do. But even that’s too soft; it’s something we’re commanded to do. It’s like he wrote to the Galatians, a passage we talked a little bit about last week: “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.” [Galatians 5:13-15] We’re obligated to love others. And of course, this command to love, man, it comes from the highest authority of all. Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” [John 13:34-35] And I’ll tell you, that really points to why it’s so important for us to love. It’s like Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” You see, since it’s our job is to bear witness to Jesus Christ and to make disciples of all nations, our decision to love is absolutely crucial. It’s the way we show the world who we are. To love others isn’t optional; it’s not a choice. Love is a commandment. Love is an obligation.

 

Now I’ve got to confess, I kind of like those “Love is” cartoons. And maybe it’s because some of them move past that mushy kind of love that’s so popular in our culture. But regardless of how you feel about the cartoons, I think Paul’s understanding of love is clear. You see, for him, love is a decision, not a feeling. And love is an obligation, not an option. And when we claim this vision, then we just may be taking the first step in living by the Spirit. Now we’re going to make a change at the end, one I thought about last night as I was finishing the sermon. Instead of singing the hymn that’s in the bulletin, we’re going to sing the song we just heard. Now it’ll be up on the screen.

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17Jun

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - A Gutless Answer

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, 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.

 

Luke 20:1-8

 

One day, as he was teaching the people in the temple and telling the good news, the chief priests and the scribes came with the elders and said to him, "Tell us, by what authority are you doing these things? Who is it who gave you this authority?" He answered them, "I will also ask you a question, and you tell me: Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?" They discussed it with one another, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will say, 'Why did you not believe him?' But if we say, 'Of human origin,' all the people will stone us; for they are convinced that John was a prophet." So they answered that they did not know where it came from. Then Jesus said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things."

 

A Gutless Answer

 

When I read this little passage, my first thought was this: those chief priests, scribes and elders gave one gutless answer. I mean, give me a break. When Jesus turned their question back on them, they knew exactly what they believed to be the right answer. But they were so busy weighing the consequences of what they might say, they wimped out and said that they didn’t know. Now, in my book, that was gutless to the max.

 

But before I swing the hammer too hard, I have to admit that there are times I do the same kind of thing myself. I mean, when asked a question, sometimes I weigh the costs of the alternatives before giving my answer. And then when I finally decide to respond, it reflects more calculation than honesty. And so, if I’m honest with myself, there are times when my own guts are lacking.

 

But I don’t think I’m alone. To varying degrees, I think we all do this kind of thing from time to time. And even though we may be able to justify it by saying we’re actually thinking of others and their feelings, I believe we generally have ourselves in mind as we hem and hah. And as a result, we probably shouldn’t be surprise that we don’t receive the answers we want at the times we need them most.

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17Jun

The Wedding Service for Carrie Reidmiller & Richard Bellman - Friday, June 16, 2017

Below is the podcast of the wedding I officiated on Friday, June 16 in Blue Spruce Park, Indiana, Pennsylvania. 

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16Jun

Friday’s Essay - Inside Outside

Below is a podcast of an essay that I sent to those on the Cove Presbyterian Church e-mailing list. You can find other essays, sermons, devotions, articles, and announcement 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

 

On June 4, we celebrated Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit came upon the church. And building on that gift from God, during our summer worship services, we’re going to talk about how the presence of the Spirit can and should affect us as the Body of Christ and as individual Christians. Now as a guide, we’ll use these verses from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians:

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another. [Galatians 5:22-26]

Now, when Paul wrote his letter, this was a message that the Galatians really needed to hear. For Paul, these Christians scattered in a whole bunch of little churches throughout the territory of Galatia had forgotten something fundamental about the faith they claimed. You see, they’d received the Holy Spirit just like the disciples had on Pentecost. And that Spirit had inspired a different perspective within the churches, one centered on unity, faith and inclusion. In other words, those men and women had been changed on the inside. Now that had already occurred, and yet for some reason, the Galatians had turned from something that had changed their lives toward a new system of religious laws and spiritual regulations. And that’s why he wrote to them, “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified! The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?” [Galatians 3:1-3] Now, from his perspective, that’s what they’d done. And for Paul, this decision was going to get them in big trouble: “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” [Galatians 5:19-21] You see, although Paul believed the Spirit was within these believers, they weren’t showing it on the outside.

 

And I think that’s also true for us. I mean, even though we’ve been filled with the Holy Spirit, we don’t always demonstrate and display the qualities inspired by that presence. For example, as Paul warned the Galatians, “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.” [Galatians 5:13-15] In other words, knowing on the inside that we’ve been called to love one another doesn’t actually make us love one another. And just because the spiritual fruits are right now within us, their presence doesn’t force us to show “...love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” To do that we need both focus and dedication. 

 

And so, during the rest of the summer we’re going to look at each of these spiritual fruits. We’re going to define what they are, consider how they might be developed and establish why they’re important. But I’ll tell you, for all of them, the process is exactly the same. It’s taking what the Holy Spirit has placed on the inside and bringing it out.

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15Jun

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - It’s All in How You Look at It

Below is a new devotion I just left on the Cove Presbyterian Church prayer line. You can find other devotions, sermons, essays, articles, and announcement 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.

 

2 Corinthians 12:7b-10

 

Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

 

It’s All in How You Look at It

 

I’ve always found it interesting that, when people start taking about divine blessings, they nearly always name things that they want. In other words, we’re blessed whenever we receive stuff that we consider good. It’s as though, our definition of positive is also God’s definition of positive. And naturally the reverse is also true. When something happens that we wouldn’t have chosen, something that isn’t what we consider beneficial, something that we view as negative, when something like that happens, then we’re cursed or maybe we’re being punished. Now that’s seems to be the way a lot of believers view the nature of blessings and curses.

 

Of course, I think most of us understand that what we consider a blessing may not always turn out wonderful in the end. It like that old saying, Be careful what you wish for; you may get it. I think we all know examples of a person getting exactly what they wanted, but later finding that the consequences carry a price far greater than they’re willing to pay. And so, it just makes sense to be careful how we label blessings.

 

And I think that’s also true with curses, in other words, things that we really don’t want. I mean, suppose we decide that, rather than seeing something as irredeemably negative and bad, suppose we look at all events as opportunities to grow into the men and women God created us to be. For example, we can learn something from every encounter, even if that lesson is just humility. You see, maybe we should try to see a glimmer in every dark room. Because, when you get right down to it, both blessings and curses are all in how you look at them.

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14Jun

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - With Eyes Wide Open

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, 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.

 

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

 

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

 

With Eyes Wide Open

 

There are a lot of things in life over which we have no control. And we end up face all kinds of problems that we didn’t choose. In fact, we’re all forced to make decisions without understanding fully the consequences of our actions. Maybe it’s because we’re all limited, and we live in a world surrounded by limitations. I’m just not sure. But regardless of the cause, that just seems to be the way it is. And for that reason, I can certainly understand how a person might feel as though they’re navigating through life with their eyes tightly shut.

 

But that’s not the way it is with one decision we all have to make. You see, we have to decide either to trust God or to rely on ourselves, either to obey Jesus Christ or to do our own thing, either to structure our lives around love for others or to ground ourselves and our values on self-indulgence. This is a choice we all face. As a matter of fact, it’s a choice we’re constantly having to make. But in this case we’re not blind at all, because we know that by choosing to trust God and to obey Jesus Christ and to structure our lives around self-giving love, we’ll experience the presence of God in a real and powerful way. And so, even thought it might not apply to other aspects of our lives, this is a decision we can make with our eyes wide open.

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13Jun

Cove Presbyterian Church Worship Service - June 11, 2017

Below is the podcast of the service I led on Sunday, June 11, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia.

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13Jun

Sunday’s Sermon - Living by the Spirit in Bizzaro World

Below is the podcast of the sermon I preached on Sunday, June 11, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. This was the first message in the series entitled "Living by the Spirit." You can find other sermons, devotions, essays, 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.

 

This morning we’re starting on a series of messages that’ll take all the way through the summer. And our focus will be on what it means to live by the Holy Spirit. In other words, we’re going to look at how we can choose to show the world  that the Spirit is alive and well and resting upon us, and I’m saying “us” as both individuals and as a church. And to do this, we’re going to use a passage from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians as a guide and talk about what he called the Fruit of the Spirit. He wrote, “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. [Galatians 5:22-23] But all that positive stuff, well, we’ll consider that starting next week. 

 

This morning, though, we’re going to focus on what Paul had just talked about you know, that caused him to write “by contrast.” In other words, this morning we’re going to look at the opposite of all these wonderful fruits, the stuff, we’re not suppose to do, something Paul calls the desires of the flesh. And you know, since it really is the opposite of what he wants us to do, it’s actually like living by the Spirit in a place called the Bizzaro World. Now, does anyone know what I’m talking about? Well, if you don’t, just check this out, because I think this little video explains Bizzaro World better than I could. 

 

To see the video, go to https://youtu.be/IcjSDZNbOs0.

 

Of course, if you’ve seen this episode or know anything about Seinfeld, you understand exactly what’s going on. Elaine has met three new friends. And since they’re dependable and sensitive and intellectual, Kevin, Gene and Feldman are the Bizzaro World’s version of Jerry, George and Kramer. In other words, they’re the exact opposite.

 

And in a real way, I think that’s what Paul was warning the Galatians and us when he wrote, “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. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” [Galatians 5:16-21] You see, doing this kind of stuff is the exact opposite of what Paul thought Christians should be doing. And in that way, it really is like living by the Spirit in Bizzaro world.

 

But even though this life-style is diametrically opposed to the kind of lives we’ve been called to lived, it’s not only tempting but really easy to do. And I’ll tell you, I think the Apostle Paul would agree with both. You see, for him, the reason it happens, especially to Christians, well, it all started when Jesus died on the cross. I mean, just listen to what Paul wrote to the Romans, and I’m reading this from the Contemporary English Version: “That is how it is with you, my friends. You are now part of the body of Christ and (listen to this) are dead to the power of the Law. You are free to belong to Christ, who was raised to life so that we could serve God. When we thought only of ourselves, the Law made us have sinful desires. It made every part of our bodies into slaves who are doomed to die. But the Law no longer rules over us. We are like dead people, and it cannot have any power over us. Now we can serve God in a new way by obeying his Spirit, and not in the old way by obeying the written Law.” [Romans 7:4-6] Now that what he wrote. 

 

And just think about what that means. Through Jesus Christ, we’ve been set free from the Law, and I’m talking about all those rules and regulations that folks believe will make them O.K. in the sight of God. As he wrote a little later in Romans, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” [Romans 8:1-2] You see, thanks to the cross, we’re free; that’s our condition; therefore, Paul meant it when he wrote right before our passage, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”  [Galatians 5:1] Now I don’t care how you cut it, this is good news. Man, we are free, free at last, thank Almighty God we’re free at last.

 

But right here’s the problem. Since we’re free from the law that kept us on a short leash when we were bound, we’re now free to make some really bad decisions. In other words, we’re absolutely free to misuse the freedom that we now have. It’s sort of like a new scooper at an ice cream parlor, who’s told that he can eat as much ice cream as he wants. And he eats so much he throws up. That’s the kind of freedom we have. And I think that’s what Paul understood when he wrote about standing firm and not become slaves again. In fact, this is the very thing he talked about just a little later in Galatians. He wrote, “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.” [Galatians 5:13-15] You see, Paul recognized that, as free men and women, we can take this precious, this wonderful freedom we have, and we can pervert it. We can misuse it. Man, we can turn and distort it in order to indulge ourselves, you know, to make ourselves happy, something that, doggone it, sinners just love to do. And you know, that’s exactly why he, after all this freedom stuff, Paul warned the Galatians to “live by the Spirit ...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. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.” [Galatians 5:16-18] You see, it’s our abuse of the freedom we’ve been given, I’m telling you, that’s the reason we drift into this spiritual Bizzaro World.

 

And how can we know it’s happening? Well, that becomes obvious in the lives we’re living, something that Paul made crystal clear when he wrote, and again, this is from the Contemporary English translation: “People’s desires make them give in to immoral ways, filthy thoughts, and shameful deeds. They worship idols, practice witchcraft, hate others, and are hard to get along with. People become jealous, angry, and selfish. They not only argue and cause trouble, but they are envious. They get drunk, carry on at wild parties, and do other evil things as well. I told you before, and I am telling you again: No one who does these things will share in the blessings of God’s kingdom.” [Galatians 5:19-21] Now, that’s a pretty good list. Or just your average day at a Rudiger family reunion. Just kidding. In fact, this is a lot like another list Paul offered, this time to the Romans, and if you thought what he said to the Galatians was bad, get a load of this. “Since these people refused even to think about God, he let their useless minds rule over them. That’s why they do all sorts of indecent things. They are evil, wicked, and greedy, as well as mean in every possible way. They want what others have, and they murder, argue, cheat, and are hard to get along with. They gossip, say cruel things about others, and hate God. They are proud, conceited, and boastful, always thinking up new ways to do evil. These people don’t respect their parents. They are stupid, unreliable, and don’t have any love or pity for others. They know God has said that anyone who acts this way deserves to die. But they keep on doing evil things, and they even encourage others to do them.” [Romans 1:28-32] 

 

Now if you’re sitting there thinking, “Well, I’ve never practiced witchcraft or committed murder, and so I must be OK,” think again. Now don’t get me wrong, even if we do all this crazy stuff, I believe we’re still loved by God, because remember nothing can separate us from his love, including our misuse of the freedom we’ve been given. But if you found yourself drawing a line through some of these characteristics and then trying to come up with reasons why some others don’t technically apply (I mean, technically it wasn’t a lie, not technically) if that’s what you started to do, well, I think you’re probably showing some pretty strong signs that, in spiritual terms, you should start your prayers by saying “amen” because, I’ll tell you, that’s the kind of world in which you live, Bizzaro.

 

And you know, if these signs aren’t bad enough, the results of this kind of life, man, they’re even worst. You see, if we’ve made up our minds to take this freedom that God has given us and to misuse it and if we end up showing all these signs that comes from our choice to live in the flesh and not by the Spirit, I’m telling you, this decision always carries two consequences. I mean, first, we’re going to experience a separation from God. Now before I go any farther, I want to be clear about this. God never separates himself from us. He’s always present and he always loves. And there’s nothing we can do to change that. But you know, we can separate ourselves from him or maybe better, we can feel separated from his love and his grace. And I’ll tell you, that’s a pretty lonely place to be. In fact, this was how Paul described it in his letter to the Romans, and now I’m reading from Eugene Peterson’s The Message: “But God’s angry displeasure erupts as acts of human mistrust and wrongdoing and lying accumulate, as people try to put a shroud over truth. But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse. What happened was this: People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn’t treat him like God, refusing to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives. They pretended to know it all, but were illiterate regarding life. They traded the glory of God who holds the whole world in his hands for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside stand. So God said, in effect, ‘If that’s what you want, that’s what you get.’ It wasn’t long before they were living in a pigpen, smeared with filth, filthy inside and out. And all this because they traded the true God for a fake god, and worshiped the god they made instead of the God who made them – the God we bless, the God who blesses us. Oh, yes!” [Romans 1:18-25] You see, the first result of chasing after the flesh is separation from God. 

 

And second, there’s also a break in the relationships we have with one another. I mean, just consider most of the signs offered in Paul’s list, and I’m thinking about actions, you know like arguing and cheating, gossiping and bragging; and attitudes, like being jealous and selfish, conceited and unreliable. Now you tell me, how can you have a genuine relationship with a person who’s always saying cruel things about others and who doesn’t have any love or pity for those around them? I’ll tell you, I think the result of living this kind of life will always lead to separation from God and others.

 

And I believe that’s the reason why the Apostle Paul, before he started talking about what life by the Spirit was all about, you know, the kind of lives he wanted his people to live, he was very clear about the life-style they should avoid, something he called the desires of the flesh. And for him, the reason folks tend to drift in this direction involved an abuse of the freedom that God has given them and the signs that it’s happening are universally negative and the results always involve broken relationships, first with God but also with one another. That was his message to them and through them, it’s his message to us. And for that reason, he told the Galatians and he tells us to “live by the Spirit, ...and do not gratify the desires of the flesh,” unless that is, you’re living by the Spirit in Bizarro World.

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10Jun

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - Some Good News and Some Bad News

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, 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.

 

Luke 18:18-27

 

A certain ruler asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: 'You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.'" He replied, "I have kept all these since my youth." When Jesus heard this, he said to him, "There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. Jesus looked at him and said, "How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."

 

Those who heard it said, "Then who can be saved?" He replied, "What is impossible for mortals is possible for God."

 

Some Good News and Some Bad News

 

I’ve got some good news and some bad news. And since I like to get the negativity out of the way as fast as I can, I’ll give you the bad news first, and here it is. It is impossible for us to get saved. Of course, I recognize that it’s tempting to play some little semantic games, you know, like saying that it’s impossible for us to save ourselves thereby keeping open the possibility that we actually can acquire salvation. But in spite of what we say to ourselves, I’m telling you right now, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than someone who is rich (like we are) to enter the kingdom of God.” No matter how you say it, the meaning is the same; we cannot get saved. It’s impossible.

 

Now, I understand that this flies in the face of what most Christians say. I mean, getting saved seems to be the goal of Christianity. And believers will talk about when and how and where and with whom they got their own piece of salvation. And then, if they’re worth their salt, they’ll tell you when and how and where and with whom you can do it too, if you haven’t done it already. No, in American Christianity, getting saved is the carrot at the end of the stick. It’s the honey that attracts the flies. It’s the dividend that makes the investment in Jesus worthwhile. And so, if it’s impossible to get saved, man, that’s really bad.

 

But now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we can shift to the good news. As Jesus said,  "What is impossible for mortals is possible for God."

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