25Mar

On the Road Again - Passion, Part 3 (Luke 23.1-49)

Below is the passage we discussed in a series entitled "On the Road Again: A Study of Luke/Acts and a podcast of our discussion. This week we discussed Luke 23.1-49. 

 

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

 

Then the assembly rose as a body and brought Jesus before Pilate. They began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor, and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a king.” Then Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He answered, “You say so.” Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no basis for an accusation against this man.” But they were insistent and said, “He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.” When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him off to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had been wanting to see him for a long time, because he had heard about him and was hoping to see him perform some sign. He questioned him at some length, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. Even Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then he put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate. That same day Herod and Pilate became friends with each other; before this they had been enemies.

 

Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us. Indeed, he has done nothing to deserve death. I will therefore have him flogged and release him.” Then they all shouted out together, “Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!” (This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.) Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again; but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.” But they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that he should be crucified; and their voices prevailed. So Pilate gave his verdict that their demand should be granted. He released the man they asked for, the one who had been put in prison for insurrection and murder, and he handed Jesus over as they wished.

 

As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

 

Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

 

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, “Certainly this man was innocent.” And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

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24Mar

Friday’s Essay - Distractions

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

 

In the thirty years I’ve been a minister, I’ve run into a lot of folks who are struggling through difficult times. Of course, the reason for the stress varies. For example, some are fighting through a sudden separation from someone whom they love, the kind of thing that happens with death or divorce. And others are facing a sudden change in something that at one time offered them a lot of security and comfort, you know, like good health or a steady job. And still others feel as though they’re being cut by a thousand knives, all those little issues that they’d probably be able to handle if faced one at a time but that have suddenly become like a flood. And these are just a few examples; struggles come in all kinds of forms to all kinds of people. But regardless of their shape, more often than not, these traumas can really dominate a person, leaving them isolated and alone to obsess on a problem over which they have limited control.

 

Now during my time as a minister, I’ve seen this happen over and over again. And I’ve also heard well-meaning friends offer the same kind of advice. As a matter of fact, I think I’ve probably said this more than once myself. They see their friend burdened and heavy laden, and in attempt to move them past their lethargy, they’ll say something like, “You just can’t sit around moping. What you need to do is work in the garden or see a good movie or maybe hang out with friend. In other words, you need some kind of distraction that’ll get you out and away from your troubles.” Now that what they say.

 

And even though I certainly understand the reason for this advice, I think the words used are off-base. You see, when we say that the garden or the movie or the friends are distractions, we’re also suggesting that the obsessing and the worrying is actually living. In other words, we’re living our lives when we’re passively thinking about the one who’s gone or the security we lost or the onslaught we’re enduring. And sitting still and silent is somehow a natural and reasonable way to deal with our struggles until we find something to distract us from our new life-style. 

 

 

But I don’t think that’s how it works, because I believe the stress itself is the distraction, because it distracts us from living and becoming everything God has created us to be. I mean, the kind of life God made us to live involves developing and using the gifts and talents he’s given us; it’s not sitting on a sofa obsessing about something in the past that we won’t be able to change in the future. In other words, living is that string of activities, some great but most small, that we bring together into a pattern that reflects who we are and what we value. That’s what life and living is all about. Those things that take us away from this pattern is distractions. 

 

And since these distractions divert our attention from the kind of person God created us to be, I think it’s not too dramatic to call them satanic, and let me explain what I mean. I believe scripture, especially the devil’s encounter with Jesus in the wilderness, shows that Satan is the great distractor. As he did with Christ, he tries to tempt us to look away from the God who loves us and is leading us into the future. And regardless of how we see him, Satan becomes the source of those thoughts and feelings that cause us to obsess about things beyond our control and to feel shame about ourselves. Therefore, we resist Satan when we resist succumbing to the temptations he throws before us and decide to move forward in living the lives God has given to us. 

 

Of course, I recognize that from time-to-time we all face struggles. And in the face of those struggles, it’s tempting to do nothing but focus on the problems we have and the pain we feel. But before we assume that this is somehow the reality found in the lives we’ve been forced to live, I think it’s important to label these temptations for what they are, distractions leading us away from the people God created us to be. And then, as we pick up a trowel or buy a ticket or just hang out, we can recognize that what we’re actually doing is saying to the great distractor, “Get behind me Satan.”

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24Mar

Our Service Celebrating the Promises of God and the Life of Phyllis Manley

Below is the sermon I preached during the funeral service for our sister Phyllis Manley and a podcast of the entire service, including Donald's memories of his mother. 

 

You now, before I became the father of a little white shichon, I never realized how walking a dog early in the morning is a great time to think. I mean, it's dark and quiet and you sure don't need to worry about making conversation, and so I've discovered that it's about the best time to plan out something I might need to do or say. 

 

And so, yesterday, as I was walking Coco Chanel around our neighborhood up on the hill, I was thinking about what I was going to say this morning about Phyllis. And I came up will all kind of stuff. I mean, I thought about her determination, you know, how determined she was to learn and how that moved her to take advantage of every opportunity she had to know more. And I thought about how dedicated she was to her friends and to her students and to her church and of course to her God. And I thought about how devoted she was to Hugh and to Mark, Donald, Ruthann, and of course the baby, Suzann and of course to all the grandchildren. Now as we were walking down Brightway, all this was on my mind.

 

But the more I thought about it, the more each of this ideas, well, they just didn't seem adequate. Of course, they were all true. Good night, I think we'd all agree that Phyllis was determined to learn as much as she could during her time here. As I told the family Thursday afternoon, personally I was always impressed by how smart she was and how, if I was teaching a class and she was there, she was always listening and thinking. And as to being dedicated, I think we all know that Phyllis put everything she had into everything she did. And without a doubt, she was devoted. And my gosh, Phyllis just plain loved her family as much as anyone I've ever known. And she worried about Hugh having to do so much to help her. And she always was bragging about you all. And so, all that stuff I was thinking about, man, it was right on the mark, but with Phyllis there was something more.

 

And as we were turned on Euclid it hit me. Something that Donald mentioned in his memories. One word that really captured who Phyllis was, and here it is: Phyllis Manley was feisty, but in the best possible way. And I think her feistiness shaped both what she said and what she did. I mean, Donald, what did you say? She was funny in an ironic way. Man, you hit the nail of the head. For example, something Hugh, you talked about on Thursday, you know, how, instead of telling her that you loved her, you started to say, "I adore you," and when you asked, why she didn't say the say the same thing to you, she said something like, "I adore God. I adore Jesus. And you haven't made it to their level. And so I love you." I'll tell you, that's what I consider feisty, especially when you’re saying that to Hugh Manley.

 

But you know, more than in what she said, I think you could best see what they used to call spunk and pluck in what she did. My goodness, to start college in her forties, I'll tell you, that's really something. And to go to class all day, come home, make dinner for the family, get the kids bathed and off to bed, and then to study until 1:00, 2:00 in the morning, that's feisty. And Donald, I saw the eye roll a couple of times when Phyllis was in a class I was teaching. And with her work, she took what she did seriously, and she knew she had something that her students to know, and that's why she had the jocks, who took Home Economics because they thought it was a cake course, why she had them sweating over a sowing machine, trying to get a seam straight. And as to her devotion to her family, well, I don't know many people who, when her husband was working at the pool in the even, would pack up food and dinner and hike over to the park so the family could share a picnic supper. You see, what I'm talking about. Her determination and dedication and devotion was all shaped by her inborn feistiness.

 

And I'll tell you, the reason I mention all this isn't just because part of the reason we're here is to

 remember our sister Phyllis. No, I have two other reasons. First, right now, we facing a time of separation. Now I'm not saying that this is a difficult time because it is, and that everyone here isn't sad because we are and that after all this is over, Hugh and the kids and grandchildren won't need our help and support because they will. Still, what we facing is a time of separation; that's all it is, which means it's temporary. You see, because of the death and resurrection of Christ, we know that we've been cleanse and we will raised to new life. And when we are, it’ll be into a new heaven and a new earth, one where the one pain and limitation will be gone. And take it to the bank, Phyllis will be there, cooking dinners, reading books, and rolling her eyes if someone says something foolish. Now, that's going to happen. And the more we remember Phyllis, the more we tell the stories, the more we share the memories, the more we're keeping her alive in our minds and hearts until we see her again. Now that's one reason for remembering who she was. 

 

And second, well, I think our world would be a better place  if we all could work a little of Phyllis's feistiness in our lives. I mean, imagine if we all had her determination to be everything God created us to be, you know, to make the very best use of the gifts he's given us. And imagine if we all had her dedication to the work we've been called and equipped to do, regardless of what that work is. And imagine, just imagine, if we all had some of the devotion she had to her family and friends, if we could convey to our spouses, to our children, to our grandchildren, to our friends and to our God that they are loved and they could feel that love by both our words and actions. My gosh, imagine what we might see happen within our families and within our communities and congregations, my goodness, even within our country. It staggers the imagination. 

 

I think we'd all agree that God gave Phyllis a lot of gifts and abilities. But more than that, he gave her some attitudes that really defined who she was, and I'm talking about her determination and dedication and devotion. And without question, those traits made her special to those who knew her. But let's never forget that one word that seemed to shape everything else, a word I know and y'all know, even my little dog Coco knows, because she heard me say it yesterday morning as we were walking down Euclid. Brothers and sister, Phyllis Manley was feisty.

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24Mar

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - The Meaning of “All”

Below is a new devotion I just left on the Cove Presbyterian Church prayer line. You can find a recording of this devotion on the prayer line (1-304-748-7900). You can find other devotions, sermons, articles, essays, 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.

 


Romans 5:18-21

 

Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

The Meaning of "All"

 

These verses make a lot of Christians very comfortable. You see, they read the word “all”, and they break out in a cold sweat. Of course, it’s really not the first “all” that they find upsetting. I mean, they can accept this business about universal condemnation. As a matter of fact, they often sound as though God actually wants to send everybody to Hell unless they can give him a good reason not to. And so “all” number one is alright. It’s the second “all” that they really don’t like. You see, the phrase “so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all” presents a problem. It seems to suggest the same thing about salvation that they can easily accept about condemnation. And if that’s true, then salvation is no longer based on what a person does or says, you know, like whether he finds God or makes Jesus Lord or accepts the Holy Spirit. Although these decisions may have a huge impact on one’s values and perspectives and life-style, doing this stuff wouldn’t change one’s ultimate status with God. And since that’s not the way we do things here on earth, it can’t be the way God does things in heaven. Therefore, the definition of the word “all” must be more fluid than assumed. I mean, maybe “all” actually means “all those who believe” or “all those who have done what’s necessary” or “all those who’ve found and made and accepted. For them, it comes down to the meaning of all.

 

But suppose we decided not to do linguistic gymnastics and recognized that “all” means all. In other words, suppose we recognized that God has found us even though we’ve done our best to wander and hide. And suppose we made the decision to trust that grace is beyond our control and extends beyond our reach. And suppose we accepted that for reasons we may never understand the Holy Spirit has touched our hearts and given us the ability to do something we couldn’t do on our own. Suppose we did all that. We might end up feeling so much joy and peace for ourselves and others we’ll no longer worry about the meaning of all.

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21Mar

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - The Reason to Be Reasonable

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

 

John 7:37-44

 

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

 

When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, “This is really the prophet.” Others said, “This is the Messiah.” But some asked, “Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?” So there was a division in the crowd because of him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.

 

The Reason to Be Reasonable

 

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, our expectation cross the line that separates what’s reasonable and what’s not. And even though when we allow that to happen we only hurt ourselves, sometimes the pain we end up feeling is pretty bad. For example, I remember, when I was about eleven and my brother was six years younger, I had a little toy movie projector that could play about 50 feet of 8 mm film. The only problem was that the lamp had burned out. Now, remember, I said this was a toy; therefore, there was no replacement bulb. This was something I knew, but my brother didn’t. And so when a family member promised to fix the projector, my brother believed her. His expectations sky-rocketed only to crash when my Father told him that the toy couldn’t be fixed. If we’d been able to keep his expectations reasonable, he wouldn’t have been so disappointed later.

 

And I think that’s something we need to remember as we share the gospel of Jesus Christ with others and even invite folks to join us at church. If we’re excited enough about our faith actually to do it, we probably expect others to become excited too. And for those close to us, we’ll more than likely expect them to be positive, if only because of their relationship with us. You see, it’s easy for our expectations to be high, maybe too high. And that’s why we need to remember that, in the time of Jesus, not everyone responded positively to him. There were divisions. Therefore, it makes sense to be reasonable in our expectations, not as an excuse to do nothing, rather as a way to keep our excitement and energy high as we do what we’ve been called to do in the real world.

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20Mar

Cove’s Worship Service - March 19, 2017

Below is the podcast of the service I lead on Sunday, March 19, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. It's the third service  in a series entitled, "Why: Answering Some of Life's Hard Questions."

20Mar

Sunday’s Sermon - Why Don’t I Understand What’s Going On?

Below is a podcast of the sermon I preached on Sunday, March 19, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. It's the second sermon in a series entitled, "Why: Answering Some of Life's Hard Questions." 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.

 

Well, here we are, asking the third question in our series dealing with what I consider life’s most difficult questions. And to sort of bring us up to date, let’s review some the questions we’ve already discussed. I mean, as y’all remember, during the first week, we looked at the question, Why do bad things happen to good people? And we sort of came to the conclusion that, even though sometimes good people either bring suffering on themselves or others dump it on them, a lot of bad stuff just happens and we never really know why. Still, if we recognize that our past has been cleansed and that our future is secure and that God is with us all the time, you see, if we recognize that all this is true, it may help us keep going when bad things happen. Now that was the first week and the first question. And then last week, we considered a question that I think most of us have asked ourselves from time-to-time: Why don’t people understand me? And as we talked about it, we looked at how we’re surrounded by four kinds of people. There are some who won’t take the time to understand what we’re going through, but even if they did, they still couldn’t understand, while there are others who have the ability to understand but who have also made the decision not to. And there are others want to understand, but just can’t. But praise the Lord, there are folks out there and in here who sincerely want to understand what we’re facing and are able to do it, because they faced it too. And as we talked about last week, those are the folks we need to find ourselves but also become for others. And so we’ve looked at question number one, why do bad things happen to good people, and question number two, why don’t people understand me?

 

And if the first one was more, you know, philosophical and the second one was more focused on the outside, the third question is really directed toward the inside. In other words, it deals with what may be going on inside each of us as we deal with some of the stuff that’s happening.Now I guess we could ask this question when you’re feeling fat and sassy, you know, like when you’ve just won a scratch-off or you watch that kid about whom you always worried graduate from college or you find out that West Virginia has actually made it to the Sweet Sixteen. Now we might not be able to understand why this is happening, but remember, this stuff is good and so we may not care. Instead, I think we usually wonder about this sort of thing when we fail a test for which we studied or we can’t get a second date with a girl we worked so hard to impress or we bet with that idiot who actually though Donald Trump had a chance in the last election and now he wants us to pay-up. Talking for myself, when something like that happens, I can imagine me holding my head and asking that simple yet profound question: Why don’t I understand what’s going on?

 

And I’ll tell you, if something like that should happen and we end up mouthing those words, I think we’d be in excellent company, because that’s exactly the kind of question Job asked. Now as y’all know, we’ve been sort of using Job as a guide as we considered the first two of life’s more difficult questions, because remember, he was a incredibly good and righteous guy who not only lost everything but was covered by these weeping boils, but not because he was evil or irresponsible or even unbelievably unlucky. This good man suffered because Satan tripe dog dared God and God let it happen. And then, when his friends came to help Job, all they could say was that Job must have done something evil or irresponsible because everybody knows God would never in million years allow a good person to suffer; therefore, Job couldn’t be as good as he though he was. Of course, both Job and the reader, meaning us, man, we know that’s not a bunch of alternative facts. Job was as good as advertised, yet he was suffering. And to our hero Job, that didn’t make sense. And I think his confusion is reflected in a whole bunch of passages between chapters thirteen and twenty-eight. You see, as he talked to his friends and they offered their same lame comments, Job seemed to become more and more confused and frustrated by the whole thing and turned more and more to God for some kind of explanation. In fact, by the end, Job demanded an answer from the Lord, something that he eventually got, but it was a lot different from what he expected.

 

And like I said, I think there are times when we struggle with this same question. And I think the reason it happened to him and to us is actually pretty similar. You see, just like Job started to assume that he actually understood the way the universe was suppose to work better than God; therefore, it was up to God to explain why he wasn’t following his own rules, I think we have the tendency to drift in the same direction ourselves. In other words, I think we tend to believe that we’ve become so enlightened, we’ve become so aware, we’ve become so downright spiritual that we may understand God better than he understands himself. We assume our thoughts are God’s thoughts. Our values are God’s values. And those things that we want and expect are the exact same things God wants and expects for us. As a matter of fact, we come to believe that we can actually speak for God, you know, telling others what God says and picking and choosing stuff in God’s word that applies and that doesn’t apply and then turning the good news of Jesus Christ into a club to beat people into the salvation or as a knife to cut ourselves off from those we really don’t like. Now I think that sort of thing happens all the time, and it happens in ways that are obvious and ways that are almost impossible to see but are still there. In other words, it’s like the great French philosopher Voltaire wrote, “In the beginning God created man in His own image, and man has been trying to repay the favor ever since.” Of course, the Apostle Paul called it something else when he described this human problem to the Romans. He wrote, “From heaven God shows how angry he is with all the wicked and evil things that sinful people do to crush the truth. They know everything that can be known about God, because God has shown it all to them. God’s eternal power and character cannot be seen. But from the beginning of creation, God has shown what these are like by all he has made. That’s why those people don’t have any excuse. They know about God, but they don’t honor him or even thank him. Their thoughts are useless, and their stupid minds are in the dark. They claim to be wise, but they are fools. They don’t worship the glorious and eternal God. Instead, they worship idols that are made to look like humans  who cannot live forever, and like birds, animals, and reptiles.” (Romans 1:18-23) You see, when we assume that we know God so well that we can now do those things that only God is allowed to do, like running around and condemning everything in sight, we’ve actually become idol-worshipers. We’re practicing idolatry. We’re barking up the wrong theological tree. And regardless of the alias we use, we have become our own god, and that’s why we start assuming that we know all the important stuff. And because of that, we can now narrow our perspective, you know, put on the blinders so we can only see what we want to see. And that’s why we end up becoming so doggone confused and frustrated when something happens and we’re forced to recognize that our vision is really stupid. And so when a lot of the stuff we thought was right proves to be just a lot of words, I think, it’s at that point when we find ourselves standing all by ourselves, asking why don’t I understand what’s going on?

 

But I’ll tell you, when that happens, when our idols, meaning ourselves, when we prove to have feet of clay, I believe we can do three things we probably didn’t consider doing when we knew all we needed to know. And even though these three decisions won’t give us all the answers we may want, they just might enable us to live with the questions we have. And let me briefly tell you what they are. 

 

You see, when we really don’t understand what’s happening around us, first, we can make the conscience decision to accept our limits. In other words, to do what the actor who first said, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV” had to do, and that’s to accept that he’s still not a doctor. And regardless of what we play around the neighborhood or at family gatherings or in church, we’re not God nor are we gods nor are we even demi-gods. And it doesn’t matter how smart or spiritual or divine we think we are and it sure doesn’t matter whether or not we stayed in a Holiday Inn Express last night; we are not God. You see, if we ever want to get a grasp on why we don’t understand all things and aren’t able to explain everything that’s happening around us, I think it’s crucial to accept that we are just limited. That’s what it means to be human. We’re limited. We’re limited in our power. We’re limited in our space. We’re limited in our time. We’re limited in our knowledge. In fact, we’re limited in everything. And we always have been. And even though we may become stronger and fatter and older and smarter some time in the future, we always will be. Therefore, there will always be things we won’t understand. Now maybe some time in the future, maybe God will tell us everything. I don’t know. What I do know is that ain’t happening now. You see, if we’re serious about answering the question, why don’t I understand what’s happening around me, at some point we may have to accept that, given the situation, the answer may be, “because you just can’t.” Not the answer we want, but it may be the only one we’ve got. We need to accept our limits; that’s one.

 

And second, if we’re interested in understanding why something is happening, we’re probably going to need to broaden our vision. But I’ll tell you, that’s actually really hard to do. I mean, let’s face it, life is easier, it’s more comfortable, it’s more predictable, if we assume these little sayings are true, you know things like: “Industry gives comfort and plenty and respect” or “He that lieth down with dogs shall rise up with fleas” or “Lend money to an enemy and you will gain him, to a friend and you will loss him,” all sayings from that wise, and good-looking man, Benjamin Franklin. Now it would be great if these aphorisms were all true all the time, but of course they’re not. But if this is all we can see, if we choose to limit our vision just like everything else is limited, without a doubt we’re going to miss any kind of understanding that may be outside the box or off to the side. It’s like the last stanza of that poem by Robert Frost, The Road Least Traveled, “I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” To understand, we need to broaden our vision; that’s two.

 

And finally, I think we need to trust God, and I’m talking about trusting that God loves us and that he holds our destinies in his hands and that he’s leading us into a glorious future. In other words, I believe it’s important for us to make that decision to believe that, as Paul wrote, “If God is on our side, can anyone be against us? God did not keep back his own Son, but he gave him for us. If God did this, won’t he freely give us everything else? If God says his chosen ones are acceptable to him, can anyone bring charges against them? Or can anyone condemn them? No indeed! Christ died and was raised to life, and now he is at God’s right side, speaking to him for us.” (Romans 8:31b-34) Now that’s the kind of trust I’m talking about. And even though I’m not sure that trusting God will supply us with the answers that we want, it may enable us to live with the questions we may always have. We really need to trust God, and that’s three.

 

But you know, when you think about it, just asking the question, why don’t I understand what going on, that should force us to shift our thinking. I mean, when that’s on our mind, we’ve pretty much given up the illusion that God is the one who looks back at us from the mirror. As a matter of fact, whether we like it or not, if we’re serious about finding an answer, the question forces us to accept our limits and to broaden our vision and to trust our God. Of course, that may not help us when our question is, “Why is God allowing this to happen?” But we’ll talk about that next week.

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17Mar

Friday’s Essay - Long After Tomorrow

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

 

Tomorrow I’m leading the service for our sister Phyllis Manley who passed earlier this week. Of course, in my thirty years as a minister, I’ve done hundreds and hundreds of funerals. And even though the specifics are always different, I still believe that there are three things that family and friends can always remember. 

 

You see, first, in the face of death, I think it’s important for us to remember that we were and are and will always be in the hands of God and that those hands are loving and gracious and merciful. And I’ll tell you, that’s possible for us to do the minute we make the decision to trust. You see, we can decide to trust that Jesus Christ came, you know, he entered our time and space, and that during his life, he showed over and over again the freedom and love of God. And we can decide to trust that he was crucified for us, and I’m talking about all of us. In other words, he was hung on a cross to save the very people who drove the nails. And we can decide to trust that this same person, this same Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, reminding everyone that time has expired, the game is over and death lost. And then we can decide to trust that when he ascended back to the Father, he brought our humanity in the nature of God himself. Now that’s important, and I’ll tell you why. When we pray, we’re not laying our fears and frustrations and doubt before a God who can’t understand what we feel. Rather, through Christ, he’s been where we are and felt what we feel and endured what we’ll endure, even death itself. You see, those four truths are at the center of our faith. But you know, even if we decide not to trust and to pretend that none of this happened, that doesn't change the fact that Christ came and died and was raised and ascended, and that doesn't change the fact that we are still in God’s loving hands. And as we struggle through grief, I think that’s one thing we need to remember.

 

Just like I believe we need to remember that like he’s lead those who’ve gone before us through death, the time’s going to come when he’ll do the same for us. That’s the second thing we might need to remember. You know, it’s like that Psalm a lot of us memorized when we were kids:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. (Psalm 23)

You see, that God, who like a good shepherd takes care of his sheep, man he’s already led some of those whom we love through the valley of the shadow of death. And when it's our time, he's going to do the same thing for us. This is the something else I think we need to remember. 

 

And finally, I believe it’s important to remember that we're going to see all those who’ve gone before us again. And we’re going to see them in a new heaven and new earth. I mean, just listen to how John of Patmos described it in his revelation:

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.

And I, John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

And I heard a great voice out of heaven, saying, Behold the tabernacle of God is with men and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

The throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him;

And they shall see his face, and his name shall be in their foreheads.

And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 21:1-4; 22:3b-5)

You see, this is our future. This is our destiny; a place where there will be no pain and no suffering and no parting, because all that stuff is gone forever. And this is something we can remember, too. 

 

Tomorrow, I pray that God will use my words to offer comfort and peace to Phyllis’s family and to all her friends. And as I begin to consider what I’m going to say, I know that I’ll be thinking about these three truths: that God holds us in his loving hands and that he’ll lead us through death to the glory that awaits of the other side and that when that day comes, there’ll be a reunion like nothing we’ve seen on earth. I know this will be on my mind, and I hope it’s on your minds too. And you know, if it is, those truth might affect us long after tomorrow. 

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16Mar

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - Something Every Teacher Understands

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

 

Romans 2:12-16

 

All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified. When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.

 

Something Every Teacher Understands

 

Off and on over the last thirty-five years, I’ve been a school teacher. During that time, I’ve taught history, civics, economics, geography, and sociology. But regardless of the subject, at least once a year, I’d find myself in this situation. I’ve given a test and during the review, some student decides to debate a particular question. And I’d generally remind him that we covered the material, and since I was really organized, I’d ask him if he remembered hearing me say something related to the question asked. Of course, after initially saying that he didn’t remember anything, generally he’d recognize that he did recall me saying something like that. But then he’d follow it with that wonderful statement: “But Mr. Rudiger, you didn’t say we needed to know it.” Now that’s what he’d say.

 

And I’ll tell you, I think that’s sort of like what Paul told the Romans. I mean, as he talked about the Jewish Law, he focused on why God would give these instructions to his people. You see, it wasn’t so that they’d have something that they might hear. Rather the Law was given so that the people could have a better understanding about what they might do. And it doesn’t matter whether a person is reading it printed on a page or senses it written on his heart, God has given us direction and guidance on how we might live a better life. And for that reason, we’d be wise to become doer of the Law and not just hearers.

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15Mar

On the Road Again - Passion, Part 2 (Luke 22:31-71)

Below is the passage we discussed in a series entitled "On the Road Again: A Study of Luke/Acts and a podcast of our discusion. This week we discussed Luke 22:31-71. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

 

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

 

“Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” And he said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.” He said to them, “When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “No, not a thing.” He said to them, “But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted among the lawless’; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.” They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” He replied, “It is enough.”

 

He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.”

 

While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, “Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?” When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, “Lord, should we strike with the sword?” Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders who had come for him, “Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!”

 

Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not!” Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, “Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about!” At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

 

Now the men who were holding Jesus began to mock him and beat him; they also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” They kept heaping many other insults on him. When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, gathered together, and they brought him to their council. They said, “If you are the Messiah, tell us.” He replied, “If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I question you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” All of them asked, “Are you, then, the Son of God?” He said to them, “You say that I am.” Then they said, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips!”

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