16Jan

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - A Bow in the Clouds

Below is the podcast of a new devotion I just left on the Cove Presbyterian Church prayer line. You can find other devotions, sermons, . 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.


Genesis 9:8-17

 

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, "As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth." God said, "This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth." God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth."

 

A Bow in the Clouds

 

Symbols are important for us. For example, when we see a skull and cross bones on a bottle we know not to take a swig. But if it’s a succulent orange or a smiling cow or an oversized sweating pitcher with a cartoon face, well, that’s probably something that won’t throw us into convulsions. And that’s just a couple of examples. I think there may be some justification in saying our lives are governed by symbols. I mean, we stop when we see red and go when it turns to green and when it’s yellow, well, for some it means to start depressing the break while others take it as a sign to hit the gas. Tennis shoes with a swush means you might play like Jordan while one with four parallel lines means you probably won’t. And as every man knows, when red hearts and cupids start popping up, he’s now entering a relationship mine field that only a few survive. And I haven’t even talked about what comes to mind when we see a cross or two tablets or a crescent moon.

 

And even though it may mean different things to different people, God offered us a wonderful symbol of his love and protection. You see, God has given us a rainbow in the sky, a divine weapon that God transformed into a reminder that he’ll never again allow chaos to take over his creation. And for us, this is important, because it tells us that the stability and predictability on which we base all our decisions will always be a part of the created order. And that’s symbolized by a bow in the clouds. In fact, when you think about it, when it comes to things that are unstable and unpredictable, some of us just may be the exceptions from the rule.

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16Jan

Cove Presbyterian Church Worship Service - January 14, 2018

Below is the podcast of the service I led on Sunday, January 14, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. It's the fifteenth service in a series entitled Christianity 101, during which we'll used The Apostles Creed to understand better the Christian faith. 

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16Jan

Sunday’s Sermon - The Holy Catholic Church

Below is a podcast of the sermon I preached on Sunday, January 14, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. It's the fifteenth message in a series entitled Christianity 101, during which we'll used The Apostles Creed to understand better the Christian faith.You can other sermons, devotions, essays, videos, articles, and announcements on The Cove Community blog. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.


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

 

***********


I BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth,  


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


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


***********

 
You know, I just don’t get it. Of course, right now, you have no idea what I’m talking about, right? And even I have to admit, what’s confusing me could be one of an almost limitless number of possibilities, because there are all kinds of things I can’t figure out. But right now, my confusion is really very basic. In fact, it may be the same thing some y’all may be struggling with too. And here it is. How can it be both 60̊ and almost zero in less than twenty-four hours? Now, I’m sure Kevin Carter and Dr. Dave would explain it by pointing to a bunch of maps and talking about doppler radar and the jet stream and maybe the entrails of a chicken, I really don’t know how they forecast the weather, but give me a break; it’s nuts. What’s going to happen next? A volcano in Fallonsbee or tsunami in Toronto. Man, I just don’t get it. But, like I said, for me, that’s probably more the rule than the exception, because there’s a lot of stuff that just doesn’t make sense. 
 
And frankly, I don’t think I’m alone. We live in a pretty confusing world; why shouldn’t all kinds of stuff cause us to say “uhm?” As a matter of fact, this morning we’ve reached a point in our study of The Apostles’ Creed that kind of throws a lot of Christian, and now I’m talking about why we say that we believe in “the holy catholic church.” Good night nurse, for a life-long protestant, that’s kind of confusing. I mean, after focusing on “God the Father, Almighty” and after talking about “...Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord” and after saying that we “believe in the Holy Ghost,” in other words, a lot of stuff all Christians can say in a heart-beat, now it seems we’ve shifted gears and are focused on one particular denomination, you know, one that has priests and confessions and a lot of rituals. My goodness, isn’t that what the Catholic Church is all about? And even though all that fancy and mysterious stuff may be fine for them, it may not feel comfortable for us. And yet there it is in the Creed, and unless we decide to follow the example of some churches and change it to the holy “Christian” church, we’re still stuck with the word catholic.
 
Of course, most of this confusion actually has more to do with us than the creed, because the words we say are not only consistent with what we believe, they can also help any Christian, even Presbyterians, better understand what the church is and our role in it. In other words, when we say that “I believe...in the holy catholic Church,” we’re saying something pretty profound about who we are and what we’ve been called to do. And I’ll tell you, this meaning is right in the words themselves. Let me show you what I’m talking about.
 
When we recite the creed, we’re saying that we believe that the church is holy. Now the Greek word used here is ἅγιος, which refers to something that’s been set apart to or by God. In other words, it’s something that’s been consecrated or that’s sacred and pure. It’s different from the stuff we use every day. Simply put, it’s holy. Now that’s what this holiness business is all about. And when we look in the New Testament, we find that this word may refer to God himself and to Jesus Christ and certainly to the Spirit the Father sends in his name. But it can also be used for people, you know like us. Of course, this idea of a holy people went back to the Prophet Isaiah. Just listen to what he wrote: “On that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and glory of the survivors of Israel. Whoever is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem, once the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning.” [Isaiah 4:2-4, NRSV] Now that’s Isaiah. 
 
But it’s in the New Testament that the word was applied to a community of believers. For example, this is what it says in Peter’s first letter: “Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. ...you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” [1 Peter 2:4-5, 9-10, NRSV] You see, that’s who we are, because God has called us to be holy. 
 
And I’ll tell you, that’s something I think we need to remember, because it’s really easy to conform ourselves to the standards of the world. And to do that, it’s really tempting to compromise some of who we are and what we believe so that we can be more successful in a secular sense. But this isn’t what it means to be holy. It’s like the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” [Romans 12:1-2, NRSV] And then a little later he described what that involved. He wrote, “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. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” [Romans 12:9-18, NRSV] You see, if we compromise on our call to love God and neighbor so that we can fit in, we stop being the church. I think it’s as simple as that. And if we did this, man, it would be sad. Why? Because we believe that the church is holy.
 
But we also believe that the church is catholic. And even though we often associate that with St. Paul’s down the street and St. Joseph’s up on the hill, the Greek word, καθολικός means “universal.” In other words, it refers to both the unity and the scope of the church. For example, as he was describing the relationship between husbands and wives, Paul used the image of the church to make his point. He wrote, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body.” [Ephesians 5:25-30] You see, for Paul, there was only one church and Christ was the head. And that’s what it means to say that the church is catholic.
 
And I’ll tell you, I think that’s something pretty important for us to remember as well. I mean, give me a break, if an alien was beamed down and looked at the modern church just in Weirton, there’s no way he’d describe it as either universal or united. Man, there are all kinds of divisions, and Christians are constantly working to convert other Christians from one franchise to another. But we need to remember that those divisions weren’t made by God; they were created by us. And even though they generally reflect honest and sincere disagreements over how to interpret and apply God’s word, there are times when we really need to look past the differences and work together. And I’ll tell you, I really believe the time to do that is right now. You know, according to research, when you’re talking about the church, the one group that’s increasing the fastest are called the nones, but not N-U-N-S. It’s those who are called N-O-N-E-S. You see, these are folk who have absolutely no connection to any congregation, to any denomination, to any concept of church. When it comes to any kind of affiliation or faith, they have none. But aren’t these the ones to whom we should be reaching out even if we have to change to do it? I think so. But I’ll tell you, what message are we conveying when Christians can’t even get along with one another and when for some believers it’s either their way or the highway? Are those nones hearing any news that’s good much less life-changing when we’re doing that kind of foolishness? Man, we’re got to start working together to reach all kinds of different people who come from different backgrounds and who have different tastes. This is what we’re called to do. Why? Because we believe the church is catholic. 
 
And finally, we believe the church is the church. Now I know that sounds redundant, but it’s really not. You see, our word for church comes from the Greek word ἐκκλησία, which is actually two Greek words: ἐκ which means “out” and  καλέω which means “to call.” In other words, according the Greek, the church actually refers to a group that’s been called out, in other words, both called out from the world, which is what it means to be holy, but also called to go out into the world with the message of Jesus Christ. For example, just listen to how Paul described the work of Titus: "But thanks be to God who put in the heart of Titus the same eagerness for you that I myself have. For he not only accepted our appeal, but since he is more eager than ever, he is going to you of his own accord. With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his proclaiming the good news; and not only that, but he has also been appointed by the churches to travel with us while we are administering this generous undertaking for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our goodwill. ...As for Titus, he is my partner and co-worker in your service; as for our brothers, they are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ. Therefore openly before the churches, show them the proof of your love and of our reason for boasting about you.” [2 Corinthians 8:16-19, 23-24, NRSV] Now that’s what Paul said. And it shouldn’t be surprising that the only gospel in which the term “church” is used ends with these words: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:19-20, NRSV] You see, the church has been called and equipped to go out into the world.
 
And that’s something we also need to remember, and I’ll tell you why. Although I believe it’s important for a church to take care of its members and do what it can for other Christian brothers and sisters, if it’s not also engaged in the world, it’s really not the church. It may be something else that’s good, but it’s not the church, because by it’s very name, the church is called out do the sort of things Christ called it to do. I mean, along with making disciples by baptizing and teaching, it can also fed the hungry and give something to drink to the thirsty. It can welcome the stranger and clothe naked. And it can care for the sick and visit the prisoner. In other words, it can move out beyond the stained glass and live the love it claims. Why? Because we believe the church is the church.
 
Now, I still don’t understand why it’s so cold today nor why it was so comfortable Friday morning. That, for me, is a mystery. But this business about the holy catholic church, well, that shouldn’t be confusing any more, because it’s simply a reminder that we have been set apart by God and that we’re part of a single community that surrounds the world and that we’ve been called and spread to go into that world with the Good News of love and grace. Why? Because we believe in the holy catholic church.
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15Jan

Two Ridges Presbyterian Church Worship Service - January 14, 2018

Below is the podcast of the service I led on Sunday, January 14, in Two Ridges Presbyterian Church, Wintersville, Ohio.

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15Jan

Sunday’s Sermon - Come and See

Below is the podcast of the sermon I preached on Sunday, January 14, in Two Ridges Presbyterian Church, Wintersville, Ohio. You can find other sermons, devotions, essays, videos, articles, and announcements on The Cove Community blog. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information. If you find this sermon meaningful, please consider supporting this ministry by sending an offering to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.

 

John 1:43-51

 

On the following day, [Jesus] wanted to go into Galilee and found Philip. And Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” And Philip was from Bethsaida, from the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “The one about whom Moses in the law and the prophets wrote, we found: Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth. And Nathanael said to him, “From Nazareth, is anything good able to come?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 

 

Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and he said concerning him, “See, a real Israelite in whom deceit doesn’t exist.” And Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, 

“Rabbi, you are the son of God; you are the king of Israel.” 

 

Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you that I saw you under the tree, do you believe? Greater things than these will you see.” And he said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the heavens open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the son of man.”

 

Come and See

 

“Come and see.” Now that’s what Philip said to Nathanael somewhere right in the middle of the passage we just read. In fact, it came right after Jesus found Philip in Galilee and said to him, “Follow me.” And according to John, “Philip [then] found Nathanael and said to him, ‘The one about whom Moses in the law and the prophets wrote, we found: Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.’” And even after “...Nathanael said to him, ‘From Nazareth, is anything good able to come?’ Philip [still] said to him, ‘Come and see.’” 

 

And I’ll tell you, not only do I think that statement is pretty important in this passage, I also believe it should be important for us right here and right now, and I’ll tell you why. Better than almost anything else I’ve seen, I believe these three little words express both the message and the mission of the church, but not just the church universal; man, I’m also talking about the message and mission of this congregation and of each one of us here, as we live our Christian lives. In other words, as Philip said so clearly and so concisely, we are called to do two things. First, we’re called to invite people to come, to come to our church, to come to this place where God’s word is shared. And second, we’re called to help people see, to see the one who still calls men and women to follow, to see Jesus Christ, the glorious Son of God and the suffering son of man. Now, in my opinion that is exactly what both our message and mission should be. But let me tell you exactly what I’m talking about.

 

You see, just like I said a minute ago, first, I think we’ve been called to invite people to come, to come here. And for me, that means doing two things that I certainly believe we’re capable of doing, but which we, as good Presbyterians, don’t always do very well. One, it means verbally inviting people to come, you know, actually going up to a friend or maybe a family member and saying, “How about coming with me to church next Sunday?” And two, I think it also means creating an inviting atmosphere, you know what I mean, making sure as best we can, that everyone who comes through those doors feels wanted and valued. 

 

Now, to me, both of those are involved in inviting folks to come, and again, like I said, sometimes we don’t do either one very well. I mean, let’s face it, Presbyterians aren’t very aggressive when it comes to inviting, I got to tell you, often I’m not. It’s almost as though we don’t want to intrude or to suggest that we’re judging them, and so often we don’t say much at all And as to the church, although we may find it extremely inviting, sometimes that opinion isn’t shared by folks on the other side of the stained glass. For example, although I’d rather not admit it, if I’m honest with myself, I’ve got to recognize that sometimes my taste in music, and I’m talking about church music, or my approach to worship or my style of preaching, my goodness, sometimes my whole sense of ministry just isn’t as inviting as it could be. And I think that’s the case with most of us, isn’t it; both as individuals and the church. I mean, let’s face it, sometimes our words and our actions just aren’t as inviting as they could be. 

 

And I’ll tell you, that’s why I think we can really learn a lot from some of those churches that are growing hand over fist, you know, some of the ones that a lot of mainline ministers, including myself, sort of look down on. You see, although I’m not going to stand up here and suggest that they do everything right and that we should dedicate ourselves to following their example, when it comes to inviting, man, I think they often do it extremely well. I mean, I think they are really good at verbally inviting people to come, and they do it both personally and through advertising. For example, I remember, when I was in Indianapolis, there was a church down the road which actively encouraged its members to invite their friends and neighbors to come with them to services. That was it, but I’ve got to tell you, it worked. Man, they’d invite everybody in sight. And although at the time, it really irritated me, looking back, I’m not sure whether my feelings came from righteous indignation, you know, how dare they try to steal members from other congregations, or just plain sour grapes. But not only that, they always had a some kind of story in the local newspaper or flyer in neighborhood stores; my goodness, they even put out those little signs you see along the road during elections whenever they had something special going on. I’m telling you, they were really good at communicating, good at challenging their people to talk about their church, good at promoting their congregation; and although I know some of y’all are telling others about what y’all are doing and inviting them to come and although I think the electronic sign out front is great, I think we could probably do more and do it better, and I certainly include myself. 

 

And when it comes to being inviting, well, I think there’s some room for improvement there as well. And again, I think we can find a pretty good example with some of the larger churches. For example, when we were visiting Indianapolis a couple of weeks ago, I remember driving by a church called the Vineyard, you know, one of those very modern, user-friendly congregations. And right there, on the side of the building was the sign, “We proudly serve Starbucks.” Now, when I first saw it, I was really appalled, but you know, the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve come to see it as a way of creating that inviting atmosphere we’ve been talking about. And although I really don’t want to us to start serving laities in the basement or nailing cup holders in the pews, I do think there are some things we could all do to make people more comfortable as they enter our churches and feel more positive as they leave. I mean, without changing things for the sake of change, we can sure consider how we might broaden our perspectives and enhance our ability to reach out into our community. Now, to me, that’s all part of inviting people to come, the first thing that I believe should be part of our message and mission. 

 

But I’ll tell you, in my book, the second part is just as important as the first. You see, not only are we called to invite people to come, we’re also here to help them see, to help them see the Christ who’s revealed in Scripture, to help them see and understand and know the one who taught his disciples that, for the Christian, sometimes the world is a pretty harsh and cruel place and who also challenged them to do some very uncomfortable things, like denying themselves and taking up their crosses and following him. Now that’s what the Bible says, and if we avoid it or ignore it or sugarcoat it so that we can be more inviting, frankly, I don’t believe we’re doing our job. 

 

And I’ll tell you, sadly, I think that’s exactly what’s happening in a lot of modern churches, and in particular, in a lot of the churches that are growing the fastest. You see, in my opinion, some congregations focus so much attention on being inviting, I think they end up actually distracting people from Christ. I remember about a year ago, reading an article in USA Today, about a church that’s attracting young people by giving away free ice cream. And when they talked with the pastor, he discussed all the things they were doing to bring people in, like having aerobics and seminars on financial management and child rearing, and of course, making sure that worship was always contemporary and positive. According to the article, for him, making people comfortable was the key. And it certainly seemed to be working. But then I remember, later in the article, another minister saying that there may be a long-term problem with this approach, that although some of it may be good, there was something that really bothered him. You see, he found that the more he studied what was happening and thought about it’s impact on the people in the pew, the more he got worried about the folks who came for the free ice cream and aerobics and uplifting sermons. I mean, he started to wonder, what’s going to happen to them when they begin reading the Bible and start finding out that Christ talked far more about suffering than comfort and that Christianity seems to have more to do with giving than receiving? What’s going to happen when the Jesus to whom they’d come isn’t the one they see in Scripture? Now, I’ll tell you, I think that’s a great question, and frankly, I don’t know the answer. 

 

But I will say, it reminds me that as we try to present Jesus, we have got to be as honest and as humble as we can be. Man, we’ve got to be honest as we share with others the truth of the gospel, even if that truth contradicts what we really want to believe, and even if it’s uncomfortable and a little bit negative, and even if it makes you and me squirm a little bit in the pew. We’ve got to tell the truth. Years ago, when I first started, I used to have a friend listen to my sermons before the service. And every time, my first question to her was the same, “Do you think anybody will be offended by this sermon?” I’ll tell you, when getting people to come and to come back is your business, you’ve really got to ask that question. But looking back, you probably shouldn’t if you want people to see the truth. To do that, you’ve got to be honest. But you know what, I think you’ve also got to be humble, because the minute we’re not, the minute we get it into our heads that we have all the answers, I think it’s going to be hard for folks to see Jesus. Oh, they’ll know all about us and our opinions and our values. And they’ll be clear about what we think is right and wrong and in-between. In other words, they’ll be able to see us as clear as a bell, but Christ, well, somehow I think he’ll kind of get lost in our shadow. You see, along with inviting people to come, we also need to help them see. That’s really our second job.

 

And you know, when we look at this story from John, Philip must have done it pretty well. I mean, after he said to Nathanael, “Come and see;” Nathanael went and saw, and as a result, not only did he meet Jesus and confess, “Rabbi, you are the son of God; you are the king of Israel;” he also heard Jesus say, “Because I said to you that I saw you under the tree, do you believe? Greater things than these will you see. ...Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the heavens open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the son of man.” All that occurred because of those three little words. And for us, who knows what’ll happen here when we claim the job we’ve been given as a church and as individual Christians and step out into the world, saying, “Come and see.”

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13Jan

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - Well-Placed Passion

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

 

John 2:13-22

 

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!" His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me." The Jews then said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?" Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews then said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

 

Well-Placed Passion

 

When Jesus drove out the sellers of animals and overturned the tables of the money changers, he demonstrated a passion for his father’s house. Of course, he also recognized that the place where people would gather to worship God had changed. No longer would it be focused on a building built of bricks and mortar, because God’s “House,” his Temple was now the word incarnate, the light that had cut through the world’s darkness. In other words, from this time forward, he would be the place in which people would relate to God the Father. And that explains Jesus’s zeal, and as we know by reading the rest of the story, his passion was well-placed.

 

And I’ll tell you, so should our zeal and passion. Of course, that’s not always simple to do. I mean, it’s easy to become excited about something that may sound spiritual only to find later that it’s not. Frankly, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve become convinced that a certain idea or approach would bring more glory to God than I’ve ever seen, only to see that idea be incomplete and that approach come up short. And for that reason, before we let ourselves get swept away, it may be important to pause, approach God in prayer, carefully consider the possible outcomes, and then discuss the situation with some folks we trust before jumping in with both feet. And even though that won’t guarantee what we might expect much less hope, it just might improve the odds of our passion being well-placed.

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13Jan

Friday’s Essay - The Reasons to Stop Lying

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


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

 

I’ve got to tell you, I’m getting pretty tired of lies. It seems as though that’s all we hear. And it’s generally offered by people who are trying as hard as they can either to skirt the consequences of their actions or to claim some recognition that they probably don’t deserve. And even though I recognize that this fudging of the truth has always been an issue, it just seems as if they’re now on steroids, with both the number and the size increasing at an alarming rate. I mean, welcome to life in twenty-first century America, a time when neither truth-telling nor humility are valued.  Of course, having said all this, I recognize that it’s not always clear who’s the actual liar, but there’s not mistaking the “lyee.” It’s you and me. 

 

And maybe, because of this new deceptive national quality, I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of telling the truth, you know, how deciding to be truthful affects us and those around us. As a matter of fact, I believe our decision to reject the urge to lie, even when it’s easy and profitable, it can have a very definite impact on us and on others and even on the faith that we claim to share. 

 

But before I share a few of my thoughts, I feel as though I need to be clear about honesty. You see, in my opinion, not all lies are created equal, and I think the same can be said about the truth. For example, I think there’s a huge difference between telling a lie to avoid responsibility or to claim undeserved credit, than in clouding the truth a little bit out of compassion for someone else. Now I recognize that this is both a fine line and a slippery slope. Still, I’m not sure it’s automatically a good thing to tell the truth and nothing but the truth when your wife asks if she looks fat in her new dress or when the Gestapo asks if Jews are hiding in the attic next door or when an innocent young boy from Canton looks at you with all kinds of hope in his eyes and asks if the Cleveland Browns will be better next year. I don’t think it makes sense to cause unnecessary pain. And as to the truth, the difference between a fact and an opinion isn’t always clear. In other words, just because I believe it to be truth doesn’t make it true. If that were the case, my little dog is actually the cutest canine in Weirton. And so, I think the edges around what is true and what is not may be a little fuzzy.

 

But of course, that’s usually not the case, and the truth is true and a lie is a lie, not an alternative fact. And when we choose to be truthful, even when it’s not to our benefit, I think that’s a pretty smart move, because I’ve got to tell you, lying can impact us in three pretty important ways.

 

For example, first, it can absolutely devastate the relationships we have with others, especially those with whom we’re closest.  I mean, let’s get real, nobody but an idiot trusts or respects a liar. And I think that’s true even when, in some professions and endeavors, lying is considered just part of the game. That’s why this saying rings true when directed at certain people: Would you buy a used car from that person? I’ll tell you, if the answer is “no,” I can’t see how you could possibly respect much less trust that individual. Those who cheat and deceive are generally not considered the cream of humanity’s crop. And although this may be a definite problem in every aspect of life, I think we’d all agree it does horrible things to personal relationships. And if you don’t believe me, just talk to any person whose significance other was found to have lied and cheated. Even when the initial wounds heals, the scars may last a lifetime. Let’s just say, habitual liars have chosen to say good-bye to most if not all real, genuine relationships. That’s one problem.

 

And I think the second involves what lying does to the liars themselves. You see, for me, there are some pretty important consequences that are short-term and long-run. For example, in the short-term, liars may actually be magnifying their problems by not telling the truth, even if the truth might hurt a little bit. There’s an old saying that I believe is spot on: You don’t need a good memory if you tell the truth. As a person weaves a tail that’s more fiction than fact, he or she better remember the nuances of the story when called to repeat it, if he or she wants to be taken seriously. And let’s face it, there are few things as funny to those who aren’t directly involved than when a pompous and arrogant liar gets caught in another lie. And outside of comedians, I can’t think of many folks who benefit from being held up to ridicule. And so there are certainly short-term consequences. But you know, the long-run stuff might be even more destructive. In a real way, I think lying can actually put a callus on a person’s conscience, and I’ll tell you that’s bad. But it happens all the time. I remember, when I was teaching, I’d tell my students that the hardest move they’ll ever make is the first one. But after they’d moved once, it gets a little easier.  And I think the same thing can be said about lying. When a lie is told to avoid deserved consequences or to gain undeserved credit, telling another is easy, especially if they get away with the first one. And if this pattern repeats itself, well, I think that’s how habitual liars are born. You see, lying also affects the liar. And that’s another problem.

 

And third, lying can really screw up a person’s relationship with God. I mean, if I choose to lie to you, why wouldn’t I also try to lie with God? And even though God is never fooled and he loves me in spite of myself, my lies to the creator can interfere in how I relate to him. My goodness, it’s hard to walk in the light when we’re trying to keep things hidden in the dark. And unless we’re psychopaths and have no sense of right and wrong, I believe a part of us must know that we’re trying to put one over on the omniscient Lord of the universe and that’s just plain wrong and actually kind of stupid; therefore, I think being afraid of that time when final accounts are settled would seem pretty natural. But more than what we do to ourselves, lying Christians hurt others, and I’m talking about their relationships with God. For example, without getting into details, I really worry that some lies I’ve told in the past, lies I’ve told to others and to myself, I worry about the spiritual impact they’ve had on others. And even though I’ve confessed and repented and paid some very real consequences, I fully expect to feel some guilt for the rest of my life. I guess that’s just part of the long-run consequences. You see, lying can interfere not with God’s relationship with us but with our relationship with God.

 

Now I pray that we’ll survive all the lies that seem to surround us. And I also pray that those who perpetuate things that just aren’t true will have a change of heart and will choose to approach God with confession and repentance. And wouldn’t it be wonderful if the people stood up as one and said that we weren’t going to take it anymore. But regardless of what they do and we do, I believe we can choose to turn from lies and to tell the truth, because when we decide to lie, we’re damaging others and ourselves and our relationship with God.

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11Jan

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - Come and See

Below is the podcast of a new devotion I just left on the Cove Presbyterian Church prayer line. You can find other devotions, sermons, essays, videos, articles, and announcements on The Cove Community blog. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information. If you find this meaningful, please consider sending an offering directly to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.

 

John 1:43-51

 

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, "Follow me." Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth." Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see." When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, "Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!" Nathanael asked him, "Where did you come to know me?" Jesus answered, "I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you." Nathanael replied, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" Jesus answered, "Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these." And he said to him, "Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."

 

Come and See

 

“Come and see.” That’s what Philip said to Nathanael. He didn’t launch into a long theological monologue. He didn’t threaten his friend when a bunch of fiery images if he didn’t come nor did he make a lot of promise focused on what Nathanael would receive after he came. Rather Philip simply said, “Come and see.” And that’s exactly what Nathanael did; he came and he saw. And when he did, his life changed, because he realized that he was in the presence of the Son of God and the King of Israel. And that was the result of a simple invitation from his friend.

 

And I’ll tell you, we can do the same thing ourselves. We can invite our friends and family members to come and see. And we can do it in several different ways. For example, we can invite them to come with us to church so that they can hear God’s word read and proclaimed. Or we can talk about our own faith in a way that’s personal and inviting. Or we can simply live the kind of lives that might cause those around us to wonder about what we know that they may not. You see, all of these are simple invitations to come and see. And after the invitation is made, we can then trust that God will act and the person will respond, if not today, maybe tomorrow.

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10Jan

What Do People Believe? (Session 2 – What is Christianity?)

The purpose of this session is to define the nature of nature of Christianity. Below is a podcast of our discussion.

 

Below is the structure of the session:

 

What are some things that all Christians must believe?

 

What is the history of Christianity?

 

  • Early Church and Christological Councils
  • Early Middle Ages
  • High and Late Middle Ages
  • Protestant Reformation and Counter-Reformation
  • Post-Enlightenment
  • Current Distribution of Christianity

What are the fundamental beliefs?

  • Jesus Christ
  • Death and Resurrection of Jesus
  • Salvation
  • Trinity
  • Scriptures
  • Afterlife and Eschaton
  • Prayer
  • Good Works?

 

What are some of the sacred rituals?
 
 
How does Christianity approach others who have different beliefs?
 
 
How does Christianity related to other religions historically?
  • Abrahamic religions are the largest group, and these consist mainly of Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Bahá'í Faith. They are named for the patriarch Abraham, and are unified by the practice of monotheism. Today, around 3.4 billion people are followers of Abrahamic religions and are spread widely around the world apart from the regions around Southeast Asia. Several Abrahamic organizations are vigorous proselytizers.
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9Jan

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - Preparing the Way

Below is the podcast of a new devotion I just left on the Cove Presbyterian Church prayer line. You can find other devotions, sermons, essays, videos, articles, and announcements on The Cove Community blog. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information. If you find this meaningful, please consider sending an offering directly to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.

 

John 1:19-28

 

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?" He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, "I am not the Messiah." And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the prophet?" He answered, "No." Then they said to him, "Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?" He said, "I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord'", as the prophet Isaiah said.

 

Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, "Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?" John answered them, "I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal." This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

 

Preparing the Way

 

As Christ’s first disciple, John the Baptist had the responsibility to prepare people for the one who had just come. And he prepared them through the use of water, namely, by baptizing them when we acknowledged their sins and pledged to live with a new focus and a new source of direction. Now that’s what John did. 

 

And you know, as modern disciples of Jesus, I think we’re called to do the same kind of thing ourselves, you know, to prepare those around us to hear and to accept the good news of love and grace. And even though John used water, we have other things at our disposal. You see, we can communicate God’s love by telling folks the story and the words of Jesus. Or we can sharing it by showing the kind of mercy and compassion that God has shown to us. But however we follow in John’s footsteps and seek to be disciples of the Lord, it’s important for us to keep our focus on the one whose life, death and resurrection demonstrated just how much God loves his world, which includes us. And let’s remember, as we prepare the way for people to experience this love, we have an enormous advantage over John. I mean, while he was witnessing to the one who’d just come, we’re disciples of the one who already came; therefore, we don’t have to cry out in any kind of wilderness.

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