8Jul

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - There’s No Telling

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


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

 

Acts 9:10-19a

 

Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

 

There’s No Telling

 

In our society we’re gotten in the habit of making judgments without hearing all the information. As a matter of fact, we often make decisions before getting any information at all. For example, there are plenty of folks who allow their own political perspective to provide all the background they need to decide if a statement is true and if the speaker is trustworthy. I mean, if you’re a dedicated follower of President Trump, every comment made on CNN is a sterling example of FAKE news and the reporter is obviously some hack who’s trying to advance his leftist agenda by slandering the great man. On the other hand, there are other people who know exactly when the president is telling a lie or a gross exaggeration by just looking at whether or not his lips are moving. You see, neither side needs to listen, because they already know all they need to know. And neither side needs to think, because they can tell what is and isn’t true without straining a single brain cell. And although we see this kind of thing in modern politics all the time, it certainly isn’t limited to one arena.

 

But those who’ve bought into this view might be well served by taking a step back and considering Ananias’s position. I mean, when he was called by the Lord to go and see Saul of Tarsus, he’d already developed all kinds of perceptions of the man. My gosh, Saul had done evil things to the people of God; therefore, Ananias might have felt self-justified in assuming that the vision was just an underdone potato or blot of mustard and gone on with his life. But he didn’t do that. In spite of all his assumptions and opinions, he listened and considered what he’d been called to do. And then he did something truly remarkable; he trusted and he went to Saul and the rest is history. And I think that’s a pretty good lesson for us all. You see, even though we may be sure that we’re right, when it comes to the work and will of God, well, there’s just no telling.

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8Jul

The Wedding Service for Chad Herrod and Andrea Keister - July 7, 2017

Below is the podcast of the wedding service I officiate on Friday, July 7, in Vineyard 22, Cadiz, Ohio.

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8Jul

The Wedding Service for Josh Elias and Dee Myers - July 7, 2017

Below is the podcast of the wedding service I officiate on Friday, July 7, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia.

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8Jul

The Wedding Service for Matt Ohman and Lauren Dennis - July 6, 2017

Below is the podcast of the wedding service I officiate on Thursday, July 6, in Canton Gardens, Canton, Ohio.

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7Jul

Friday’s Essay - Restoring Civility

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, 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

 

Of all the things people say we’ve lost as a society, the saddest and ultimately one of the most destructive is a general loss of civility. Put another way, we don’t seem to be put a high value on people treating one another with respect and compassion. And even though I think this is part of a trend we’ve seen for at least the last couple of decades, it seems to be have picked up steam in the last year or so. I mean, based on the actions of those who hold positions that make them role models whether they like it or not, what used to be considered boorish behavior has replaced good manners. And we’ve accepted name calling and false accusations as substitutes for reasoned discussion. As a matter of fact, I think we’re reaching a point where facts are relative and determined by opinions and assumption. And if an opinion or an assumption is different from what we want to believe, then we feel the right to label it false or fake and to accuse those who say it as liars and frauds. This has become the world in which we live.

 

Of course, having said this, I assume some folks will suppose that I’m making a political statement and will either say “amen” or “shut up.” But I’ll tell you, I’m not directing this toward one individual or group, as though the problem would be solved if a certain person changed his or her ways. In other words, this isn’t the monopoly of one faction or ideology. No, although this trend may be better illustrated by some rather than others, it’s still an issue that predates any single election or movement. As a matter of fact, like most issues, it started small and has grown over the years. What’s a problem now, pulling at our unity as a society and distorting our conversations, started with an inappropriate comment that was ignored or a sarcastic response that was encouraged or some juvenile name-calling that was rewarded. You see, what started as a seed has flowered into Audrey Two, something that I believe poses a greater threat to our way of life that anyone running around Syria.

 

And as members of this society, I think it may be time for Christians to take a stand against this drift. And we can do it by simply deciding to do the very thing that Jesus Christ commanded us all to do. Remember, when asked, “‘Teacher, what is the most important commandment in the Law?’ Jesus answered: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. This is the first and most important commandment. The second most important commandment is like this one. And it is, “Love others as much as you love yourself.” All the Law of Moses and the Books of the Prophets are based on these two commandments.’” [Matthew 22:36-40] You see, regardless of the position we hold, regardless of what those who disagree with us say, and regardless of what we feel like saying, Jesus told us to love one another, even to love our enemies. And this wasn’t offered as an option, rather an obligation. We are called to love God and others.

 

And if we have doubt about what this love is all about, Paul was clear. He wrote, “Love is kind and patient, never jealous, boastful, proud, or rude. Love isn’t selfish or quick tempered. It doesn’t keep a record of wrongs that others do. Love rejoices in the truth, but not in evil. Love is always supportive, loyal, hopeful, and trusting.” [1 Corinthians 13:4-7] Now that’s love is all about, and this is exactly what we’re obligated to show. And if we choose not to do it, I mean, if we choose to be mean and nasty, arrogant and rude and if we choose to be quick tempered and to seek revenge and if we choose to accept as true things we know are false, then we’re not following Jesus Christ. Of course, we’re still saved by grace and we may be fun at parties; we’re just not living as a disciple, regardless of our ability to work spiritual-sounding words into a conversation. As Christians, we must decide to love.

 

And I’ll tell you, when we make this decision, I believe civility will follow. You see, I personally believe it’s impossible for a Christian consistently to treat others with anything less than respect and compassion. And when we slip into arrogance and rudeness, we’ll do something else Christians tend to do; we’ll confess it and repent. You see, I think this cultural lack of civility is reversible. And it’ll start when brothers and sisters in Christ make the decision that we’re going to set following Jesus as a priority, and we’re going to love all our neighbors as much as we love ourselves. I believe this is the way we can restore civility to our society and maybe even to our world.

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3Jul

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - Feet of Clay

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


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

 

Luke 22:54-62

 

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 yet 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.

 

Feet of Clay

 

When we say a person has “feet of clay,” we’re referring to some kind of weakness or hidden flaw in the character of an individual who’s greatly admired or respected. But this isn’t an unusual or unique condition. As a matter of fact, I think we’d be hard pressed to find a leader who didn’t have some kind of inner weakness. And I certainly include leaders of the church, even people we consider pillars of the faith. For example, in the story we just read, I think Peter shows himself to be pretty weak and flawed. I mean, there are few people who are more important to Christianity than Peter. And yet, on the night Jesus was arrested, this spiritual giant denied his savior three times. And I’ll tell you, that’s something I think we need to remember when we judge the faith and dedication of others and ourselves. There will be times when we’ll be less than stellar for Christ. But when that happens, we’re actually walking in the footsteps of the Apostle Peter. And this awareness should probably temper the judgement we apply to others and ourselves.

 

But there’s something else I think we need to remember. Even though Peter denied Jesus, God still used him to do incredible things. Not only did he share the gospel to everyone he met, his vision opened the proclamation to the entire world, both to the Jews and to the Gentiles. God didn’t hold his failure against him. And we can have faith that God won’t hold our weaknesses and flaws against us. You see, he loves us, and nothing can separate us from his love. And he can still use us to do great things for his kingdom, even through we’ll always have feet of clay.

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3Jul

Cove Presbyterian Church Worship Service - July 2, 2017

Below is the podcast of the service I led on Sunday, July 2, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia.

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3Jul

Sunday’s Sermon - The Eagle on the Presidential Seal

Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, July 2, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. This was the fourth message in the series entitled "Living by the Spirit." You can find other sermons, devotions, essays, articles, and announcement The Cove Community blog. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information. 

 

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

 

Well, here we are on week four of a summer series that uses what Paul wrote to the Galatians to understand how we might better live by the Holy Spirit. And I thought, given the fact that we’re on the edge of Independence Day, I thought some symbol of America would be right for the bulletin cover. But the reason I picked this one, well, I’ll get to that in a minute. 

 

Now, like I said, this is the fourth message in this series; therefore, before getting into anything new, I think it’s a good idea to touch base with where we’ve been. For example, in the first week, we looked at what we shouldn’t be doing, something Paul called the desires of the flesh. And then in week two, we talked about how love is both a decision and an obligation. And last week, we considered how joy is grounded in faith, strengthens the suffering, and is shared among Christians. Now, in a nutshell, that’s where we’ve been.

 

And this morning, we’re going to look at the third fruit of the Spirit, namely peace. And as I was thinking about how to introduce this on the Sunday before the Fourth, I thought about something I heard a couple of years ago about the eagle on the presidential seal. Now I don’t remember where I heard it, but it had to do with how the direction the eagle faces changes when the country goes to war. You see, when everything is peaceful, the eagle faces the olive branch, a universal symbol of peace. Now this means it looks in the same direction as the eagle on the Great Seal of the United States. But when the country is at war, the eagle on the presidential seal turns and faces the arrows. Of course, this only happens during times of conflict, at least, that’s what I heard.

 

And as I thought about it, I think that’s sort of how we see peace, and I don’t care what kind of peace about which you’re talking. I mean, when things are calm and serene and tranquil, then we can focus our attention on the olive branch and the dove and that groovy symbol from the ‘60s, and I’m not talking about my birthday. Now that’s the direction we face, and we think about all the things that are possible when everything is chill. But of course, that’s only one side of the coin. 

 

When things are all stirred up and there’s a lot of anger and hostility in the room and we’ve read tweets calling us psychos or dumb as rocks or having a bleeding facelift (which I’ve got to tell you, I know is an insult but I really don’t understand), my gosh, when that kind of thing happens, well, war has been declared and it’s all hands on deck and I’ve just got to tweet something about how Cheerios are made for small hands. (As a country, I think we’re in real big trouble.) You see, when this kind of stuff happens, the head of the eagle has turned and peace just isn’t an option anymore. Now that sure seems to be the way it is in our world. I mean, peace may be fine, but sometimes you’ve got to knock a few heads together. 

 

Of course, that’s what our world, you know, our society tells us, but that just doesn’t seem to be the case in the Bible, certainly not in the way Paul used the word “peace” in his letters. I mean, not only did he offer it without an asterisk or qualification in his list of spiritual fruits, he wrote that peace must be a part of Christian living, you know, life in the Spirit. And I’ll tell you, when we look at what he had to say, he described three areas in which we might need to work a little peace into our character. 

 

For example, first, for Paul, God has called us to live in peace with ourselves, and I’m talking about within ourselves as followers of Jesus Christ. You see, for him, peace just seems to be the way it’s supposed to be, you know, the normal state of things. And I think that’s what he was suggesting when he wrote this to Corinthians, and in this passage, he was talking about how worship shouldn’t be a free-for-all. He wrote, “Let only one person speak at a time, then all of you will learn something and be encouraged. A prophet should be willing to stop and let someone else speak. God wants everything to be done peacefully and in order.” [1 Corinthians 14:31-33a] You see, God is a God of peace, not confusion and chaos. And for people, as they look into their own lives, that should be even more clear for those of us who believe, you know, who trust in Christ. I’ll tell you, for Paul, knowing that we’ll be saved through Jesus should offer an inner peace that we didn’t have before we decided to believe him. For instance, just listen to what he wrote to the Philippians: “Finally, my friends, keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper. Don’t ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise. You know the teachings I gave you, and you know what you heard me say and saw me do. So follow my example. And God, who gives peace, will be with you.” [Philippians 4:8-9] And to the Colossians, he wrote, “Each one of you is part of the body of Christ, and you were chosen to live together in peace. So let the peace that comes from Christ control your thoughts. And be grateful. Let the message about Christ completely fill your lives, while you use all your wisdom to teach and instruct each other. With thankful hearts, sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. Whatever you say or do should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, as you give thanks to God the Father because of him.” [Colossians 3:15-17] You see, for Paul, it’s God’s intention that we know peace, and I’ll tell you, this is really no different from what Luke wrote that the heavenly host said after the birth of Christ was announced to the shepherds: “Suddenly many other angels came down from heaven and joined in praising God. They said: ‘Praise God in heaven! Peace on earth to everyone who pleases God.’” [Luke 14:13-14] That we experience an inner peace, an inner serenity, an inner tranquility, that’s the will of God.

 

And I’ll tell you, I think that’s really good news for us, and I’ll tell you why. There’s a whole lot of stuff that’s happening in our world and in our country, in our community and in our congregation, my gosh, in our families and in our own lives that causes us to feel anything but peaceful. I’ll tell you, I think we run into all kinds of things that keep us stirred up all the time. And yet, when we tap into that spirit of peace that God has planted within our lives and when we consider that not only are we in his hands but that entire creation is under his control, I believe all that will calm us down a little bit. But more than that, it can keep us focused on how we might better conform ourselves to his will and his work. You see, God has created us to be at peace with ourselves. And that’s the first area of peace we can know.

 

And second, I think God has also called us to live in peace with himself. In other words, we’ve been given the ability and opportunity to live in a state of serenity and tranquility with God. And I believe that’s what Paul was driving at when he wrote this to the Ephesians: “Christ has made peace between Jews and Gentiles, and he has united us by breaking down the wall of hatred that separated us. Christ gave his own body to destroy the Law of Moses with all its rules and commands. He even brought Jews and Gentiles together as though we were only one person, when he united us in peace. On the cross Christ did away with our hatred for each other. He also made peace between us and God by uniting Jews and Gentiles in one body. Christ came and preached peace to you Gentiles, who were far from God, and peace to us Jews, who were near God. And because of Christ, all of us can come to the Father by the same Spirit.” [Ephesians 2:14-17] You see, for Paul, it was the Law that caused all kinds of trouble, you know, separating Jews from Gentiles and people from God. Now that’s the way it was, but when Jesus died on the cross, he abolished the weight and power of the Law. And without the Law telling us what to do and separating those who do from those who don’t, now we can have peace not only with one another but also with God. Living is not longer about dotting “i”s and crossing “t”s. It’s about living within the love and mercy and grace of our heavenly Father. It’s like he wrote to the Romans: “By faith we have been made acceptable to God. And now, because of our Lord Jesus Christ, we live at peace with God. ...Christ died for us at a time when we were helpless and sinful. No one is really willing to die for an honest person, though someone might be willing to die for a truly good person. But God showed how much he loved us by having Christ die for us, even though we were sinful. But there is more! Now that God has accepted us because Christ sacrificed his life’s blood, we will also be kept safe from God’s anger. Even when we were God’s enemies, he made peace with us, because his Son died for us. Yet something even greater than friendship is ours. Now that we are at peace with God, we will be saved by his Son’s life. And in addition to everything else, we are happy because God sent our Lord Jesus Christ to make peace with us.” [Romans 5:9-11] You see, it’s also God’s will that we live in peace with him. 

 

And I’ve got to tell you, that’s another message I think we really need to hear, because a lot of very sincere and dedicated Christians seem to believe that peace with God has to be earned and deserved. And so they buy into a lot of rules and regulations, in other words a new Law, to make themselves right and acceptable. You see, that becomes both their focus and their fear. But when we accept that peace with God is his gift to us and whether we accept it or not affects us but not him nor his relationship with us, all of a sudden a lot of the pressure eases, and we can enter the world with a new sense of confidence and hope. Why? Because God has already given us the ability to live in peace with him. And that’s the second area of peace we can know.

 

And third, God has most definitely made us to live in peace with one another. In other words, regardless of what we think or feel, there’s no spiritual reason for us to feel hostility toward others, much less animus and hatred. And I think that was a point Paul wanted the Christians in Rome to understand. You see, back in the day, the church was splitting over an issue that the Roman believers thought was really important. Some members thought Christians should only eat vegetables and others disagreed. Now I know that may sound like small potatoes to us, but it was a big deal in the Roman church. In fact, for them just as big, as all the mess that continues to divide the modern church. And these Christians began doing what Christians have always done. They started fighting and scrapping and calling one another names, and so Paul wrote: “We must stop judging others. We must also make up our minds not to upset anyone’s faith. The Lord Jesus has made it clear to me that God considers all foods fit to eat. But if you think some foods are unfit to eat, then for you they are not fit. If you are hurting others by the foods you eat, you are not guided by love. Don’t let your appetite destroy someone Christ died for. Don’t let your right to eat bring shame to Christ. God’s kingdom isn’t about eating and drinking. It is about pleasing God, about living in peace, and about true happiness. All this comes from the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ in this way, you will please God and be respected by people. We should try to live at peace and help each other have a strong faith.” [Romans 14:15-19] And he wrote to the Ephesians, “Always be humble and gentle. Patiently put up with each other and love each other. Try your best to let God’s Spirit keep your hearts united. Do this by living at peace. All of you are part of the same body. There is only one Spirit of God, just as you were given one hope when you were chosen to be God’s people.” [Ephesians 4:2-4] And remember, the peace we have from God abolished the hostility that existed between Jews and Gentiles. God wants us to live in peace with others.

 

And again, that’s something we need to remember, especially today. Now, I don’t know about y’all, but I can’t remember a time when there was so much hostility and hatred within our country, and I think it’s filtering into the rest of our society. I guess in a nutshell, we really don’t treat one another very well. And we assume that we don’t need to listen to people who say things different from what we already believe; they’re all liars and fakes. And regardless of the issue, every disagreement should be seen as a personal attack. And in keeping with the result of these assumptions, we blame them, not ourselves, but them for the hostility that surrounds us. No wonder that, beyond name-calling, nothing constructive gets done. But of course, regardless of who’s at fault, the hostility and the hatred, the divisions and the conflict, man, they’re all contrary to God’s will for his children. And it’s up to us, as Christians saved by grace, to recognize that through God those walls we use to divide have been abolished. And with that clearly in mind, we need to do what’s necessary to come together in an atmosphere of trust and then to roll up our sleeves and do the work God has given us to do. I’ll tell you, even though it may demand that we smash some of our own idols, God intends that we live in peace with one another. And that’s the third area of peace we can know.

 

And I’m going to tell you, that’s actually in keeping with the eagle on the presidential seal. You see, even though Woodrow Wilson had the head turned toward the arrows in 1916, since 1945 it’s pointed in the same direction. And when President Truman issued the executive order that permanently turned the eagle’s head, he said, “This new flag faces the eagle toward the staff, which is looking to the front all the time when you are on the march, and also has him looking at the olive branch for peace, instead of the arrows for war...” In other words, President Truman wanted the eagle’s gaze to be seen as symbolic of a nation both on the march and dedicated to peace. And so it’s been for over 70 years. 

 

And I’ll tell you, that also applies to us. You see, as we move forward as Christians living by the Spirit, God has called us to live in peace with ourselves and with him and with others. And brother and sisters, that’s true regardless of the eagle on the Presidential Seal.

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3Jul

Two Ridges Presbyterian Church Worship Service - July 2, 2017

Below is the podcast of the service I led on Sunday, July 2, in Two Ridges Presbyterian Church, Wintersville, Ohio.

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3Jul

Sunday’s Sermon - Jekyll and Hyde

Below is a podcast of the sermon I preached on Sunday, July 2, in Two Ridges Presbyterian Church, Wintersville, Ohio. 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.

 

Romans 7:13-25a

 

Now did the good become death for me? Absolutely not, but it was the sin, so that it might be shown as sin, through the good produced death, so that the sin might become extremely sinful through the commandments. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I myself am fleshly, having been sold under sin. For what I produce, I don’t understand. For what I want, this I don’t practice, but what I hate, this I do.  

 

But if what I don’t want, this I do, then I agree that the law is good. 17But now it’s no longer I who produce, but the sin which dwells in me. For I know that in me, that is in my flesh, there dwells nothing good. For to want is present with me, but to produce the good is not. For the good that I want I don’t do, but the bad that I don’t want, this I practice. 

 

But if what I don’t want, this I myself do, then no longer am I producing it but the sin that dwells in me. So I find it to be a law, when I want to do the good, that the bad is present with me. For I rejoice in the law of God with respect to the inner person,  but I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner to the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched person I am, who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

 

Jekyll and Hyde

 

I think I’ve probably mentioned this before, but let me say it again. I really enjoy musical theater. I’ve got a bunch of cast recordings in my office, and I’ve already bought my season tickets for the Broadway series, beginning in the fall. And since I enjoy it so much, I figure it’s something I can share with Maggie. And so, when Debbie and I think it’s appropriate, we take her to see different shows. For example, she’s seen Into the Woods and Mary Poppins and Grease, just to name a few. 

 

Well, a couple of years ago, down at the Benedum, they had a show that I’d seen years ago back in Indianapolis and that I really enjoyed called Jekyll and Hyde. I’m telling you, the music is wonderful. Anyway, I thought that this was one of the shows that Maggie would enjoy, and since Debbie really didn’t have any interest in seeing it, my daughter and I had a date. We both got all dressed up, she wore one of her piano recital dresses. We drove downtown, got to our seats and watched the show. And outside of one scene that Maggie didn’t want to see and so she kind of buried her face in my jacket, I think she had a great time. Of course, buying a stuffed crab as a souvenir and a box of Crunch and Bunch didn’t hurt.

 

Of course, this musical is based on the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And even if you haven’t read the book, I think most people have seen some kind of movie, even that one when Bugs Bunny turns into a monster after drinking this stuff. And so I think most of y’all know the plot. Dr. Jekyll develops a formula intended to isolate the evil found in all of us. And when he tests it on himself, he becomes Mr. Hyde, the personification of everything that’s wicked and cruel. And even though at first, he kind of likes changing back and forth because there are all kinds of things that he can do as Hyde that he won’t do as Jekyll, eventually, he feels frustration and despair, especially when the transformations start happening without him taking the formula. And by the end, Jekyll gets to the point where he seems to lose all hope that he’ll ever be able to be the person he wants to do be. Now, that’s the story in a nutshell. 

 

And I’ll tell you, I think that’s kind of how we feel as Christians, sort of like Jekyll and Hyde. I mean, I think everybody here knows something about what’s right and wrong; in fact, I believe that’s pretty much the case whether we’re Christian or not. And as believers, good night, we know that we should be treating other people with respect and kindness; at the very least, as followers of Jesus Christ, we should be nice to one another. We shouldn’t call people names. We shouldn’t bully those who don’t have our power. And I think we’d agree that tweeting counts. I mean, Jesus said love one another as I have loved you. And loving one another means that there’s a lot we should avoid doing and a lot we should set as a priority, you know, like building one another up; right? Dah. Now, we all know this stuff.

 

And yet doing it, well that’s another matter, isn’t it? I mean, knowing doesn’t mean doing. And so even though we know that what we’re saying or doing is going to hurt a person for whom Jesus Christ died, we say or do it anyway. We share the gossip or we laugh at the joke. We walk pass the woman holding the sign and we ignore those in our world and our country and maybe our neighborhoods who lack what we consider basic. Man, we even grumble and complain about the government taking action, even though we know no one else is going help and I certainly include the church in that “no one else.” In other words, often we fail to live up to what God has called and equipped us to be. And then to make matters worse, we come up with stuff to justify our failure. And although a few people have done this so long that they’ve developed callouses on their consciences or have become so creative and self-serving in their interpretation of Jesus Christ and the love he commanded that they can make every nasty thing they’ve done or loving act they’ve left undone sound spiritual, I don’t think that’s the case for most of us. I mean, even if we’ve gotten comfortable running with the crowd, doing what’s easy and popular I believe we still feel something when we consider that one day God may hold us accountable for the pain we’ve caused and the help we’ve withheld. And you know, it’s amazing, I think some of those feelings are the same kind of things felt by our friend, Henry Jekyll. I mean, I believe there are times we feel frustrated, even angry at ourselves, because, my gosh, we know better. It’s not that we’ve never been told, what we should and shouldn’t do. It’s all over the place in the Bible. And yet, when push came to shove, we screw up all the time. 

 

And if knowing this causes us to be frustrated with ourselves, man, it’s got to lead to some real despair as we approach God. I’ll tell you, speaking for myself, sometimes I’m a shamed even to look in his direction. Because even though I may have neatly justified the comment I made and the pain I’ve ignored, I know in my heart of hearts, God isn’t stupid. He knows. He knows what I said and why I said it. He knows what I could have done and why I didn’t do it. He knows. And what’s worst, I know he knows. And because of that, if I were sitting on his judgement seat, I’m not sure I’d look down on Ed Rudiger and say, “Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why: I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.” Man, I don’t do this kind of stuff I want to but for whatever reason I don’t; I know it, and I know God knows it too. I’ll tell you, I know how Jekyll felt at the end of the story.

 

And you know, I think the passage we just read shows that Paul understood this too. And you know, I don’t believe he can get much more personal than he did in these verses. I mean, instead of talking about “them,” he used the pronoun “me.” In other words, this was his story, and I think if we’re honest with ourselves, I think most of us can see ourselves in there as well. My goodness, just think about what he wrote. He really nailed our nature, didn’t he; you know, how we know right from wrong, how we know what Jesus wants us to be, and how we know exactly the kinds of things we should be doing and saying right along with the times we should sit still and shut up. My gosh, we know this already. And yet, and yet, we don’t do it. We don’t do what we know is right, and instead, we do what’s easy and what’s comfortable and what’s popular, in other words, stuff that’s more often than not wrong. And if the callouses aren’t too thick, we feel guilty about it. Now, Paul wrote that this happens because of sin,  that sin has become so much a part of us that it’s like our very flesh and bones. And that sin is like a gorilla in a room or like the formula Jekyll made; it’s so strong that we do what it wants. It’s kind of like Flip Wilson used to say when he was Geraldine; the Devil or better sin makes us do it. And that’s just the way it is; that’s just who we are. 

 

And if that’s all there is, I have to agree with Paul. The only thing we can say is “wretched person I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?” I mean, if this is it, if this is all we have, then I don’t think we can expect anything better than frustration and despair. Man, we have no hope. 

 

But, of course, that’s not how Paul ends this passage nor should we. Because after everything else, after all the failures, after all the weakness, after all the words we’ve said and the works we’ve avoided, there’s one thing left. And here it is: “Thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” You see, that’s it. We’ve disappointed our God. We’ve disappointed our neighbors. And we’ve disappointed ourselves. That’s just the way it is. And although we can probably do better than we’ve done, we’re just not able to be perfect no matter how hard we try. We’re never going to be everything God created us to be. And brothers and sisters, no matter what we claim and no matter how good we are at deceiving ourselves and others, we’re never, I mean, we’re never going to live as though Christ is first in our lives. It’s like someone asked, “If you were arrested for being a follower of Jesus Christ, would there be enough evidence to convict?” Talk about frustration and despair. But you know, having said all that, “Thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” 

 

I’ll tell you, that’s just as true as everything else. Do we fail to be everything God created us to be and to do everything Christ commanded us to do? You betcha. But you know, “Thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” And when we look in the mirror, do we know that we could be more kind and compassionate and that we could better show our faith in tangible ways, you know, like how we spend our time and money, that God is at least in our life’s top ten? Yes, sir. But remember, “Thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” And as the world watches, can we show more love to our neighbors whether they live next door or on the other side of the world and can we be a little nicer to our brothers and sisters in Christian? Without a doubt. But let’s never forget, “Thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” “Thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord,” because he did something we couldn’t do. He made us righteous in his sight. 

 

And if we believe it, maybe some of the frustration and despair we feel when we think about how we always seem to fall at least a little short, maybe it’ll turn to praise as we think about God and all he’s done for us. And maybe it’ll turn to humility as we look into the mirror. And maybe it’ll turn to acceptance and compassion as we reach out to others. You see, although it won’t erase our weaknesses, knowing that we’re loved by the Father and redeemed by the Son and inspired and empowered by the Spirit, well, that can make an enormous difference in what we feel and how we live. 

 

Of course, this isn’t how Jekyll and Hyde ended. You see, the only way Jekyll could escape his bondage to Hyde was to die. And that’s what happened. But for us, “Thanks to God through Jesus Christ our Lord,” our death isn’t necessary, at least not right now. Because without our permission or help, Jesus has already died for us and we now belong to God. And through him, whatever frustration and despair we might feel can be changed to praise and humility and acceptance. And even though we’ll continue to be less than we may want to be and feel as though we’ve let ourselves and others down, God’s love for us, well, that just won’t change. 

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