5Sep

Cove Presbyterian Church Worship Service - September 3, 2017

Below is the podcast of the service I led on Sunday, September 3, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia.

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5Sep

Two Ridges Presbyterian Church Worship Service - September 3, 2017

Below is the podcast of the service I led on Sunday, September 3, in Two Ridges Presbyterian Church, Wintersville, Ohio.

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5Sep

Sunday’s Sermon - Even the Right Can Be Wrong

Below is the podcast of the sermon I preached on Sunday, September 3, in Two Ridges Presbyterian Church, Wintersville, Ohio and Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. 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.

 

Matthew 16:21-28

 

From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.  

 

And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.”  But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 

 

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."

 

Even the Right Can Be Wrong

 

You know, it’s interesting, when Debbie and I were heading to the Weir football game on Friday evening and passed the sign out in front of the church with the sermon title, “Even the Right Can Be Wrong,” she said, “Is the sermon about me?” You see, she’s right a lot of the time. But I told her it wasn’t. 

 

It’s just something that I think we’ve all seen happen from time-to-time, you know, when some very smart people make some pretty dumb predictions. Let me give you a few examples. Now we all know about Thomas Edison, right, you know the light bulb guy. Well, he really didn’t think one of his inventions had a great future, not when he said, “I have determined that there is no market for talking pictures.” Or take Albert Einstein, not much fashion sense but a pretty smart guy, he said, “There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable.” Or Bill Gates, we all know Bill Gates; in 2004, he said, “Two years from now, spam will be solved.” And those are just three examples. If you google it, you’ll come up with a lot more, all of which point to a very simple truth: even the right can be wrong.

 

As a matter of fact, I think we’ve got a great example right here in the passage we’re looking at this morning. Now, if you were here last week, I think I’m safe in saying this was Peter at his very best. Remember, this is what Matthew wrote, “Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’  And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’  Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’” [Matthew 16:13-16] Now, that’s what he said, and based on Jesus’s response, we know he nailed it. “And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’” [Matthew 16:17-19] Without a doubt, this was Peter’s finest moment. To say he was just right, man, that would be an understatement.

 

But then to show that all fame is fleeting and even the right can be wrong, the story continues. “From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.  And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’  But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’” [Matthew 16:21-23] Now, if this business about getting the keys to the Kingdom and binding and loosing was the kind of stuff Peter might want on a future resume, based on what this guy he’d just confessed as the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the living God said to him, well, I imagine this was something Peter would like to file away as a bad dream. 

 

And yet, it wasn’t a nightmare; it happened. This disciple who’d been so right in answering the question, “But who do you say that I am?”, in the very next thing Matthew wrote did something so wrong that he was called both Satan and a stumbling block. You see, somewhere between his great confession and his decision to rebuke, in other words, to dress down and chew out Jesus, Peter got distracted. Something distracted him from acting like he believed he was talking to the Christ, the Son of the living God. Of course, this isn’t the first time something like this happened to Peter. I mean, just like he did earlier when he was trying to walk on the water, he took his eyes away from Jesus, but this time he didn’t just sink, he was actually throwing a temptation at Jesus, one as real and as dangerous as the stuff the devil used to test him in the wilderness. You see, Peter got distracted, and as a result he missed two essential truths, one, about why Jesus came and two, about how his followers are expected to respond. And that’s why Jesus had to tell Peter that his place was behind Jesus’s back and not in his face.

 

And I’ll tell you, I believe that’s something we need to remember, because I think the same kind of stuff can happen to us. In other words, we can become so distracted that we miss what is still fundamental about why Jesus came and about how we can respond. And even though Matthew didn’t write about what distracted Peter, I believe we have a pretty good idea about what distracts us. I mean, let’s get real, when it comes to faith in Jesus Christ, son of the living God, Christians often become distracted from the truth when life becomes either really good or really bad. For example, when things seem to be just falling into place, often Christians start talking about how they’re being blessed by God, you know, like they deserve just to soak it in and it’s God’s job to turn on the shower. Folks can be distracted by the good. On the other hand, though, when things turn south, well God must be dumping on them because obviously they’re doing something wrong. Now understand, neither conclusion flows from trusting that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God. No, it comes from our desire to put ourselves in the center of the story, you know, as the leads in this little drama or comedy called life, while God is just rearranging the scenery. We just want to believe that it’s all about us and we have control, and as a result we become distracted from the one who’s actually in charge. 

 

And that’s why we end up misunderstanding what that story is all about, and I’m talking about why Jesus actually came, something about which he was clear. Remember Matthew wrote, “From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering  at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” [Matthew 16:21] But not just that, we also miss how he wants us to respond. “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.’” [Matthew 16:17-20] Now granted, this isn’t the kind of thing most Christians want to hear and ask any preacher writing a sermon on the first full day of college football, it’s easy to become distracted when you’d rather hear or do something else, still it’s what the one whom we say we’re following taught; therefore, if we kind of skim over it and then go on and reshape our faith and our respond into a form that’s more comfortable, well, I don’t think we’re any better than Peter when he confronted Jesus, and just remember what Jesus called him. You see, even though our words may be right, the way we interpret and choose to live them, man, that may be dead wrong.

 

But here’s some good news, I don’t think that has to happen. You see, I believe we can avoid Peter’s pitfall, and we can do it by focusing on something that Peter just didn’t have, and I’m talking about what’s found right here, in this book. In other words, if we’re seriously about avoiding the distractions that we’re constantly either running into or created for ourselves, we can decide to study up on what Jesus actually said and not the stuff we wish he’d said. You see, we can dig into what he actually taught by digging into the Bible. And when we do, we’re going to learn a lot about why he came. I mean, what he said here, it wasn’t the only time he talked about his purpose. According to Matthew, a little later, “As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised.’ And they were greatly distressed.” [Matthew 17:22-23] And then, again a little later, “While Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and said to them on the way, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified; and on the third day he will be raised.’” [Matthew 20:17-19] You see, this is why he came. 

 

And as to how we might respond, just remember the story of the rich young man: “Then someone came to him and said, ‘Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?’ And he said to him, ‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.’ He said to him, ‘Which ones?’ And Jesus said, ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ The young man said to him, ‘I have kept all these; what do I still lack?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” [Matthew 19:16-22] And also remember, right before his death, Jesus told the people exactly God expects of all of us. “When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”” [Matthew 34-40] Not exactly a life of health and wealth and happiness. And yet this is what Jesus taught.

 

And when we read it and trust that it’s true, and we do it with the same dedication and devotion with which we trust in all the good stuff about love and grace and salvation, I think two things will happen. First, we’ll understand the one we claim to follow a whole lot better. I mean, we’ll see him as so much more than some kind of divine vending machine, you know, deposit a prayer, push a few buttons, and out pops a blessing. Now that may reflect what we’d like him to be, but when we read the word, we’re going to find that he’s so much more than that. Instead, we’re going to understand that in Jesus, God came as one of us so that we could understand him and he could completely identify with us and that, while he was here, he endured the depth of human pain and doubt and that on the cross the universe was shaken and when he was raised we got a glimpse of the future, our future. You see, when we decide to study up on why he came, our understanding of him has got to increase. That’s one. 

 

And second, when we really take seriously the kind of lives Jesus has called us to live, I’ve got to believe the world around us is going to improve. I mean, just think about it. Suppose we make the conscience decision that we’re no longer going to be all about ourselves, you know, about what we have and about what we want and about what we think; in other words, suppose we decide to put ourselves second instead of first and to listen when we’d rather talk and to show our neighbor the same compassion and kindness and generosity we show ourselves, suppose this is our decision, now you tell me how that won’t improve the lives of others. I’ll tell you, the world is going to get better when we’re clear about what following Jesus is all about. And that’s the second thing that’ll happen.

 

You know, I have no doubt that people who are generally right will continue to be wrong from time to time. I mean, how else can you explain Charlie Chaplin saying that “the cinema is little more than a fad. It’s canned drama. What audiences really want to see is flesh and blood on the stage.” Of course, we shouldn’t be too hard on him. I mean, he never had the chance to see an Adam Sadler movie or watched a single episode of The Bachelor. And with Peter, well, I think we can find an excuse for him too. You see, although his initial confession was right, he certainly became distracted and failed to understand why Jesus came and how his followers are expected to respond. But remember, he didn’t have the advantages we have. For example, when we feel a distraction coming on, we can open our Bibles and read a lot of stuff that Peter just didn’t have. And you know, when we apply what we’ve read, I’m telling you, not only will our understanding of Jesus grow, but the world around us will improve. And I believe that’s going happen, in spite of the fact that we’ll probably always live in a place where even the right can be wrong.

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5Sep

The Wedding Service for Rodney Archibeque & Krystal Johnson - Saturday, September 2, 2017

Below is the podcast of the wedding service I led on Saturday, September 2, in J&D Cellars, Eighty Four, Pennsylvania.

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2Sep

Friday’s Essay - Before We Get to the Why

Below is the podcast of an essay I sent to those on the Cove Presbyterian e-mailing list. 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.

 

When I was teaching high school, I had a colleague who would tell his students that the most important question in history was “why.” In other words, it wasn’t stuff most people think about when it comes to the past, you know, like when and where it happened or who did it and what did they do or even how it was done. No, for him, the rubber hit the road with all those why questions. Why did it occur when and where it happened? And why did they do what they did? And why did they choose the method they chose. You see, for him, when you asked those why questions, you took an event and moved it from it’s historical context into your time and space. He believed answering the whys gave history meaning, and that’s the reason the question was so important to him.

 

And although I think he was right in general, I believe there’s one area where the why has to take a back seat to other questions. I mean, right now, the city of Houston and southern Texas is facing a disaster of almost biblical proportions. For example, according to an article on the CNN website, “Harvey’s devastating impact by the numbers,” 27 trillion gallons of rain was dumped on Texas and Louisiana in six days which comes out to be about 51 inches. The estimated losses are around 75 billion dollars, and 72,000 people were rescued as of Friday. Around 30,000 people will need temporary shelter, with 215,000 students out of school after Houston, the seventh largest school district in the United States, canceled classes. About 14,000 National Guard members were activated to help in the thirty-three Texas counties under a federal disaster declaration. And those are just the numbers. Behind every number is a human being who’ve seen his or her life turned upside down. You see, through no fault of their own, they’ve been put into a situation that most of us pray we’ll never have to face. And yet there they are, struggling through something they couldn’t have imagined a month ago.

And for us who are dry and safe, well, I don’t think the whys are all that important. I believe there are other questions far more pressing. And I’ll tell you, they’re questions for which we already know the answers. For example, we already know when we should put our faith into action. You see, the time is now. And we know where our help should go and whom we should help; this isn’t rocket science. And we even know what form our help should take and how it can be delivered. And even though I’m a praying man and believe that prayer is important, I also believe that James was right when he wrote this:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. [James 2:14-17]

Now these are the questions that should be motivating our actions. And then, later we might want to consider the whys, you know, why it happened and why was the destruction so great. You see, it’s after we’ve stopped the bleeding that we can begin to figure out how we might reduce it happening again. At least, that’s what I believe.

Now, when I was teaching history, I wasn’t sure that I agreed with my colleague. I mean, although I think that in the long run understanding comes from answering the why, to get there we need a pretty firm handle on the when and the where, the who and the what, and also the how. And as we watch the images coming from southern Texas, I believe those are some of the questions we should be asking before we get to the why.

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30Aug

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - There Will Be No Alarms

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.

 

Mark 13:28-37

 

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

 

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake — for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

 

There Will Be No Alarms

 

In the Rudiger house, I have two important jobs every morning. You see, it’s my job to take my daughter to school. And because the tardy bell rings at 7:15, we need to leave the house no later than 7:00. And since the church is close to the school, my work day generally starts around 7:30. But getting Maggie to school is only one of my morning jobs. I also take Coco for her daily walk, something I do before getting Maggie moving toward Weir High. Now, to take care of these two jobs, I have to get up around 5:30, a time that leaves me drowsy about ten hours later. And since I unusually work ‘til about 9:00, I know my drowsiness will become sleepiness, and there’s no way I want to doze as someone comes to talk about his or her fears and frustrations. And so, to ensure later alertness, I’ll go up to the parlor, stretch out on the sofa, and set my alarm for twenty-five minutes. I think they call that a power nap. And when it goes up, I’m remarkably fresh and ready to go. Of course, without the alarm, my naps may be a lot longer.

 

And you know, this alarm business, I think it really applies to the return of the Jesus Christ. You see, although we’d love to have something to let us know when we really need to be alert, according to Jesus, there just won’t be any alarms. There won’t be any kind of early warning system. There just won’t be any time for us to stop doing whatever we’ve chosen to do and to put on a good face. Therefore, we need to be ready all the time so that we can face our maker without regrets or the feeling that we’ve given less than our best. Jesus said, “Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.” And I’ll tell you, I believe the reason for this command is clear. As it relates to his return, there will be no alarms.

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29Aug

Cove Presbyterian Church Worship Service - August 27, 2017

Below is the podcast of the service I led on Sunday, August 27, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. During our time together, the Cove Bells played and we shared Holy Communion. 

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29Aug

Two Ridges Presbyterian Church Worship Service - August 27, 2017

Below is the podcast of the service I led on Sunday, August 27, in Two Ridges Presbyterian Church, Wintersville, Ohio. Ms. Vicki Littlejohn sang during our time of worship.

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29Aug

Sunday’s Sermon - When Your Life Turns South

Below is the podcast of the sermon I preached on Sunday, August 27, in Two Ridges Presbyterian Church, Wintersville, Ohio and Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. 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.

 

Matthew 16:13-20

 

And after Jesus went in the region of Caesarea Philippi, he began to ask his disciples saying, “Who do people say the son of man is?” And they said, “Some [say] John the Baptist, but others Elijah, but others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But you, who do you say that I am?” And Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” 

 

And Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah, because flesh and blood didn’t reveal [this] to you, but my father who is in heaven. And I myself say to you that you are “Rock,” and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the underworld will not prevail against it. I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you might bind upon the earth, will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you might loose upon the earth will have been loosed in heaven.” Then he gave the disciples instructions, so that they might tell no one that he was the Christ.

 

When Your Life Turns South

 

Now y’all may not know this, but I was born in the South. I know that may be a surprise to some of y’all but it’s true. Anyway, since that ridiculous rally in Charlottesville, a town I know well, and all this business about Confederate statues, southern attitudes and culture have been in the news. And even though I’d never think of speaking for my southern brothers and sisters, I really don’t care whether they move Confederate monuments from in front of a courthouse to a museum or battlefield. Now I’m sorry if that upsets some Yankees who’s ancestors fought and died defending the United States against these rebel leaders, but I just don’t see Jefferson Davis, a pretty ineffective leader when you get right down to it, as a part of that southern heritage for which I feel pride. But of course, I’m only speaking for myself. 

 

What does kind of irritate me is the phrase “turning south” and what it’s come to mean, at least it did, before I learned the reason why. Let me explain.  According to a website called the English Language Learners Stack Exchange, which is a question and answer site for speakers of other languages learning English, turning south is “...an idiomatic expression...meaning ‘turning bad’.” Now that’s what it means, and I’ve got to tell you, I thought that was just wrong, almost evil, until I read that this saying came from the orientation of maps. You see, when we’re looking at a map, we generally assume that the top is north and the bottom is south. And so, if we turn the map, so that the north is down, well, that’s just wrong. One might even say it’s bad; therefore, turning south is considered a bad thing. At least, that’s what is says on the internet, and so it must be true.

 

But regardless of the reason, I think we’d all agree that there are times when we feel that our lives are idiomatically turning south, in other words, that bad things are happening to good people like us, and we suddenly find ourselves overwhelmed by all kinds of problems. Now I could stand up here and give examples of what I’m talking about, but I really don’t think that’s necessary. Problems and pain, fears and frustrations, those are some things that you just know when you’re facing them. Nobody needs to give you an example. And at one point or another,  we all face them, right? And I’m talking about times when bad things just, plain happen. And there we are, experiencing all kinds of different emotions. I mean, sometimes it makes us angry, because it’s just ridiculous that we’ve got to deal with a bunch of nonsense, you know what I’m talking about. And sometimes it makes us sad, because it doesn’t matter how you spin it, stuff comes up that make us feel sort of like a balloon with the air slowly draining out. But you know, whether it comes out as anger or sadness, dealing with a southern turn, man, it wears us out, doesn’t it? It drains our energy. I’m telling you, it seems to sap both our strength and our will. And without either of those, well, it’s doubtful that we can be much good to anybody, not to ourselves or to others.

 

But you know, when we’re at that point, we may need to take a look at this passage from Matthew, you know the one that deals with the conversation Jesus had with his disciples as they were passing through the region of Caesarea Philippi, and I’ll tell you why. I believe both Peter’s confession and Jesus’ response can really help us endure when we feel as though our lives have turned south. You see, when we feel like our lives have become one big, fat problem, I believe this passage reminds us that God has given us two things we might need both to recognize and to claim. For example, first, I think these verses show us that God has given us a special truth, you know, some insider information that can offer a lot of help when things seem to be falling apart. And like I said, it’s right here in this passage. 

 

I mean, after asking his disciples, “Who do people say the son of man is?” and hearing them say “Some [say] John the Baptist, but others Elijah, but others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” and after saying “But you, who do you say that I am?” and hearing Simon Peter answer and respond with “You are the Christ, the son of the living God,” Jesus said something that I think is remarkable. He said, 

Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah, because flesh and blood didn't reveal [this] to you, but my father who is in heaven.” Now this is pretty big. 

 

I mean, just think about what’s happening here. Through his words, Peter nailed Jesus’ true identity. In fact, he offered the most profound and complete description of Jesus in the entire gospel of Matthew. I mean, He acknowledged that this guy he’d been following was, in fact, the Christ, the one who came with all kinds of power and authority to set his people free, but that he was also the son of the living God, in other words, the one who brought the presence of God into human space and who would bring humanity, with all its warts and flaws right into the very nature of God. Now that’s pretty important. But Jesus went even farther, by saying that this awareness wasn’t the result of smarts or luck. Instead, it was actually a gift of God. In other words, God himself had given Peter this special truth. 

 

And I’ll tell you why I think that’s important for us to remember. You see, right here and right now, we can also make the same confession Peter made. We can also nail his identity, if we choose. And we can also acknowledge that through Jesus, God has and continues show us his power and his presence. And I’ll tell you, if this is something we believe, something that we trust, I don’t see how we can feel truly helpless, regardless of the mess we face. And I’ll tell you something else, since this is the same confession Peter offered, I think I’m safe in saying that flesh and blood didn’t reveal it to us either. Therefore, in spite of what we might feel at the moment, we’re not alone. I’m telling you, when our lives seem to be turning south, I think we need to remember that God has given us this special truth. That’s one.

 

And second, I think we need to remember that God has also given us a special place where we can feel both secure and confident. I mean, just think about what Jesus said to Peter after the confession. He said, “‘And I myself say to you that you are ‘Rock,’ and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the underworld will not prevail against it. I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you might bind upon the earth, will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you might loose upon the earth will have been loosed in heaven.’ Then he gave the disciples instructions, so that they might tell no one that he was the Christ.” [Matthew 16:18-20] Of course, our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters see this as the statement giving Peter and his spiritual descendants special authority over the church. Now that’s what they believe, but I really don’t want to deal with whether or not that’s the best reading of the Greek right now. Rather, I want you to think about what Jesus was saying in a broader sense, you know, what he’s saying not just about Peter but about the whole church. Now again, just think about the words. For Jesus, this new body, this new community, it was going to endure. It was going to be stronger than death. As a matter of fact, even if the army of the devil himself were released on the earth, not unlike the kind of stuff you might see in hundreds of horror movies, if that should happen, Satan and all his underworld minions will not be able to crush the church. Now that’s what I call endurance. 

 

And this stuff about “the keys of the kingdom” and all this business about bind and loosing; based on what Jesus said and Matthew wrote in other passages, I believe both imagines are connected with teaching. In other words, the church is here to share the message it’s been given. For example, when he was warning the crowds and his disciples about the teachers of the Law, he said, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them.” [Matthew 23:13] You see, in contrast with them, Christians have been given the keys. By what they share, they’re opening the kingdom to others. And just listen to how he defined binding and loosing. As Jesus was offering his disciples advice on how to deal with issues that might come up in this new community, he said, “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” [Matthew 18:15-18] You see, in these verses, the binding and loosing was grounded on the kind of stuff that was being shared. You see, our message, and I’m talking about that message of divine grace and mercy and love, man, that message has power. It can bind and loose. It offers the key. It has authority. 

 

And I’ll tell you, along with the ability of the church to endure, that’s important to remember. I mean, sometimes problems can make us feel frightened and vulnerable. They can cause us to question and to doubt. They can lead us to worry about the future and to question whether we can even survive the present. Man, they can just beat us down. But as Jesus said to Peter, God has given us this place, this community that can and will remain until Jesus Christ comes back; therefore, we can always feel secure. And he’s given this community a message that has real authority; therefore, we can always experience confidence. And no matter how stressed we feel or discouraged we become, that’s not going to change. I’m telling, when our lives turn south, we can claim this very special place God has given us. And that’s two.

 

Now, even though I’m a proud southern boy, I really shouldn’t be too bent out of shape by this turning south business, especially if it has to so with the right way to orient a map. I mean, think about, if you’re sitting at a table and you’re looking at a map that’s laid out the way we’d expect, which direction is closest to the human heart? You’ve got it, south right? Of course, that would also mean that we all should love Antarctica, but I don’t think we have to go there. 

 

But you know, whether or not you buy what I just said, that really doesn’t matter. I think we can agree that there are times when we all feel overwhelmed by problems, and those problems can make us angry and sad and tired. That’s just the way it is. But I hope we can also agree that, when that happens, God has given us two things we might want to claim. He’s given us a special truth, one that reminds us we’re never helpless and we’re never alone. And he’s give us a special place that can help us feel secure and confident. And that’s going to be true regardless of the direction our lives turn.

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26Aug

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - End Times?

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.

 

Mark 13:1-13

 

As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

 

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.

 

“As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations. When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

 

End Times?

 

Every now-and-then, I hear Christians talk about how we’re living in the end times, because things couldn’t get any worse than they are right now. I know this was the view of a lot of Republicans two years ago and maybe even more Democrats right now. Of course, after reading what Jesus said to his disciples, I’m not sure it’s true. I think what he described is worse than anything I’ve seen. But of course, I can say that because my life is pretty good. But if I lost my job or worse, my wife or daughter, well, I’d probably be wondering what else could happen and begin thinking that this is the worse of all times and maybe even hoping that these are the last days. And so, I guess how we see the immediate future is shaped by what we’re facing right now in the present.

 

But here’s the good news, regardless of how we define the times, God is always present with us, and his love never fails. And we’re still saved by Jesus Christ. And the Holy Spirit surrounds us always, offering us the strength and support we need to move forward. And so, regardless of whether our times come closer to the end or the beginning, God’s promises are constant and eternal.

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