Cove Presbyterian Church Worship Service - January 7, 2018

Below is the podcast of the service I led on Sunday, January 7, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. It's the fourteenth service in a series entitled Christianity 101, during which we'll used The Apostles Creed to understand better the Christian faith. During the service we also recognized those who'd passed during the last two years.



Sunday’s Sermon - I Believe in the Holy Ghost

Below is the podcast of the sermon I preached on Sunday, January 7, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. It's the fourteenth message in a series entitled Christianity 101, during which we'll used The Apostles Creed to understand better the Christian faith.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.




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. 



Well, I’m glad to see that we all made it through Christmas into the new year none the worse for wear. I mean, outside of gaining a few pounds or adding a little bit to the credit cards or watching your car burn on Interstate 70, you know, small stuff like that, I think we’ve made it through the holidays in pretty good shape. And maybe as a gentle reminder that we’re finished with the warmth of this festive season, God has turned down the thermostat for western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and of course the northern panhandle of West Virginia. Man, it’s really cold. 


In fact, it kind of reminds me of one of my favor poems, "Fire and Ice," by Robert Frost (no pun intended): 

Some say the world will end in fire, 

Some say in ice. 

From what I’ve tasted of desire 

I hold with those who favor fire. 

But if it had to perish twice, 

I think I know enough of hate 

To say that for destruction ice Is also great 

And would suffice. 

But regardless of what it is outside, it’s comfortable, if not warm in here.


And as we’ve been talking about a little bit this morning, today we’re remembering some of the people within our church family who’ve passed away during the last couple of years. And even though, in the past, we’ve done it in the Fall, this year session thought it might be important to enter the new year thinking about some of the men and women we’ve known and loved, but who are no longer with us physically. But spiritually, man, I think we know they’re around all the time, this great cloud of witnesses that continue to shape how we live and what we believe. I mean, without getting into some kind of mystical metaphysics, I know I can close my eyes and see some of the folks whose names we read. In fact, this idea that they feel spiritually close, I’m telling you that can offer a lot of comfort to those who don’t want to let go, even for this relatively brief period of separation we now face.


But you know, I think it’s interesting; I’m not sure we apply the same importance to our view of  the Holy Ghost, the Holy Spirit. As a matter of fact, even though we might all say that we believe in the reality of the Spirit, frankly I think it’s the most misunderstood and probably the most neglected part of the Trinity. Of course, I believe some of that’s probably to be expected. My goodness, we can kind of get our heads around the idea of a heavenly Father, and we believe that Jesus Christ, his Son, was a human being like us; that we can get. But this idea of a spiritual presence is pretty hard to understand. It’s just not something that’s easy to describe in human terms. And man, it’s almost impossible to visualize. And this isn’t new. In his conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus compared the Spirit to the wind that “...blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” I’m telling you, it’s hard to see the wind, and that’s also true of the Spirit. 


And maybe that explains why the Holy Spirit is not generally front and center when we consider God. Let give you an example. Think about The Apostles’ Creed.  As we say the words, we spend a fair about of time talking about the Father, right: “I BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth...” And then there’s a lot about the Son: “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.” Now that’s the Son. But what do we say about the Holy Spirit: “I believe in the Holy Ghost...” That’s it. And then we move on to other stuff, you know, like “the Holy Catholic Church.” Not exactly the kind of endorsement the Spirit would put on a resume.


But I’ll tell you, I think that’s a shame, because even though it’s hard for us to understand and for that reason it’s often neglected, I believe the Holy Spirit is absolutely crucial to who we are as Christians. In fact, it’s every bit as important as the Father and the Son, and I’ll tell you why. When we look at what the New Testament has to say, I think the Holy Spirit offers us three things we wouldn’t have if it didn’t surround and fill us all the time. And let me briefly share with you what they are.


You see, first, the Holy Spirit informs us. In other words, it teaches us what we need to know about Jesus Christ. And I’ll tell you, this is exactly what Jesus himself said would happen after the resurrection. He said to his disciples, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. ...I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. ...When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.” [John 14:16-17, 25-26; 15:26-27] 


You see, Holy Spirit came to teach, to teach us about Jesus Christ, which is a good thing because, unlike the disciples he was talking to in the passage we just read, we don’t have Jesus physically instructing us any more. But that’s alright, because we have the Spirit, the Advocate who teaches us about who Jesus was, you know, how he offered an example by his life and forgiveness through his death and hope because he was raised. But more than that, the Spirit enables us to understand exactly what we’ve been called to do, namely to “...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.” [Matthew 28:19b-20a] And it’s because the Holy Spirit is constantly opening our ears so that we can hear and our eyes so that can see and our minds so that we can understand, I’m telling you, it’s because of the Spirit’s work that we can, right here and now, trust him and that we can know exactly how God wants us to live and what God wants us to do, both as individual believers and as the Body of Christ. The Holy Spirt informs us, and that’s the first thing it offers.


But that’s certainly not all, not according to the Bible, because second the Holy Spirit also empowers us. In other words, it gives us the power to respond. And I’ll tell you, this is something that the Apostle Paul wrote about in his first letter to the Corinthians. He said, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.” [1 Corinthians 12:4-11] 


Now I think that’s really important for us to remember, that God through the Holy Spirit has already given us the talents and the abilities to do exactly what God has called us to do. In other words, no Christian, and I mean, no Christian has any reason to say, “Oh I can’t do anything.” I’m telling you, you can, because it’s something the God himself has planted in you. You just may not know it yet. But I think there’s a fairly easy way to find out what it is. I want you to think about some of the stuff that you do well, and I don’t care what it is, or some of the stuff you feel passionate about doing. Now that may be exactly what God has called you to do. But don’t worry if you’re still a little hazy about what your gifts are or how they might be used. I believe that’s one reason God has called the church together, to help people both discover their gifts and to put those gifts to use. And that’s the case because, along with informing us, the Holy Spirit also empowers us, and that’s the second thing the Spirit offers.


And third, the Holy Spirit inspires us, but right now I’m not talking about how an artist might feel inspired to paint a beautiful painting or a quarterback to complete a “hail Mary” pass. Instead, the word “inspire” comes from two Latin words: “in” and “spirare” which means “breathe” or “breath.” And so, the word “inspire” literally means “breathed in.” And that’s really what the Holy Spirit is all about. In fact, the Greek word for Spirit is πνεύμα, which can also mean “breath” or “wind.” You see, the Holy Spirit is God’s presence that he’s literally breathed into us. And I’ll tell you, that’s why, according to the Evangelist John, this is how the disciples received the Advocate, the Holy Spirit and understand this happened after the resurrection: “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” [John 20:19-22] And I think the Apostle Paul also believed the Holy Spirit was God’s presence within us. Listen to what he wrote to the Romans: “So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—If, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.” [Romans 8:12-17] You see, thanks to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we carry the very presence of God; therefore, we can certainly live with both confidence and hope. The Holy Spirit inspires, and that’s the third thing it offers.


Now, next week, we’re going to look at what I think is one of the only confusing and misunderstood phrases in The Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in...the Holy Catholic church...” But before we move forward, let’s pause a little while and think about the Holy Ghost, the Holy Spirit. And even though it’s hard to understand and for that reason it’s often not seen as quite as important as the Father and the Son, let’s remember exactly what this Holy Spirit offers us 24/7, and I’m talking about how the Spirit informs us and how it empowers us and how it inspires us. And that’s true regardless of the temperature outside.



A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - Eyes on the Prize

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.


Revelation 21:22-27


I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life.


Eyes on the Prize


In seems as though every day there’s some new reason to feel discouraged and frustrated about the future. I mean, within our world and country, regardless of their political persuasion, I think most Americans would admit that we seem to be facing the kind of dangers and instability that we may never have faced before as a country. And within our communities, we’re told that things are getting much better, but this improvement doesn’t seem to have been translated into lessened stress and increased confidence. And personally, well, aging is neither easy nor gentle, not when you’re dealing with unexplained aches and the uncomfortable realization that just like life itself, relationships are finite. And when all this is rolled together, it’s easy to understand why there are folks who feel discouraged and frustrated.


But I’ll tell you, for the Christian, this discouragement and frustration should never cross over into hopelessness and despair, because no matter how the world appears right now, we have good reason to keep our eyes on the prize that lies in the future, one that’s grounded in a reality that’s been promised by the creator and sustainer of the universe. You see, the day will come when creation will be recreated, and all that’s negative will be wiped away, and a new world will be born. And this lies in the future not because we’re smart but rather because God’s gracious and loving and merciful. I’m telling you, this can be our vision. And if it is, we just might find renewed energy to confront some of those things that cause us to be most discouraged and frustrated.



Friday’s Essay - Joy into the New Year

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. 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.


Yesterday, I was talking to a member of our congregation, and she was explaining to me the significance of the word “joy.” She said that the letters refer to “Jesus,” “others” and “yourself,” and this is how we should prioritize our lives. We should focus on Jesus first, followed by others, with ourselves bringing up the rear. Now I thought that was pretty cool, but the more I thought about it, the more questions I had about the using the order of the letters as a way to order our thoughts and lives.


And I’ll tell you why; I’m not sure we can put God first if we choose to put others second, not when Jesus said the entire law comes down to two commandments: love God and love neighbor. As a matter of fact, I think our desire to focus our attention and energy on God, and I’m talking about Father, Son and Holy Spirit, I think that can distract us from the very real human needs that surround us. I mean, I’ve known people who one might say are so spiritually minded that they’re no earthly good. In other words, they spend so much of their time and effort and even money trying to “get right” with God that they wind up ignoring men and women they might actually help. And they’re so wrapped up with spiritually improving themselves that they forget that they live in communities that are desperate to hear any kind of news that’s good. In fact, they’re so good at isolating and insulating themselves from the harsh realities of life in the fast lane that they never see how their faith in Jesus Christ can and should impact their social and political and economic lives. And you know, when this happens, not only do they end up neglecting half of Christ’s summation of the law and the prophets, they seem to completely overlook Jesus’s last words to his disciples, right before he stepped into the run-away train of the passion. Remember, this is what Jesus said:


“When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.


“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘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.’


“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’


“Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,

I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,

I was homeless and you gave me no bed,

I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,

Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’


“Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’


“He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’


“Then those ‘goats’ will be herded to their eternal doom, but the ‘sheep’ to their eternal reward.” [Matthew 25:31-46] 


Now, if we simply take what Jesus said verbatim without a spin on our part, it’s pretty hard to make the case that those in need should always occupy a secondary position.


And I’ll tell you, that’s why I think that, although “Jesus,” “others” and “yourself” offer a wonderful set of priorities, I think it may be better to keep them in balance rather than in order. I mean, since it may be difficult if not impossible to focus on one without including the others, maybe we should look to see how Jesus Christ can inform and shape the way we relate to others and manage our own lives. And as we consider how we might respond to those around us, maybe we need to consider the example left to us by Jesus Christ as well as our own gifts and abilities. And maybe our own lives become shallow and empty, if they don’t include a love for God, again Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and our neighbors both across the street and around the world. You see, as Christian brothers and sisters, maybe we need to focus equally on God and those whom God has led into our lives as well as the self over which he’s made us stewards.


Now, I really like thinking of joy as an acronym. But instead of using it to determine an order, it might be better to view it as offering three interpenetrating dimensions of the Christian life. And who knows, if we’re able to keep all three in balance, we just might carry a little more joy into the new year.



A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - Crossing from Enough to Too Much

Below is the podcast of a new devotion I just left on the Cove Presbyterian Church prayer line. 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.


Ephesians 5:6-14


Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be associated with them. For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light  for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

"Sleeper, awake!

Rise from the dead,

and Christ will shine on you."


Crossing from Enough to Too Much


A couple of weeks ago, I was talking with a Christian brother, a friend of mine, and he was expressing some pretty strong support for a political candidate who’d been caught in a sexual scandal that in the past would have caused believers to abandon him in droves. And I had assumed that would still be the case, you know, that the candidate had crossed that line that separated what’s acceptable from what’s not. At least that’s what I thought until I talked with my friend. And he told me that the scandal, which he believed was true, didn’t bother him at all. Now it’s important to understand that he certainly hadn’t viewed other politicians with this kind of openness, not in the past. In fact, he was the kind of guy who’d state firmly and clearly that he always voted his faith. And yet, in this situation, some pretty blatant personal immorality didn’t shake his support. And when I asked him why, he listed several very political issues in which they agreed. In other words, it seemed as though, for my friend, politics trumped morality.


And I think that’s become a real issue among a lot of very sincere Christians. While they have often judged harshly the morality and faith of leaders with whom they disagree, they seem more than willing to compromise some of their moral principles and spiritual priorities for political expediency. And even though I understand why this kind of thing happens, I think believers need to be really careful when they choose to compromise. You see, since the world judges our faith by both our words and our lives, our witness to Christ might be damaged when we’re inconsistent, in other words, when we enter the world with fluid standards that are constantly changing. And for that reason, it seems to me that, when it comes to compromising our fundamental faith, we need to be careful not to cross that line from enough to too much.



What Do People Believe? (Session 1 – What is religion?)

The purpose of this session is to define the nature of religion and to establish the structure that we’ll use to consider the major world religions. 


Below is the structure of the session:

What Is Religion? 

  • What is it’s history?
  • What are the fundamental beliefs?
  • What are some of the sacred writings?
  • What are some of the sacred rituals?

What is it’s history?

What are the fundamental beliefs? 

  • Why are we here?
  • What is the nature of reality?
  • What is good?
  • How should we treat each other?
  • What is most important in life?


What are some of the sacred writings?

What are some of the sacred rituals?


How does the religion approach others who have different beliefs? 

  • Exclusive
  • Inclusive

How do religions relate to one another 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.
  • Indian religions originated in Greater India and tend to share a number of key concepts, such as dharma and karma. They are of the most influence across the Indian subcontinent, East Asia, Southeast Asia, as well as isolated parts of Russia. The main Indian religions are Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism.
  • East Asian religions consist of several East Asian religions which make use of the concept of Tao (in Chinese) or Do (in Japanese or Korean), namely Taoism and Confucianism, both of which are asserted by some scholars to be non-religious in nature.
  • African diasporic religions practiced in the Americas, imported as a result of the Atlantic slave trade of the 16th to 18th centuries, building on traditional religions of Central and West Africa. 
  • Indigenous ethnic religions, formerly found on every continent, now marginalized by the major organized faiths, but persisting as undercurrents of folk religion. Includes African traditional religions, Asian Shamanism, Native American religions, Austronesian and Australian Aboriginal traditions, Chinese folk religion, and postwar Shinto. Under more traditional listings, this has been referred to as "Paganism" along with historical polytheism.
  • Iranian religions (not listed below due to overlaps) originated in Iran and include Zoroastrianism, Yazdanism, Ahl-e Haqq and historical traditions of Gnosticism (Mandaeism, Manichaeism). It has significant overlaps with Abrahamic traditions, e.g. in Sufism and in recent movements such as Bábism and the Bahá'í Faith.
  • New religious movement is the term applied to any religious faith which has emerged since the 19th century, often syncretizing, re-interpreting or reviving aspects of older traditions: Hindu reform movements, Eckankar, Ayyavazhi, Pentecostalism, polytheistic reconstructionism, and so forth.


The Wedding Service for Dean Scoggin and Sarah Voss - Monday, January 1, 2018

Below is the podcast of the wedding service I led on Monday, January 1, in Weirton, West Virginia.



Cove Presbyterian Church Worship Service - December 31, 2017

Below is the podcast of the service I led on Sunday, December 31, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. 



Sunday’s Sermon - Happy New Year

Below is the podcast of the message I offered on Sunday, December 31, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. 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.


Luke 2:22-38


And when the day of purification, according to the law of Moses, came, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it had been written in the law of the Lord, “Every first born male is called holy to the Lord.” And they came to offer a sacrifice according to what has been said in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”


And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem who’s name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and pious, as he waited for the consolation of Israel. And the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he might see the Christ of the Lord. And he went in the Spirit into the Temple. And when the parents brought in the child Jesus for them to do what is the custom of the law concerning him, [Simeon] took him into his arms and praised God and said, “Now you may release your slave, master, according to your word, in peace, because my eyes have seen your salvation, the one prepared before all the people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory to your people, Israel.” And his father and mother were amazed at what they heard concerning him.


And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother, “Behold, he is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel and for a sign that is spoken against. (And through your own self, a sword will pierce.) So that the thoughts of many hearts might be revealed.” 


And there was a prophetess, Anna, a daughter of Phanuel, from the tribe of Asher. She had lived many days, having lived with her husband seven years from her virginity. And she was a widow for as long as eighty-four years. She didn’t leave the Temple, fasting and praying night and day. And at that hour, she came and gave thanks to God and spoke concerning [Jesus] to those who waited for the ransom of Jerusalem.


Happy New Year


Happy New Year, well, almost. Right now we’ve got about twelve and a half hours before that huge ball drops in Times Square and we officially enter 2018. No, we’ve still have a little while to wait for that to happen, and that’s a good thing, because in these last few hours we have the chance to do two things before we turn the calendar. 


For example, we have the chance to look back on 2017, and I’ve got to tell you, on a lot of levels, it’s been a year for the books. My gosh, just think about the nation. I believe I’m safe in saying we’ve never seen anything like what we’ve either enjoyed or endured politically. I mean, even though time will tell whether America will be great again or whether it’s in the middle of something from which it’ll never recover, our President is certainly leading us in a direction that I believe has and is changing the country we’ll pass on to our children and grandchildren. Globally, there’s a lot less stability than I’d like to see. And socially, I’m not sure whether or not the folks we expect to defend personal morality and responsibility haven’t shifted from the evangelical right to the progressive left. I’m just not sure. And that’s the big stuff. 


And I’ll tell you, as we look at our own lives and families, I think the same kind of thing is going on. We’ve said good-bye to some of the people we’ve loved and respected, folks that we’re going to remember during the service next week, while we’ve said hello to tiny new people who I think we can all say are cute little cuddly bundles of potential. Friends have gotten sick and others have recovered. Diagnoses have been good and not so good. We’ve seen some doors open and watched others close. And you know, on a very personal level, I certainly hope changing the calendar will change some of the fortunes of my little family. I’m telling you, considering the fact that my daughter is still recovering from a concussion, and remember she’s a cheerleader not a linebacker, and that last summer I delivered a bouncing baby kidney stone, and that about five days ago my Mini-Cooper decided to illuminate a section of Interstate 70 just west of Columbus, looking back, 2017 has been interesting to say the least.


But of course, today isn’t just about looking back. As a matter of fact, if that’s all we do, you know, to look back, I think we’re in big trouble, because let’s face it, we have absolutely no power to change the past. It’s in concrete. It’s a done deal. You see, the only thing we can do with what’s happened is to learn from it, both good and bad, and hopefully decide to repeat the good and avoid the bad. In other words, as we stand at the line for a new year and wait to hear the starting shot, right now we can look forward, and we can begin to make what I guess people all over the world call new year resolutions. I mean, right now, we can look at 2018 as a blank slate and what we resolve is the stuff we intend to write in the next twelve months. And even though, what we’ve each gone through will shape the kind of things we might want to do, undo or redo, I think there are three resolutions we can make that might have an enormous impact on how we live during the next year. And I’ll tell you, I believe we can see these three decisions in the passage we read from Luke, the one printed in your bulletin. You see, if we look at the examples of both Simeon and Anna and if we consider what they did and said, I believe that we might be setting ourselves up to have a pretty happy new year. And let me share with you what they are.


You see, first, we can decide that starting today, we’re going to look for the presence of God in simple things, you know, in places that are unassuming and in events that are unimpressive and in people who are modest. In other words, we can decide that we’re going to try as hard as we can to see God in the simplicity that surrounds us. Which, when you think about it, Is a lot different from what we’re encouraged to do now-a-days. I mean, let’s face it, we are not exactly living in the golden age of humility. Man, everything has to be big and beautiful and spectacular. That’s where we find our national leaders and the big guns in sports and show business, that’s where they live. And because of that, It seems natural to look there for God too. My goodness, God must be in not just the wind and the fire but the strongest wind and the hottest fire. He’s in a raging storm that’s been stilled and five thousand people miraculously fed, you know, in unbelievable things like the heavens being torn apart and the Browns winning a football game. That’s where God hangs out; therefore, that’s where we might see him, right? 


But you know, that’s not the way Simeon saw it; and I’m talking about a man who’d waited for the consolation of Israel and to whom “the Holy Spirit [revealed] that he wouldn’t see death before he might see the Christ of the Lord.” Man, if he’d been looking for God in the huge, he’d have missed that ordinary infant born to a family from the sticks, a family so poor that all they could offer God was a pair of pigeons. You see, it was in a baby where Simeon saw the promises of God. And you know, the same could be said of the prophetess Anna, who saw that same baby Jesus and gave thanks to God. They were looking for the presence of God in the simple. 


And you know, we can do the same thing ourselves. I’m telling you, we can decide to recognize that God is all around us 24/7, if we take the time to look. You see, we can see him in the sun that rises every day or in the faces of the children that are in our lives. And we can see him in those little acts of kindness and concern that we’re going to miss if we’re not really looking. And we can certainly see him in this place, in this community, in this church. You see, he’s here every time we get together and sing the songs and pray the prayers and hear the word and share in that same Holy Spirit. Remember, for Elijah, God wasn’t in the whirlwind but rather in that still, small voice. I’m telling you, just like God became flesh in the form of a baby lying in a manger, this will truly be an amazing new year if we make the decision to look for God in the simple. And that’s one.


And second, we can also decide, starting today, to praise God for sending Jesus Christ into our world, to praise him every single day for something that can kind of get lost in the shuffle and that we may even take for grated from time to time. I mean, although I think most, if not all of us here this morning believe that God entered our time and space through the person of Jesus Christ, outside of the time around Christmas, how often do we really thank him for that? Now, like I said, I don’t think this is because we don’t believe or because Jesus just isn’t important to us. That’s not the case, but let’s face it, we’ve got a lot things going on, don’t we? I know in my own house, it seems like all we do is bounce between cheerleading and dance. There’s work and school, smart phones and ipads. It’s enough to drive you crazy. I’m telling you, there’s just not much time to give thanks, and I’m around the church seven days a week, certainly not for something as, well, as basic and on-going as the coming of Jesus Christ. 


And I’ll tell you, for that reason, I really think it’s important for us to read and reread what Simeon said right after he took Jesus into his arms and began to praise God. You see, just like he said, Jesus is still God’s salvation, but not just for me or for you but for all people, those whom we like and those whom we don’t, folks who follow the rules right along with those who do their own thing, men and women who are fortunate to grow up in God-fearing families and to live in comfortable Christian homes as well as those who were raised with virtually no knowledge of God and who’ve been dumped on by the some of those whom the world considers “righteous.” Man, he’s still a light to the Gentiles and a glory to Israel. It’s just like the prophet Isaiah wrote: “Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. ...Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of God.” I’m telling you, if starting today this is our focus, I’ll guarantee, we’ll be praising for the next three hundred and sixty-five days. And wouldn’t that be a wonderful new year resolution? That’s number two.


And third, if we really want to enter 2018 in the best possible way, we can also decide to recognize that we live in a world which desperately needs to hear this good news. I mean, throw a dart into a crowd; there’s a better than even chance you’re going to hit a person who feels a little bit lost. Maybe they feel lonely and isolated. Maybe they’re being crushed by abuse they didn’t choose or bound to addictions they just can’t seem to break. Or maybe they’ve simply lost their sense of direction, having joined with so many others in our society who have confused fulfillment with greed and righteousness with intolerance and faith with certainty. In other words, maybe they reflect the kind of world that Simeon saw, when he said to Mary, the mother of Jesus, “Behold, he is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel and for a sign that is spoken against. (And through your own self, a sword will pierce.) So that the thoughts of many hearts might be revealed.” 


But you know, regardless of the reason, right now, we live in a world, man, we live in a community that is hungry for some good news, not the burden of pseudo-religious legalism, not the empty hypocrisy that’s traded politics for truth, and not the quick-fixes promised by ideas that are the spiritual equivalent of cotton candy, something that tastes good going down but that has the nutritional value of Styrofoam. Right now, people need to hear about the Father who loved the world so much that he gave his only son. And they need to hear about the son who lived and died and rose again to give us direction and forgiveness and hope. And they need to hear about the Holy Spirit who surrounds and fills us with love and grace and faith even on our worst day. I’ll tell you, for a community of workers, and that’s exactly what we are, the harvest is ready. And if, starting on January first, we decide to hop in our combines and get to work; if this is what to do as a result of birth of Jesus, this will truly be wonderful new year. 


Well, we’re closer to the new year now than when I started; therefore, soon we’ll be able to say farewell to all the craziness of 2017 and move into all the opportunities and possibilities awaiting us in 2018. And as we stand here and look forward, we can make some decisions that’ll determine what we’ll do. And among all the other stuff we’ll promise, we can resolve to look for God in simple things and to praise him for sending Jesus Christ into our world and to recognize that we live in a place that desperately needs to hear the good news. And if we do, we just might have every reason to look ahead and say happy new year.



Cove Presbyterian Church Christmas Eve Service - December 24, 2017

Below is the podcast of the service I led on Sunday, December 24, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. It was centered on the Festival of Lessons and Carols.


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