2Aug

Two Ridges Presbyterian Church Worship Service - July 23, 2017

Below is the podcast of the service I led on Sunday, July 23, in Two Ridges Presbyterian Church, Wintersville, Ohio.

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1Aug

Sunday’s Sermon - The Kindness of Strangers

Below is the podcast of the sermon I preached on Sunday, July 23, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. This was the sixth message in the series entitled "Living by the Spirit." 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.

 

I’ll tell you, wasn’t last week’s service great, with the music and the puppets and all? Now, we’re going to do that again. But today, we’re coming back to the series we started a little over a month ago, you know, the one dealing living by the Spirit. And as some of y’all know, to this point, we've considered five different topics. Now they haven’t all be what Paul called “fruits of the Spirit,” because during the first message, we looked into the desires of the flesh and how easy it is to misinterpret and misuse the freedom we have in Christ. And then in the second service, we talked about how Christians are called to love and how doing that is both a decision and an obligation. And then, in the third week, we considered how Christian joy is grounded in faith and how it strengthens those who suffer and how it must be shared among believers. And then, in week four, we focused on Christian peace and how God has called us to live in harmony with ourselves and with God and with one another. And then, in the fifth message, we talked about spiritual patience and how it involves humility and love and faith. Now, in a nutshell, that’s what we’ve covered. And this morning, we’re going to tackle gift number five, kindness. As Paul wrote, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, [and] kindness...” 

 

And as I considered how to introduce this idea, the first thing that came to mind was that wonderful line from the movie, A Street Car Named Desire. Now if you’ve never seen it, I’m telling you it’s well worth watching. But even if you haven’t, that quote, “I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers,” well, it’s kind of crept into our culture. 

 

Of course, in the Tennessee Williams play, the line is anything but cheerful. I mean, in the scene we saw, Blanche DuBois is being driven to a mental hospital after having a total breakdown, taking her last step into insanity and her complete detachment from reality. Still, her words, “I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers” sort of encapsulates what we’re talking about this morning, you know, how we’re called to show kindness to others, including strangers.

 

And I’ll tell you something else, I think it also points to a problem that most of us have. You see, I don’t think we live in a society that puts an emphasis on stuff like kindness and benevolence and warmth. I mean, give me a break, even among people who are suppose to be role-models, I believe we see more hostility than peace and more bitterness than forgiveness and certainly more malice than benevolence. My goodness, let’s get real, does anybody here this morning believe we live a good-natured and open-hearted and kind society, much less world? I’ll tell you, I don’t think so. And so, I think this call to kindness, well, I believe it’s really hard for us, both because I don’t think we really know how to do it and even if we do, I doubt that, deep down, most American really want to be all that kind. It’s become a sign of weakness. My gosh, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a time when that old saying, “Good guys finish last” has been more true. But I’ll tell you, for me, that assumption seems proven wrong every morning when I get up and read the news before eating my breakfast.

 

But you know, whether or not it fits into what we value or respect in others, Paul says the fifth fruit of the Holy Spirit is kindness. And so whether or not we like it or know how to do it or think it’s important, kindness is exactly what we’ve been called to show. But here’s some good news. Even though kind people aren’t necessarily the ones we want to see in front of the parade, I think we have a perfect example of what this kindness business is all about, and it’s right here in the Bible, and it’s been shown by the one who loved us before he laid the foundation of the universe. 

 

You see, first, God defines kindness, just like he defined love and joy and patience. And you know, when we follow the example of his kindness, I believe as sure as I’m standing here we can be kinder to one another. And like I said, this definitive example of kindness is right here in the Bible. And I’ll tell you, when we take a look at what is says, I think there are three lessons that we can learn and apply. I mean, first, I think it’s pretty clear that kindness is a part of who God is, and it must be a part of us too. In other words, by his very nature, God is kind. And like I said, I think we see this in scripture, especially in the stuff written by the Apostle Paul. For example, as he was explaining to the Roman Christians why God had given them the ability to understand and to trust in Jesus Christ, he wrote,  “Now you see both how kind and how hard God can be. He was hard on those who fell, but he was kind to you. And he will keep on being kind to you, if you keep on trusting in his kindness. Otherwise, you will be cut away too.”  [Romans 11:22] You see, God is kind; that’s just who he is. And you know, Paul wrote the same kind of thing in his letter to Titus: “God our Savior showed us how good and kind he is. He saved us because of his mercy, and not because of any good things that we have done. God washed us by the power of the Holy Spirit. He gave us new birth and a fresh beginning. God sent Jesus Christ our Savior to give us his Spirit. Jesus treated us much better than we deserve. He made us acceptable to God and gave us the hope of eternal life.” [Titus 3:4-7] 

 

You see, as both these passages illustrate, God’s kindness was shown by his willingness to treat us better than we deserve and by his desire to save us through Jesus Christ and by his decision to offer us the Holy Spirit so that we can have hope. You see, God can be our example, because kindness is just part of his nature. Of course there’s an obvious problem with trying to use God as an example. I mean, last time I looked, none of us are God. Man, we’re not even close. And when you’re talking about using God as an example of kindness, it gets even worse. I mean, just listen to what Paul said about our ability to be kind, and right here he was quoting the fourteenth Psalm: “There is no one who is righteous, not even one; there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God. All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, there is not even one.” [Romans 3:10b-12] You see, according to Paul, regardless of who serves as an example, we can’t really show Godlike kindness even if we wanted to. In other words, this would be impossible for us to do without some kind of help. But of course, that’s where the Holy Spirit steps in. You see, this ability to be kind is a fruit of the Spirit. I’ll tell you, God does the heavy lifting for us. And why would he do that? That’s easy, because God is kind. Dah. And he offers an example we can follow. That’s one.

 

And second, if we’re serious about following the example we find in Scripture, than we’re going to have to decide that we’re going to be kind to everybody, not just to the people we like. Man, we can’t be godly and limit our kindness to a select few. Instead, it needs to flow out to everyone. Because that’s exactly what God did. Just listen to what he wrote to the Ephesians: “But God was merciful! We were dead because of our sins, but God loved us so much that he made us alive with Christ, and God’s wonderful kindness is what saves you. God raised us from death to life with Christ Jesus, and he has given us a place beside Christ in heaven. God did this so that in the future world he could show how truly good and kind he is to us because of what Christ Jesus has done. You were saved by faith in God, who treats us much better than we deserve. This is God’s gift to you, and not anything you have done on your own. It isn’t something you have earned, so there is nothing you can brag about.” [Ephesians 2:5-9] You see, God’s kindness wasn’t given to some and withheld from others. Instead, it covers us all.

 

And I think that’s something we need to remember as we apply it to our own lives. You see, it’s really not good enough be kind only to people we like, you know, people like us. And it’s not good enough to be helpful only to folks who are helpful to us. And it’s not good enough to treat with respect and dignity and honor only men and women we think deserve it, because remember, God treated us better than we deserve. No, according to Luke, Jesus said, “If you are tired from carrying heavy burdens, come to me and I will give you rest. Take the yoke I give you. Put it on your shoulders and learn from me. I am gentle and humble, and you will find rest. This yoke is easy to bear, and this burden is light." [Matthew 11:28-30] And I’ll tell you, the Greek word that was translated in this passage “is easy to bear,” well, it the verbal form of the word that Paul used when he wrote about kindness. Following God’s example, we need to decide that we’re going to be kind to everybody. And that’s the second thing Bible can teach us about kindness.

 

And third, when we’re kind to others, I believe we’re going to see them change. And I’ll tell you, I think that’s really exciting. And you know, we can see the same kind of thing happen with the kindness shown by God. In other words, God was kind in order that people might change. I mean, just listen to what Paul wrote to the Romans: “Some of you accuse others of doing wrong. But there is no excuse for what you do. When you judge others, you condemn yourselves, because you are guilty of doing the very same things. We know that God is right to judge everyone who behaves in this way. Do you really think God won’t punish you, when you behave exactly like the people you accuse? You surely don’t think much of God’s wonderful goodness (or in Greek, “kindness”) or of his patience and willingness to put up with you. Don’t you know that the reason God is good (or “kind’) to you is because he wants you to turn to him?” [Romans 2:1-4] You see, there’s a reason for God’s kindness to us. It was so that we might repent. In other words, so that we might turn from self, from pride and arrogance and hubris, and then turn toward him, toward love and mercy and compassion. That’s his goal, to see people change. 

 

And when we show kindness, I’m telling you, we’re going to see people change too. I mean, not only will they change toward us, they’re also going to change in how they see the faith we share. And I’ll tell you why that’s so important, particularly now. According to research, although almost as many people believe in God as they did in the past, fewer and fewer people are coming into churches to learn about him. As a matter of fact, a whole lot more folks are shuffling from one church to another than are coming in from the outside. And I’ll tell you, I believe a big part of that is how a lot of folks have come to see the church. If you listen to them, the church is just one big old club, where people spend more time talking about one another and judging those on the outside than in showing much love for either God or neighbor. And I’ve got to tell you, to a certain extent, I can see their point. But I’ll tell you something else, I believe a little bit of intentional kindness can change that. And for that reason, I’m not sure we can focus most of our attention on insiders any more. And we may not be able to structure everything just so we feel comfortable. I’m telling you, that may not work in the modern world. Instead, maybe we’ve reached a point where our kindness, our compassion, our attention needs to include both those on the inside and the outside. In other words, maybe we need to spend some of our time and our attention showing folks who may have gotten the wrong idea about our faith by the actions of the church, maybe through our intentional kindness to them we’ll begin to see them open up to the one who couldn’t love them more than he does right now. And I believe that’ll happen, because the Bible shows us that kindness can bring change. And I think that’s our third lesson.

 

Now, in the movie, A Streetcar Named Desire, the motivation of the man who takes Blanch away may or may not have been kindness; there’s really no way of knowing. But for us, we can decide to be kinder to one another. You see, we can claim the help offered by the Holy Spirit, and we can be kind to everyone, giving all people the opportunity to change their view of us and the one we proclaim. I’m telling you, this is something we can do. And if this our decision and if we do this kind of thing together, for a whole bunch of folks we may have never met, we just might be the stranger that shows them kindness. 

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1Aug

Sunday’s Sermon - When the Bathtub Leaks

Below is the podcast of the sermon I preached on Sunday, July 23, 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.

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 13:24-30, 36-43

 

He put to them another parable saying, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a person who sows good seeds in his field. While they were sleeping, the enemy came and sowed over darnel in the middle of the wheat and left. And when the grain sprouted and bore fruit, then the darnel also appeared. And the slaves of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Lord, you sowed good seed in the field, didn’t you? Now from where did the darnel come?’ And he replied to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’  The slaves said to him, ‘Now do you want us to go out and gather them?’ And he replied, ‘No, lest in gathering the darnel, you might uproot at the same time the wheat. Allow them both to grow together until the harvest. And at the time of the harvest, I will say to the reapers, “Collect first the darnel and bind them in bundles in order to burn them up, but the wheat gather into my granary.”’”

 

Then after he’d left the crowds, he went in the house. And after his disciple came to him, they said, “Explain to us the parable of the darnel of the field.” And he answered saying, “The one who sows the good seed is the son of man. And the field is the world. And the good seed, these are the children of the kingdom. And the darnel are the children of the evil one. And the enemy who sowed is the Devil. And the harvest is at the completion of the age. And the reapers are the angels. Now just as the darnel is collected and in fire burned, thus it is at the completion of the age. The son of man sends his angels and they collect from his kingdom all the causes of stumbling and those who are lawless. And they will throw them into the furnace of fire. There is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine out like the sun in the kingdom of their father. The one who has ears, hear.”

 

When the Bathtub Leaks

 

Now, I’m aware that some of my sermon titles are a little off the wall, but you know, I really don’t think that’s the case this week, because the title relates to a situation I had to deal with, oh, about twenty years ago and I’ll tell you, it’s exactly like the kind of thing we have to face in the church from time to time. You see, back when I was working in Indianapolis, I bought a house. But one day I noticed a problem; I had a leaky bathtub. Now, it wasn’t all that bad, just a little bit around the facet. But still, it leaked. And since I am a man, I decided I had to fix it myself. Now, understand I had no idea what I was doing. And I’m kind of mechanically challenged anyway. But was that going to stop me? Of course not, my gosh, my bathtub was leaking. And so I took my little hammer and my little wrench and started wacking away. And by some incredible stroke of luck, the water stopped dripping: hallaleuah, praise the Lord and pass the ammunition. Problem solved. 

 

Now, I’ve got to tell you, I felt pretty good, until the next morning, when I came downstairs to make myself some breakfast and noticed on the kitchen ceiling this spot, this big, wet spot. You see, I’d taken a shower, and the bathroom was right above the kitchen. And so now, thanks to my desire to fix it right away, not only did I have a leaky bathtub but a big spot on the kitchen ceiling. You see, I had a problem that I’d made worse by rushing in and not trusting someone smarter than me, in other words, someone who knew what he or she was doing.

 

And you know, it seems to me that sometimes we do the same kind of thing in the church, and I’m including the church universal and the denomination and our congregation. I mean, see if this rings any bells. There’s a problem in the church, usually centered around a person or group who’s maybe causing some kind of trouble, you know, stirring up stuff or maybe causing divisions or setting one Christian against another. You know, something like that. Anyway, another group, maybe even us, we see what’s happening, and we rush in to solve the problem, right: guns blazing, knocking heads together, telling folks that maybe they should find another place to worship God; all the while believing that they’re doing exactly what the master wants. The only problem is that things go from bad to horrible, and at the end of the day, they’re just praying that after it’s all over, somebody’s left standing. You see the relationship? Just like I did with the leaky tub, sometimes we see a problem that we make worse by rushing in and not trusting someone who knows what he’s doing.

 

And I’ll tell you, for that reason, when those times come up in the church, and I’ll guarantee they will, I think we need to pause and remember the passage we read this morning. Because you know, I believe Jesus nailed our situation pretty well and gave us three things to think about when the bathtub starts leaking around here. 

 

I mean, just think about the parable we read and it’s explanation, and notice that Jesus seems pretty clear that there are and will always be some trouble-makers in the world and even in the church. And although I think we all wish that weren’t true and sometimes we even pretend that it’s not, wishing don’t make it so. That’s just the way it is, and that’s the first thing we need to remember. My goodness, just like the son of man sows children of the kingdom in the world, the enemy is sowing his children as well. And some must be landing in the church, because remember, Jesus said he was going to send his angels and collect from his kingdom all causes of stumbling and those who are lawless. Of course, I don’t want y’all to start looking around and making a list or maybe drawing a sketch, but I’ll tell you, I do think these “bad seeds” have some things in common. I mean, they seem to have perfected at least a few of the characteristics the Apostle Paul used to describe sinners. According to Paul, they tend to be “...filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips (oops, let’s eliminate that one. That may be a little too close to home), slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful (there goes another one), inventors of evil, rebellious towards parents, foolish (yikes), faithless, heartless, ruthless. They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die — yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.” What’s left: greedy, selfish, arrogant, proud, deceitful, vain, snooty; sounds like the seven bad dwarfs. But that’s who they are. 

 

And like gremlins, they cause all kinds of mischief in Christ’s body, but probably worst of all, because of them, the church’s productivity goes down. And that makes sense; all the foolishness they inspire diverts the church from what’s really most important, and I’m talking about loving God and loving neighbor. And I’ll tell you, sometimes dealing with them drains away so much energy, that a congregation may find it hard enough to stand much less follow. You see, just like weedy soil, they can cause good seed not to bear much fruit. And this is the tricky one, sometimes they’re hard to spot. I mean, it’s not like they all wear propeller caps or speak with Australian accents. And think about it, deceit and slander can sound like truth, ruthlessness like healthy competition, heartlessness like “tough love,” and if you word it right, gossip can actually sound like a prayer request. Sadly, there are some problem children in the church, because they’re also in the world, and that’s the first thing we need to remember.

 

And second, just like I learned with my bathtub, when faced with that kind of thing, we can actually cause even more damage if we just rush in and try to solve it in the way we think it should be solved. You know, it’s interesting, in the parable, when they saw the weeds, which when young looks exactly like wheat, “...the slaves said, ‘Now do you want us to go out and gather them?’” Of course, they were really fortunate that they had a master who had sense enough to say, “No, lest in gathering the darnel, you might uproot at the same time the wheat.” You see, if those well-meaning but impatient slaves had gone out and trumped through the field, pulling up everything that looked suspicious, that master wouldn’t have had to worry about limited production, because his crop would be pretty much gone. It’s like destroying a disease by killing the patient. And yet, that’s what we often do, when we rush in to pull a few weeds from the church. You see, no matter how well meaning we are, when we starting weeding, we’re going to stomp down or pluck up some potentially productive Christians

who’s only crime is looking like the folks we’ve labeled as trouble. And even when we pull out the right ones, how many good plants are also going to sacrificed because their roots are tangled? And you know, when we get to this weed pulling stage, well, to do it well, we may have to become, at the very least, crafty, heartless, and ruthless, probably worst. In other words, we can become as bad, frankly as unchristian, as the folks we’re judging and condemning. And when that’s our reputation, you tell me how we’re ever going to be productive. Our actions can actually make a bad situation worse, and that’s the second thing we need to remember. 

 

And third, when caught in these situations, we need to remember that God is the ultimate judge. I mean, Jesus said, “Now just as the darnel is collected and in fire burned, thus it is at the completion of the age. The son of man sends his angels and they collect from his kingdom all the causes of stumbling and those who are lawless. And they will throw them into the furnace of fire. There is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine out like the sun in the kingdom of their father.” You see, ultimately God is going to sort it out. He’s the judge, and his will is going be done.

 

Now, I think we need to remember this, and I’ll tell you why. There may be times and situations when we might need to confront a Christian brother or sister and maybe ask one to leave. Christ himself recognized that possibility and even offered some guidelines on how it should be done. No, I don’t want anyone to think that I’m suggesting that the church should either accept or ignore everything and anything that might sprout up. But you know, when we begin to deal with these issues, remembering that God is in charge which by the way means we’re not, well, that just might slow us down a little bit in our rush to judgement and execution. And it might help us deal with the very real problems we may face with humility and grace and patience, seeking always the guidance of the Master, something that those slaves did before their desire to act caused them to destroy the crop. Man, God is in charge, that’s the third thing we need to keep in mind. 

 

Remember the story of the leaky bathtub I talked about a little while ago? Well, later that day I got a plumber, and after, about two hours and ten minutes, which meant I paid him for a full three hours, he fixed the leak, something he could have probably done in about an hour, but remember I fixed it first. And the next weekend, I painted the kitchen ceiling. And you know, when I moved out of the house about ten years later, you could still the faint outline of the spot. That’s what happened to me, and I’ll tell you, it can happen to us if we forget that even though there are some bad seeds, you know problem children, even within the church, we can cause more damage than they could on their worst day, if we rush in and try to weed them out ourselves instead of trusting that God is in control.  You see, maybe that’s a lesson we can all apply the next time it happens, and of course I’m talking about the next time the bathtub leaks.

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1Aug

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - Crossing the Line

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.

 

2 Samuel 1:1-16

 

After the death of Saul, when David had returned from defeating the Amalekites, David remained two days in Ziklag. On the third day, a man came from Saul’s camp, with his clothes torn and dirt on his head. When he came to David, he fell to the ground and honored him. David said to him, “Where have you come from?” He said to him, “I have escaped from the camp of Israel.” David said to him, “How did things go? Tell me!” He answered, “The army fled from the battle, but also many of the army fell and died; and Saul and his son Jonathan also died.” Then David asked the young man who was reporting to him, “How do you know that Saul and his son Jonathan died?” The young man reporting to him said, “I happened to be on Mount Gilboa; and there was Saul leaning on his spear, while the chariots and the horsemen drew close to him. When he looked behind him, he saw me, and called to me. I answered, ‘Here, sir.’ And he said to me, ‘Who are you?’ I answered him, ‘I am an Amalekite.’ He said to me, ‘Come, stand over me and kill me; for convulsions have seized me, and yet my life still lingers.’ So I stood over him, and killed him, for I knew that he could not live after he had fallen. I took the crown that was on his head and the armlet that was on his arm, and I have brought them here to my lord.”

 

Then David took hold of his clothes and tore them; and all the men who were with him did the same. They mourned and wept, and fasted until evening for Saul and for his son Jonathan, and for the army of the LORD and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword. David said to the young man who had reported to him, “Where do you come from?” He answered, “I am the son of a resident alien, an Amalekite.” David said to him, “Were you not afraid to lift your hand to destroy the LORD's anointed?” Then David called one of the young men and said, “Come here and strike him down.” So he struck him down and he died. David said to him, “Your blood be on your head; for your own mouth has testified against you, saying, ‘I have killed the LORD's anointed.’”

 

Crossing the Line

 

A lot of people are having a difficult time respecting our national leaders and not just because of their politics. I mean, when they read the kind of filthy language used by a government official or listen to proofless accusations bandied about, they become frustrated by those who are suppose to look after our country and discouraged about the future of our society. And although these emotions may be understandable, some of these folks feel justified in dropping to the level of those whom they criticize. They make the same kind of cutting comments and direct the same kind of cruel language to those they no longer respect. In fact, their dislike might lure them across the line, where they hope, even pray that these people fail and suffer.

 

But before we cross that line, I think we need to remember this story about David and the Amalekite. You see, even though King Saul wanted to kill David and David had been bobbing and weaving for years, he still recognized that Saul was God’s anointed and that he’d been given his position my God himself. Therefore, even though he may not have liked him or respected him as a person, the King should always be treated with respect, regardless whether he’d earned it or not. And this may be something we need to remember before we let our feeling pull us across the line.

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22Jul

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - Family Dynamics

Below is the podcoast 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 3:19b-35

 

Then he went home; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.

 

“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” — for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

 

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

 

Family Dynamics

 

Now I think we all know that a family can become divided for all kinds of reasons. And to those on the outside, these reasons may be important or seem insignificant. For example, on one hand, some families divide as a result of abuse and pain that would be impossible for most folks to tolerate or maybe some kind of financial or emotional stress that’s just difficult to set aside. On the other hand, though, some families divide over things that just seem stupid, like a random remark or a joke that was taken the wrong way. Or maybe it’s because of some kind of deep seated jealousy or some shallow concern for another family member. Let’s face it, there are many reasons why families split. But regardless of the reason, the result is always the same. A divided family ceases to be a source of strength and comfort and support. And even though I think that’s always a shame, it’s particularly difficult when these are desperately needed. I guess you could say that when a family ceases to be united, it ceases to be a family

 

And that same thing can happen to a church, in other words, the family of God. You see, regardless of how we view the serenity of the reasons, when we allow something, anything to break Christian unity, we cease to be the kind of family God has called us to be. And even though we might put forth our best effort, we actually become ineffective in supporting one another and sharing the good news to others. And so, just like it is with our biological parents and siblings, we need to be aware of the dynamics within our spiritual families.

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20Jul

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - Sabbath Nazis

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 3:1-6

 

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?" But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

 

Sabbath Nazis

 

One of my all-time television shows is Seinfeld; I can watch the same episodes over and over again. And I think my favorite Seinfeld episode dealt with a cook they called the Soup Nazi. Now this was the name he got because of the way he treated his customers. You see, when you placed a soup order, you had to follow a certain protocol,  and if you didn’t, he’d say, “No soup for you.” And if you heard those words, well, you were just out of luck. And the same thing applied to anyone who had the audacity to point out a mistake in the order. But his soup was so good, people were willing to put up with this just to get a spoon into his jambalaya.

 

But you know, the Soup Nazi had nothing on the Pharisees in this story we read nor a lot of us as we’re explaining the Christian faith to others. You see, just like those people at the synagogue, we can be pretty legalistic yet also arbitrary in how we define living as a follower of Jesus Christ. We sound as though God is waiting for people to step out-of-line just so he can lower the boom. Therefore, followers are constantly walking on eggshells, hoping that they don’t slip. Of course, that’s how God deals with them. He’s much more lenient with our little peccadilloes. In other words, the kind of good news that we often share is actually anything but good. And based on it’s rigidity, I think it’s more than reasonable to ask the question, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” 

 

Of course, regardless of what we might say, we know the answer. It’s always lawful to do good and to save life. In fact that’s what the law is all about, loving God and neighbor. You see, that’s really part of the good news. And it’s something we might need to remember before anyone accuses us of being Sabbath Nazis.

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19Jul

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - When We Come Up a Little Short

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.

 

Acts 12:1-17

 

About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword. After he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. (This was during the festival of Unleavened Bread.) When he had seized him, he put him in prison and handed him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. While Peter was kept in prison, the church prayed fervently to God for him.

 

The very night before Herod was going to bring him out, Peter, bound with two chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while guards in front of the door were keeping watch over the prison. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his wrists. The angel said to him, “Fasten your belt and put on your sandals.” He did so. Then he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” Peter went out and followed him; he did not realize that what was happening with the angel’s help was real; he thought he was seeing a vision. After they had passed the first and the second guard, they came before the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went outside and walked along a lane, when suddenly the angel left him. Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hands of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”

 

As soon as he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many had gathered and were praying. When he knocked at the outer gate, a maid named Rhoda came to answer. On recognizing Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the gate, she ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gate. They said to her, “You are out of your mind!” But she insisted that it was so. They said, “It is his angel.” Meanwhile, Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the gate, they saw him and were amazed. He motioned to them with his hand to be silent, and described for them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he added, “Tell this to James and to the believers.“ Then he left and went to another place.

 

When We Come Up a Little Short

 

This is one amazing story. Peter was in jail, awaiting certain death. But all of a sudden, an angel appeared and freed him. My goodness, he even led Peter past two sets of guards all the way to an iron gate through which the apostle got out of the city. Now, this is what happened, a spectacular event, one that could only make sense to those who have faith.

 

But as we see in the rest of the story, that didn’t happen for those believers who were praying for Peter in the house of Mary. You see, even though they were dedicated to Christ and devoted to God and even though they were praying that Peter would be saved, they didn’t believe Rhoda when she told them that God had done exactly what they’d asked and that Peter was at the gate. In fact, they accused her of being crazy. You see, instead of believing that all things were possible for God, they questioned and doubted, until they finally opened the gate themselves and saw that Rhoda wasn’t crazy at all. In other words, in terms of faith, these Christians came up a little short.

 

But I think what Peter did was remarkable. I mean, instead of condemning them, he told them the story so that they could share in the glory of what had happened. And then he gave them a job to do, to share this good news to James and the other believers. You see, he didn’t put them down or push them away. He treated them like friends. And I’ll tell you, that’s something we might want to keep in mind, and I’m talking about when we come up a little short in our faith. 

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18Jul

Exploring the Holy Land

Below is the podcast of Rev. Steve Cramers lecture on his trips to the Holy Land.

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18Jul

Cove Presbyterian Church Worship Service - July 16, 2017

Below is the podcast of the service I led on Sunday, July 16, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. During the service, Gary Mason and his puppet friends taught about honesty and faith.

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14Jul

Friday’s Essay - Get Out of the Way

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

 

Often I feel as though I spend a lot of time getting in the way of God’s will. Of course, I don’t believe any of us can actually do that. I mean, God is the creator and sovereign Lord of the universe. There is no way that I can frustrate his will, regardless of what I might think or feel. No, God ultimately calls the shots and what he wants will happen. So, when I say that I feel as though I get in the way, I’m really not suggesting that I have the power to prevent God from doing what God has chosen to do.

 

Instead, often I feel a little like a stone in a creek or maybe a fish swimming up stream. I know I’m not able to change the flow of the brook or the current of the river. That’s going to keep moving. It just feels like I’m expending a lot of energy trying to counter an immutable flow. And I can tell you, even trying is pretty rough. As a matter of fact, not only does it wear me down, but it prevents me from doing a lot of other things that would be a lot more beneficial to everyone. But that’s not what I’m doing. Instead I’m in the middle of the channel, battered by a current I can neither stop nor control. Now, I’ve got to tell you, this is how I often feel. But I don’t think I’m alone. 

 

And I think the reason many of us feel this way is fairly obvious. I think we tend to get tunnel vision on what we think we should be doing. You see, we assume that we already know what’s right and appropriate. And if we’re Christians, we take it even further, because we assume we already know the will of God. In fact, often when we talk about it, we affirm our knowledge with so much confidence it pretty much closes off any future discussion. It’s like, “God told me to do it or say that or to go there. And since it was God, not only must you accept it, if something goes wrong later, you can’t blame me. Whatever happens must be God’s will too.” Or at least, that’s what a lot of Christians seem to think. And sometimes we’re right, or as right as anyone can be when claiming to know the mind of God. But other times, well, we’re probably wrong, but of course, we don’t see it. And so we keep going in the direction that we’ve chosen, even though that forces us constantly to resist the flow and battle the current. And since we’ve convinced ourselves that we’re right and the current is wrong, we keep up the struggle until God moves us to exact place we were meant to be. And all the effort and resistance and battling, in the end, it doesn’t mean a thing. But the exhaustion and frustration we feel is real.

 

And I’ll tell you, that’s the reason I believe that we need to learn how to get out of the way. And doing that starts with recognizing a simply and incontrovertible fact: that God is God and we’re not. I mean, even though we may see ourselves as unbelievably smart and so spiritual that God should be grateful we play on his team, it’s pure arrogance to assume that we can know the absolute and definitive will of God. I think we all know that kind arrogance can get us in big trouble. But instead of digging in our heals and tunneling our vision, we might need to work a little humility into our characters. And then we can pause, broaden our perspective and consider the talents and interests we have and the needs and troubles we face. And then with a clearer vision of the future and our role in it, we can move with and not against the divine flow. And when it seems as though the current is becoming more difficult, our humility will enable us to relax and  reevaluate the world and how might God have us respond, even if that means getting out of the way and so that the waters might flow without our permission or help.

 

And to me that just makes sense, because life is tough enough without having to struggle up stream. You see, when we abandon that arrogant attitude that we already know so that we can humbly look and listen, I believe we’ll all become more useful for God’s kingdom. And I’ll tell you, as I look at my own life, I hope I learn how to relax and get out of the way.

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