Sunday’s Sermon - Forgiving

Below is the podcast of the sermon I preached on Sunday, March 4, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. It's the second message in a series entitled Preparing for Easter. During this series, we'll consider five ways we can prepare ourselves to remember the crucifixion and celebrate the resurrection.You can find other sermons, devotions, essays, videos, announcements, and articles on The Cove Community blog. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information. 


Well, this morning we’re going to talk about the second thing we can do to prepare ourselves for Easter. Now in case you weren’t here last week, during the first message we looked at how fasting should probably be part of our preparation. But instead of limiting it to food, we talked about how we might want to broaden it out to include any kind of sacrifice we might want to make, particularly the kind that might actually help others. In other words, we can decide to sacrifice some of our money or time to do something that might make a difference in the life of someone else. But we also talked about how whatever we choose to do should be done humbly, you know without any fanfare and that the focus must always be on Jesus Christ, because if he’s not the reason we’re sacrificing, it probably won’t do much to help us get ready to remember his crucifixion and celebrate his resurrection. Now that’s what we did last week.


And this morning, we’re going to look at what I think is the second thing we can do to get ready for Easter. And I’ve got to tell you, of the five we’re going to talk about, this might not only be the hardest actually to do, it’s also one that strikes pretty close to home, at least for me, but not as the forgiver, rather as the one who hopes to be forgiven. I mean, if you’re a friend of mine on Facebook, you know I post a joke every day. And with the joke, I always have some kind of picture. Well, on Friday, this was the joke: “A preacher, newly called to a small country town, needed to mail a letter. Passing a young boy on the street, the pastor asked where he could find the post office. After getting his answer, the minister thanked the boy and said, ‘If you’ll come to the community church this evening, you can hear me tell everyone how to get to heaven.’ ‘I don't know, sir,’ the boy replied. ‘You don't even know how to get to the post office!’” Now that was the joke, and the picture, well, that’s what really sent a chill up my spine. Now that’s one reason I might need to be forgiven in, let’s say, forty-five minutes or so. But I’ve got to tell you, the second reason is even more dangerous and actually needs no explanation. Monday is Debbie’s birthday, say no more. And so, by Tuesday, I may be begging for forgiveness big time.


And although it’s tough when you’ve done something mean or insensitive or just plain stupid and need to be forgiven, I think the act of forgiving someone else, and I’m talking about someone who’s really hurt us, well, sometimes that seems almost impossible to do. And yet, if we’re not able to do it, man, it can really screw up our celebration of Easter. And so, with that in mind, we’re going to spend a little time talking about what forgiveness is all about and why it’s important and how it might be done.


And you know, when you look at the Greek word that we translate “forgive,” in the first century, you know, when the Bible was written, it was generally associated with releasing someone from something. Now this could involve something legal, you know, like an office or maybe a marriage, or it could be financial, like a debt. In other words, it was sort of like offering a pardon, and in the secular Greek society back then, it was never used in a religious sense. But of course, that’s not the case in the Bible. I mean, whether it’s Paul or John or Jesus himself, forgiveness is something God does for us, namely he forgives our sins and he forgives our trespasses and he forgives our iniquities and he forgives the evil that’s within our hearts. You see, according to the Bible, when God forgives, he pardons us. He releases us from the legal consequences of our actions. He frees from the financial obligations of our debt. 


And even though this usually involves God’s action toward us, Jesus spent a fair amount of time talking about how this should lead us to forgive one another. And although we can find this kind of thing throughout the gospels, I think one passage sort of brings this forgiving business together. It’s found in the gospel according to Matthew. And according to the evangelist, it started with Peter asking a simple question. “Peter came up to the Lord and asked, ‘How many times should I forgive someone who does something wrong to me? Is seven times enough?’ Jesus answered: ‘Not just seven times, but seventy-seven times!’” [Matthew 18:21-22, CEV] 


And then Jesus told him this parable that brought forgiveness really up close and personal. You see, Jesus said: “This story will show you what the kingdom of heaven is like: One day a king decided to call in his officials and ask them to give an account of what they owed him. As he was doing this, one official was brought in who owed him fifty million silver coins. But he didn’t have any money to pay what he owed. The king ordered him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all he owned, in order to pay the debt. The official got down on his knees and began begging, ‘Have pity on me, and I will pay you every cent I owe!’ The king felt sorry for him and let him go free. He even told the official that he did not have to pay back the money. As the official was leaving, he happened to meet another official, who owed him a hundred silver coins. So he grabbed the man by the throat. He started choking him and said, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ The man got down on his knees and began begging, ‘Have pity on me, and I will pay you back.’ But the first official refused to have pity. Instead, he went and had the other official put in jail until he could pay what he owed. When some other officials found out what had happened, they felt sorry for the man who had been put in jail. Then they told the king what had happened. The king called the first official back in and said, ‘You’re an evil man! When you begged for mercy, I said you did not have to pay back a cent. Don’t you think you should show pity to someone else, as I did to you?’ The king was so angry that he ordered the official to be tortured until he could pay back everything he owed. That is how my Father in heaven will treat you, if you don’t forgive each of my followers with all your heart.’” [Matthew 18:23-35, CEV] Now that’s what Jesus said.


And I’ll tell you, I think this little story tells us a lot about what forgiveness is and what it’s not. You see, just like we talked about a little while ago, when I forgive someone else, I’m actually releasing them from an obligation. I’m canceling a debt. I’m making the conscious decision to pardon them from whatever it is that I think they owe me. In other words, I’m looking at a person who’s hurt me in some way and intentionally deciding to move past the pain and the anger and the resentment, past even my desire for revenge or divine justice. It’s letting go; you see, that’s what forgiving is, and that’s something I think we can see in this story. But I think it’s also pretty clear about two things it’s not. I mean, first, no where does it say we’re suppose to forget. And I’ll tell you, I’m glad for that, because even though I believe that I can put my big boy pants on and forgive, I’m not sure I’m able to forget. To me, it’s sort of like love. I’m able to treat everyone in a loving way, but I think it’s impossible for me to love everyone emotionally. And that’s the way it is with forgiveness. I believe we can forgive even if we can’t forget; that’s one. And second, when it comes to the forgiveness written about in this passage, I find it interesting that neither confession nor repentance were mentioned at all. It wasn’t in Peter’s original question. And it wasn’t in Jesus’s immediate response. And even though Jesus talked about how they pleaded for mercy, the two debtors in the story never acknowledged that they did something wrong nor did they promise to change their ways. And that’s important, because our decision to forgive shouldn’t be based on the other guy’s willingness to bow down before us in humble submission. That’s not what forgiveness is. 


And I’ll tell you, that really speaks to why we’re suppose to forgive at all. I mean, if it’s not because the other person has accepted all his mistakes, all his sins against us and has humbly come to us begging our pardon, if that’s not why we’re suppose to do it, then why should we forgive? Now, considering the fact that we live in a society in which it seems to be fine to hold grudges and resentments until Hell freezes over, I think that’s an excellent question, and one for which we’ve got an excellent answer, again in this passage. You see, I think there are three outstanding reasons why forgiving others really should be part of our Easter preparation. For example, I think we’re suppose to forgive folks who’ve done us wrong, first, because Christ told us to do it. I mean, dah. When Peter asked how many times he should forgive, do you remember what Jesus said? He said seventy-seven times. Man, that’s almost as many times as Debbie’s forgiven me for making plans without talking to her first. But of course, since ancient folks saw perfect numbers as signs of perfection, all these sevens actually represented an infinite number of times. But be-that-as-it-may, Christ said it and we’re suppose to do; that’s one reason why we’re suppose to forgive. And second, according to the story, we’re expected to forgive because we’ve been forgiven. I mean, isn’t that the point of all that business with the two debtors? I’ll tell you, since God has already forgiven our sins and our trespasses and our iniquities and the evil that’s within our hearts, maybe we should forgive others. In a sense, we’re passing on the forgiveness, and that’s the second reason we should forgive. And third, when you think about it, forgiveness actually frees two people. It certainly frees the one who receives it, but it also frees the one who gives it, doesn’t it? I mean, when I forgive the one who hurt me, I’m free from some of the anger and bitterness and even hatred I might be carrying around. And I’ll tell you, there’s no way a person can celebrate the resurrection if he’s angry and bitter and full of hate. Let’s just say we have some pretty good reasons to forgive.


But you know, without knowing how, you know, how to do it, all the whats and whys really don’t mean much. And even though I don’t think there’s any way to make forgiveness easy, just like there’s no way to make genuine sacrifice comfortable, I do believe that forgiveness can become a little bit easier when we keep three things in mind. And I’ll tell you, since they’re all in the this passage from Matthew, we’ve already mentioned them. For example, I think it becomes a little easier to forgive when we remember that this is something Jesus really wants us to do. And I don’t know about y’all, but if Jesus were here today and told me to jump, I’d ask how high. That’s the first thing we can remember. And second, we can remember that God has already forgiven us. Man, he’s released us from our obligations to him. He’s canceled our debt. We’ve been pardoned. That’s already a done deal. And maybe we can express our gratitude by being more like him in our relationships with others. That’s something else we can remember. And finally, maybe forgiveness becomes a little easier when we remember that there are consequences when we decide not to forgive others as we’ve been forgiven. I mean, remember what happened in the story to servant who decided to act like an unforgiving jerk; he was thrown into jail. And also remember that, when he was teaching his disciples up there on the mountain and after telling them to include in their prayers “Forgive us for doing wrong, as we forgive others...,” Jesus said, “If you forgive others for the wrongs they do to you, your Father in heaven will forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” [Matthew 6:12, 14-15, CEV] Now don’t get me wrong, when Paul wrote that “nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord!”, [Romans 8:39b, CEV], I believe that includes a lack of forgiveness on our part. Sill, if we choose not to pass forgiveness on to others, we’re sure not going to be able to enjoy the benefits of divine forgiveness, and I’m talking about freedom from guilt and a closer relationship with him and the ability to remember the cross with dedication and celebrate the empty tomb with joy. Now these are some things we can remember.


Of course, given all that, I understand that it’s hard to forgive others, particularly those who have really hurt us. And yet, that’s exactly what Christ has called us to do. And I’ll tell you, I believe if we want to get the most out of Easter, this is something we need to do. In other words, we need to decide that we’re going forgive because we’ve been forgiven. And if that represents making a change, then that really brings us to the third way we can prepare for Easter, namely by repenting, something we’ll talk about next week.



Two Ridges Presbyterian Church Worship Service - Sunday, March 4, 2018

Below is the podcast of the worship service I led in Two Ridges Presbyterian Church, Wintersville, Ohio on Sunday, March 4.



Sunday’s Sermon - The Place to Meet God

Below is the podcast of the sermon I preached on Sunday, March 4, in Two Ridges Presbyterian Church, Wintersville, Ohio. You can find other sermons, devotions, essays, videos, announcements, and articles on The Cove Community blog. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.


John 2:13-22


And the Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus came up to Jerusalem. And he found in the Temple those who were selling cattle and sheep and the money-changers sitting. And after he made a whip out of many cords, he cast them out of the Temple, the sheep and the cattle, and he spilt the coins of the brokers and overturned the tables. And to those who sold doves he said, “Take these things from here. Don’t make my father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it had been written, “Zeal for your house will devour me.” 


Now the Jews answered and said to him, “What sign can you show us, that you can do these things?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this Temple and in three day, I’ll raise it up.” 20Now the Jews said, “It took forty-six years to build this Temple, and are you yourself going to cause it to rise in three days?” He said this concerning the Temple which was his body. Now when he was raised from death, his disciples remembered that he said this, and they believed in the writing and in the word which Jesus spoke.


The Place to Meet God


I want you just to take a second and think about the title of the sermon: The Place to Meet God. Now, wouldn’t that be nice, you know, to have a nice special place where you could feel really close to God, sort of like what happened to the guy in that book The Shack. Now, if you haven’t read it or seen the movie, it’s about a man who’s struggling with this horrible event, and he ends up meeting God up-close and personal, and I’m talking about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in this shack. And by the end of the story, well, of course he’s been changed, but I don’t want to tell you any more, because I don’t want to spoil it for you if you haven’t read or seen it. 


And although I’m sure that I would never want to face the kind of tragedy he faced, I know that I’d sure like have a place where I could feel close to God in a special way. And I’ll tell you, I don’t think I’m alone in that. I mean, I believe, somewhere down deep, most people would like to have some kind of special encounter with the divine, you know, our own little, personal shack. There’s just one problem; I’m not sure most folks know where to do go or how to get it. My goodness, where do you go to meet God? 


Of course, for Christians, I guess the best answer is the church, right? But then you’ve got to deal with which church, because let’s face it, they’re all a little different. And then when you’ve found the right one, you know, the one for you, my goodness gracious, all of a sudden, you’re confronted with the little cliches and the gossiping and the complaining and the enormous amount of time and energy and even anger devoted to issues that seem to have absolutely nothing to do with one you came to meet. I’m telling you, sometimes you feel more separated than you did before. 


And then, of course, you have all those people who talk about how they feel closer to God in a boat fishing or on the slopes skiing or on the fairway hacking than they do in church singing and praying and listening. And although that sounds wonderful on the surface, often I feel that those comments sound more like excuses for not going to worship than statements of deep spirituality. I mean, personally, I kind of doubt that God is the first thing on their mind as they’re watching the big one get away or waiting in line at the lift or heading to the nineteenth hole. Back a few years ago, I read a book  entitled Eat, Pray, Love. It was about a woman who went to Italy then India then Indonesia just to encounter God. I’ll tell you, sometimes the right kind of shack is sure hard to come by. But that’s us.


Of course, if we were ancient Jews, well, it really wasn’t difficult at all. Man, you knew right where to go. If you wanted to met God, you went to the Temple. That’s where God hung-out. I mean, according to Exodus and Numbers, two books in the Old Testament, the presence of God was literally like a cloud that filled the tent of meeting, the place the Jews used before they settled down and built the Temple. You see, that’s where you could find God, and because of that, that’s where people would sacrifice their bulls and their sheep and their doves or pay their religious taxes and know so that they would be received by the Lord. And on special holy days, you know, like Passover, well if God wasn’t in the Temple, where could he possibly be? 


And you know, I’ll tell you something, that’s why what happened in the passage we read is so incredibly dramatic. Right here, Jesus was hitting at the very heart of Temple worship. You see, cattle and sheep were sacrificial animals and the ones being sold, they would have been certified by the priests as acceptable, something you couldn’t be sure of when looking at your stock at home. I mean, just think about driving a sheep fifty miles on foot to Jerusalem to sacrifice only to find that it had a blemish. Better to buy something at the Temple, right? And the money changers, well, since you couldn’t use money with an image stamped on it, like Greek and Roman coins, you pretty much had to change your money in order to buy your sacrifice or pay your Temple taxes. That’s just the way it was; therefore, when he chased out those selling animals and the brokers changing money, Jesus was overturning more than tables. Man, he was overturning Jewish Temple worship. 


But he didn’t stop there. Remember, when they asked for a sign and he said, “Destroy this Temple and in three days, I’ll raise it up,” he was stating that there was a new Temple in town, and it wasn’t made of brick and mortar. I mean, although the Jews misunderstood what he was getting at, later the disciples realized that he was talking about his body. In other words, by his words and actions, Jesus had announced that he had replaced the Temple in Jerusalem. He was the new Temple; therefore, he was now the place to encounter the divine. You see, in Jesus Christ people could now meet God. 


And you know, that’s as true today as it was two thousand years ago. You see, this is something that’s just as real for us as it was for them. In other words, Jesus is still our Temple. In him, we meet God. I mean, it’s not beside a pond or on a slope or in a sand trap. We don’t have to go to Italy or India or Indonesia. Man, it’s not necessarily in something built with brick and mortar or even a shack. Praise the Lord, through God, in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit flowing through and around us, brothers and sisters, we meet God. And I’ll tell you, if this something we believe, my gosh, it’s got to change our lives. 


I mean, first, it’s got to motivate us to go to where Christ is shared and proclaimed and lived, right? We’re going to be want to be with him and his people. And if one of those places isn’t Two Ridges Presbyterian Church, then we had better clean up our act, because if our center isn’t Jesus Christ we’re just taking up space. In other words, everything, I mean everything we do should help folks inside and outside this congregation feel the presence of God. And to me this means that anything that interferes with a person’s ability to experience his power and his grace and his love needs to be thrown out like last week’s egg salad. I mean, this has got to be a place where every person feels welcome; therefore, we may need to make a special effort to greet everyone, even if that means stepping away from a friend, somebody you’re probably going to talk to tomorrow, so that a stranger feels at home. And this has got to be a place where personal animosities and hurt feelings are not allowed to create the kind of atmosphere that gets in the way of the good news. And this has got to be a place where worship is challenging and fulfilling and exciting. Man, it should make you feel good and cause the next week to be a little better because you came. And brothers and sisters, that’s something we can do together, because I’ll tell you right here and now, I don’t have all the answers. You see, I think this is something we’re going to want to do, we’re going to want our community to be the kind of place that radiates the faith and grace and love of Jesus, a place where a person can meet God. But you know, I believe that’s only one of the changes we’ll see.


Because second, right along with drawing us to where Jesus is shared, believing that Christ is where we meet God, well, that has got to motivate us to listen to what he said. And although we can talk about all the stuff we can learn from a quiet meadow or a babbling brook, if we really want to understand who Jesus is and what he wants us to do, we’ve got to read the Bible. It’s like the guy who came to his pastor and said, “This business about prayer is a lot of baloney. I’ve been praying and praying and praying that I win the lottery but nothing’s happened.” And the pastor says, “It might help if you bought a ticket.” Well, I had a woman in my church back when I was in Indy tell me that she just didn’t feel like she was growing in her faith and she thought she should probably go somewhere else. And so I asked her, “Do you go to any Bibles studies?” “No.” “Do you come to Sunday School?” “No.” “Do you read your Bible?” “No.” I’ll tell you, I felt like saying, “My gosh what do you expect; you’ve got to buy a ticket?” No, if we really believe that in Christ we move into the presence of God, we’re going to seek out as many opportunities as we can find to learn as much as we can about him. And although I think this applies to everyone, officers, that may apply even more strongly to y’all. I mean, along with personal growth, just think about the example we’d set for everybody if every elder was really serious about studying the Bible? You see, listening to Christ is something we’re going to want to do when we believe that in him we meet God. 


And third, and trust me, this is last one so you can relax, I think believing this should also motivate us to respond to what he said. And you know, that’s going to be so much easier as soon as we make the decision to come and to listen, because when we do that, one of things we’re going to see and hear is this little lesson Jesus taught his disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. [And] this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. ...You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last... I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.” I’m telling you, that’s what Christ has called us to do, simply to love one another. And we can certainly do that through our actions. Whether it’s putting something in the offering plate or visiting a person who’s lonely or simply shaking the hand of a stranger, man, we’re showing love, aren’t we? But you know, we can also do this through our words as well, and I’m talking about sharing joy with someone who’s excited or offering a word of sympathy and support to a person who’s facing tough times or simply forgiving a Christian brother or sister who’s hurt our feelings; those things are important. But maybe most important of all, we can share the victory we have through Jesus Christ, something that we didn’t earn therefore we can’t lose, something that’s grounded in the very will of God, and something that can absolutely transform our lives. You see, if we believe that Christ is where we meet God, I can’t imagine not wanting to do what he’s called us to do.


In The Shack, a man entered into the presence of God, and it changed his life. But you know, if you’ve read the book or seen the movie, I seriously doubt that anybody here will have an experience like his. No, we’re left to encounter God on our own. But you know, we really don’t have to look very far, because if we believe this passage, you know, that Jesus Christ is the new Temple, man, we know where to go. And because we do, I think it has to motivate us to go where he’s shared and lived and to listen to what he had to say and then to do what he’s called us to do. And I’ll tell you, if we manage to do all this, imagine the change we’ll see, when we recognize that Christ really is the place to meet God.




A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - Embracing the Uncomfortable

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

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


Mark 5:1-20


They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; and he shouted at the top of his voice, "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me." For he had said to him, "Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!" Then Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" He replied, "My name is Legion; for we are many." He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; and the unclean spirits begged him, "Send us into the swine; let us enter them." So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea, and were drowned in the sea.


The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. But Jesus refused, and said to him, "Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you." And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.


Embracing the Uncomfortable


The longer I do a job that involves talking with folks who are hurting, the more I’m convinced that people will do almost anything for the sake of comfort but not necessarily comfort in a good way. You see, I constantly amazed how people will put up with all kind of frustrations and pain just so that life remains predictable. I’ll tell you, it’s as though surprises are to be avoided like the plague and that life is somehow better if you know what to expect; therefore, it’s important to keep things the way they are even if the way they are isn’t very good. And just to demonstrate that this is not a modern problem, the people in the passage we just read demonstrated this same trait when, after he’d healed a man possessed by many demons, they begged Jesus to leave their area. You see, they knew what to expect from that guy running around the tombs. But as soon as he was “sitting there, clothed and in his right mind,” man, that’s uncomfortable. And the one responsible for that change, man, he had to go.


But I’ll tell you, unless we find a way to embrace the uncomfortable reality of unconditional love and irresistible grace, it’s going to be mighty hard to embrace the reality of God. You see, since we live in a world where we expect to get the stuff for which we work, it’s comfortable to assume that God works in the same way. But when God does the unexpected, like when he loves us before we’ve done anything to become loveable and promises to save us before we have the chance to accept that salvation, well, that just plain makes us uncomfortable. But until we embrace it, how can we ever enter a full relationship with the one who loved us before he laid the foundation of the universe?



Friday’s Essay - Constant

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

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


The United States is about to slap tariffs on imported steel and aluminum which will trigger other countries to impose tariffs on stuff we sell them. And even though the President said that trade wars are both good and easy to win, that’s not the lesson from history. As a matter of fact, generally they’re long and drawn out, and they tend to damage everyone involved. The President of Russia just announced a new generation of nuclear missiles that are virtually undetectable and that carry a payload that’s capable of destroying the entire country of France. There’s been another shooting, this time at Central Michigan University, but that’s now pretty much par for the course. And here in West Virginia, our teachers are on strike, because a deal that they assumed they’d worked out with the governor and that passed the lower house of our legislature has been tabled in the Senate; therefore, there’s no telling when my daughter will go back to Weir High. To say that we’re living in an unstable world would be an understatement.


Of course, I understand that some of this stuff may never be an issue. I mean, all the tariff talk may just be talk. And the same might be said about Russian claims, especially given the fact that they don’t have a great track record of truth-telling. Maybe we’ll stop posturing and start talking about commonsense things that can be done to arrest this gun violence. And just like they put the agreement on the table, the Senators can take it up again and do what’s best for both our teachers and our children. In other words, none of this may actually carry the kind of consequences a lot of us fear. But still, this kind of confusion and chaos is becoming more the norm than the exception. And wherever there’s chaos, there’s instability. And wherever there’s instability, there’s also fear, because no one can be sure of outcome. And often frightened people pull inward, sort of like a turtle into its shell. They hunker down and wait until the crisis passes. In other words, they stay pretty close to their comfort zones, keeping their heads down. 


But even though that’s easy, maybe natural for us all to do, people of faith don’t have to stay still and quiet, because we trust in something the world just doesn’t understand.. You see, we can claim that there’s one thing that’s constant, that there’s one secure port in the storm, that there’s one solid rock surrounded by sand. You see, it’s like what the Prophet Isaiah wrote: “Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Don’t tremble with fear. I am your God. I will make you strong, as I protect you with my arm and give you victories. Everyone who hates you will be terribly disgraced; those who attack will vanish into thin air. You will look around for those brutal enemies, but you won’t find them because they will be gone. I am the Lord your God. I am holding your hand, so don’t be afraid. I am here to help you.” [Isaiah 41:10-13, CEV] And remember, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Finally, let the mighty strength of the Lord make you strong. Put on all the armor that God gives, so you can defend yourself against the devil’s tricks. We are not fighting against humans. We are fighting against forces and authorities and against rulers of darkness and powers in the spiritual world. So put on all the armor that God gives. Then when that evil day comes, you will be able to defend yourself. And when the battle is over, you will still be standing firm.” [Ephesians 6:10-13, CEV] And Jesus himself said, “The sky and the earth won’t last forever, but my words will.” [Matthew 24:35. CEV]


You see, as we trust in God and his constant presence and immutable protection, we can move past some of the fear that’s bred by instability. And even though our knees may be less than secure, we might still be able to muster the strength and courage to address the causes for the chaos and instability, confident in that one constant which transcends presidents and shooters and strikes.



A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - Something Bigger

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

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


Mark 4:26-34


He also said, "The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come."


He also said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade."


With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.


Something Bigger


I think we have plenty of reasons to be discouraged. For example, our world sure seems to be pretty unstable both politically and environmentally. And as to our country, as we compare our current situation and present leaders with the paragons of the past, well, it certainly seems as though our greatness is in the rearview mirror. And even within our communities and families, people are facing issues that are new and scary, and life is becoming more and more isolated and isolating. Now this is our world, and the longer we go, the more frightening it appears to become, if not for us then for our children and grandchildren.


But in spite of this, there’s good news, because there’s something happening that’s a whole bigger than our fears and frustrations. You see, the God’s presence and his kingdom surrounds us all the time. And even though we might not be able to see it clearly, in fact even though it may appear to be total absent, it’s with us right now. But more than that, it’s growing. And one day, it’ll be just as clear here on earth as it is in heaven. I’m telling you, in spite of instability and decline and despite our own discouragement and despair, right here in our world and nation, in our communities and families, thanks to God, something bigger is happening.



The Passion in Mark: From Plot to Execution (Session Two - From a Garden to a Courtyard)

Below is a podcast of our discussion. During this series, we'll consider the passion of Jesus Christ as written by the Evangelist Mark. In this second session, we considered conspiracy to kill Jesus through the last supper he shared with his disciples. This is all covered in the following passage:


Mark 14:32-72


They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”



Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” So when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. Then they laid hands on him and arrested him. But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to them, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.” All of them deserted him and fled.


A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.


They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire. Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” But even on this point their testimony did not agree. Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus said, “I am; and


‘you will see the Son of Man

seated at the right hand of the Power,’

and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’”


Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?” All of them condemned him as deserving death. Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” The guards also took him over and beat him.


While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, “You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.” But he denied it, saying, “I do not know or understand what you are talking about.” And he went out into the forecourt. Then the cock crowed. And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.” But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know this man you are talking about.” At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.



Cove’s Celebration Service - Sunday, February 25, 2018

Below is a podcast of Sunday's service.


The members and friends of Cove gathered worship the presence and love of God on Sunday, February 25. Since we're now in the season of Lent, we started a new sermon series entitled "Preparing for Easter." During these messages, we’ll consider five things we can do to prepare ourselves to remember the crucifixion and celebrate the resurrection. During the first message, we talked about fasting. Next week, we’ll how and why we might consider becoming more forgiving. 


During the service, after the announcements, we sang the hymn “Lift High the Cross.” When we’d finished the song, we shared prayer requests, prayed together and closed with the Lord’s Prayer and the Gloria Patri. As we collected the offering, the choir sang “For the Bread Which You Have Broken.” Rev. Rudiger then preached a sermon focused on the nature of fasting, how it might be done and why it's important. You may both read and hear the sermon at Sunday's Sermon - Fasting. After the message, we shared the sacrament of holy communion. We closed the service by singing the song “Above All.



Sunday’s Sermon - Fasting

Below is the podcast of the sermon I preached on Sunday, February 25, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. It's the first message in a series entitled Preparing for Easter. During this series, we'll consider five ways we can prepare ourselves to remember the crucifixion and celebrate the resurrection.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.


Well, this morning we’re starting a new sermon series entitled “Preparing for Easter.” Of course, I recognize that if we were starting this right after Thanksgiving and we were going to talk about Christmas, I think it would be a lot easier to relate these messages with what we’re actually doing. I mean, good night nurse, we all know that getting ready for Christmas is a big deal, at least it is in our country and that it involves doing all kinds of things that most of us feel we have to do. And some of those things, man, we had better get them done as early as possible. I mean, presents have to be bought. Trees have to be trimmed. And cookies have to be baked. Talk about pressure. But that’s the wonderful world of Christmas. 


But then just compare that to what’s coming up in about a month and a half. Let’s just say getting ready for Christmas is a whole lot more involved than preparing for Easter. My goodness, outside of maybe hauling out a few decorations and dying a few eggs and putting together a few baskets, preparing for Easter is really no big deal, certainly no bigger than getting ready for any other holiday. At least that’s the way it is on the outside.


But on the inside, well, traditionally that’s a different matter. In fact, that’s really what this whole business of Lent is all about. I mean, just listen how it’s described in that source of all truth, Wikipedia: “Lent is a solemn religious observance in the Christian liturgical calendar that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends approximately six weeks later, before Easter Sunday. The purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer for Easter through prayer, doing penance, mortifying the flesh, repentance of sins, almsgiving, and self-denial.” Now that’s what it says. In other words, the forty six days of Lent are designed to give us the chance to prepare ourselves to celebrate what probably should be the two most important days of the Christian year, and I’m talking about Good Friday, when we remember the crucifixion, and Easter, when we celebrate the resurrection. You see, in terms of biblical importance, Christmas would probably come in a distant third, although a strong case could be made for Pentecost, the birthday of the church. 


And so I think we can say that even though Christmas as a day involves more stuff to get ready on the outside, Easter actually demands more preparation on the inside, and that’s the reason we’re not only starting this sermon series today, but for the next three weeks, we’re getting together on Tuesday evenings to share a meal and study the story of Jesus moving toward the cross as told by the Evangelist Mark. Hopefully, this kind of gets us ready for what we’re going to remember and celebrate in about forty days.


And so as we begin this preparation, we’re going to start by talking about something called fasting. And even if you haven’t been around the church very long, I think you probably have a pretty good idea about what the word means. For example, usually when we’re going to have some blood work done, our doctor will tell us to fast before it’s drawn, in other words, to avoid food until our blood is in the vial. And so that’s generally what comes to mind when we think about fasting, not eating. 


And that’s appropriate, because that’s what it means in the Bible. For example, it was commanded in the Book of Leviticus: “On the tenth day of the seventh month of each year, you must go without eating to show sorrow for your sins, and no one, including foreigners who live among you, is allowed to work. This is the day on which the sacrifice for the forgiveness of your sins will be made in my presence, and from now on, it must be celebrated each year. Go without eating and make this a day of complete rest just like the Sabbath.” [Leviticus 16:29-31, CEV] And fasting was something Jesus did himself, like when “the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert, so that the devil could test him. After Jesus had gone without eating for forty days and nights, he was very hungry.” [Matthew 4:1-2, CEV] And later, this was what the early church did, especially when face with an important decision. According to Luke, “The church at Antioch had several prophets and teachers. They were Barnabas, Simeon, also called Niger, Lucius from Cyrene, Manaen, who was Herod’s close friend, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and going without eating, the Holy Spirit told them, ‘Appoint Barnabas and Saul to do the work for which I have chosen them.’ Everyone prayed and went without eating for a while longer. Next, they placed their hands on Barnabas and Saul to show that they had been appointed to do this work. Then everyone sent them on their way.” [Acts 13:1-3, CEV] Now that was Luke writing in Acts. And so I think it’s safe to say that fasting, going without some kind of food, it’s firmly grounded in scripture. And since the season of Lent has traditionally been really important for Christians, fasting has become part our Easter preparation. And I’ll tell you, that’s why folks who’d never darken the door of any church will ask, “What are you giving up for Lent?”


But as we begin to talk about how we might prepare ourselves for Easter, I’m going to suggest that we broaden the idea of fasting a little bit. I mean, instead of considering it as something just involving food, let’s think about it in a wider sense, you know, so that the sacrifice we might decide to make involves more than just what we eat. In other words, for just a little bit, along with chocolate or donuts or oysters, let’s consider what else we might give up in order to get ourselves in the right frame of mind to remember the cross and to celebrate the empty tomb. 


And I’ll tell, although it’s not technically “fasting,” this broader idea of sacrifice also has some pretty solid roots in Scripture, particularly in the New Testament. Remember, “...Jesus said to his disciples: If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross and follow me. If you want to save your life, you will destroy it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find it. What will you gain, if you own the whole world but destroy yourself? What would you give to get back your soul?” [Matthew 16:24-26, CEV] And he also said to them, “My little group of disciples, don’t be afraid! Your Father wants to give you the kingdom. Sell what you have and give the money to the poor. Make yourselves moneybags that never wear out. Make sure your treasure is safe in heaven, where thieves cannot steal it and moths cannot destroy it. Your heart will always be where your treasure is.” [Luke 12:32-34, CEV] And so, according the Bible, what we sacrifice during this time of year can involve what we have and what we do and not just what we eat.


And with that in mind, it might be worth our while to think about what we, as individual believers, might be willing to sacrifice to get ourselves ready for Easter. And I’ll tell you, when we broaden this fasting business out, man, it gives us all kinds of options. As a matter of fact, we might also want to consider some stuff we may want to start doing, you know, things that we might not have done in the past but are deciding to begin doing right now. Of course, even that involves making a sacrifice, because we’re sacrificing some of our time and maybe some of our money and certainly some of our comfort to do something new. But you know, whether it’s making a sacrifice or changing a behavior, I think we’re probably going to see a bigger impact within ourselves and the world around us, if we consider doing or not doing something that will benefit someone else. Let me explain. 


Although it may be all well and good to decide not to eat any candy during Lent, what if we decided to do something that might make the lives of others better? I mean, just remember, Jesus said, the basis of the final judgement would be this: “When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat, and when I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I was a stranger, you welcomed me, and when I was naked, you gave me clothes to wear. When I was sick, you took care of me, and when I was in jail, you visited me.” [Matthew 25:35-36, CEV]. What if this became our “fasting” guide. And the Apostle Paul wrote, “Be sincere in your love for others. Hate everything that is evil and hold tight to everything that is good. Love each other as brothers and sisters and honor others more than you do yourself. Never give up. Eagerly follow the Holy Spirit and serve the Lord. Let your hope make you glad. Be patient in time of trouble and never stop praying. Take care of God’s needy people and welcome strangers into your home. Ask God to bless everyone who mistreats you. Ask him to bless them and not to curse them. When others are happy, be happy with them, and when they are sad, be sad. Be friendly with everyone. Don’t be proud and feel that you are smarter than others. Make friends with ordinary people. Don’t mistreat someone who has mistreated you. But try to earn the respect of others, and do your best to live at peace with everyone.” [Romans 12:9-18, CEV] My goodness, what if this reflected what we decided to do and not do? You see, while giving up coffee for Lent just involves me, giving up some of my time and stuff to help someone else, man, that just might change the world. And as we think about fasting, as we think about making a sacrifice, those are actually some things we’re able to do.


But I’ll tell you, how we do them, man, that’s every bit as important to our preparation as what we do. I mean, suppose I decide to give up something I really enjoy, you know, like watching old movies, as a way to get ready for Easter. It’s going to do me absolutely no good at all, if I choose to run around and tell everybody about the great sacrifice I’m making or if I decide to look miserable during these next forty days so y’all can see just how dedicated and selfless I am. And even if I decide to be a little more noble in my sacrifice and I choose to go to Pittsburgh every Wednesday evening to work in a inner-city soup kitchen, I’m going to blow whatever benefit I might receive by putting what I’m doing up on Facebook and waiting for all the “likes.” It reminds me of that saying, “God loves a cheerful giver, but he’ll take money from grouches.” Well that may be true, but that’s probably going to have very little impact on the Grouch himself. 


You see, although the sacrifice is important, so is how we do it. And I think that’s probably why Jesus said this to his disciples. He said, “When you go without eating, don’t try to look gloomy as those show-offs do when they go without eating. I can assure you that they already have their reward. Instead, comb your hair and wash your face. Then others won’t know that you are going without eating. But your Father sees what is done in private, and he will reward you.” [Matthew 6:16-18, CEV] And even though he was talking about giving up food, I think we can apply it to all kinds of other things. And so, even though what we sacrifice is important, so is how we do it.


But I’ll tell you, most important of all, and I’m talking about more important than the what and the how, is simply the why, because if the reason we’re fasting is either unclear or off the mark, the other two really will do very little to get us ready for Easter. Let me give you a couple of examples. Suppose I decide to give up pasta for Lent in order to lose a few pounds; that may be fine but it’s probably not going to affect how I remember the crucifixion. Or suppose I really do work in a soup kitchen even Wednesday for the next forty days because that’s part of my community service after the DUI; you tell me, what has to do with celebrating the resurrection? No, regardless of what or how we sacrifice, the reason should always be the same. If this is suppose to prepare us for Easter, man, what we do and how we do it really should be focused on Jesus Christ. I mean, dah. At the very least, it should really cause us to appreciate what he did. 


But I’ll tell you, it probably should do more. As a matter of fact, it should probably help us to identify with how he lived. And I’ll tell you, this is something that I think the Apostle Paul understood when he wrote, “Now make me completely happy! Live in harmony by showing love for each other. Be united in what you think, as if you were only one person. Don’t be jealous or proud, but be humble and consider others more important than yourselves. Care about them as much as you care about yourselves and think the same way that Christ Jesus thought: Christ was truly God. But he did not try to remain equal with God. Instead he gave up everything and became a slave, when he became like one of us. Christ was humble. He obeyed God and even died on a cross. Then God gave Christ the highest place and honored his name above all others. So at the name of Jesus everyone will bow down, those in heaven, on earth, and under the earth. And to the glory of God the Father everyone will openly agree, ‘Jesus Christ is Lord!’” [Philippians 2:2-11, CEV] And I’ll tell you something else, I think that may be why, after telling them that “the nation’s leaders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law of Moses will make the Son of Man suffer terribly. He will be rejected and killed, but three days later he will rise to life,” Jesus said this to his disciples: “If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross and follow me. If you want to save your life, you will destroy it. But if you give up your life for me and for the good news, you will save it. What will you gain, if you own the whole world but destroy yourself? What could you give to get back your soul?” Mark 8:31b, 34b-37, CEV] You see, when we can appreciate and even identify with Jesus Christ and what he endured as he went to the cross, I think the fasting, the sacrificing has done exactly what it’s suppose to do. And when that happens, I believe we’re better prepared to remember the cross and to celebrate the resurrection than we were before.


 And although all that’s important, I think that’s actually only one part of our preparation. You see, even though I believe it’s important to make some kind of sacrifice and to do it in a way that’s humble so that we might better appreciate and identify with one the who sacrificed so much for us, frankly it ain’t worth a bucket of spit, at least not for us, it we’re carrying around anger and bitterness and resentment as we do it. And for that reason, during the service next week, we’re going to talk about how forgiveness might also help prepare us for Easter.



A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - It Matters

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

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


1 Corinthians 5:1-8


It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father's wife. And you are arrogant! Should you not rather have mourned, so that he who has done this would have been removed from among you?


For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.


Your boasting is not a good thing. Do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch, as you really are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.


It Matters


I wish I was actually confused by a certain position taken by a lot of American Christians, but sadly, I’m not. Thanks to some very brave women, the sexual misdeeds of some very powerful men have been identified, and many of them have been forced to take responsibility for their actions. And even though some have somehow avoided accountability, the truth is always stronger than the lies, and I sincerely believe their reckoning is just around the corner. Like they say, you can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. Those who used their power and money to abuse the vulnerable, they’ll have to answer for their deeds, hopefully in the this world but certainly in the next. 


And yet, as the noose tightens around the necks of some of the worst, I’m disappointed but not surprised that a lot of Christians are either ignoring or excusing the abuse. And even though I’m relieved that I haven’t heard anyone say that if he were here now, Jesus would back the abusers, these otherwise sincere folks engage in some moral gymnastics to justify the actions of some people whose actions are beyond any kind of moral justification. Of course, I’m not stupid. I think we can explain that this willingness to look the other way has more to do with politics than ethics. Still, this denial damages our witness to Jesus Christ. I mean, if I’m willing to give a moral mulligan to people just because I agree with them, than I may be guilty as them. 


And for that reason, maybe it’s time we stood up with the Apostle Paul for ethics and truth. And maybe it’s time we stopped letting people slide on the way they treat others. In other words, maybe it’s time for us stand on the gospel and say that when talking about personal morality and what a person chooses to do, it matters.


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