21Mar

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - The Reason to Be Reasonable

Below is a new devotion I just left on the Cove Presbyterian Church prayer line. You can find a recording of this devotion on the prayer line (1-304-748-7900). 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.

 

John 7:37-44

 

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

 

When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, “This is really the prophet.” Others said, “This is the Messiah.” But some asked, “Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?” So there was a division in the crowd because of him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.

 

The Reason to Be Reasonable

 

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, our expectation cross the line that separates what’s reasonable and what’s not. And even though when we allow that to happen we only hurt ourselves, sometimes the pain we end up feeling is pretty bad. For example, I remember, when I was about eleven and my brother was six years younger, I had a little toy movie projector that could play about 50 feet of 8 mm film. The only problem was that the lamp had burned out. Now, remember, I said this was a toy; therefore, there was no replacement bulb. This was something I knew, but my brother didn’t. And so when a family member promised to fix the projector, my brother believed her. His expectations sky-rocketed only to crash when my Father told him that the toy couldn’t be fixed. If we’d been able to keep his expectations reasonable, he wouldn’t have been so disappointed later.

 

And I think that’s something we need to remember as we share the gospel of Jesus Christ with others and even invite folks to join us at church. If we’re excited enough about our faith actually to do it, we probably expect others to become excited too. And for those close to us, we’ll more than likely expect them to be positive, if only because of their relationship with us. You see, it’s easy for our expectations to be high, maybe too high. And that’s why we need to remember that, in the time of Jesus, not everyone responded positively to him. There were divisions. Therefore, it makes sense to be reasonable in our expectations, not as an excuse to do nothing, rather as a way to keep our excitement and energy high as we do what we’ve been called to do in the real world.

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20Mar

Cove’s Worship Service - March 19, 2017

Below is the podcast of the service I lead on Sunday, March 19, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. It's the third service  in a series entitled, "Why: Answering Some of Life's Hard Questions."

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20Mar

Sunday’s Sermon - Why Don’t I Understand What’s Going On?

Below is a podcast of the sermon I preached on Sunday, March 19, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. It's the second sermon in a series entitled, "Why: Answering Some of Life's Hard Questions." 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.

 

Well, here we are, asking the third question in our series dealing with what I consider life’s most difficult questions. And to sort of bring us up to date, let’s review some the questions we’ve already discussed. I mean, as y’all remember, during the first week, we looked at the question, Why do bad things happen to good people? And we sort of came to the conclusion that, even though sometimes good people either bring suffering on themselves or others dump it on them, a lot of bad stuff just happens and we never really know why. Still, if we recognize that our past has been cleansed and that our future is secure and that God is with us all the time, you see, if we recognize that all this is true, it may help us keep going when bad things happen. Now that was the first week and the first question. And then last week, we considered a question that I think most of us have asked ourselves from time-to-time: Why don’t people understand me? And as we talked about it, we looked at how we’re surrounded by four kinds of people. There are some who won’t take the time to understand what we’re going through, but even if they did, they still couldn’t understand, while there are others who have the ability to understand but who have also made the decision not to. And there are others want to understand, but just can’t. But praise the Lord, there are folks out there and in here who sincerely want to understand what we’re facing and are able to do it, because they faced it too. And as we talked about last week, those are the folks we need to find ourselves but also become for others. And so we’ve looked at question number one, why do bad things happen to good people, and question number two, why don’t people understand me?

 

And if the first one was more, you know, philosophical and the second one was more focused on the outside, the third question is really directed toward the inside. In other words, it deals with what may be going on inside each of us as we deal with some of the stuff that’s happening.Now I guess we could ask this question when you’re feeling fat and sassy, you know, like when you’ve just won a scratch-off or you watch that kid about whom you always worried graduate from college or you find out that West Virginia has actually made it to the Sweet Sixteen. Now we might not be able to understand why this is happening, but remember, this stuff is good and so we may not care. Instead, I think we usually wonder about this sort of thing when we fail a test for which we studied or we can’t get a second date with a girl we worked so hard to impress or we bet with that idiot who actually though Donald Trump had a chance in the last election and now he wants us to pay-up. Talking for myself, when something like that happens, I can imagine me holding my head and asking that simple yet profound question: Why don’t I understand what’s going on?

 

And I’ll tell you, if something like that should happen and we end up mouthing those words, I think we’d be in excellent company, because that’s exactly the kind of question Job asked. Now as y’all know, we’ve been sort of using Job as a guide as we considered the first two of life’s more difficult questions, because remember, he was a incredibly good and righteous guy who not only lost everything but was covered by these weeping boils, but not because he was evil or irresponsible or even unbelievably unlucky. This good man suffered because Satan tripe dog dared God and God let it happen. And then, when his friends came to help Job, all they could say was that Job must have done something evil or irresponsible because everybody knows God would never in million years allow a good person to suffer; therefore, Job couldn’t be as good as he though he was. Of course, both Job and the reader, meaning us, man, we know that’s not a bunch of alternative facts. Job was as good as advertised, yet he was suffering. And to our hero Job, that didn’t make sense. And I think his confusion is reflected in a whole bunch of passages between chapters thirteen and twenty-eight. You see, as he talked to his friends and they offered their same lame comments, Job seemed to become more and more confused and frustrated by the whole thing and turned more and more to God for some kind of explanation. In fact, by the end, Job demanded an answer from the Lord, something that he eventually got, but it was a lot different from what he expected.

 

And like I said, I think there are times when we struggle with this same question. And I think the reason it happened to him and to us is actually pretty similar. You see, just like Job started to assume that he actually understood the way the universe was suppose to work better than God; therefore, it was up to God to explain why he wasn’t following his own rules, I think we have the tendency to drift in the same direction ourselves. In other words, I think we tend to believe that we’ve become so enlightened, we’ve become so aware, we’ve become so downright spiritual that we may understand God better than he understands himself. We assume our thoughts are God’s thoughts. Our values are God’s values. And those things that we want and expect are the exact same things God wants and expects for us. As a matter of fact, we come to believe that we can actually speak for God, you know, telling others what God says and picking and choosing stuff in God’s word that applies and that doesn’t apply and then turning the good news of Jesus Christ into a club to beat people into the salvation or as a knife to cut ourselves off from those we really don’t like. Now I think that sort of thing happens all the time, and it happens in ways that are obvious and ways that are almost impossible to see but are still there. In other words, it’s like the great French philosopher Voltaire wrote, “In the beginning God created man in His own image, and man has been trying to repay the favor ever since.” Of course, the Apostle Paul called it something else when he described this human problem to the Romans. He wrote, “From heaven God shows how angry he is with all the wicked and evil things that sinful people do to crush the truth. They know everything that can be known about God, because God has shown it all to them. God’s eternal power and character cannot be seen. But from the beginning of creation, God has shown what these are like by all he has made. That’s why those people don’t have any excuse. They know about God, but they don’t honor him or even thank him. Their thoughts are useless, and their stupid minds are in the dark. They claim to be wise, but they are fools. They don’t worship the glorious and eternal God. Instead, they worship idols that are made to look like humans  who cannot live forever, and like birds, animals, and reptiles.” (Romans 1:18-23) You see, when we assume that we know God so well that we can now do those things that only God is allowed to do, like running around and condemning everything in sight, we’ve actually become idol-worshipers. We’re practicing idolatry. We’re barking up the wrong theological tree. And regardless of the alias we use, we have become our own god, and that’s why we start assuming that we know all the important stuff. And because of that, we can now narrow our perspective, you know, put on the blinders so we can only see what we want to see. And that’s why we end up becoming so doggone confused and frustrated when something happens and we’re forced to recognize that our vision is really stupid. And so when a lot of the stuff we thought was right proves to be just a lot of words, I think, it’s at that point when we find ourselves standing all by ourselves, asking why don’t I understand what’s going on?

 

But I’ll tell you, when that happens, when our idols, meaning ourselves, when we prove to have feet of clay, I believe we can do three things we probably didn’t consider doing when we knew all we needed to know. And even though these three decisions won’t give us all the answers we may want, they just might enable us to live with the questions we have. And let me briefly tell you what they are. 

 

You see, when we really don’t understand what’s happening around us, first, we can make the conscience decision to accept our limits. In other words, to do what the actor who first said, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV” had to do, and that’s to accept that he’s still not a doctor. And regardless of what we play around the neighborhood or at family gatherings or in church, we’re not God nor are we gods nor are we even demi-gods. And it doesn’t matter how smart or spiritual or divine we think we are and it sure doesn’t matter whether or not we stayed in a Holiday Inn Express last night; we are not God. You see, if we ever want to get a grasp on why we don’t understand all things and aren’t able to explain everything that’s happening around us, I think it’s crucial to accept that we are just limited. That’s what it means to be human. We’re limited. We’re limited in our power. We’re limited in our space. We’re limited in our time. We’re limited in our knowledge. In fact, we’re limited in everything. And we always have been. And even though we may become stronger and fatter and older and smarter some time in the future, we always will be. Therefore, there will always be things we won’t understand. Now maybe some time in the future, maybe God will tell us everything. I don’t know. What I do know is that ain’t happening now. You see, if we’re serious about answering the question, why don’t I understand what’s happening around me, at some point we may have to accept that, given the situation, the answer may be, “because you just can’t.” Not the answer we want, but it may be the only one we’ve got. We need to accept our limits; that’s one.

 

And second, if we’re interested in understanding why something is happening, we’re probably going to need to broaden our vision. But I’ll tell you, that’s actually really hard to do. I mean, let’s face it, life is easier, it’s more comfortable, it’s more predictable, if we assume these little sayings are true, you know things like: “Industry gives comfort and plenty and respect” or “He that lieth down with dogs shall rise up with fleas” or “Lend money to an enemy and you will gain him, to a friend and you will loss him,” all sayings from that wise, and good-looking man, Benjamin Franklin. Now it would be great if these aphorisms were all true all the time, but of course they’re not. But if this is all we can see, if we choose to limit our vision just like everything else is limited, without a doubt we’re going to miss any kind of understanding that may be outside the box or off to the side. It’s like the last stanza of that poem by Robert Frost, The Road Least Traveled, “I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” To understand, we need to broaden our vision; that’s two.

 

And finally, I think we need to trust God, and I’m talking about trusting that God loves us and that he holds our destinies in his hands and that he’s leading us into a glorious future. In other words, I believe it’s important for us to make that decision to believe that, as Paul wrote, “If God is on our side, can anyone be against us? God did not keep back his own Son, but he gave him for us. If God did this, won’t he freely give us everything else? If God says his chosen ones are acceptable to him, can anyone bring charges against them? Or can anyone condemn them? No indeed! Christ died and was raised to life, and now he is at God’s right side, speaking to him for us.” (Romans 8:31b-34) Now that’s the kind of trust I’m talking about. And even though I’m not sure that trusting God will supply us with the answers that we want, it may enable us to live with the questions we may always have. We really need to trust God, and that’s three.

 

But you know, when you think about it, just asking the question, why don’t I understand what going on, that should force us to shift our thinking. I mean, when that’s on our mind, we’ve pretty much given up the illusion that God is the one who looks back at us from the mirror. As a matter of fact, whether we like it or not, if we’re serious about finding an answer, the question forces us to accept our limits and to broaden our vision and to trust our God. Of course, that may not help us when our question is, “Why is God allowing this to happen?” But we’ll talk about that next week.

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17Mar

Friday’s Essay - Long After Tomorrow

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, devotion, 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

 

Tomorrow I’m leading the service for our sister Phyllis Manley who passed earlier this week. Of course, in my thirty years as a minister, I’ve done hundreds and hundreds of funerals. And even though the specifics are always different, I still believe that there are three things that family and friends can always remember. 

 

You see, first, in the face of death, I think it’s important for us to remember that we were and are and will always be in the hands of God and that those hands are loving and gracious and merciful. And I’ll tell you, that’s possible for us to do the minute we make the decision to trust. You see, we can decide to trust that Jesus Christ came, you know, he entered our time and space, and that during his life, he showed over and over again the freedom and love of God. And we can decide to trust that he was crucified for us, and I’m talking about all of us. In other words, he was hung on a cross to save the very people who drove the nails. And we can decide to trust that this same person, this same Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, reminding everyone that time has expired, the game is over and death lost. And then we can decide to trust that when he ascended back to the Father, he brought our humanity in the nature of God himself. Now that’s important, and I’ll tell you why. When we pray, we’re not laying our fears and frustrations and doubt before a God who can’t understand what we feel. Rather, through Christ, he’s been where we are and felt what we feel and endured what we’ll endure, even death itself. You see, those four truths are at the center of our faith. But you know, even if we decide not to trust and to pretend that none of this happened, that doesn't change the fact that Christ came and died and was raised and ascended, and that doesn't change the fact that we are still in God’s loving hands. And as we struggle through grief, I think that’s one thing we need to remember.

 

Just like I believe we need to remember that like he’s lead those who’ve gone before us through death, the time’s going to come when he’ll do the same for us. That’s the second thing we might need to remember. You know, it’s like that Psalm a lot of us memorized when we were kids:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. (Psalm 23)

You see, that God, who like a good shepherd takes care of his sheep, man he’s already led some of those whom we love through the valley of the shadow of death. And when it's our time, he's going to do the same thing for us. This is the something else I think we need to remember. 

 

And finally, I believe it’s important to remember that we're going to see all those who’ve gone before us again. And we’re going to see them in a new heaven and new earth. I mean, just listen to how John of Patmos described it in his revelation:

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.

And I, John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

And I heard a great voice out of heaven, saying, Behold the tabernacle of God is with men and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.

The throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him;

And they shall see his face, and his name shall be in their foreheads.

And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 21:1-4; 22:3b-5)

You see, this is our future. This is our destiny; a place where there will be no pain and no suffering and no parting, because all that stuff is gone forever. And this is something we can remember, too. 

 

Tomorrow, I pray that God will use my words to offer comfort and peace to Phyllis’s family and to all her friends. And as I begin to consider what I’m going to say, I know that I’ll be thinking about these three truths: that God holds us in his loving hands and that he’ll lead us through death to the glory that awaits of the other side and that when that day comes, there’ll be a reunion like nothing we’ve seen on earth. I know this will be on my mind, and I hope it’s on your minds too. And you know, if it is, those truth might affect us long after tomorrow. 

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16Mar

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - Something Every Teacher Understands

Below is the podcast of a new devotion I just left on the Cove Presbyterian Church prayer line. You can find a recording of this devotion on the prayer line (1-304-748-7900). 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.

 

Romans 2:12-16

 

All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified. When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.

 

Something Every Teacher Understands

 

Off and on over the last thirty-five years, I’ve been a school teacher. During that time, I’ve taught history, civics, economics, geography, and sociology. But regardless of the subject, at least once a year, I’d find myself in this situation. I’ve given a test and during the review, some student decides to debate a particular question. And I’d generally remind him that we covered the material, and since I was really organized, I’d ask him if he remembered hearing me say something related to the question asked. Of course, after initially saying that he didn’t remember anything, generally he’d recognize that he did recall me saying something like that. But then he’d follow it with that wonderful statement: “But Mr. Rudiger, you didn’t say we needed to know it.” Now that’s what he’d say.

 

And I’ll tell you, I think that’s sort of like what Paul told the Romans. I mean, as he talked about the Jewish Law, he focused on why God would give these instructions to his people. You see, it wasn’t so that they’d have something that they might hear. Rather the Law was given so that the people could have a better understanding about what they might do. And it doesn’t matter whether a person is reading it printed on a page or senses it written on his heart, God has given us direction and guidance on how we might live a better life. And for that reason, we’d be wise to become doer of the Law and not just hearers.

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15Mar

On the Road Again - Passion, Part 2 (Luke 22:31-71)

Below is the passage we discussed in a series entitled "On the Road Again: A Study of Luke/Acts and a podcast of our discusion. This week we discussed Luke 22:31-71. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

 

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

 

“Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” And he said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.” He said to them, “When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “No, not a thing.” He said to them, “But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted among the lawless’; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.” They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” He replied, “It is enough.”

 

He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.”

 

While he was still speaking, suddenly a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, “Judas, is it with a kiss that you are betraying the Son of Man?” When those who were around him saw what was coming, they asked, “Lord, should we strike with the sword?” Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple police, and the elders who had come for him, “Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness!”

 

Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house. But Peter was following at a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. Then a servant-girl, seeing him in the firelight, stared at him and said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” A little later someone else, on seeing him, said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not!” Then about an hour later still another kept insisting, “Surely this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about!” At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

 

Now the men who were holding Jesus began to mock him and beat him; they also blindfolded him and kept asking him, “Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?” They kept heaping many other insults on him. When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, gathered together, and they brought him to their council. They said, “If you are the Messiah, tell us.” He replied, “If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I question you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” All of them asked, “Are you, then, the Son of God?” He said to them, “You say that I am.” Then they said, “What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips!”

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14Mar

Cove’s Worship Service - March 12, 2017

Below is the podcast of the service I lead on Sunday, March 12, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. It's the second service  in a series entitled, "Why: Answering Some of Life's Hard Questions."

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14Mar

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - Clear as Mud

Below is the podcast of a new devotion I just left on the Cove Presbyterian Church prayer line. You can find a recording of this devotion on the prayer line (1-304-748-7900). 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.

 

Galatians 4:21-5:1

 

Tell me, you who desire to be subject to the law, will you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and the other by a free woman. One, the child of the slave, was born according to the flesh; the other, the child of the free woman, was born through the promise. Now this is an allegory: these women are two covenants. One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the other woman corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free, and she is our mother. For it is written, 

     “Rejoice, you childless one, you who bear no children, 

          burst into song and shout, you who endure no birth pangs; 

     for the children of the desolate woman are more numerous 

          than the children of the one who is married.” 

Now you, my friends, are children of the promise, like Isaac. But just as at that time the child who was born according to the flesh persecuted the child who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. But what does the scripture say? “Drive out the slave and her child; for the child of the slave will not share the inheritance with the child of the free woman.” So then, friends, we are children, not of the slave but of the free woman. For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

 

Clear as Mud

 

After reading these verses from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, I remembered my first interview for a full-time minister job in a real-live church. It happened at the end of my last year of seminary. A nominating committee had come up from North Carolina to interview a few students, including me. And as I recall, the interview was going O.K., not great but O.K., when one member of the committee asked if I was a conservative or liberal. And as I was thinking about how I should respond, I remembered something one of my professors had said, “If you’re ever asked a question like that, just say that you’re orthodox, because you adhere to the same faith proclaimed in the Bible and practiced by Christians for almost two thousand years.” And so that’s what I did, and I included the explanation just in case he hadn’t heard it before. But when I asked him if I’d been clear in my answer, he looked me right in the eyes and said, “Clear as mud.” Of course, I didn’t get the job.

 

And I’ve got to tell you, I felt the same thing reading Paul allegory. I’m not sure I get it. For me, this particular explanation is about clear as mud. But we’re really fortunate that it’s not the only explanation he offered for something that’s truly amazing. You see, for Paul, through Jesus Christ, we will be saved, not through our effort or obedience, rather through God’s gracious choice. And because we’ve been chosen, we’ve also been set free, free from a past that can no longer bind us and free from having to earn our salvation. You see, whether he explained it by applying grace to our own experience or by creating the kind of complicated allegory we see here, Jesus has both redeemed our past and assured our future, which leads to freedom right now. And praise the Lord, for us, this reality is much clearer than mud.

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13Mar

Sunday’s Sermon - Why don’t people understand me?

Below is a podcast of the sermon I preached on Sunday, March 12, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. It's the second sermon in a series entitled, "Why: Answering Some of Life's Hard Questions." 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.

 

As you remember, last week we started a new series dealing with some of what I consider life’s most difficult questions. And for each question, we using a different part of Job to ferret out some answers. Now that’s what we’ll be doing right up to Palm Sunday. 

 

And during the first message, we looked at that simple, modest, easily-answered little question: Why do bad things happen to good people? And we talked about how sometimes good people suffer because of what they’ve done to themselves or what’s been done to them by others, but other times, there just doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason for their pain, sort of like what happened when God allowed Satan to take away everything from Job, a righteous man just to show that he’d remain righteous. In other words, sometimes suffering is not fair; it just happens, because it does. Not a great answer, right, but it’s the only one we’ve got. But as we talked about last week, whether we can understand it or not, I think it’s important for us to remember three things. First, we’ve been forgiven and cleansed; therefore, we’re not bound to keep repeating the past like Bill Murray did in Groundhog Day. And second, our future have been secured; therefore, whatever’s happening now is temporary. And third, we can be confident that God is with us all the time. Now that’s what we talked about last week. 

 

And today, well, today we’re going to consider the question: Why don’t people understand me? Of course, anyone who’s lived or worked with a teenager has probably heard this question before. I mean, even prior to becoming a father, I was a high school teacher; therefore, I already knew that anytime a teenager didn’t do what was expected or reacted in an extreme way to something that both a preteen and a post-teen would consider pretty insignificant, the problem wasn’t with her or her friends or even the situation she was facing. No sir, the problem was with me and my total inability to understand what she was going through. And for that reason any advice I might give or suggestion I might offer could be immediately rejected, because you see, I’m ignorant. I live under this great big rock. I just don’t understand. Now, that’s what I learned, a lesson that’s been reinforced these last two years.

 

But having said that, I really don’t want to suggest that the question, why don’t people understand me, that it’s only asked by folks going through adolescent hormonal changes. As a matter of fact, I think we might all find ourselves asking this exact same question from time to time. I’m telling you, I think, from time to time, we all wonder why the people around just don’t understand us.

 

And even though sometimes the issue we’re facing is trivial and unimportant even to us, at other times it’s not. For example, it may involve the kind of situation Job faced when he tried to share the undeserved, unfair, and unexplainable suffering he was enduring to his closest friends, and they all kind of blew him off. I mean, the more Job told them that his suffering had broken the fundamental rule he’d followed since birth and how he’d lived what really was a righteous life, something we know was true, and God had allowed horrible things to happen; man, the more he share the injustice he was facing, not only couldn’t his friends understand what he was saying, they accused him of lying. For them, God wouldn’t and couldn’t allow a righteous person to suffer for no reason. That wasn’t possible; therefore, Job must have done something wrong, and for his own good, he needed to admit it and then he could die in peace. But, of course, both Job and the reader, meaning us, we know they’re wrong. They just don’t understand. 

 

And you know, when it happened to him, I think Job went through the same emotions we generally feel when people don’t seem to understand us. I mean, as we read this book, we see that Job went from a lonely-kind of sadness to genuine irritation and frustration to honest-to-goodness anger both at his buddies and even at God when it appeared that, not only did no one care that he was suffering, but that no one, including God, was even willing to explain why it was happening. You see, that’s what happened to Job, and I think that can also happen to us. 

 

But I’ll tell you, when it does, I think we can do more that just sit there in the ashes and argue with guys who aren’t going to listen because they’re champing at the bite to talk. You see, I think we can understand why this kind of thing happens. But more than that, we can also get a pretty good idea about what we can do about it. And in my opinion, it all comes to two verbs, “will” and “can,” and how they apply to the people around us. Let me explain.

 

When we’re really struggling and that struggle is making us sad and frustrated and angry, because we feel that no one really understands what we’re facing, I think it’s important for us to remember that we’re always, and I mean always surrounded by four kinds of people. For example, whether we like it or not, there will always be folks who both won’t and can’t understand. You see, for some reason, they’ve made the decision that they will not understand what we’re saying or what we’re facing or what we’re feeling. They’re just not going to do it. Of course, they have their reasons: maybe, like Job’s friends, the stuff we’re talking about doesn’t fit into what they already believe, and they don’t really need to listen, or maybe they don’t feel they have the time or the energy to deal with someone else’s problems, or maybe they just don’t care, that’s another possibility. But regardless of the reason, they’re just not willing to understand. And that’s actually alright, because they really couldn’t understand even if they wanted to. Let me give you an example. I remember, back when I was in seminary, there was a guy in my class named Duncan. He had muscular dystrophy. He was limited to a wheelchair all the time. And his time on earth was going to be brief. That was Duncan’s life. And I’ll tell you, no matter how much I read about the disease and no matter how much time I spent with Duncan and no matter how kind and compassionate I tried to be, I was never able to understand what he felt when he woke up in the morning and when he rolled himself to class and when he worked and studied maybe harder than the rest of us to do something he might never live to do, and he knew it. You see, what he faced was so foreign to my experiences, I don’t think it was possible for me to understand what he went through every day. And I think that applies to all kinds of situations, including some of the stuff you and I face. Some folks couldn’t understand even if they wanted to. And I’ll tell you, when you combine this inability with a lack of desire, man, those folks are just about as close to a lost cause as you can get. I mean, they’re probably not going to listen. And if they say anything at all, it’s probably going to be brief and unrelated to what we’re feeling. In fact, they’re probably only going to increase our sadness, frustration and anger. And if we go to them for understanding more than once or twice and then leave feeling worse, and I think we all know that’s going to happen, we really only have ourselves to blame, because these people won’t and they can’t understand. 

 

But you know, there are others who could understand if they wanted, but have decided they don’t. These are the can, but won’t folks. You see, they really are able to identify with us. They can do it, because we’re facing something that they already faced. Maybe they endured it themselves; I don’t know. But that’s really not important, because whether it’s from a lack of time or energy or interest or concern, they’ve decided that they will not be understanding. They just don’t care. And even though I think it’s possible to convince them to become concerned, I honestly believe it’s pretty unlikely. I mean, let’s get real, if someone can identify with what we’re facing but just doesn’t care, I think we may waste a lot of time trying to convince them to change their minds. And when we’re feeling like Job and the sadness, frustration and anger is on the rise, time may be one thing we don’t have. And so, unless we have some kind of martyr mentality and deep down really want to believe that no one understands, that no one cares, I think we can move past both those who won’t and can’t right along with those who could but won’t. 

 

But even if we mark these guys off our sharing list, there are two other kinds of folks that we might want to approach. You see, there are plenty of people around us who actually care and who genuinely want to understand us; unfortunately, they just can’t. In other words, they’re willing to take the time and to make the effort and to offer direction and support and comfort. Man, they want to do it; they just don’t know how. They just don’t know what to do, because what we’re facing is different from anything they’ve ever experienced, you know, sort of like what I was saying about Duncan. And I’ll tell you, for those who want to understand but can’t, man, that can be extremely frustrating, and I’m talking about for them as well as us. But even though it won’t be easy, I think we can help them with this identification problem by trying as best we can to understand their backgrounds and then to explain what we’re facing in a way that relates to their experiences. In other words, if they can’t understand what we’re saying, we might need to speak with words and images that they can grasp. And even though, like I said, that’s certainly not easy, especially when we’re kind of struggling, it’s a whole lot easier than trying to convince someone that they should care when they’ve already decided that they don’t. I think those who are willing but not able have a greater potential to understand.

 

But even though it’s possible to bring them into our experience, when we feel as no one understands us, the best folks for us to turn for help are those who will and can, in other words, those who want and who are able to understand us. And we can identify them, because they already care about us. They’re already concerned about what we’re facing, and they’re already willing to take the time and make the effort to offer whatever insight and sympathy they’re able to muster. But more than that, they’re also able to understand, to identify with our struggle, including our sadness and our frustrations and anger. And I’ll tell you why; they may have actually walked in our shoes. They may already have survived what we face. Good night, they may have muscular dystrophy like Duncan. In other words, they have been where we are. And because they also care, they’re ready to listen; they’re ready to understand. And that should be good news for us, because now we have someone with whom we can share, without worrying about whether, at some point, they’re going to start looking at their watches or rolling their eyes or whether, after sharing our story, they’re going to look like we’ve either started to talk in Portuguese or suddenly have lobster clawing out of our ears. Man, those worries are gone; therefore, we’re free to share. But more than just talking, we can also start listening, listening to what they have to say, listening to the words of comfort they’ll offer as well as the advice they might give. And we can decide to trust that what they’re saying comes from both the heart and the head, you know, from sincere concern and actual experience. I’ll tell you, these people can make a huge difference when we need to be understood. 

 

In fact, that may be one of the reasons why in the church, the Body of Christ, God has drawn together so many different people with different backgrounds and who have gone through different experiences, but who are united by one command: that we love one another as we’ve been loved. And along with a God who is always present and who always loves and who can identify with us on our worst day, because, remember, as the writer of Hebrews said, “Jesus understands every weakness of ours, because he was tempted in every way that we are. But he did not sin!” God will and can understand us, and we should certainly be able to find the same among his people. 

 

Now, like I said earlier, I think at some point, we don’t have to be teenagers to wonder if there’s anyone who will and who can understand how we feel. And when this happens, I also think it’s natural to experience some sadness and some frustration, maybe even some anger. But I think we can avoid this grief when we recognize that some folks won’t and can’t understand while there are others could but won’t or who are willing but just can’t but that there are still others, hopefully right here in this community, who do want to understand and who can identify with us. And I’ll tell you, those are the ones to whom we can go. And you know, if we do, that can offer a lot of comfort when we feel like asking the question: Why don’t people understand me?

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11Mar

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - We’ll Never Be Thirsty Again

Below is the podcast of a new devotion I just left on the Cove Presbyterian Church prayer line. You can find a recording of this devotion on the prayer line (1-304-748-7900). 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.

 

John 4:7-15

 

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

 

We’ll Never Be Thirsty Again

 

In a few months, we’ll be entering spring and then summer. The trees will be budding. The flowers will be blooming. And of course, the grass will be growing. And even though it doesn’t feel like it now, the temperature will be rising. And I’ll tell you, the combination of growing grass and rising temperatures will lead to me having to mow the lawn in the heat, not my favorite thing to do. And as I think about pushing that mower over my tiny lawn, I already know that I’m going to get thirsty. And for me, nothing tastes better than a nice glass of cold water. As a matter of fact, after about thirty minutes, this desire will cross over into craving. In fact, in a very real way, just thinking about it will give me the encouragement to finish the job. It’ll keep me moving until even the assorted collection of grass and weeds on the side of the house have been cut down to size. You see, that’s going to happen because I’m thirsty.

 

And wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all had the same desire and passion for the kind of water Jesus offered to the woman at the well and that he also offers to us every single day. I mean, suppose our desire for the Holy Spirit was so strong that it became the focus of our attention. And suppose this focus kept us moving forward, not focused backward to something that we lack the power to change, but forward into a future full of possibilities and opportunities. I mean, suppose living with and in the spirit was something that we craved. Well, I’ll tell you; if that should happen, there’s one thing that I believe we can take to the back. We’ll never be thirsty again.

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