23May

Cove’s Celebration Service - Pentecost Sunday, May 20, 2018

The members and friends of Cove gathered to worship the coming of the Holy Spirit on Sunday, May 20. After the announcements, the service began with the entry of the Word. We sang the hymn "Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart.” When we’d finished the song, we shared prayer concerns, prayed together and closed with the Lord’s Prayer and the Gloria Patri. As we collected the offering, the choir sang "Lead Me, Lord." The message was entitled "Pentecost Presents," and it deal with the three things Christians received from God at Pentecost. The service ended when we sang the song "Holy Spirit."

 

You can hear the entire service below.

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23May

Sunday’s Sermon - Pentecost Presents

Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Pentecost Sunday, May 20, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. You can hear a podcast of the sermon at the end of this sermon. 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 y’all already know, today is Pentecost, one of the big days in the church year. In fact, it’s the only time we use the red paraments, the color of fire, because that’s really what Pentecost is all about, tongues of fire resting on the disciples. But I’ve got to tell you, with the red and gold up here, well, it sort of reminds me of another holiday, and I’m talking about one on the opposite side of the calendar, Christmas. I’ll tell you, if the weather was a little cooler, all this red sort of has a yule tide feel about it. 

 

But you know, there’s another connection between Pentecost and Christmas beyond just the color red. You see, both are actually birthdays. Let me explain. Now, we all know that Christmas is all about the birth of someone really special, Santa Claus, right? I mean, dah. Of course, that’s not true. At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus. And I’ve known folks who go all in on this birthday business, even to the point of buying Jesus a cake and throwing him a party. Man, I’ve even heard them sing him happy birthday. And whether or not that approach floats your boat, Christmas is certainly about a birth. 

 

And you know, so is Pentecost; it’s about a birth too. But I’m not talking about the birth of a person. Rather Pentecost marks the birth of the church, the Body of Christ. In other words, regardless of when this congregation was founded, today is our birthday, because on Pentecost, everything changed and a group of disjointed disciples were brought together in a special way and empowered to do the job they’d be given to do. And you know, like most birthdays, at least around the Rudiger house, gifts were involved. 

 

And so, in the time we have left, we’re going to talk about the three presents that the church received, in other words, that we received at Pentecost. And we’ll look at that passage from the second chapter of Acts to consider not only what they are, but also why they’re important to us right here and now.

 

And like I said, they’re all right here in these verses. You see, the first present we received on Pentecost was power, and I’m talking about power from God and power that can enable us actually to do everything we’ve been called to do. And I’ll tell you, I think we can see this power described right at the beginning of the story. Luke, the author of Acts, wrote: 

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. [Acts 2:1-4]

Now I’ve got to tell you, this has got divine power written all over it. I mean, this business about the whole house being filled with a violent wind, well, it sounds a lot like what was happening at the very beginning of creation, when the author of Genesis wrote, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” [Genesis 1:1-2] You see, the being of God can be associated with the wind. And tongues of fire, well, remember how God appeared to Moses: “There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.’ When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” [Exodus 3:2-5] And of course, the Baptist predicted that something like this was going to happen when “John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.’” [Luke 3:16] In fact, Jesus himself talked about the Spirit’s coming when, right before this return to heaven, he said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” [Acts 1:8] You see, the Holy Spirit brought power to the people.

 

And I’ll tell you, that’s important for us to remember; you see, that Spirit has been poured down on us too. And even though it may not have been as dramatic, those same tongues of fire have come and rested upon all of us. And because of that, we’re able to understand a whole lot more about who Jesus is and what he taught than we could otherwise. I mean, Jesus himself said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. ...When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.” [John 14:15-17; 15:26-27] Now that’s what the Spirit does. But I’ll tell you, more than just knowledge, he also gives us one another, something Paul understood when he wrote, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” [1 Corinthians 12:5-7] You see, the Spirit offers us the understanding and the unity to do the job we’ve been given. In other words, the Spirit brings us power, and that’s the first present we received at Pentecost.

 

And second, on Pentecost, God gave us our mission. You see, he told us exactly what being the witness of Christ was all about. I mean, right after Luke wrote that “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability”, he pointed toward their mission field. He wrote, 

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power." All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?’ But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.” [Acts 2:5-13]

 

Now, if you know anything about ancient geography (and doesn’t everybody), the nations listed really cover most of the Greo-Roman world. And so they were all there. But what was really amazing was that the disciples were speaking in languages that they could understand. In other words, they could understand the mighty deeds of God, because, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, all these different folks could make out what the disciples were saying. Of course, not everyone was impressed. I mean, while some were amazed and perplexed, others were dismissive and hostile. You see, right there on Pentecost, we really were shown two crucial aspects of our mission as Christians.

 

And I’ll tell you, that’s still important today. You see, our mission field is still out there, and I’m talking about out there in the world, among folks who either don’t have a very good impression of what Christianity is all about or who have no impression at all. And as instruments of God, our mission is to take the truth that we know and convey it in a language that they understand. But I’ll tell you, that’s not always easy, because we get used to doing things a certain way, and even though it’s meaningful to us, it doesn’t have much significance on the other side of the stained glass. And even though it would be extremely comfortable to focus inside and subtly remind folks that if they want to come in, they need to learn how we do things, even though that would be unbelievable easy to do, man, this attitude is something we’ve got to resist, because let’s face it, if we’re only speaking in church-talk, we’re not going to reach many Parthians or Medes or Elamites. You see, on one hand, this passage reminds us that our mission is out there. And on the other hand, it also let’s us know that we better be realistic in measuring our success. I mean, while some folks might think what we have to offer is the greatest thing since sliced bread, others might accuse us of hitting the communion wine. But that shouldn’t really surprise us. My goodness, the Apostle Paul talked about this same kind of thing when he said “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” [1 Corinthians 1:18, 22-24] You see, this is our second Pentecost present from God; we have a mission.

 

And third, when the church was born, God gave it a message. And this is something can find in Peter’s first sermon. According to Luke, 

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” [Acts 2:14-21]

 

Of course, this is only about half of what he said, and as far as I’m concerned we really miss the kicker if we leave it right here. You see, this is how Peter ended his message: “This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” [Acts 2:32-3, 36] You see, as Peter related this present time with Old Testament prophecy, his focus was still on Jesus Christ, and I’m talking about the one who was crucified and who was raised and who will be the source of salvation. And if we had the time to look at the other sermons in Acts, we’d find that they say just about the same thing. But it was at Pentecost, that Peter first presented the good news of Christ.

 

And I’ll tell you, it’s the same message we have today. You see, we can still share what it means to trust in the one who loved us before he created the world and will love us after time has lost it’s meaning. And we can still share why it’s important to believe in the one who was hung on a cross to save the people who drove the nails and the one who was raised to give us hope as we look into the future. And we can still share how we can claim the one who flows through and around us all the time. I’ll tell you, we certainly have a message to share. But maybe more important than that, we have a message to live. In other words, we can demonstrate God’s eternal love for us by showing an active sense of love to others. And we can point to the one who died and was raised by our willingness to sacrifice some of what we want for someone else, you know, to make their future a little better than their present. And we can allow that presence, the presence of God, to deepen our understanding and faith, something that others will see. I’m telling you, we were given a message that we can share and live, and for me, that’s God’s third Pentecost present.

 

Now, I realize that we don’t have the other stuff needed to have a rocking birthday party. I mean, we don’t have balloons. And we don’t have games. And we don’t have cake and of course ice cream. Man, we don’t have any of that stuff. But I’ll tell you right here and now, we do have gifts and I’m talking about a power and a mission and a message given to us by God himself. And I don’t know how they compare to what y’all get on your own birthday, but those are three pretty good Pentecost presents.

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22May

The Wedding Service for Kenny Loyd & Anjelica Cervenak - Sunday, May 20, 2018

On Sunday, May 20, I officiated the wedding of Kenny Loyd and Anjelica Cervenak at Cove Presbyterian Church in Weirton, West Virginia. Below is a podcast of the service. If you're planning your wedding and need an officiant, please give me a call at 304-479-3402.

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22May

The Baccalaureate Service for the Class of 2018, Weir High School - Sunday, May 20, 2018

Below is a copy of the message I shared with the class of 2018 and their parents and friends in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia, on Sunday, May 20. Below the message is a copy of the service bulletin. You can hear the entire service on the bottom of the page or on The Cove Presbyterian Podbean page. 

 

Before I share a few thoughts with y’all, I have a question.Right now, you’re less than a week away from your graduation, right? How many of y’all are ready to go, you know, to move forward? I mean, how many of y’all are champing at the bite to get on with the rest of your life? Thanks. 

 

Now I want you to notice that I didn’t ask how many of y’all would prefer to keep things just the way they are, you know, that somehow you could stay in high school for the next twenty years or so? Now I didn’t ask that, because I’ve got to tell you, that ain’t going to happen. Now granted, some of y’all (and you know who you are) some of y’all will figure out how to keep mom doing your laundry and cooking your meals and making your bed for, let’s say, another ten years. And some of y’all will somehow avoid doing anything productive with your lives for the next couple of decades. And I’m telling you, some of y’all, when you’re my age, y’all will still be talking about the glory days of high school, because you peaked when you were sixteen and it’s been all downhill since then. You know, even though I wouldn’t wish that on any of y’all, somebody here will wind up wearing your tattered lettermen’s jacket to play bingo at the senior center. But at most, that may be only one or two of y’all, maybe. 

 

And for the rest, man, you’re about to move forward whether you want to or not. And you know, I think if you’re like most people, you’re kind of facing that with mixed emotion. In other words, even if you did raise you hand when I asked about you being ready to move forward, I believe there’s at least a part of you that’s, well, that’s kind of nervous. And when you think about it, why shouldn’t you be. My gosh, whether you’re furthering your education or applying for a job or joining the military (which, by the way, is both getting an education and a job), man, you’re entering some uncharted waters. You’re entering a life-style you’ve never seen before. I’m telling you, you’re moving forward. And that applies even if you figured out how you can live in you’re mom’s basement while waiting to get hired as a video game tester. In other words, like it or not, your life is about to change. 

 

And as it does, you know, as you move forward, man, you’re going be leaving some things behind. And it’s going to happen whether you want it to or not. For example, you’re going to be leaving behind some of the comfort you’ve enjoyed most of your life. But when I say comfort, I’m not talking about laying around and goofing off. I want you to think about, since you were five years old, you pretty much knew what you were going to be doing about 180 days of the year, right? You’d be going to school. And even though a lot of things changed as you got older, I’m telling you, a lot of things stayed the same. And even though some of you’re teachers will probably not like me saying this, but I’m going to do it anyway. For most of your life, it’s kind of like being an inmate in prison. And when you’re in prison, there aren’t a lot of surprises; you know exactly what to expect. And that’s the way it’s been in school, at least to this point. But later this week, everything’s going to change. In other words, that comfortable, predictable life you’ve known is over. And even if you go to college, trust me; it’s not like high school. I remember when I graduated, the day after graduation, I felt a little weird, because for the first time in twelve years, I just wasn’t sure what the September was going to be like. I’m telling you, when you move forward, you leave behind some stuff that’s pretty comfortable.

 

Just like you leave behind some of the security you’ve enjoyed. Let me tell you what I’m talking about. Remember how your mom or maybe your dad was always on your case about the condition of your room, especially the piles of laundry that it wasn’t your job to do anyway. Drove you crazy, right? And remember when you had this paper to do, and your teacher kept reminding you over and over and over when it needed to be turned in. Man, talk about your waste of time, right? And remember when you were out somewhere and your car wouldn’t start, who could you call? Well, it wasn’t Ghostbusters. “Dad, can you bring me some gas?” And then he had the gall to give you a lecture. Man, he can be a real pain, right? Well, I’ve got good news for you, you’re about to be free from all those problems. I mean, when you move out, nobody cares that you live like a pig or that all your whites are now pink because you threw a red sock in with everything else. And if you go to college, you don’t have to worry about a professor reminding you to complete an assignment. Whether you pass or fail is totally up to you. And when you’re on your own, you just might have to figure out how your going to get back to base when the car won’t start, because it would be impossible for your sergeant to care less. You see, along with some of the comfort, when you move forward, you’ve got to leave some of the security behind. And I’ll tell you, that can be rough. I guess you could say that’s just the bad news of growing up.

 

But the good news, trust me, it more than makes up for the bad. You see, even though you leave some good things behind when you move forward, you also have the opportunity to take some pretty valuable stuff with you. For example, as you head into the rest of your lives, you’ll be taking along everything that makes you the person that you are. I mean, you’ll be taking all those lessons you’ve learned both at school and at home, lessons that you just might be able to apply when things get sort of chaotic. And right along with the lessons, you’ll have with you all those experiences, and I’m talking about the good ones when you did the exact right thing and everything turned out great as well as the bad ones when you did something really stupid and you paid the price, you know, things that you’re never going to do again. But maybe most important of all, you’ll be taking with you all the gifts and talents that God has given you. Now, I’m a minister; therefore, you knew I was going to talk about God eventually. I’ll tell you, whether you believe it or not, God has given each one of you all kinds of talents. And he’s given you all kinds abilities. Man, he’s filled you with all kinds of potential. And starting the day you graduate, you’ll have the opportunity not only to find out what they are, but to develop them anyway you want. And trust me, that’s really exciting. And you can do it, because you’re carrying everything you are and are capable of becoming with you as you move into the future. But that’s not all.

 

You’ll also be taking along all the thoughts and well-wishes and love you’ve ever known. Now for most of y’all, that’s been really easy to see. Man, it’s right there with your parents and your grandparents, your friends and your neighbors, your coaches and your teachers. You’ve got to trust me on this, despite what you may be thinking or feeling at the time, you’ve got all kinds of folks in your corner, wishing you the very best and hoping that you become everything that you’ve been equipped to be. Now, like I said, I’d say that’s the case for most of y’all. But for some, I recognize it may be different. I mean, you just may not have that secure little cheering section and for whatever reason, you’ve always had to make it on your own. But even to you, I say that you’re really not alone, because you’ve got a God who couldn’t love you more than he does right now. And wherever you go and whatever you choose to do, he’ll still love you. And he’ll be there with you. And although you’ll be making the journey yourself, he’ll be with you every step of the way, sometimes leading, sometimes following, and sometimes when you feel too tired to go on, simply waiting until you’re ready to start moving again. I’m telling you, along with all the stuff that makes you who you are, you’ll also be carrying a whole lot of love, as you move forward.

 

And so here you are, heading into a brand new part of your life, hopefully feeling excited along with a little bit of fear. And that’s OK; in fact, it’s the way it’s suppose to be. And I’ll tell you, as you get ready to make that next step, I want you to remember that, even though you’ll be leaving behind some of the comfort and some of the security, you’re be taking with everything God created you to be and all the love of those who will always be on your side, as you begin to move forward.

 

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22May

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - All We’ll Ever Need

Below is a new devotion I just left on the Cove Presbyterian Church prayer line. You can find a recording of this devotion at the end of the devotion or on the prayer line (1-304-748-7900). 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 John 4:7-21

 

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God?s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

 

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Saviour of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.

 

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgement, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, "I love God," and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

 

All We’ll Ever Need

 

In 1967, John Lennon wrote and The Beatles recorded the song, “All You Need Is Love.” And right at the beginning the word “love” is said nine times. Of course, that was Lennon’s way of emphasizing just how important love is. And I’ll tell you, I think the writer of this Letter from John would say a hearty “amen” to that idea, because in the passage we just read, love is used twenty-six times. And it’s used in different ways. For example, John used it to describe God’s relationship with us and the reason he entered our time and space as Jesus Christ. And he used it to identify what should be at the core our faith and response. And he used it to separate those who are more comfortable talking about what they believe than in actually living it. You see, for John, love was even more important than it was for The Beatles and John Lennon. In fact, it’s at least three times as important. But there’s one thing that I think both Johns believed. When it comes to living a full and focused life, love really is all we’ll ever need.

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21May

The Wedding Service for Brandon Riggle & Kaitlyn Geer - Saturday, May 19, 2018

On Saturday, May 19, I officiated the wedding of Brandon Riggle and Kaitlyn Geer at Cove Presbyterian Church in Weirton, West Virginia. Below is a podcast of the service. If you're planning your wedding and need an officiant, please give me a call at 304-479-3402.

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21May

Refocusing Faith: A Study of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (Session 5 - Marital Distractions (7:1-40))

The purpose of this session is to consider the issue facing the Corinthian church. You can listen to the discussion at the bottom of this page.

 

1 Corinthians 7:1-40

 

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is well for a man not to touch a woman.” But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. This I say by way of concession, not of command. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different kind. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.

 

To the married I give this command—not I but the Lord—that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does separate, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife. To the rest I say—I and not the Lord—that if any believer has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. And if any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound. It is to peace that God has called you. Wife, for all you know, you might save your husband. Husband, for all you know, you might save your wife.

 

However that may be, let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you. This is my rule in all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but obeying the commandments of God is everything. Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called. Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. Even if you can gain your freedom, make use of your present condition now more than ever. For whoever was called in the Lord as a slave is a freed person belonging to the Lord, just as whoever was free when called is a slave of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of human masters. In whatever condition you were called, brothers and sisters, there remain with God.

 

Now concerning virgins, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that, in view of the impending crisis, it is well for you to remain as you are. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a virgin marries, she does not sin. Yet those who marry will experience distress in this life, and I would spare you that. I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin are anxious about the affairs of the Lord, so that they may be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to put any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and unhindered devotion to the Lord.

 

If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his fiancee, if his passions are strong, and so it has to be, let him marry as he wishes; it is no sin. Let them marry. But if someone stands firm in his resolve, being under no necessity but having his own desire under control, and has determined in his own mind to keep her as his fiancee, he will do well. So then, he who marries his fiancee does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better.

 

A wife is bound as long as her husband lives. But if the husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, only in the Lord. But in my judgment she is more blessed if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God.

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19May

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - This Is Faith

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

 

Matthew 9:18-26

 

While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, "My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live." And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples. Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself, "If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well." Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, "Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well." And instantly the woman was made well. When Jesus came to the leader's house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, he said, "Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him. But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. And the report of this spread throughout that district.

 

This Is Faith

 

I think we’ve confused certainty with faith. In other words, for a lot of Christians, if you’re not certain that you have eternal life, your faith is weak and inadequate. And so certainty becomes their goal. And to get there, they develop all these rules and laws that people are suppose to accept and to do in order to be sure. Now I’m not talking about confident; I’m talking about certain. You see, if they do everything on the list, if they say all the right words and make all the right promises, and if every one of their “i”s are dotted and “t”s crossed, then they will get exactly what they know they’re suppose to get and they’ll go exactly where we expect to go. As a matter of fact, once they’ve done it all, even God Almighty couldn’t keep them away from their reward. You see, when they know, when they’re certain, they really don’t need to trust anymore. And to hope, well, that just seems silly. I mean, people are 100% sure don’t need to hope; they know. And within modern Christianity, this seems to be what faith has become.

 

But that’s really not what’s happening in the passage we just read, because neither the leader of the synagogue nor the woman with the hemorrhage knew that Jesus would offer them healing and wholeness and salvation. But they certainly hoped he would, and they trusted that he had the power, if they hadn’t they wouldn’t have come to him at all. But no where in the passage do they seem to be certain. Instead, their hope and their trust pushed pass their doubt. And they weren’t disappointed, because they found that their decision was well placed. They encountered the presence and power of God, because they believed. And I’ll tell you, whether you’re talking about people who lived almost two thousand years ago or who are living right now, this is faith.

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18May

Friday’s Essay - I’ve Always Been Interested in Doubting Thomas

Below is an essay I sent to the Cove Presbyterian Church emailing list. You can find a recording of this essay at the bottom of the page. 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.

 

You know, I’ve always been interested in the guy we call “Doubting Thomas.” And I can tell you, it has nothing to do with the fact that I played him in a Easter pageant presented by the ministers in Franklin Township during my first month in my Indianapolis church. And just as an aside, the minister who played Jesus was close to eighty, and he wore a wig that made him look like an ancient Hillary Clinton. And all the apostles were supposed to wear these nasty fake beard that hooked behind your ears, which made us look like a cross between ZZ Top and the Smith Brothers. It was quite a show.

But my interest in Thomas really has nothing to do with my acting debut. Instead it has everything to do with the story that John included near the end of his gospel, one in which the resurrected Jesus sort of criticizes Thomas for his lack of faith. Now if you don’t know the story, this is what John wrote: 

“Although Thomas the Twin was one of the twelve disciples, he wasn’t with the others when Jesus appeared to them. So they told him, “We have seen the Lord!” 

But Thomas said, “First, I must see the nail scars in his hands and touch them with my finger. I must put my hand where the spear went into his side. I won’t believe unless I do this!” 

A week later the disciples were together again. This time, Thomas was with them. Jesus came in while the doors were still locked and stood in the middle of the group. He greeted his disciples and said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and look at my hands! Put your hand into my side. Stop doubting and have faith!” 

Thomas replied, “You are my Lord and my God!” 

Jesus said, “Thomas, do you have faith because you have seen me? The people who have faith in me without seeing me are the ones who are really blessed!” [John 20:24-29, CEV]

Now that’s what happened, and frankly, I think Thomas has gotten a bum rap ever since. You see, as it said right at the beginning of this passage, Thomas “wasn’t with the others when Jesus appeared to them”, that is, the first time he showed up. Now I think that was a pretty big deal, because just listen to what Thomas missed:

The disciples were afraid of the Jewish leaders, and on the evening of that same Sunday they locked themselves in a room. Suddenly, Jesus appeared in the middle of the group. He greeted them and showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they became very happy. 

After Jesus had greeted them again, he said, “I am sending you, just as the Father has sent me.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they will be forgiven. But if you don’t forgive their sins, they will not be forgiven.” [John 20:19-23, CEV]

In other words, Thomas missed Jesus breathing into his disciples the Holy Spirit. Now that was huge, because remember, this is what Jesus said about the Spirit:

Jesus said to his disciples: 

“If you love me, you will do as I command. Then I will ask the Father to send you the Holy Spirit who will help you and always be with you. The Spirit will show you what is true. The people of this world cannot accept the Spirit, because they don’t see or know him. But you know the Spirit, who is with you and will keep on living in you. 

"I have told you these things while I am still with you. But the Holy Spirit will come and help you, because the Father will send the Spirit to take my place. The Spirit will teach you everything and will remind you of what I said while I was with you.”  [John 14:15-17, 25-26, CEV]

You see, Thomas hadn’t received the Holy Spirit when his friends told him that they’d seen the Lord; therefore, he naturally questioned the veracity of their story. He wanted proof before he’d accept what they said. In other words, he doubted. And that continued until he himself encountered the risen Christ. And remember, even though he was invited to feel the nail prints and put his hand into the wounded side, John never said that he actually did it. Rather, he wrote that in the presence of the risen Christ, Thomas made the most profound and complete confession in the entire New Testament, and I’m talking about when he said, “You are my Lord and my God!” In other words, before his encounter with Jesus, Thomas did what people who crave certainty do; he questioned and doubted. But after, he displayed a deep sense of faith and trust.

 

But I’ll tell you, we’re not were Thomas was, and I say that for one reason. We live on the other side of Pentecost. And whether you want to envision it as tongues of fire coming out of heaven or as our resurrected Savior breathing on us in the same way the God breathed life into a clump of clay, the Holy Spirit is present with us right now. And he’s flowing around and through us. And if we choose to relax, we’ll be able to feel him, opening our eyes so that we can see and our minds so the we can understand and our hearts so that we can believe and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

 

You see, at the beginning of the story, that wasn’t an option for Thomas. That came later. But for us, well, that’s a possibility right now, a reality that we’ll celebrate during our service on Sunday morning. And I’ll tell you, that’s why we can actually claim the promise Jesus made to Thomas at the end of their conversation, “Thomas, do you have faith because you have seen me? The people who have faith in me without seeing me are the ones who are really blessed!” 

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17May

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - Yes

Below is a new devotion I just left on the Cove Presbyterian Church prayer line. You can find a recording of this devotion at the end of the devotion or on the prayer line (1-304-748-7900). You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

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

 

Ephesians 4:25-32

 

So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

 

Yes

 

After Cain killed his brother, “...the Lord said unto Cain, ‘Where is Abel thy brother?’ And he said, ‘I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?’” [Genesis 4:9, KJV] Now that’s what it says in Genesis. And we’ve sort of taken Cain’s response and applied it to all kinds of situations. But the point is generally the same; we are not our brother’s keeper. In other words, we’re just not responsible for others, you know, for what they do and say. Instead, each person is responsible for himself or herself. Often, that seems to be an assumption held by a lot of folks within our society. As a matter of fact, even Christians appear to assume the same sort of thing. You see, if I believe my faith is being hindered by a situation, not only do I have a right but an obligation to leave that situation as soon as possible. And if to do that, I have to violate my word or hurt a fellow believer, well, as my daughter says, “Sorry about your luck.” Of course, every time I do that kind of thing my conscience becomes a little more calloused and my word becomes a little less reliable and my witness becomes a little less effective. But I guess those are the breaks, because when push comes to shove, am I my brother’s keeper?

 

And maybe that was bouncing around in Paul’s mind when he wrote this passage to the Ephesians. You see, according to his words, Christians are obligated to be truthful and honest and generous. We’re called to control our anger and our evil talk, wrangling and slander. And instead of being nasty, we’re suppose to be kind and gracious, tenderhearted and forgiving. Now that’s what Paul wrote. And I’ll tell you, we can’t do any of those things in isolation, because they all involve how we treat one another. You see, it’s not all about me; rather it’s all about us, working together and demonstrating love because it’s the right thing to do. And because that would seem to be what Paul expected from Christians, I think we may be a little confused about this question we ask, “Am I my brother’s keeper.” You see, the answer is and always will be “yes.”

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