19Sep

Cove Presbyterian Church Worship Service - September 17, 2017

Below is the podcast of the service I led on Sunday, September 17, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. It's the second service in a series entitled Christianity 101, during which we'll used The Apostles Creed to understand better the Christian faith. 

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19Sep

Sunday’s Sermon - The Father Almighty

Below is the podcast of the sermon I preached on Sunday, September 17, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. It's the second message in a series entitled Christianity 101, during which we'll used The Apostles Creed to understand better the Christian faith. You can find other sermons, devotions, essays, 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, looking down the barrel of the second message in our series Christianity 101. Now, as I hope y’all know, for the next few months, we’ll be using The Apostles’ Creed to understand some of the fundamental beliefs of Christianity. And last week we got started by looking at the words, “I believe in God,” a nice little sentence which affirms that Christianity is really all about a person, namely me, making a decision to put my trust in God. Now that’s where the creed starts. 

 

And then it moves on to defining who this God is. And this definition begins with two words. The word “father”, in Greek πατέρα, and the word “almighty,” παντοκράτορα, which literally means “one who has all strength and power and dominion.” Now those are two of the three words used to describe God in the creed, the third one we’ll talk about next week.

 

And I’ll tell you, as I think about them, you know, how God is the Father Almighty, it seems as though we often kind of separate them when we apply them to God. You see, I believe we often either view one or the other as more important or we assume that God sort of bounces from one to the other depending on his mood or the situation he faces. Let me explain what I’m talking about. 

 

Let’s say the term “father” has to do with love, something we’ll talk about a little later, and the word “almighty” points to power. Well, I think there are some Christians who so focused on love that they see God as this sentimental, overindulgent, sugar daddy, who just loves his children so much he ends up giving them everything they want just because they want it. Now, I think we’d all agree that any human parent that acts like this is going to have some pretty screwed up kids, but for some reason those who want their God to be on the “soft and squishy” side, well, they’ll say that God is just different from us. And so we’ve got the “love” folks on one side. 

 

And on the other, well, there are some Christians who’ve become so obsessed with divine power that they see God as this weird cross between King Kong, and I’m talking about the one from Skull Island, and my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Stevens, who retired when Crossroads Elementary was officially integrated in 1967. I’m telling you, not only were those two beasts scary, they were never afraid to use their power and it didn’t matter whether that involved knocking down a helicopter or swinging a paddle. You see, for a lot of Christians, in fact, maybe for some of us right here this morning, when you’re talking about love and power; with God, well it’s kind of an “either-or.” 

 

And I’ll tell you, even though that might be a convenient way of looking at God, we do lose something pretty important when we separate the Father from the Almighty. You see, on one hand, we end up with a God who’s all loving and merciful and compassionate, but who lacks the power to do anything about it. On the other hand, though, when God is all muscle and gristle, well, let’s just say we all better be good at ducking. But either way, we really don’t have much reason to feel peace or hope. At best, this what you could call a bipolar kind of God, and believe me, that ain’t good.

 

And I’ll tell you, that’s why I think it’s important for us to follow the example in the creed and keep the Father and the Almighty together, because together they describe who God is. And I’ll promise, that will make a big difference to us. 

 

For example, we can certainly see God as our Father, and even though I know this may not be true for everyone, this parental image is intended to reflect God’s love. And this is something we see in both the Old and New Testaments. I mean, listen to what the prophet Hosea wrote, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.” [Hosea 11:1-4] And I think Paul had this same thing in mind when he wrote to the Romans, “So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ...” [Romans 8:12-17a] Do you see what I’m talking about? 

 

And the idea that God the Father is loving and merciful and compassionate, well, I believe we can see that pretty clearly in the first letter of John. He wrote, “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.” [1 John 4:7-12] And of course, Jesus said the exact same thing when he was trying to explain why he came to the Pharisee Nicodemas. He said, “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” [John 3:14-17] I’ll tell you, when we say that God is the Father, we’re also saying that he loves us.

 

But, again according to the creed, God isn’t just a loving father; he’s also the Almighty. And this is something about which John of Patmos described in his revelation. For example, he wrote, “The third angel poured his bowl into the rivers and the springs of water, and they became blood. And I heard the angel of the waters say, ‘You are just, O Holy One, who are and were, for you have judged these things; because they shed the blood of saints and prophets, you have given them blood to drink. It is what they deserve!’ And I heard the altar respond, ‘Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, your judgments are true and just!’” [Revelation 16:4-7] And later he wrote, “Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready; to her it has been granted to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure...’” [Revelation 19:6-8] And as he described the final battle between God and all the forces of evil, John said, “Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, wearing fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, ‘King of kings and Lord of lords.’” [Revelation 19:11-16] Now, in my book that’s what almighty, all powerful, man, that’s what it’s all about. And along with being a loving Father, that’s exactly who God is.

 

And I’ll tell you why I think it’s important to keep those two ideas together. You see, when I say that I believe in God, the Father Almighty, I’m actually saying that I’ve made the decision to trust two very important, in fact, two life-changing things about God. You see, first, I’m saying that I believe that just like a father loves his children, God loves me, but not just when I’m lovable and not just when I’m good and not just when I deserve it, whatever that means. No, when I say that I believe that God is the Father Almighty, I’m saying that I trust that God loves me all the time, which means 24/7. In other words, I’ve decided to trust that Paul knew what he was talking about when he wrote to the Ephesians, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” [Ephesians 1:3-6] And I’m saying he was also right on the mark when he wrote to the Romans, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [Romans 8:37-39] You see, first, I’m saying that I trust that God loves me, that God loves us. 

 

But second, I’m also saying that I believe that God can do something about it; in other words, that he can act on his love. You see, God’s love isn’t this kind of whimpy love that’s all emotions but no muscle. It’s not incipient or weak or pathetic. Instead it’s a love that has power and authority. As a matter of fact, it’s a love that actually has all power and all authority. And I’ll tell you, that’s why Paul wrote this to Romans, as a matter of fact, this is in the passage overlapping the one we just read: “What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” [Romans 8:31-35, 37] And I’ll tell you, this is also why he wrote this to the Corinthians: “For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will live in them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore come out from them, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch nothing unclean; then I will welcome you, and I will be your father, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.’” [2 Corinthians 6:16b-18] I’m telling you, when you combine the grace and the mercy and the love that flows from the Father with his almighty strength and authority and power, now, right now my friends we have something that offers a genuine reason to feel both peace as we live in the present and hope as we move into the future. Why? Simple, because we can trust in God the Father Almighty. 

 

And I’ll tell you, right here’s the reason those words belong together. Together they describe the nature of the one in whom we can put our trust. You see, God’s love has real power. And his power is expressed through love. But like I said a little bit earlier, those are just two of the three words used in The Apostles’ Creed to describe God. Next week we’ll consider the meaning and the importance of the third word, and I’m talking about the word “maker.”

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19Sep

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - Reason and Faith

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


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

 

1 Corinthians 1:20-31

 

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. 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. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

 

Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

 

Reason and Faith

 

For about the last two hundred years or so, folks have assumed that truth is rational. In other words, they have come to trust reason as the means by which they might separate what is true from what is false. Therefore, they submit everything to reason, including God, and they equate faith with certainty even though those two ideas are very different. In other words, they’ve follow their culture and began to use reason to define faith.

 

And even though we might expect this to happen out in the world, too many Christians have bought into this false concept, and they’ve started to describe their faith in rational terms. And they’ve put forth “proofs” that should establish the existence for God. And they’ve begun to argue that the salvation brought by Jesus Christ and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit can be established through reason. They’re even taken God’s Word, something that’s constantly being reinspired so that it speaks in a constantly changing world, and they’ve locked it into time so that it’s words have become static and it’s message has become detached from whatever is modern.

 

But before we follow this example, I think we need to pause over these words of Paul and remember that the revelation of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, isn’t true because it’s rational. In fact, in the eyes of the world, it’ll always be foolish. And that our faith isn’t grounded on reason but on our decision to trust.

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16Sep

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - Imitation and Mediocrity

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


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

 

Philippians 3:17-4:1

 

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.

 

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

 

Imitation and Mediocrity

 

The English writer Charles Caleb Colton wrote, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” In other words, if we want to pay a person the ultimate compliment, then intentionally follow their example. We can choose to do what they do in the same way that they do it. Rather than just saying a bunch of fancy words, we can demonstrate our respect by imitating those we admire. And if they are truly worthy of our that admiration, we’ll probably come out ahead. I mean, their knowledge, skill and competence may be some of the traits we respect; therefore, imitation makes a lot of sense.

 

And that’s exactly what the Apostle Paul challenged us to do in the passage we read. You see, when he said, “Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us;” I think he was suggesting that we put aside some of our self-exalting pride and follow the examples of those who may have experienced more than us and who have accumulated more knowledge than we now have. As Christians, these are the men and women we should imitate, because when we do, we may be able to avoid some of the disappointments and pain that comes from making avoidable mistakes.

 

Of course the great poet and playwright Oscar Wilde suggested that those who imitate lack the ability and willingness to be great in their own right. He wrote, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” Now, he may be right. But I’ll tell you, as it relates to living the Christian life, when compared to the Apostle Paul, being mediocre sounds pretty good to me.

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15Sep

Friday’s Essay - The Apostles’ Creed

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


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

 

Beginning last Sunday, we started a sermon series that I entitled Christianity 101. You see, during nineteen sermons, we’re going to look at some fundamental Christian beliefs, and we’re going to consider how those beliefs might make a difference in our lives. And to accomplish this, we’re going to use The Apostles’ Creed as a guide. We’re going to look at each phrase so that we might better understand what Christians have believed for almost two thousand years. Of course, if you’ve never heard of this statement of faith or have forgotten it, this is The Apostles’ Creed:

I BELIEVE in God / the Father Almighty, / Maker of heaven and earth, /

And in Jesus Christ / his only Son our Lord; / who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, / born of the Virgin Mary, /  suffered under Pontius Pilate, / was crucified, dead, and buried; / he descended into hell; / the third day he rose again from the dead; / he ascended into heaven, / and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; / from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. /

I believe in the Holy Ghost; / the holy catholic Church; / the communion of saints; / the forgiveness of sins; / the resurrection of the body; / and the life everlasting.  Amen. 

Now that’s going to be our focus from now until sometime in February, something we started last week when we talked about the meaning and significance of the words, “I believe in God.”

 

And since, we’ll be using these words to comprehend better our faith, I think it’s important to understand a little bit about this creed. For example, although called The Apostles’ Creed, it’s doubtful that the apostles actually wrote it. You see, the first mention of the “Creed of the Apostles” didn’t appear until the year AD 390. And the entire statement that most modern Christians know didn’t appear until the seventh century. Traditionally, twelve phrases within the creed were attributed to the twelve apostles, including Matthias and not Judas. But since parts of the creed addresses issues that the twelve apostles wouldn’t have known, they were probably not the writers. 

 

But even though it probably wasn’t written by apostles, The Apostles’ Creed certainly reflects some of the fundamental beliefs of the early church. With respect to structure, it seem to resemble the command Jesus gave to his disciples when he said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” [Matthew 28:19-20] I mean, the creed is built around the idea of a triune God. And it’s simplicity would have made learning and repeating it easy. 

 

It also represents an effort made in the early church to establish the nature of Jesus and his relationship with the God described in the Old Testament. In other words, it attempted to define what it means to say that Jesus is Lord. Now, it’s important to remember that the exact meaning of those three words was no clearer in the early church than it is now. For example, there was a second century Christian teacher named Marcion who taught that the Lord Jesus had no relationship with the God outlined in the Old Testament. For him, while Jesus pointed to the God of love and mercy, the one defined in the past was jealous and cruel. In other words, Marcion wanted to get as much of Judaism as he could out of Christianity, and as a result, he spread an understanding of Jesus that had more to do with Greek philosophy than Jewish theology.

 

And so, in it’s earliest form, The Apostles’ Creed put Marcion and his ideas in their place. You see, by stating that the God of creation is the Father of Jesus Christ, who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, was buried and raised from the dead, and ascended into heaven, where he rules with the Father, the authors of the creed tied Jesus both to the real world, as opposed to one that was just spiritual, and to the kind of Judaism found in the Old Testament.

 

Of course, over time, The Apostles’ Creed continued to develop. For example, in response to the question of readmitting those who had denied the faith during all the persecutions of the second and third centuries, the church added, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” Later, in the fourth and fifth centuries, North African Christians debated the question of whether the church was an exclusive sect made up of just the heroic few or an inclusive body of everyone who confessed Jesus Christ, leading to the addition of “holy” (belonging to God) and “catholic” (universal). In Gaul, in the fifth century, the phrase “he descended into hell” came into the creed. By the eighth century, the creed had attained its present form.

 

And now, The Apostles’ Creed is almost universally accepted as a statement of faith. Not only is it in The Book of Confession for the Presbyterian Church (USA), it’s used by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, and many other Christian denominations. And it’s because of both it’s acceptance and simplicity that we’ll use it to review what we believe. 

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14Sep

Cove Presbyterian Church Worship Service - September 10, 2017

Below is the podcast of the service I led on Sunday, September 10, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. It's the first service in a series entitled Christianity 101, during which we'll used The Apostles Creed to understand better the Christian faith. 

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13Sep

Sunday’s Sermon - I Believe in God

Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, September 10, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. It's the first message in a series entitled Christianity 101, during which we'll used The Apostles Creed to understand better the Christian faith. You can find other sermons, devotions, essays, 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.

 

Now, I think most of y’all know that Maggie is a cheerleader at Weir High, which means she was the kind of girl who, back when I was in high school, I would have never asked out. I mean, she’s a cheerleader for crying out loud. She’s got to be dating some guy a with skin a lot clearer than mine, probably a senior. And if she’s not, there’s no way she’d go out with me. Now, that’s who my daughter has become, and I’ve got to tell you, I feel pretty lucky that she’s still letting me be her dad.

 

Of course, even before she started yelling “Weir High,” “Weir High” (words that bring me back to college days), I don’t believe she had a very high opinion of my time in high school. As a matter of fact, more than once both she and her mother have suggested that they believe when I was in high school, well, they think I was a nerd. Now that’s what they’ve said, and I don’t understand why. I think I was pretty cool back then. I mean, I was the editor of the yearbook; that’s pretty good. And I was the president of the Heilsgeschichte, the History Club, and get this, I was also vice president of the Chess Club. And don’t think I wasn’t involved in sports. No sir, I kept the official score book for the basketball team. I wore a striped shirt and everything. Of course, now that I hear it all together, maybe Debbie and Maggie are right. I did have nerdish tendencies.

 

And I guess another sign of this, well, this problem is that I really like grammar. Now I didn’t say I was good at it, but I still enjoy applying the stuff I know. And I do it all the time. In fact, I may be one of the few people who’ll actually use semicolons in a text. I don’t “heart” grammar, LOL. I enjoy grammar, period. 

 

And you know, I think that may be the reason that I find the first four words of The Apostles Creed really interesting. You see, not only do they form a complete sentence, with a subject, verb and object, they lay out something that’s absolutely fundament for the rest of the creed. Taken together, they cause this statement to be more than a string of religious ideas. In other words, they provide the basis, the foundation for what Christianity is really all about, and I know that I just dangled a preposition. And you know, for that reason, because it’s so important, that’s going to be our focus during this first message dealing with what Christians believe. 

 

We’re going to look at three of these four words, and we’re going to consider what they mean and why they’re important. And here’s the good news; you don’t have to be a nerd to do. In fact, it’s actually pretty easy to do, because like I said a little while ago, what we’ve got here is a simple sentence: I believe in God. And right at the beginning is the subject, “I”. Now if you’re a grammar nerd too, you know that “I” is first person singular. And personally I believe that’s a pretty important way to begin the creed. 

 

You see, this statement, and I’m talking about everything that follows, well, it refers to me, something I did or am doing or will do, but not necessarily to him, her, it, or them. In other words, it doesn’t start with something that involves other folks, but not necessarily me. It’s not about what he believes or she believes or they believe. It’s about what I believe. And I’ll tell you, it’s not about you either, and I’m using the word in a Yankee sense, meaning both you and y’all. You see, what’s found in the rest of the creed isn’t something you’re suppose to believe. In fact, it’s not even about us, you know, “we”. I mean, it’s not a statement that we should all say together and that’s enough, because it really doesn’t matter whether I believe it or not. No, the creed, this great statement of universal Christian theology, starts with the word “I”. 

 

And I’ll tell you why I think that’s so important. Being Christian is always, and I mean always a matter of making a personal decision. Now don’t get me wrong, that personal decision can be made in several different ways. For example, it may be the result of a sudden awareness that I’m loved by the Father and saved by the Son and filled with the Holy Spirit. Or it may be something that develops slowly over my entire life, and I’m talking about an awareness that grows stronger as time goes by. 

Still, regardless of the form it takes, it’s still a decision that I make. It’s not like brown eyes that I got from my father or the diploma I received from Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia 

(the center of the universe) or the enormous prestige and respect I got by being in the Heilsgeschichte or the Chess Club. We’re not born into Christianity, and we’re not automatically Christians by hanging around the church anymore than you’re automatically a car by hanging around a garage. It’s like Matthew wrote in the passage we looked at last week: “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” [Matthew 16:24-25] Whether or not I follow Jesus is a decision that I have to make; you can’t make it for me. Or just listen to what happened when Jesus was confronted with a child possessed by an unclean spirit and his father asked Jesus for help, “Jesus said to him, ‘If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes.’ Immediately the father of the child cried out, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’”[Mark 9:23-24] I’m telling you, I think faith is always a personal decision. 

 

And I’ll tell you why that’s important, at least for me. If it’s something we can all make together and I’m just part of a group, it may be important to me, but it may not. Man, I might be just going along with the crowd. But if it’s a decision that I’ve made, then it also represents a personal commitment. I’m adopting a new focus and a new identity. This is now my intention, and that’s why I believe this first word, the subject of the sentence, the fact that I’m the actor; that’s why I think the word “I” is important. 

 

But so is the second word, and I’m talking about the verb “believe.” And you know, it’s interesting, when I read the oldest version of the Creed, and I’m talking about the one written in Greek, the word used here is Πιστεύω. And I’ll tell you, when I saw that, I was pretty excited and so should y’all, because about a month ago, we spent an entire sermon talking about what this word means. Remember, it doesn’t have to do with understanding; you know, I understand God. Nor does it have to do with knowledge; I know God. In fact, it doesn’t even have to do with thinking at all; I think I understand and know God. No, that’s not Πιστεύω. Instead it has to do with trust. It’s like Paul wrote, and this is a passage we looked at last month:  “The Scriptures say that Abraham would become the ancestor of many nations. This promise was made to Abraham because he trusted God, who raises the dead to life and creates new things. God promised Abraham a lot of descendants. And when it all seemed hopeless, Abraham still trusted God and became the ancestor of many nations. Abraham’s trust never became weak, not even when he was nearly a hundred years old. He knew that he was almost dead and that his wife Sarah could not have children. But Abraham never doubted or questioned God’s promise. His [decision to] trust made him strong, and he gave all the credit to God. Abraham was certain that God could do what he had promised. So God accepted him, just as we read in the Scriptures.” [Romans 4:17-25]  You see, “believing” in a biblical sense is trusting; therefore, when I combine the verb “believe” with the subject “I”, it means that I’m making a personal decision to trust.

 

And I’ll tell you, why that’s important. I think I can only feel genuine hope and confidence by making that kind of personal decision. Now I know I’ve used this imagine of before, you know, how the kind of trust, the kind of faith I’m talking about is like stepping into a room that’s pitch black, trusting that there’s a floor on the other side of the door. I’ll tell you, if I expect to be 100% certain that a floor exists before moving into that room, I’m probably going to spend my life standing in the hall. But when I decide to trust that there is a floor, now I can step forward. And when I decide to trust that I can tell my friend something in confidence without it being splashed all over Facebook, now I can open myself up and share some of the weight I carry with someone else. And when I decide to trust that not only am I going to be safe but so are the people I love, now I can feel secure as I look into the future, but not because I know everything will turn out happily ever after. No, it’s because I’ve decided to trust that whatever difficulties I’m facing right now, man, that’s not my final chapter; that’s not the end of my story. Instead my ultimate destiny is governed by something far greater than me or those around me. But more than that, a true and beneficial and happy relationship is only possible when trust is involved. And if you have any doubt, just think about couples that I’m sure you’ve known where, for whatever reason, trust has gone. You see, that’s why, when you shove the subject and the verb together, that’s why I think it’s powerful that this defining statement of Christianity begins with “I believe,” with “I trust.”

 

But of course, those two words aren’t really enough, because trust needs an object, doesn’t it? I mean, I really need something or someone to trust. But of course, we have it right here. “I believe in God.” And I’ll tell you, because we’re going to spend the next two weeks talking about who this God is, I want to focus on the word “in”, because I think that little preposition is important. You see, in English, the word “in” can mean several different things. For example, it can refer to how something is done, you know, like doing your homework in pencil. Or it can have to do with something you’re doing, like leaving in a hurry. Man, it can even point to your purpose, like giving an answer in response to a question. But when we look at The Creed in the original Greek the meaning is clear. You see, the Greek word used here is εἰς, which is usually translated “into.” In other words, the literal translation of these first four words is “I believe into God.” Of course, in English, that doesn’t make any sense, but I’ll tell you, it does tell us how to take the word “in”. You see, it has to do with location, doesn’t it; you know, like how a person might swim in a lake or go driving in a car. Simply put, when I say The Apostles Creed, I’m saying that I’m putting my faith in God. He’s the location for my trust. And you know, this is the same thing Jesus said to Peter. “Jesus answered them, ‘Have faith in God. Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, “Be taken up and thrown into the sea,” and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you.’” [Mark 11:22-23] 

 

Now, for me, that’s important, but so is the fact that there aren’t a lot of other words used here. I mean, it doesn’t say “I believe in God if...” or “I believe in God because....” or “I believe in God when...”. You see, if I add another word here, I’m putting conditions on my trust. You know what I mean. I’ll put my trust in God if I start getting some of the stuff I think I deserve. Or I’ll put my trust in God, because I was miraculously cured of that disease. Or I’ll put my trust in God, when bad folks are put in their place. That’s conditional faith. But the trust expressed in The Apostles Creed is based on a decision that I make, a decision that’s certainly aided by the Holy Spirit because that Spirit enables me to see things I’d have overlooked before, but still it’s a decision that I’m either going to make or not, and I’m talking about a decision to put my trust in God. 

 

Now, frankly, I think I was probably a nerd in high school. Man, I can even see it when I look at my picture in the yearbook I edited. But be-that-as-it-may, sometimes my interest in grammar comes in handy. For example, as we looked at these first four words in The Apostles Creed, we got the subject, “I”, and the verb, “believe”, and the object “in God.” And after looking at what those words mean, I think it’s clear that being a Christian starts with a personal decision to put trust in God. And next week, we’ll start looking at who this God actually is.

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12Sep

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - What Will We Do?

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


If you find this meaningful, please consider sending an offering directly to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.
 
Mark 16:1-8
 
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
 
What Will We Do?
 
In spite of the resurrection, the Gospel of Mark ends on a rather somber note. I mean, even though Mark offers a description of the empty tomb, the command given to the women isn’t obeyed. I mean, think about it. The young man, dressed in white, tells the women exactly what they’re suppose to do. He says, “...go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” Now, I’m not sure he could be any clearer than that. And of all people, the reader would expect the two Marys and Salome to do it. You see, while all the male disciples denied Jesus or betrayed him or simply ran away, the women remain close. Therefore, we’d certainly assume that they’d run from the tomb and tell everyone. But of course that doesn’t happen. According to Mark, “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” 
 
You see, Jesus’s last followers disobey the command given at the tomb and tell no one. Of course, somehow the word gets out; if it hadn’t, we wouldn’t know about the resurrection right now. And obviously, this situation made future readers of Mark’s gospel uncomfortable, because two different endings were tacked on later, you know, to make the story end on the up-beat. But Mark, the evangelist, didn’t write those endings. You see, everyone whom Jesus knew let him down by the end of the story. But that leaves us with a question that only we can answer, and here it is: What will we do?
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8Sep

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - Pot Stirrers or Water Stillers

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

 

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

 

James 4:1-12

 

Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. Adulterers! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, “God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

 

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor?

 

Pot Stirrers or Water Stillers

 

Just this past week, I heard a person described as a pot stirrer. Now I don’t know if the description was accurate or not. But I did know what the guy meant by the term. You see, some folks seem to be most happy when they’re stirring the pot. Back around the turn of the last century, they were called muck rakers. They appear to get pleasure by creating discord and dissension. They find satisfaction dividing communities and separating folks who once worked well together. And whether they’re motivated by a sincere wish to expose problems or by an almost perverse desire to create controversy and conflict where none existed before, these pot stirrers can paralyze groups, even churches, forcing folks to expend a lot of time and energy just keeping the community together and preventing the group from being or doing much of anything else. Now these folks exist, and I think we could all offer a couple of names if pushed.

 

But on the other end of the spectrum are people I think you could call water stillers. And while the stirrers and rakers are setting folks onto one another, those who still the waters are constantly seeking peace and working for cooperation. They refrain from sharing anything that’s not beneficial to the group, and they find joy helping people work together. I think you could also call them forest folks, because they won’t let the individual trees distract them from the bigger scene, the bigger picture. Through their words and their work, they bring people together. They encourage conversation. And they promote compromise. They still troubled waters. Now that’s what they do. And us, well, we have a decision to make. Are we going to pot stirrers or water stillers.

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5Sep

A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - Where the Rubber Hits the Road

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

 

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

 

James 2:14-26

 

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

 

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe — and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not our ancestor Abraham justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

 

Where the Rubber Hits the Road

 

Sadly in our society, faith is often reduced to spiritual-sounding words. You see, for some reason, Christians often measure the devotion of others and their own dedication by the words that they use. In other words, if they talk about what they believe and describe their personal relationship with God and use all the proper verbiage, they’re considered not only confessing believers but mature Christians. And they take this rather esoteric standard and use it as the core of their message to others. In other words, they work to convert people to this verbal form of faith.

 

Of course, this is exactly what James was warning the believers who read his letter. You see, rather than equating maturing and growing faith with the grasp of a spiritual vocabulary, James stated clearly that even if you’re able to reduce faith to words or promises or feelings, those words, promises and feelings are worthless without actually doing something about them. You see, for him, faith without works is dead. Therefore, I think I’m safe in saying that when it comes to our dedication and devotion to Jesus Christ, words may be nice, but what we do, that’s where the rubber hits the road.

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