A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - To Infinity and Beyond

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

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


2 Corinthians 4:13-18


But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture - "I believed, and so I spoke" - we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.


So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.


To Infinity and Beyond


In Toy Story, Buzz Lightyear’s catch-phrase was “to infinity and beyond.” And I’ll tell you, considering the fact that he was a Space Ranger, that made sense. I mean, his focus wasn’t on the temporal and mundane but rather on that great beyond that lies just north of infinity. Of course, that’s not the case with us. Our whole lives are constrained by limits, and I’m talking about limits in terms of time and space and power. And because of that, we have to focus on what’s right in front of us. And only a truly adventurous soul is able to look with either unwavering confidence or unmitigated dread at what might happen in the future. It’s like I heard a guy once say, “Don’t worry about tomorrow. You might be hit by a bus today.” No, it’s enough to deal with the immediate and the visual. We don’t need to enter the distant and the unforseen into the equation. 



And yet, that’s exactly what the Apostle Paul advised his readers to do. You see, according to the passage we just read, he suggested that we remember what God did for Jesus Christ, namely how he raised the son from death, a reality in which we’ll share some time in the future. But even though this is something in which we can trust, it’s not anything we can see much less know right now. And so, as we slug through all the stuff that surrounds us in this life, I think it’s important for us intentionally to look beyond the temporary so that we might glimpse the eternal and beyond the finite so that we might spy the infinite. And even though that can’t change the reality that we’ve been called to face, on those rare and special moments, we might be able to see to infinity and beyond.



Friday’s Essay - From High Point to High Point

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

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


On Sunday, we enter a period that the church has traditionally called Holy Week, the time between Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem and his resurrection. And even though this time is like a roller coaster, the way it begins and ends are high points in not only the life of Jesus but also the history of the world. Let me explain.


When he entered Jerusalem, the day the church remembers as Palm Sunday, Jesus came in all his messianic glory, something that Mark described in his gospel:

Jesus and his disciples reached Bethphage and Bethany near the Mount of Olives. When they were getting close to Jerusalem, Jesus sent two of them on ahead. He told them, “Go into the next village. As soon as you enter it, you will find a young donkey that has never been ridden. Untie the donkey and bring it here. If anyone asks why you are doing that, say, ‘The Lord needs it and will soon bring it back.’”

The disciples left and found the donkey tied near a door that faced the street. While they were untying it, some of the people standing there asked, “Why are you untying the donkey?” They told them what Jesus had said, and the people let them take it.

The disciples led the donkey to Jesus. They put some of their clothes on its back, and Jesus got on. Many people spread clothes on the road, while others went to cut branches from the fields. 

In front of Jesus and behind him, people went along shouting, “Hooray! God bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord! God bless the coming kingdom of our ancestor David. Hooray for God in heaven above!”

After Jesus had gone to Jerusalem, he went into the temple and looked around at everything. But since it was already late in the day, he went back to Bethany with the twelve disciples.” [Mark 11:1-11, CEV]

Now that’s what Jesus did.


And for the reader, this entry is a reminder that in Jesus all those messiah-related hopes and dreams were fulfilled, but not in the way that was expected. I mean, he sure seemed to do the same sort of thing about which the prophet Zechariah spoke when he wrote: “Everyone in Jerusalem, celebrate and shout! Your king has won a victory, and he is coming to you. He is humble and rides on a donkey; he comes on the colt of a donkey.” [Zechariah 9:9, CEV] You see, it’s through this king, this Χριστός, that God’s people would be set free, but not from the domination of an earthly king or power. Rather, it would be through Jesus that we’re freed from sin’s control and our inability to identify much less resist temptation. He’ll be the source of salvation for folks who’d been enslaved for a long time. But more than that, this king will also install his kingdom. And even though it might resemble a mustard seed in the ground or a piece of yeast within dough, it’s growing and will become something that’s so pervasive it encompasses all things. And even now it’s working within the entire created order, transforming it into something new. You see, this is the one who entered Jerusalem two thousand years ago, the one whose kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven. And for us, that stands at the beginning of Holy Week.


And at the end, well, that’s the hinge on which all human history turns, the one single event that offers the ultimate sign of divine power and the definitive reason for human hope. This is how the Apostle Paul described it.

I told you the most important part of the message exactly as it was told to me. That part is: Christ died for our sins, as the Scriptures say. He was buried, and three days later he was raised to life, as the Scriptures say. Christ appeared to Peter, then to the twelve. After this, he appeared to more than five hundred other followers. Most of them are still alive, but some have died. He also appeared to James, and then to all of the apostles. [1 Corinthians 15:3-7, CEV]

Of course, this is the resurrection, the event that is the reason for our Easter season. You see, rather than signifying the endless cycling of nature, Easter points not just to a single event but also the beginning of something the bigger. Again, as Paul wrote, “But Christ has been raised to life! And he makes us certain that others will also be raised to life. Just as we will die because of Adam, we will be raised to life because of Christ. Adam brought death to all of us, and Christ will bring life to all of us. But we must each wait our turn. Christ was the first to be raised to life, and his people will be raised to life when he returns. Then after Christ has destroyed all powers and forces, the end will come, and he will give the kingdom to God the Father.”  [1 Corinthians 15:20-24, CEV] That’s what we celebrate when we remember the resurrection, the new life that right now enters our reality through Jesus Christ. And this represents a reason for hope, because we can trust that, just like his tomb was empty, so will ours. But it also represents a reason for joy, joy that’s grounded in a life we can experience right now, a new life in relationship with the creator of the universe. And it’s this sign of divine power and love that stands at the end of Holy Week.


And that’s what we’ll encounter next week. And along the way, on Thursday, we’ll join Christians all over the world as we gather around the table with our Lord and share in his body and blood. And then, the very next day, we’ll stand in the shadow of the cross, remembering that when he died we died too. And because we died, the power of sin has been broken forever. And so let me invite you to join with us during this Holy Week as we move from high point to high point.



A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - But Not for God

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

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


Mark 10:17-31


As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: 'You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.'" He said to him, "Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth." Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.


Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, "Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." They were greatly astounded and said to one another, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible."


But Not for God


I’ll tell you, I think most modern Christians are just as shocked by what Jesus said as those disciples two thousand years ago. You see, I think most believers have bought into the idea that we have control over our ability to enter into God’s Kingdom. And even if they also say that this ability is grounded in the movement of the Holy Spirit, to be saved, they must also decide to make the move themselves, as though God is either unable or unwilling to do much of anything without the acquiescence of those whom he loves. 


Now that’s what many if not most Christians believe, that the individual must accept something or give something or promise something for him or her to move from the outer limits to the inner circle. And even though they probably wouldn’t be so crude or so bold as to suggest that this puts people in control of their destinies, that’s exactly what they believe. In other words, if salvation is like a bridge, the structure is worthless unless the person walks across. Of course how this is done, well, that depends on the laws followed by each particular group. 


But based on what Jesus said, that group wouldn’t include the disciples. You see, if we’re looking at what we must do to inherit eternal life, well, we’ll never be able to do enough. In other words, it is simply impossible for the rich and for the poor, the righteous and the reprobate, the saint and the sinner. On our best day, it’s impossible for us to get saved. But now for God. As Jesus said, for God all things are possible.



What Do People Believe? (Session 8 – What is Hinduism?)

The purpose of this session is to explore the beliefs of Hinduism.


Below is the structure of the session:


What are the fundamental beliefs?


  • Concept of God
  • Devas and Avatars
  • Karma and Samsara
  • Objectives of Human Life
    • Dharma/righteousness
    • Artha/livelihood
    • Kama/sensual pleasure
    • Moksa/liberation
  • Yoga
    • The Path of Love and Devotion
    • The Path of Right Action
    • The Path of Meditation
    • The Path of Wisdom
  • Rituals
  • Festivals
  • Pilgrimage
  • Ahimsa, Vegetarianism and Other Food Customs

How do Hindus approach others who have different beliefs?



The Wedding Service for Kenton Tilford and Saskia Pellnat - Saturday, March 21, 2018

On Saturday, March 21, I officiated the wedding of Kenton Tilford and Saskia Pellnat in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. If you're planning your wedding and need an officiant, please give me a call at 304-479-3402.



Cove’s Celebration Service - Sunday, March 18, 2018

The members and friends of Cove gathered worship the presence and love of God on Sunday, March 18. Since we're now in the season of Lent, we're continuing a sermon series entitled "Preparing for Easter." During these messages, we’ll consider five things we can do to prepare ourselves to remember the crucifixion and celebrate the resurrection. During this fourth message, we talked about praying. Next week, we’ll finish the series by looking at how and why we might consider loving one another.

During the service, after the announcements and a video call to worship, we sang the hymn “Sweet Hour of Prayer.” 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 “Worthy Is the Lamb.” Rev. Rudiger then preached a sermon focused on the nature of prayer, why it's importan, and how it might be done. You may both read and hear the sermon at Sunday's Sermon - Praying. After the message, we sang the song “The Prayer


A podcast of the service is at the link below.



A New Devotion on Cove’s Prayer Line - Get Out of the Way

Below is the podcast of a new devotion I just left on the Cove Presbyterian Church prayer line. You can find other devotions, sermons, essays, videos, articles, and announcements of 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 9:42-50


"If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.


"For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another."


Get Out of the Way


It seems to me that Christians often expect people to jump through a bunch of hoops before they’re stamped “redeemed.” Now before I say anything else, I believe most of those who impose these obstacles think they’re doing exactly what God wants them to do. But regardless of the motivation, these spiritual speed bumps are real and can really discourage and burden folks who are just starting to think about their relationship with God. Of course, these standards shift as one passes from one Christian group to another. And while some are so vague and symbolic that they demand nothing more than using the right verbiage, other standards are so challenging that they nearly almost result in either deception or depression. Sadly, though, both the easy and difficult distort the good of news of Jesus Christ and reduce God’s unconditional love to just another reward for appropriate behavior.


But of course, this manipulation of the truth is neither found in an honest reading of the New Testament nor coming from the mouth of Christ. As a matter of fact, according to Jesus, we better be careful before we put spiritual and religious barriers before men and women who are approaching him, maybe for the first. And rather then causing them to stumble over words that we expect them to say and promises we expect them to make, we should be encouraging them to understand the one who loved them before the beginning of time and who died for them without their help or permission and who inspires them to become everything they were created to be. Now this is what we’ve been called to do. But if we’re not able to move aside those obstacles that we’ve created and to help folks recognize God’s love, then, for the sake of the gospel, maybe we should just get out of the way.



Sunday’s Sermon - Praying

Below is a podcast of the sermon I preached on Sunday, March 18, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. It's the fourth message in a series entitled Preparing for Easter. During this series, we'll consider five ways we can prepare ourselves to remember the crucifixion and celebrate the resurrection.You can find more sermons, devotions, essays, videos, articles, and announcement 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.


On Thursday, when I was driving Maggie to school, she said something with which I think we can all identify. As she was trying to get her hair sort of combed out, she said, “Dad, I’m sick and tired of this cold weather.” Now, I understand exactly what she’s talking about. I mean, even though I like my weather on the chilly side, even I’m getting sick of walking Coco with my faux fur hat and gloves. And since we really were on the same page, I wanted both to show her that I could identify with what she was feeling while also giving her a little bit of comfort and hope. And so I said, “I know exactly what you’re saying. But there’s good news, we can be sure that a month from now, the weather will actually be changing, something we couldn’t have said a month ago.” Man, who can argue with logic like that.


Of course, when we get to next month this time, Easer 2018 will be in the books, which also means we’ll be done with this series we started three weeks ago. In other words, the Friday fish fries will be history, the flowers we ordered will have been displayed and taken home and whatever preparation we planned to make better have been made. And talking of preparation, during the last few services, we’ve talked about three things we might consider doing as we get ready to remember the crucifixion and to celebrate the resurrection. For example, we talked about how we can decide to fast, in other words, to make some kind of sacrifice that can help us sort of identify with Christ, especially if what we give up actually helps someone else. And then we looked at how we might become more forgiving, so that we can move toward Easter without hauling a bunch of resentments and bad feelings. And then last week, we considered how we might decide to repent, in other words, to change from some of the stuff that really helps no one and to turn toward the kind of lives God has called us to live. Now these are the three things we might want to integrate into our Easter preparation.


And this morning, we’re going to look at the fourth thing we might consider doing, namely how we might want to ramp up our praying during these next couple of weeks. And you know, I think it may be particularly important to do right now, and I’m not just talking about Easter. I mean, we’ve just started the NCAA basketball tournament, right? And for anyone who’s entered their tournament brackets in an office or a school pool, (Not that we’d even do anything like that. Why that would be gambling. And I’d give you odds that most good, Presbyterians have never gambled), anyway, if you expect to win, praying is probably a pretty good idea. And if you have any question about whether there’s been some divine intervention going on, how else can you explain what happened to Wichita State, Miami, Arizona, and Virginia? Of course, if you had any of those four winning the national championship, well, prayer won’t help you now. Your brackets are pretty much toast.


Of course, that doesn’t mean that I don’t think prayer makes a difference, because I certainly believe it does. But I think we all know this particular opinion is not all the unusual. I mean, good night nurse, it seems like everybody believes prayer is important, at least they say they do. For example, it seems like after any kind of tragedy, you can count on nearly every politician talk about how the people involved are in his or her prayers. In fact, prayer, or maybe the lack thereof, is often used to explain that sorry state of national morality. You know, if we just had prayers in school... Of course, I had a good friend back when I was Indianapolis say that he believed regardless of what the government said, says or will say, there will always be prayer in schools. So long as teachers give test and pop quizzes, kids will always be praying. But be-that-as-it-may, prayer is not just important for folks who are religious, it’s an issue among men and women who couldn’t be more secular. Let’s just say, prayer is a big deal in our society. 


But you know, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re all on the same page about what praying actually is. And so, as we continue to think about how we might get ready for Easter, we’re going to talk a little bit about prayer, you know, why we should being praying and how we can pray and what we might want to include in our prayers. And I hope, by the end of this message, we’re in a better position to follow the advice of Nike and just do it.


And like I said, we’re going to start by talking about why we should be praying. But you know, before we can look at the positive, I think we probably need to do cross off some of reasons for prayer folks sure sound like they believe but that really have nothing to do with the kind of prayer talked about in the Bible. For example, we probably shouldn’t pray as a way to get stuff from God,. That’s not why we should be praying. Now, that’s popular among the “name it, claim it” folks, you know, those who think prayer is a little like rubbing a magic lamp or getting a divine monkey’s paw. And even though they might claim that Jesus himself said if you ask, you’ll receive, what he actually said was a little more complicated than that. He said, “Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened for you. Everyone who asks will receive. Everyone who searches will find. And the door will be opened for everyone who knocks. Would any of you give your hungry child a stone, if the child asked for some bread? Would you give your child a snake if the child asked for a fish? As bad as you are, you still know how to give good gifts to your children. But your heavenly Father is even more ready to give good things to people who ask. Treat others as you want them to treat you. This is what the Law and the Prophets are all about.” [Matthew 7:7-12, CEV]  You see, God gives us what he considers good for us and that may not necessarily be what we want. In other words, winning the lottery may not be in the cards for me, especially since I’ve never bought a ticket. But more than that, we also shouldn’t assume that when we pray, we’re telling God something he doesn’t already know. Remember, Jesus said, “When you pray, don’t talk on and on as people do who don’t know God. They think God likes to hear long prayers.  Don’t be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask.” [Matthew 6:7-8, CEV] And Paul wrote, “In certain ways we are weak, but the Spirit is here to help us. For example, when we don’t know what to pray for, the Spirit prays for us in ways that cannot be put into words. All of our thoughts are known to God. He can understand what is in the mind of the Spirit, as the Spirit prays for God’s people.” [Romans 8:26-27, CEV] And I’ll tell you something else, prayer isn’t about changing God’s mind. According to James, “Don’t be fooled, my dear friends. Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father who created all the lights in the heavens. He is always the same and never makes dark shadows by changing.” [James 1:16-17, CEV] I’ll tell you, if we’re praying to obligate or to inform or to manipulate God, then I think we’re barking up the wrong tree, so to speak. That’s not why we should be praying. 


In fact, when you get right down to it, we don’t really pray for God’s benefit at all; we pray because that’s what we need to do. Man, we need to communicate with our Father. We need to share with the one who made us. We need to lay before him our hopes and fears, our strengths and weakness, what we might need to receive right along with what we might have to share. And isn’t that what Jesus did right before his arrest? “Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he told them, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ Jesus took along Peter, James, and John. He was sad and troubled and told them, ‘I am so sad that I feel as if I am dying. Stay here and keep awake with me.’ Jesus walked on a little way. Then he knelt down on the ground and prayed, “Father, if it is possible, don’t let this happen to me! Father, you can do anything. Don’t make me suffer by having me drink from this cup. But do what you want, and not what I want.” [Mark 14:32-36, CEV] You see, prayer is simply our sharing with God. As a matter of fact, it’s a lot like what I see Debbie doing with the three-year-olds she works with over at The Academy. When a child wants something or is frustrated or sad and doesn’t know what to do or how to express himself, Debbie will calmly say to that little boy or girl, “Use your words.” And you know, she says it even when she already knows what’s going on, because it’s important for them to express it themselves. And I’ll tell you, I think that’s the same sort of thing God says to us, his children. He tells us to use our words, and to me, that’s why we should be praying.


And as to how, you know, how we can put into words what we’re thinking and feeling, well, I think it’s important to be as open as we can. But sadly, that’s not always the case, now it is? As a matter of fact, I think some folks are way to focused on figuring out the right way to pray, as though there’s only one way that we can talk with God. But according to the Bible, that’s certainly not true. I mean, in Scripture, people prayed in all kinds of different ways, everything from being down on the ground to having their faces turned up toward heaven. And they prayed in all kinds of different places, including not just the Temple and in synagogues, but also on the road to Jerusalem and at a table with followers. And they prayed with all kinds of different words and rhythms, and I’m talking about through both songs and whispers and with phrases that sound formal or relaxed. And if you don’t believe me, just read the Psalms. Man, that’s a whole book of prayers.  I guess you could say that prayer isn’t one size fits all. And since the reason may be more important than the method or the place or the words, it makes sense to pray in a way and at places and with words that help you feel comfortable. I mean, I often do my best praying in bed, right before I go to sleep, or in the car, as I’m driving down 22. Now that’s where I feel comfortable. And I generally pray with my eyes open, which is a good thing, because if I didn’t, I’d probably either go to sleep or run into the car ahead of me. Prayer can come in a lot of different forms. 


But having said that, Jesus did give us some pretty important guidance in how we should be praying, you know, our attitude. And I’ll tell you, it’s a lot like what he said about fasting. You see, during his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said this to his disciples. He said, “When you pray, don’t be like those show-offs who love to stand up and pray in the meeting places and on the street corners. They do this just to look good. I can assure you that they already have their reward. When you pray, go into a room alone and close the door. Pray to your Father in private. He knows what is done in private, and he will reward you. When you pray, don’t talk on and on as people do who don’t know God. They think God likes to hear long prayers. Don’t be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask.” [Matthew 6:5-8, CEV] You know, if I’m using my prayers to win friends and influence people, then I have really missed the boat. Regardless of the way or the place or the words, I think our prayers are suppose to be humble and personal. That’s how we can have a conversation with our God.


And so we have why we should be praying and how we can pray; the only thing left is what are the things we might want to lift up to God. And even though, traditionally, we’ve used religious-sounding words like confession and adoration, intercession and supplication, I think we’re  really lucky that Jesus gave us an example of exactly what sort of things we might want to include in our prayers. Just listen to what he said: “When Jesus had finished praying, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his followers to pray.’ So Jesus told them, ‘Pray in this way: “Father, help us to honor your name. Come and set up your kingdom. Give us each day the food we need. Forgive our sins, as we forgive everyone who has done wrong to us. And keep us from being tempted.”’” [Luke 11:1-4, CEV] 


Now, in terms of content, I think this little prayer says it all. For example, according to what Jesus said to his disciples, prayer should involve praise and hope, praise for God and hope that his rule will come on earth just like it is in heaven. And when we pray, it’s appropriate to tell God about what we need. But I’ll tell you, I find this interesting, Jesus used the word “we” instead of “I.” In other words, it seems as though he’s challenging us to look beyond ourselves, so that we can appreciate that others also have fears and concerns. And as it relates to our sins and our weaknesses, we’re called not just to ask God to forgive our sins and the sins of others, but also to help us offer more forgiveness to those who may have wronged us in some way. You see, if we use this prayer as a guide, we need to focus on God and on us, which includes both you and me. I’m telling you, according to Jesus, that’s what we might want to include in our prayers. 


 And expanding and deepening our prayer lives, I think that’s an excellent way to get ourselves ready to remember the cross and to celebrate the empty tomb. And I’ll tell you, even though there may be some confusion in our world about this praying business, thanks to scripture, I think we’ve got a pretty good idea about why we should be praying, you know, that it’s our way to communicate with God. And I think we know how we can pray and that even though we probably should use the method and the location and the words with which we feel comfortable, a prayerful attitude must always be humble. And finally, if we’re willing to claim the example that Christ gives us, I think we have what we might want to say when we approach God. You see, this is prayer. But I’ll tell you, when you think about it, all our praying and all our fasting and all our forgiving and all our repenting really doesn’t mean much if we’re not also willing to do one thing else, and now I’m talking loving, something that we’ll look at next week.



Two Ridges Presbyterian Church Worship Service - Sunday, March 18, 2018

Below is the podcast of the worship service I led in Two Ridges Presbyterian Church, Wintersville, Ohio on Sunday, March 18.



Sunday’s Sermon - When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

Below is the podcast of the sermon I preached on Sunday, March 18, in Two Ridges Presbyterian Church, Wintersville, Ohio. You can find other sermons, devotions, essays, videos, articles, and announcements on The Cove Community blog. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.


John 12:20-33


And there were certain Greeks from among those who went up in order to worship in the temple. Now they came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and they asked him, saying, “Lord, we want to see Jesus.” Philip went and spoke to Andrew. Andrew and Philip went and spoke to Jesus.


And Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come so that the son of man might be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, if a grain of seed which falls into the ground might not die, then it remains alone. But if it might die, then it bears much fruit. The one who loves his soul loses it, and the one who hates his soul in this world will keep it into the ages. If anyone might serve me, then let him follow me. And where I am, there my servant will be. If anyone might serve me, then the father will honor him.


“Now my soul is troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ But for this reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came out of heaven, “I glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” Then the crowd who were standing and listening said there was thunder. Others said, “An angel to has spoken.” And Jesus answered and said, “Not for me did this voice come, but for you. Now is the judgement of this world. Now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I might be lifted up from the earth, then I will draw everyone before me.” And he said this to signify what kind of death he would die.”


When I Survey the Wondrous Cross


When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.” Now I think most, if not all of us know something about what I just read. it’s the first verse from a hymn we’re going to sing is just a little bit: “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”


And although I think it would probably be an “old favorite” in just about everybody’s book, when it comes to describing the perspective of most modern, American Christians, well, I’m not at all sure it reflects much reality. In other words, although we may sing about it and actually think we’re doing it, I don’t believe we really spend much time surveying the wondrous cross. As a matter of fact, when you get right down to it, it sure seems to me that most Christians try to avoid it as much as possible. And if you don’t believe me, just think about the number of protestant churches that have any kind of Good Friday service; it’s just not a priority. Man, I think I could count the number on both my hands. It’s just not our focus. For example, I remember when I was back in Indianapolis, not only did a very big church right down the road not have any kind of service focusing on the crucifixion of Christ, they actually scheduled an adult basketball tournament on Good Friday. And although personally I thought doing something like that was, at best, in horrible taste, especially considering the fact that there were guys from other churches playing in their league, I really had to keep my mouth shut. You see, a couple of the elders from my church decided to play rather than pray on Good Friday.


But you know, that really didn’t surprise me, because often the cross is kind of down played in the church. And you know, even when it does come up, even when it is mentioned, even when it is our focus, often we either try to interpret it to death or to beautify it as much as possible. I mean, instead of simply looking at the cross and the crucifixion, we throw a whole bunch of theology at it and talk about ransoms and sacrifices and atonements. Or instead of appreciating the pain and suffering it represents, we sort of clean it up. You know, we kind of polish the brass or do what a church I once served did. Every Easter, they set up a cross right in front and hung flowers from it. And although I understand that by doing it, we were focusing on the new birth that followed Easter, still, it was as though a simple cross, a wooden cross, the kind of cross on which Jesus may have been nailed, well, that was just too stark or plain to be accepted. No, sadly, often our singing doesn’t reflect our actions. Often we’re just not that fired up to survey the wondrous cross.


And I’ll tell you, the older I get, the more I think that’s a real shame, because you know, when we ignore it or avoid it or remake it, I think we miss something that’s really fundamental, something that’s basic to our faith. You see, for me, the cross is more important than basketball tournaments or theological words or a place to hang spring flowers. It’s a reminder. It’s something that causes us to remember some things that I think should be important. For me, the cross reminds us of who we are and what God did and why we’ve been called. Let me explain.


Using the words to that hymn, when we survey the wondrous cross, I think we can get a pretty good insight into human nature, into who we are as people. I remember back when The Passion of the Christ first came out, some of the kids I taught went and saw it. And since they knew I’m a both a history teacher and a pastor, they wanted to talk about it in class. And I can remember them telling how moved they were by what they saw and how they had no idea just how horrible the crucifixion was and after seeing it, how they now believed that Jesus had suffered more than any person who ever lived. And although I calmly listened to them like any good pastor should, as a teacher, I felt that I really needed to explain that not only was Jesus not the only person to undergo crucifixion, my goodness, after he’d put down the slave revolt under Spartacus, Crassus crucified about 6,000 escaped slaves along the Appian Way, the road leading into Rome, not only was Jesus not unique in being nailed to a cross, but as shown by Pilate’s reaction when told, his death was surprisingly quick. And although the Romans were very efficient in the way they treated criminals, they’re cruelty was certainly matched by Crusading knights and Spanish inquisitors and of course Vlad the Impaler, a Romanian prince who earned his name. And I haven’t even mentioned the Holocaust. No, inhumanity is just a part of human history.


And although we may have given up a lot of the physical torture and abuse, I see people almost every day who have been emotionally and mentally and even spiritual broken down, often by some of the folks they trusted most. My goodness, whenever I see a person crushed by pressures that they haven’t asked for nor that they deserve, I have to think that although our technique has changed, our nature hasn’t. “Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, save in the death of Christ my God; all the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to his blood.” No, the cross reminds me of exactly who we are. That’s one.


But I’ll tell you, it does more than that, because when I survey that tree on which the Prince of Glory died, I also get a pretty good idea of God’s love, God’s love for the entire world, the entire creation, but not only that, God’s love for me. As Christ said in the passage we read, “The hour has come so that the son of man might be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, if a grain of seed which falls into the ground might not die, then it remains alone. But if it might die, then it bears much fruit.” And later, “Now is the judgement of this world. Now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I might be lifted up from the earth, then I will draw everyone before me.” Now, for centuries theologians have debated what those specific words mean and in general, what the cross represents. And many have come to different conclusions, all of which have Biblical support. I mean, some have said that the crucifixion represents the payment of a ransom for humanity or the offering of a sacrifice to atone for human sin. And others have written that both the cross and empty tomb mark God’s triumph over the Devil, when he snatches victory out of the hands of Satan forever. And still others see the suffering and the pain as the way by which Christ completely identifies with humanity. In other words, on the cross, he endured and therefore understands the depths of human pain. And these are just three of many, many ideas, and I’ve to tell you, they all make sense and have support.


But you know, regardless of how you analyze its meaning, all the interpretations have one thing in common. They all reflect God’s love for humanity, God’s love for us. You see, as I look at it, because of the cross, we are healed; we’re made clean; and we’re able to reenter into a relationship with God.And because of the cross, the power of Satan is finally broken; the teeth have been extracted from the lion; and we have no reason to fear him anymore. And because of the cross, when we pray to God, we know that he knows, we know that he knows all about pain and suffering and death. And he knows all about anger and fear and frustration. And he knows all about loneliness and doubt and hopelessness. You see, when we pray, we know that he knows, because he’s been there. He’s walked in our shoes. He’s lived our life. “See, from his head, his hands, his feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down; did e’er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown?” You see, that’s what I see as I look at the cross: the loving nature of God. That’s two.



And finally, when I survey Calvary’s cross, I also see the mission of the church, in other words, why we’ve been called. Remember, again in our passage, as he’s predicting his own death, Jesus said, “The one who loves his soul loses it, and the one who hates his soul in this world will keep it into the ages. If anyone might serve me, then let him follow me. And where I am, there my servant will be. If anyone might serve me, then the father will honor him.” Now, I’ll tell you, this is something we’ve heard before, isn’t it; that our job, our mission is not to achieve earthly glory. It’s not to become what the world considers successful. And it’s certainly not to impose our values and opinions on the gospel. No, our job is to what Jesus did, to follow his example, to serve Christ. And although we may talk about the all the other stuff we believe we should be doing until we’re blue in the face, this is what God has called the church to do, called us to do. And you know, that may involve some suffering, because people always suffer when they stand up for what’s right, not necessarily for what’s popular. And it will certainly involve surrendering, surrendering values that are acceptable to everyone except God, surrendering opinions that enable us to run with the crowd but that run against God’s word, and surrendering ambitions that serve self rather than others. And you know, following Jesus will probably force us to change: to change not what we say, but maybe how we say it, so that people now-a-days who seem to speak another language can understand it; to change not what we do, but how we do it, so that we might address the needs of people today; and to change not what we feel, but how we show it, so that our love becomes practical to modern people, living in a modern world. “Were the realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small; love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” The cross points to our mission. That’s three.


In just a little bit, we’re going to sing “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” And you know, after we sing it, I think it would be really exciting if we actually did it; if we actually surveyed that wondrous cross on which Jesus died. Because, I’ll tell you, if we do, I think we’re going to see more clearly ourselves, who we are; our God, what God did; and our mission, why we were called. You see, I believe that’s going to happen, the minute we decide that we’re going to “survey that wondrous cross.


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