Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Bible in a Year: Bible Readings for December 7, 2016

The Bible in a Year: Bible Readings for December 7, 2016: Today, our passages are  Hosea 6:1–9:17; 3 John 1-14; Psalm 126:1-6; and Proverbs 29:12-14 .  The readings are from  The Message  ...

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Myrtle McHendry December Class Meeting

The Myrtle McHendry Class met on Thursday, December for their December meeting. After prayer, the members had pot roast, salad, potatoes, and carrots, followed by some incredible cheese cakes. As the plates were being removed, Marvin Whiteman performed a medley of Christmas songs, including several sing-a-long numbers. After the entertainment, the class met for a brief business meeting, including the blessing of ten Christmas stockings that will be taken to the Salvation Army and the installation of officers. Below are a few pictures of the event.






Monday, December 5, 2016

A Thought from the Word - A brief thought based on John 6:35

10 Sidney Byrd on Santee Christian Homesteading

13 Sidney Byrd's Christian Perspective on Death

Sunday's Sermon – Since He Came

Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, December 4, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. You can find a podcast of this sermon on the Cove Podbean page. 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.


Matthew 3:1-12 

And in those days, John the Baptist appeared preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” For this is written by Isaiah the prophet who said, A voice of one who cries in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord. Straight make his paths.”

And John himself had on his clothing from camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locust and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all of Judea and all the country around the Jordan went out to him. And they were baptized in the Jordan River by him, as they acknowledged publicly their sins.

But when he saw the Pharisees and Sadducees coming against his baptism, he said to them, “Offspring of serpents, who suggested to you to escape the coming wrath? Now, bear fruit worthy of repentance. And don’t think to say within yourselves, ‘As father, we have Abraham,’ for I say to you that God is able from these stones to rise up children for Abraham. And already the ax upon the root of the trees is lying. Now all trees that don’t bear good fruit are cut down and into fire thrown. I baptize you in water into repentance. But the one who is coming after me is greater than me, who’s sandal I’m not worthy to carry, he will baptize you in holy spirit and fire. His winnowing shovel is in his hand, and he will clean thoroughly his threshing floor. And he will gather his grain in his barn, but the chaff he will burn up in fire that cannot be put out.”

Since He Came

I’ll tell you, this morning, y’all are going to be so glad you came, because I’m going to share with you one of the most powerful songs in the English language. You see, it’s a song that can be used to dominate other human beings, to control their behavior, to bend them to your very will. In fact, it has an almost hypotonic quality that’s so great the person who’s being dominated and controlled and bent will actually thank you for playing it. And the Lord only knows what would happen if it ever fell into the wrong hands. Are y’all ready? Well, here it is.



Of course that was “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” and even though it’s generally considered just another one of those child-friendly Christmas songs, it’s really very powerful and downright scary. I mean, let me ask you, have you ever thought about the words? Just listen: “You better watch out. You better not cry. Better not pout. I'm telling you why, Santa Claus is coming to town.” Man, that sounds like a treat to me. And then: “He's making a list. And checking it twice. Gonna find out who's naughty and nice. Santa Claus is coming to town.” Good night nurse, that stuff about lists, I think that’s what got Nixon in trouble. But then it gets worse: “He sees you when you're sleeping. He knows when you're awake. He knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!” Or what, he’ll break your thumbs. Let’s just say that any kid who really considers the consequences of badness and still decides to be naughty, man, we’re talking about some kind of psychopath, right? For him, it’s only a matter of time before orange really will be the new black. You see, what I mean by a powerful song?

And I can tell you, when I was a kid, I not only knew it by heart, but somehow my father got Santa’s telephone number and was ready to use it, if I wasn’t nice and good enough. Trust me, I did watch out and I didn’t cry and I didn’t pout and I knew why: Santa Claus was coming to town. And that was more than enough to keep me on the straight and narrow until December 26.

And I’ll tell you, this was the first song that came to mind when I reread the passage we have from Matthew. You see, there seems to be a lot of parallels between Santa Claus coming to town and the message that John preached about someone else who was coming, at least it does for me. I mean, we all know what John came to do, right? It was his job to prepare the way for Jesus Christ. And he did that by telling the people that they needed to clean up their acts, because if they didn’t, man, bad, things were going to happen when the one promised came. Remember, it was John who said warm and fuzzy stuff like, “Offspring of serpents, who suggested to you to escape the coming wrath?” and “...already the ax upon the root of the trees is lying. Now all trees that don't bear good fruit are cut down and into fire thrown” and everybody’s favorite, “His winnowing shovel is in his hand, and he will clean thoroughly his threshing floor. And he will gather his grain in his barn, but the chaff he will burn up in fire that cannot be put out.” Ouch, not exactly what you’d expect in a Christmas card. “You better watch out. You better not lie. Better not sin. I’m telling you why; Jesus Christ is coming to town.” Now that’s kind of what John said. And I’ll tell you, it must have worked, because Matthew wrote that “Jerusalem and all of Judea and all the country around the Jordan went out to him. And they were baptized in the Jordan River by him, as they acknowledged publicly their sins.” Now that’s what I call success.

And maybe that’s the reason that a lot of Christians still have this exact same view of God and of Jesus Christ. You see, they seem to see God as an uncompromising and impartial judge just waiting for us to step out of line. In fact, he’s a lot like the one described by Jonathan Edwards in his sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”: The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked. His wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire. He is of purer eyes than to bear you in his sight; you are ten thousand times as abominable in his eyes as the most hateful, venomous serpent is in ours.” Ouch again. Without question, God is the one to be feared and obeyed. And I’ll tell you, that’s also what John wrote, and based on some of the stuff they do and say, I think that’s how a lot of some very dedicated and sincere Christians see God and his son.

But even though they may be very dedicated and sincere, I think there’s a pretty big problem with their vision. You see, in their desire to claim the message of John the Baptist, I believe they’ve kind of forgotten why John came. Remember, according to Matthew, “John the Baptist appeared preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’ For this is written by Isaiah the prophet who said, ‘A voice of one who cries in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord. Straight make his paths.”’” You see, John wasn’t the way, rather he came to prepare the way. Therefore, his message was to get people ready for the one who was coming, you know, the one who was greater than John and who would baptize not with water but with Holy Spirit and fire. You see, he did what he did to get folks ready for the one who would be for them Emmanuel, in other words, God with them, which means that once this person entered our time and space, we’ll never again be alone, struggling through life all by ourselves. Instead we’ll always have a source of direction and support and comfort close all the time, ready to guide us when we feel kind of confused and to lift us up when we stubble and just to be there beside us when we feel too tire to move. And he said what he said to get them ready to meet Jesus, a name that means “savior”, because that’s exactly what he was going to do. You see, on that cross, he’ll save his people from their sin and at the resurrection, he’ll reveal that, for us, a new life in a new creation is just over the horizon. But for John the Baptist this was also in the future, because the promised one hadn’t come. And so he worked to prepare the people for the arrival, for the advent of the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior of the world.

But brothers and sisters, that’s not the case for us, and that’s why there’s a problem applying his message. I’m telling you right here and now, we don’t need to prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus Christ, because believe me, he came. You see, two thousand years before we were born, he came, born to a couple named Mary and Joseph, living in a town called Bethlehem. And almost two thousand years before we were born, he died, and through that death, we died too and so did our sin and shame and separation from God. And almost two thousand years before we were born, he was raised from death which not only gives us a glimpse into our future but also enables him truly to be our Emmanuel. I mean, as he said in his last words to his disciples, “Now when you go, make disciples of all nations by baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and by teaching them to obey everything which I commanded you. And see, I myself am with you always until the end of the age.” You see, things have changed. I mean, unlike those who listened to John preach, the one for whom he was preparing the people has already come.

And I’ll tell you, I think that reality needs to be reflected in both our faith and witness. You see, we trust in the one who was the personification of God’s compassion and mercy and grace. And through him, through Jesus Christ, we can see both the power and love of God. I mean, he healed the sick and cast out demons. He stilled the storm and walked on the water. And at the end, he died and was raised. And he did it all for us and all humanity; therefore, we don’t have to be afraid because we know that he’s in control and we don’t have to live weighted down by guilt because whatever we’ve done in the past was nailed to the cross and we don’t have to feel shame because we can trust that the time is coming when all things, including us will be made new. I’m telling, because he came, this can be at the core of our faith.

Just like it can be at the very center of what we share with others. And you know, I don’t care if it’s done through words or works, through our actions or our attitude, we who trust in the one who came, we can show others exactly who it is that we follow, and it’s not a God who’s dangling bugs over fire. Instead, he’s the one who blesses those who are poor in spirit and who are meek and merciful and who mourn, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and who are pure in heart and who are peacemakers, and those who are persecuted and reviled and slandered for their faith. And he’s the one who, if we just relax and focus on what he’s already done, can fill us with incredible hope and peace and joy. You see, he’s the one who’s birth we’re about to celebrate. And I’m telling you, for those who don’t know him, he’s the one we’re called to share.

Now, as it relates to Santa, well, I think it’s probably fine to use his coming as a reminder that children should be as good as possible, at least this time of year, although I’ve got to tell you, I still find that business about seeing us when we’re sleeping and knowing when we’re awake, man, that’s creepy. But I’ll tell you, I don’t think fear and shame should ever be involved in our approach to God. Instead, I believe it’s important for us both to trust and to share the one who was named Emmanuel and Jesus, and I’m talking about the one who brings God’s presence into our lives and who will save us from our sins. In other words, rather than stand with John the Baptist and prepare ourselves for the who’s coming, let’s stand together and celebrate the one who already came.

The Bible in a Year: Bible Readings for December 5, 2016

The Bible in a Year: Bible Readings for December 5, 2016: Today, our passages are  Hosea 1:1–3:5; 1 John 5:1-21; Psalm 124:1-8; and Proverbs 29:5-8 .  The readings are from  The Message  by...