Monday, July 28, 2008

Sermon: Are You Ready to Move?

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Another parable he put to them saying, "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed, which a person took and sowed in his field, which is the smallest of all seeds, but when it might grow is the greatest of plants and becomes a tree, in which the birds of the heavens come and roost in its branches."

Another parable he spoke to them: "The Kingdom of Heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour until it might leaven the whole."

"The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure which has been hidden in the field, which, when found, a man hides and because of his joy, he goes and sells everything which he has
and buys that field."

"Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a man, a merchant who seeks fine pearls, but when he finds one of great price, he went and sold everything which he had and brought it."

"Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a net which has been cast into the sea and gathers fish of every kind, which, when full, people brought upon the shore and they sat and gathered the good into a container but the bad they cast out. Thus it is at the completion of the age. The angels will come down and will separate the evil from the midst of the righteous, and they throw them into the furnace of fire. There is weeping and gnashing of teeth."

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Are you ready to move? Now, you’ve got to understand, that’s something I heard almost on a daily basis for the last month and a half. In case some of y’all don’t know, back in the end of May, Debbie and I bought a house up on Marland Heights. And I’ll tell you, that’s the reason there’s a little announcement in the bulletin about selling the manse. I mean, if we hadn’t done it, I’d sure see that little blurp as a not-so-subtle hint that things might not be going as well here as I’d hoped. But I’ve bought a house; therefore, I’m not worried, unless someone here has heard something.

But be-that-as-may, about a month and a half ago, we bought a house, and it’s kind of taken us a while to move in. But you know, that’s really not all that surprising. Although I think I’ve probably relocated at least twenty times in my life, moving is always challenging, even if you’re only moving about three blocks which we were. My goodness, with all the sorting and the packing and the boxing, it’s a wonder that anyone moves at all. And even with help, and I’ll tell you we got a lot of it, and even though frankly all three of us had a burning desire to finally get in our new home, it still took us a while to get there.

And you know, as I was looking at these five parables, you know the ones we read this morning, well, I think moving into the Kingdom of Heaven is also pretty challenging. And even if we recognize that we have all kinds of help, and I’m including help from both this world and the next, and even though I hope we all have a burning desire to be under God’s rule, you know, living the kind of lives that reflect his will for us all, getting there is frankly pretty demanding. In fact, it may be so demanding, so challenging that even though it sounds down-right unchristian some of us just might not be ready to move. But I’ll tell you, the benefits of entering and living in the Kingdom of Heaven, well, in my opinion, those benefits far outweigh the cost. And you know, I really think that’s something we need to keep in mind as we deal with the three very real challenges that we find in these parables, challenges that we’re just going to have to face if we want to change our spiritual address. And let me tell you what I’m talking about.

First, according to what Jesus said in the passage we just read, I believe the Kingdom of Heaven challenges our expectations and I’m talking about the stuff we anticipate happening in both the future and the present. It challenges what we expect. You see, I think most of us believe the universe is governed certain laws that generally don’t change; therefore, life is at least relatively predicable. I mean, the odds are in your favor if you bet that the sun is going to rise in the morning or that the Eat N Park is going to be crowded in about forty-five minutes or that someone here has already complained about the first hymn we sang this morning. You see what I’m talking about?

And although there are certainly surprises, good and bad, that knock our socks off, most of life sort of follows a familiar pattern. It kind of fits inside this neat little box defined by what we consider possible or right or acceptable. Now, I think that’s how most of us view the world around us; therefore, we tend to expect things to happen and people to act in a predictable way, and if they don’t, we can really get throw for a loop and then we have to scramble around, doing what you’ve got to do, to get things back on track, you know, to restore a little stability, a little predictability to our living.

And yet, it’s this attitude that’s challenged by the Kingdom of Heaven, in other words, by the rule of God. I mean, think about, if you’re looking at the tiniest of all seeds, the mustard seed, you’d expect that to grow into maybe a dwarf plant, right? But that’s not the way it is in the Kingdom; instead it grows into a tree big enough for birds to roost in it’s branches. Now that’s one big mustard plant, one that’s totally unexpected.

And think about the leaven, not the clean, cultivated yeast that comes in the little packets, you know the stuff we use, but leaven, which is a piece of dough that you put in a dark, dank place to rot and ferment. Simply put, leaven is disgusting, so disgusting the woman hides in the flour. I mean, that’s why, in the Bible, leaven is almost always used as a negative image, and unleaven bread is seen as pretty good. And yet, surprise, the Kingdom of Heaven is like that nasty moldy mess, because it does something you’d never expect it do. When hidden in three measures of flour, which equals about ten gallons, it leads to enough nice, warm bread to feed at least one hundred people. You see what I mean, the Kingdom of Heaven challenges our expectations.

And I’ll tell you, it’s a good thing that it does, because if we’re not able to move away from the predictable, we’ll never be able to see beyond ourselves and our stereotypes and prejudices; how could we? I mean, we’ll never be able to envision God moving us into a future that’s better than anything we can even imagine on our best day. But more than that, we’ll never be able to appreciate the miraculous all around us and how God can use situations that we may see as disgusting and people we dismiss as nasty to do remarkable things. Praise God, our expectations are challenged and that’s the first thing the Kingdom of Heaven does.

And second, it also challenges our values, you know, the things in life that we consider most important. I mean, let’s face it, most people put their highest value on things they have or want. I know that applies to me. I value my wife and daughter. And I value my health and security. And I certainly value the opportunity I have to stand up here and preach the gospel and be paid for it. You see, those are the things that I value. And I’ve got a gut feeling that my list isn’t all that different from your’s, right?

And yet, those neatly packed sets of values are really challenged by the kind of Kingdom described in the parables of the treasure and the pearl. You see, in both cases, the Kingdom, and I’m talking about the rule of God, is seen as so important, so crucial, so drop-dead incredible that both the plowman and the merchant were willing to sacrifice what...everything, everything they have to get that field and to buy that pearl. And you know, it didn’t matter that one stumbled on it by accident and the other sought it, the overwhelming value was the same.

And you know, when we’re able to share at least a little bit of that, in other words, when for us there’s no housing crisis in God’s kingdom, in fact, it’s experiencing a bull market, my goodness, we’re going to know and to feel a joy and an excitement we may never have experienced before: a joy that comes from simply knowing that we are loved by God and saved by Christ and inspired by the Holy Spirit and an excitement that we can feel as we roll up our sleeves and get to work, all because we want to thank our Father for what he’s already done for us. Again, praise God, our values are challenged, and that’s the second thing the Kingdom does.

And third, that same kingdom challenges our assumptions, and I’m talking about the assumptions we make about ourselves and role we’re supposed to play. Do you remember, and this was years ago, on Saturday Night Live there was a character called the Church Lady who would say, "well, isn’t that special"? Man, she used to condemn everything, as though God had made her both judge and executor. Do you remember that?

Well, I’m kind of a shamed to admit it, but a lot of times we sort of make the same assumptions about ourselves, don’t we; you know, that God has kind of set us apart to be his agents and prosecutors. I mean, often we assume that the way we worship God and understand Jesus Christ and respond to the Holy Spirit is the only way correct way to do it; therefore, everyone else is wrong, right? And we assume that the folks we like, God likes but the ones that we don’t, well they’re going to be in big trouble, right? In fact, sometimes we seem to assume that when the church conveys to the rest of world that it has to be either our way or the highway, we’re doing exactly what God wants us to do, right? Well, isn’t that just special.

Maybe, but I’ll tell you, it’s also pretty hard to jive with the parable of the net that collects all kinds of fish, both the good and the rotten, and that the final judgment is made not by the fish in the net, but the folks on the shore. I mean, if we assume that we are anything greater than fish in a net, I think the Kingdom challenges those assumptions.

And you know, I’m glad it does. Because the minute I stop assuming and recognize that I’m probably not as smart or as important as I think I am, I’m going to feel real peace and hope. My goodness, just think about it, I’ll feel peace with everyone around me, because all of a sudden my job isn’t to judge them, but rather to listen to what they have to say and to share with them the love that I know. And I’ll tell you something else, I’m also going to feel genuine hope, because my ultimate destiny is determined by God and not the carp or dogfish next to me in the net. For the last time, praise God, our assumptions are challenged, and that’s the third thing the Kingdom does.

Now, before anyone asks, we finally moved into the house on Wednesday. And although I haven’t checked with Debbie, y’all are welcome to come on over this afternoon. Of course, I’m just kidding. If you did that, I can expect to be spending tonight in the guest bedroom and I can be fairly certain that my value would be a little less than a share of Ford stock and I can reasonably assume that Debbie will not say a single word to me, for days and days. Even though it wasn’t easy, we finally moved. And as it relates to the Kingdom of Heaven, even though the rule of God certainly challenges our expectations and values and assumptions, changing our address is well worth the effort. And so with that in mind, let me ask you: are you ready to move?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Operation Peace for Iraqi Children


Cove Presbyterian Church in Weirton, WV has donated 16 garbage bags filled with stuffed animals and dolls to be sent to Baghdad in support of Operation Peace for Iraqi Children. Kayla Cline, Youth Director, and her Youth Group are meeting on August 7 to pack them up for shipment. Lucille Gress, Music Director, and mother of Lt. Stephen Gress, is handling logistics with help from the U.S. Postal Service. The dolls and stuffed animals come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Dr. James E. Rudiger pastors Cove Presbyterian located in downtown Weirton, approximately 30 minutes from Pittsburgh, PA, and 45 minutes from Wheeling, WV.

Thoughts on Vacation Bible School


Wow. We just finished Vacation Bible School, and based on all the smiling faces, it was a hit. It's encouraging to see so many young people in our church, praising God and learning about Christ. I think we've all heard folks say that the children are the future, but I disagree. As I've said before, children are important right now in the present. And it's our job to help them grow into the men and women God created them to be and to give them the opportunity to share their unique God-given talents and gifts. For that reason I'm excited about some of the additions we're making to our youth program. Along with the bells and the Cove Choral Club, the children will work with dance (Kris Kross), recorders and puppets. And our older young people are building a new kind of youth group that they're calling GLUE. We can look forward to exciting things coming from them. As we continue develop our outreach, I want to thank all the volunteers who offer their time and talent to our church and to all the parents who bring their children to these activities. I believe we are making a difference in the life of our congregation, improving our community and doing something wonderful for the Kingdom. I feel very lucky to be here.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Presbyterian Women of Upper Ohio Valley Mission Trip - August 12, 2008

10:00AM----Gather at Laughlin Memorial Chapel —1292 18th St.Wheeling WV Tour the facility and learn about our Mission there. A short Devotional by Rev. Fran Lane-Lawrence, and a hearty Brunch (donation) before boarding the Chapel School bus (its Air-conditioned) for the ride to Washington, PA,, at noon.

1st stop will be at the Resurrection House with Director Bob Hedges giving an update on the work and progress there (Our 2007 Synod Project)

On to Washington-Jefferson College for a bit of History of the Presbyterian Church at the McMillan Building by Bob Reid—communications director (and husband of Nikki Reid our Connector editor),

Next stop will be at Chartiers Hill Church, Cannonsburg with Rev. Austin giving some history of the early mimsfry in Western Pennsylvania, WV and Ohio. Dr. John McMillan ,son of Scotch-Irish immigrants (1752-1833) has been called the "Apostle of Presbytenanism in the West" He was instrumental in the founding of many Presbyterian churches in Pa,WV and Ohio, including Chartiers Hill where he and his wife are buried in the cemetery there. What is the history of your church?

Before leaving Cannonsburg we will visit the Sarris Candy factory for some ice cream and sweets of all kinds. Plans are to return to Laughlin Chapel around 5 PM.

All this for $ 10.00 (pay at the event)---no reservations necessary. Plenty of parking at the Chapel area.

Please spread the word about this event----Cluster Leaders ! !!! Contact all your churches PW ‘s ---soon---and let one of the committee know of the response by early August, See you on the 12th.

Jean Jeffrey ----- 740-544-5106 -----nijeffrey@peoplepc.com
Sharon Willits ----- 304-277-2060 -----sbwillits@yahoo.com
Phyllis Conley ----- 330-386-6910

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A Word from Our Christian Education Director

Wow! Where did summer go? It seems only a short time ago everyone was excited to see the last day of school and here we are, heading back! I hope everyone has had a fun, safe and relaxing summer.

There will be lots of new and exciting things happening at Cove this year. From what I hear it is not only with the children’s programs but with the adults also. I would like to encourage you to stop in and see if there is a program that might interest you.

Yours in Christ,
Karen


August 17th will be our church picnic! Kayla is planning some fun activities and games for the children. I’m sure this day will be full of fun and fellowship!

The children’s handbell choir will practice on Monday, September 15 and Monday September 22 from 6:30-7. The children will perform on Tuesday, September 23 at 7pm. Cove is hosting the UOVP meeting that evening and we will perform for them.

Children’s Recorders will start in September! I have had several tell me they are interested however I have only had one person turn in an order for their recorder. I would like to have all these by September 7th (Rally Day) so that we can get started with them.

Rally Day has been set for September 7th! This year Cove will be the GOOD SOIL GARDEN CENTER! Cove will provide the soil, God has planted us, the seeds, here at Cove now let’s see how our faith can grow! What a start we get with Sunday School! Rally Day will begin at 9:30 and we will meet in Fellowship Hall. Bring a packet of seeds and your Bible!

Sunday School will follow a new schedule this year. We will meet in Fellowship Hall at 9:30 for an opening, classes from 9:45-10:45 and back to the hall for a closing at 10:45. This is to include ALL classes, children and adults. We will be doing some attendance prizes by class and by individuals, along with some skits and/or songs to start our day.

Our children’s Christmas program has been set for December 14th! We will start practices for this on October 1st. We will follow a Wednesday schedule from 6-7 throughout the months of October and November.

The children’s Christmas ADVENTure will be held on December 13th! We will have an all day Advent program for the children that will be structured to that of a 1 day VBS program. I WILL need help with this so please let me know if you can help! Parents, this is an opportunity for you to do any last minute holiday preparations or just enjoy a day TOGETHER! More information will follow.

Welcome aboard to Kristen Palavis and her new group KRIS CROSS! If you haven’t seen the new stick ministry you really need to stop in and see what it’s all about!

We have our puppets now we need some puppeteers! If this is something you might be interested in please let me know. I will be scheduling some days to practice and get together a small skit. This can be children, teens, and adults! There is also a great Puppet Ministry weekend in Columbus October 17 and 18. I know Mason and I will be going since we enjoyed the last one so much! If you think you might be interested in joining us, let me know. If we get 6 people to go we get a group rate of $26 per person, plus hotel and food. I will be making reservations on October 1st for this so don’t delay! You must be 8 years old to attend.

SLIME TIME! We are planning a childrens event that is an all day program followed by a Halloween Party! Guess what…I NEED HELP!!! Let me know if you can help with this program.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

An Exciting New Program for the Men of the Church

Cove is delighted to announce that's it will host a CLC group beginning in the Fall. In these Leadership Training Groups, ten to twelve men meet together on a weekly basis with a specific, planned curriculum designed to deepen their spiritual growth, enhance their leadership skills as Christian men, and build their relationships with one another.

Over a two year time, these CLC Groups use reading, study, memory, discussion and special experiences to expand and spiritually prepare men to become leaders in their families, their work, their church and in the community at large. Also, the experience links them to each other for continual advice and support.

Men who participate in CLC find it to be a positive, life-changing experience. They often move on to lead their own groups.

Modules focus on leadership, family, money, business, evangelism, Bible study and more. They include the following:

  1. A Man After God's Own Heart: Develop a deep daily relationship with Jesus, which involves trust, devotions, prayer, sharing with other brothers around Jesus.
  2. The Exchanged Life: This is based on Romans 6–8 and 2 Corinthians 2–6. Here we seek to look at the essence of a dependent relationship on God. God has revealed His trust through the Bible (and His personal leading). We seek to act upon that truth by choosing to follow it through His power working in us. We can live victoriously. This "Resurrection Living" is the foundation of the Leadership Training Groups.
  3. Leading Your Family: We look at the many verses (principles) in Scripture on being a husband and father. We will talk openly about men's issues in both of these areas.
  4. How to Study The Bible: Most have never been taught how to study and discuss for themselves the messages of the Bible. You will learn how to observe the content, interpret it and apply it.
  5. Business: We look at general principles of work/leisure, ownership, management, integrity, etc.
  6. Standing With A Friend: God has designed us to be relational and stand together as friends and brothers during good times and hard times. We will listen to an audiotape on building close male friendships as well as look at what the Bible says.
  7. How To Teach The Bible: As men, we have opportunities to teach the Bible to our children, a small group, a Sunday school class or a men's group. You will learn the technique of putting together a discussion Bible lesson. We will even practice in the Leadership Training Group.
  8. Leadership: How has God wired you together and use your experiences to work in you as a leader? We will look at your natural gifts, temperaments, Spiritual gifts, passions, and values and how God might want to use you for His purposes. We will look at Nehemiah's business plan for building the wall.
  9. Apologetics: You will be equipped to answer the ten most asked questions about Christianity. Questions such as "Is Jesus the only way to heaven?" "What about the person in China that never heard of Jesus?" Apologetics is simply defining what you believe.
  10. Money Or The Master: We look at everything the Bible says about money from success, borrowing, giving, co-signing, etc. We will discuss the on-going battle of serving only one Master.
  11. Evangelism – Discipling a Friend: How to build a positive relationship with an unbeliever and when appropriate, share with him how he can know God personally. After a person begins a relationship with God, they need to be trained to be a disciple. You will learn how to disciple someone younger in the faith.
  12. Reforming Our Community: We see Jesus not only addressing the Spiritual needs of mankind, but also the social needs. We will look at showing mercy to the many needs in our communities, such as the poor, housing, Aids victims, etc. We will also look at racial reconciliation.

Since this is for our entire community, other congregations in our area have been contacted. The enrollment is limited and we'll only be able to form one group at this time; therefore, contact us as soon as possible, covepresbyterian@aol.com.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Sermon: When the Bathtub Leaks

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 - He put to them another parable saying, "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a person who sows good seeds in his field. While they were sleeping, the enemy came and sowed over darnel in the middle of the wheat and left. And when the grain sprouted and bore fruit, then the darnel also appeared. And the slaves of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Lord, you sowed good seed in the field, didn’t you? Now from where did the darnel come?’ And he replied to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Now do you want us to go out and gather them?’ And he replied, ‘No, lest in gathering the darnel, you might uproot at the same time the wheat. Allow them both to grow together until the harvest. And at the time of the harvest, I will say to the reapers, "Collect first the darnel and bind them in bundles in order to burn them up, but the wheat gather into my granary."’"

Then after he’d left the crowds, he went in the house. And after his disciples came to him, they said, "Explain to us the parable of the darnel of the field." And he answered saying, "The one who sows the good seed is the son of man. And the field is the world. And the good seed, these are the children of the kingdom. And the darnel are the children of the evil one. And the enemy who sowed is the Devil. And the harvest is at the completion of the age. And the reapers are the angels. Now just as the darnel is collected and in fire burned, thus it is at the completion of the age. The son of man sends his angels and they collect from his kingdom all the causes of stumbling and those who are lawless. And they will throw them into the furnace of fire. There is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine out like the sun in the kingdom of their father. The one who has ears, hear."

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Now, I know some of my sermon titles are a little off the wall, but you know, I really don’t think that’s the case this week, because the title relates to a situation I had to deal with, oh, about fifteen years ago and I’ll tell you, that situation is exactly like the kind of we have to face in the church from time to time. You see, back when I was working in Indianapolis, I bought a house. And one day I noticed a problem: the bathtub leaked. Now, it wasn’t all that bad, just a little bit around the facet. But still, it leaked. And since I am a man, I decided I had to fix it myself. Now, understand I had no idea what I was doing. And I’m kind of mechanically challenged anyway. But was that going to stop me? Of course not, my gosh, the bathtub was leaking. And so I took my little hammer and my little wrench and started wacking away. And by some incredible stroke of luck, the water stopped dripping: hallaleuah, praise the Lord and pass the ammunition. Problem solved.

Now, I’ve got to tell you, I felt pretty good, until the next morning, when I came downstairs to make myself some breakfast and noticed on the kitchen ceiling this spot, this big, wet spot. You see, I’d taken a shower, and the bathroom was right above the kitchen. And so thanks to my desire to fix it right now, not only did I have a leaky bathtub but a spot on the kitchen ceiling. I had a problem that I’d made worse by rushing in and not trusting someone who knew what he was doing.

And you know, it seems to me that sometimes we do the same kind of thing in the church, and I’m including the church universal and the denomination and our congregation. I mean, see if this rings any bells? There’s a problem in the church, probably centered around a person or group who’s maybe causing some kind of trouble, you know, stirring up stuff or maybe doing something that majority thinks is wrong or not doing something that the majority believes is right or maybe just setting one Christian against another. You know, something like that. Anyway, another group, maybe even us, sees what’s happening and we rush in to solve to problem, right: guns blazing, knocking heads together, telling folks that maybe they should find another place to worship God; all the while believing that we’re doing exactly what the master wants. The only problem is that things go from bad to horrible, and at the end of the day, they’re just praying that after it’s all over, somebody’s left standing. You see the relationship? Just like I did with the leaky tub, sometimes we see a problem that we make worse by rushing in and not trusting someone who knows what he’s doing.

And I’ll tell you, for that reason, when those times come up in the church, and I’ll guarantee they will no matter how much you love the minister, I think we need to pause and remember the passage we read this morning. Because you know, I believe Jesus nailed our situation pretty well and gave us three things to think about when the bathtub starts leaking around here. I mean, just think about the parable we read and it’s explanation, and notice that Jesus seems pretty clear that there are and always will be some trouble-makers in the world and even in the church. And although I think we all wish that weren’t true and sometimes we even pretend that it’s not, wishing don’t make it so. That’s just the way it is, and that’s the first thing we need to remember. My goodness, just like the son of man sows children of the kingdom in the world, the enemy is sowing his children as well. And some must be landing in the church, because remember, Jesus said he was going to send his angels and collect from his kingdom all causes of stumbling and those who are lawless. Of course, I don’t want y’all to start looking around and making a list and checking it twice.

But I’ll tell you, I do think these "bad seeds" have some things in common. I mean, one, they seem to have perfected at least a few of the characteristics the Apostle Paul used to describe sinners. According to Paul, they tend to be "...filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips (oops, let’s eliminate that one. That may be a little too close to home), slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful (there goes another one), inventors of evil, rebellious towards parents, foolish (yikes), faithless, heartless, ruthless. They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die — yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them." What’s left: greedy, selfish, arrogant, proud, deceitful, vain, snooty; sounds like the seven bad dwarfs. But that’s who they are.

And two, like gremlins, they cause all kinds of mischief in Christ’s body, but probably worst of all, because of them, the church’s productivity goes down. And that makes sense, all the foolishness they inspire diverts the church from what’s really most important, and I’m talking about loving God and loving neighbor. And I’ll tell you, sometimes dealing with them drains away so much energy, that a congregation may find it hard enough to stand much less follow. You see, just like weedy soil, they can cause good seed not to bear much fruit. And that’s two.

And three, and this is the tricky one, sometimes they’re hard to spot. I mean, it’s not like they all wear propeller caps or speak with Australian accents. And think about it, deceit and slander can sound like truth, ruthlessness like healthy competition, heartlessness like "tough love," and if you word it right, gossip can actually sound like a prayer request. Sadly, there are some problem children in the church, because they’re also in the world, and that’s the first thing we need to remember.

And second, just like I learned with my bathtub, when faced with that kind of thing, we can actually cause even more damage if we just rush in and try to solve it in the way we think it should be solved. You know, it’s interesting, in the parable, when they saw the darnel, which when it’s young looks exactly like wheat, "...the slaves said, ‘Now do you want us to go out and gather them?’" Of course, they were really fortunate that they had a master who had sense enough to say, "No, lest in gathering the darnel, you might uproot at the same time the wheat." You see, if those well-meaning but impatient slaves had gone out and trumped through the field, pulling up everything that looked suspicious, that master wouldn’t have had to worry about limited production, because his crop would have been pretty much gone. It’s like destroying a disease by killing the patient. And yet, that’s what we often do, when we rush in to pull a few weeds from the church. You see, no matter how well meaning we are, when we starting weeding, we’re going to stomp down or pluck up some potentially productive Christians who’s only crime is looking like the folks we’ve labeled as trouble. And even when we pull out the right ones, how many good plants are also going to sacrificed because their roots are tangled?

And you know, when we get to this weed pulling stage, well, to do it well, we may have to become, at the very least, crafty, heartless, and ruthless, probably worst. In other words, we can become as bad, frankly as unchristian, as they folks we’re judging and condemning. And when that’s our reputation, you tell me how we’re ever going to be productive. I mean, it’s pretty hard to convince people of the love and mercy of God when you’re squirting "Round Up" everywhere. Our actions can actually make a bad situation worse, and that’s the second thing we need to remember.

And third, when caught in these situations, we need to remember that God is the ultimate judge. I mean, Jesus said, "Now just as the darnel is collected and in fire burned, thus it is at the completion of the age. The son of man sends his angels and they collect from his kingdom all the causes of stumbling and those who are lawless. And they will throw them into the furnace of fire. There is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine out like the sun in the kingdom of their father."

You see, ultimately God will sort it out. He’s the judge, and his will will be done. Now, I think we need to remember this, and I’ll tell you why. There may be times and situations when we might need to confront a Christian brother or sister and maybe ask one to leave. Christ himself recognized that possibility and even offered some guidelines on how it should be done, something we’re going to talk about on the first Sunday in September. No, I don’t want anyone to think that I’m suggesting that the church should either accept or ignore everything and anything that might sprout up. But you know, when we begin to deal with these issues, remembering that God is in charge which means we’re not, well, that just might slow us down a little bit in our rush to judgement and execution. And it might help us deal with the very real problems we may face with humility and grace and patience, seeking always the guidance of the Master, something that those slaves did before their desire to act caused them to destroy the crop. Man, God is in charge, that’s the third thing we need to keep in mind.

Remember the story of the leaky bathtub I talked about a little while ago? Well, later that day I got a plumber, and after, about two hours and ten minutes, which meant I paid him a full three hours, he fixed the leak, something he could have probably done in about an hour, but remember I fixed it first. And the next weekend, I painted the kitchen ceiling. And you know, when I moved out of the house about ten years later, you could still the faint outline of the spot. That’s what happened to me, and I’ll tell you, it can happen to us if we forget that even though there are some bad seeds, you know problem children, even within the church, we can cause more damage than they could on their worst day, if we rush in and try to weed them out ourselves instead of trusting that God is in control. You see, maybe that’s a lesson we can all apply the next time it happens, and of course I’m talking about the next time the bathtub leaks.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Vacation Bible School Is Almost Here

On Sunday, we begin Vacation Bible School, and I sincerely hope you're planning to come. Although I understand that summer is busy, this week gives us all the opportunity to grow in our understanding of and relationship with Jesus Christ. For the children, VBS is a great chance to teach, to reach out to young people who aren't a part of our congregation and to give kids a week of fun and games. Let's face it; there aren't a lot of specific opportunities to do this. And let's remember: the children aren't the future of the church; they're important right now. For adults, we have the chance both to learn and to strengthen our relationship with God and one another. This is particularly important for folks who don't have a deep background in the Christian faith or who may be new to the church and the community. For me, Vacation Bible School offers a unique chance for us to grow.

But I think there's another reason we might all consider being involved. A lot of people worked very hard to put this program together. As with so many other activities we see within the church, they used their time and often their money for us. And although they're not seeking a formal "thank you," our willingness to come and to become involved shows that we appreciate their work. Of course, I recognize that runs against our "me" centered culture, but sometimes simple Christian compassion and sensitivity is countercultural.

And so, let's all decide that we're not only going to take advantage of this great opportunity to grow in Christ, but we're also going to tell all those volunteers who give of themselves for our sakes that we appreciate their service. And one more thing, let's apply those same attitudes as we consider coming to Sunday School and worship or participating in the rummage sale or become involved in scouts, youth activities or any of the other groups that are so important to our church. Amen.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Meditation Classes Beginning

Come and learn the art of meditation with us. The goal of meditation is to create a balance between mind, heart, and body. Spiritually it puts us in touch with our inner life. It can also improve health problems and many have found that meditation & relaxation techniques help them in the work place.

We will learn the benefits of meditation, breathing tips, techniques from many different cultures, and yes, we will be practicing a few of these. Don’t worry - no one will be asked to do anything outside of their comfort zone; this is just for our own healing and FUN!

I would like to start the classes on Saturday, September 13, 2008. We will be meeting every Saturday morning from 10:00 -11:00 in Fellowship Hall. If you so desire, bring a yoga mat; otherwise, we will be sitting on chairs (a small pillow could be helpful for the back.). Please wear comfortable, loose clothing. That’s all you need!

For any questions or additional information, please contact Becky Korosec at 748-8449. Thank you.

Blessings,
Becky Korosec

Monday, July 14, 2008

Kris Cross - An Exciting Way for Young People to Praise God


Please join us on a creative adventure into the arts. Cove Presbyterian Church is proud to announce our newest youth program, Dowel Rod Ministry. Prepare to embark on an innovative exploration of the arts and creative movement like none other. The Dowel Rod Ministry is open to anyone ages 5 and up who either have an interest or talent for the art of dance. No previous dance experience is necessary to participate. The Dowel Rod Ministry will have its first two meeting on Tuesday, July 15 and Thursday, July 17 from 7:00-8:00 p.m. at Cove Presbyterian Church at Main Street, Weirton. Below you will find a brief description about the program. Interested? Come and find out even more next week as we explore more about this fine art of creative movement.

Description
"Interpretive movement" in ministry is simply communication through rehearsed physical expression. For more than ten years, Jeff Smith of Salt & Light Ministries has been using wooden dowel rod sticks to interpret and bring to life contemporary Christian music as a dramatic art form. The concept of using sticks or "God Rods" in movement was designed for those who desired to express themselves through movement, but who lacked formal training, or were uncomfortable or unable to participate in dance. The creative movement ideas then spread to using additional props such as fabrics, hand gestures, sign language, and drama to interpret the lyrics and stories of Christian music.

If you have any questions pertaining to the Dowel Rod Ministry, please do not hesitate to contact Kristen Palavis at 304-723-2828 or the church office at 304-748-5980.

Sermon: Becoming a Seedy Church

Matthew 13:1-9. 18-23 - In that day, Jesus went out of the house and was sitting beside the lake. And a great crowd gathered together before him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd was upon the shore standing.

And he spoke to them many things in parables saying, "Behold, the sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some fell upon the road, and the birds came and ate them up. But others fell upon the stony ground where it didn’t have much soil, and immediately they sprang up because they didn’t have depth of soil. But the sun rose and scorched [them], and because they didn’t have roots, they withered. But others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them. But others fell in the good soil and yielded grain, some one hundred, some sixty, some thirty. The one who has ears let him hear.

"Now you listen to the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and doesn’t understand, the evil one comes and seizes what is sown from his heart. This is what was sown upon the road. And what was sown upon the stony ground, this is one who hears the word and immediately with joy receives it. But he has no root in himself but is wanting in perseverance, and when pressures come or persecution because of the word, immediately he is caused to stumble. And what was sown in the thorns, this is one who hears the word and the worries of this age and the deception of wealth chokes the word, and it becomes unfruitful. And what was sown in the good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands, who obviously bears fruit and some yield one hundred, some yield sixty, some yield thirty."

**********

In the New Testament, there are all kinds of images for the church. For example the Apostle Paul called it the Bride of Christ, you know to emphasize Christ’s great love for those whom he called. And the Evangelist John among others called the church a vine or a vineyard, reminding Christians that they need to have a close relationship with God and of course they need to bear fruit. He also said the church was a flock, with Jesus as the good shepherd. But that’s not all. In other places it was called a household or a family of brothers and sisters, or even a building, a holy temple "not built by human hands." And of course, Paul called the church the Body of Christ, with all the different parts working together. Now, those are some of the traditional images for the church.

But you know, this morning, I want to suggest another way to look at who we are and where we’re going. And although this image doesn’t sound as good as some of the ones I mentioned a little while ago, I believe it’s not only firmly grounded in scripture, in fact in the passage we just read a little while ago, but it can also lead to some extremely focused and practical actions on our part. And so here it is. Drum role please. This morning, I want to challenge us to become a seedy church, in fact I hope we’re able to become the seediest church in Weirton.

Now I’m serious, because I’m telling you, if we’re able to do it, I think Cove will be an extremely exciting place to be, because we’ll be the kind of community where every single seed sown by the Son of Man, and I’m talking about every single man, woman and child that’s been scattered across this valley, they’ll be nurtured and supported and encouraged so that they can grow into everything God has created them to be. Now, for me, that’s what it means to be a seedy church.
But you know, to claim that image, I think there are three things we’re going to have to become. You see, to become a seedy church, first, I believe we really need to be realistic, and I’m talking about being realistic as we look at both the seeds themselves and the soil into which the seeds fall. Let me tell you what I mean. As we look at every single seed, every single person, we need to remember that they were all created by God, and as a member of the church reminded me this past week, God doesn’t make junk. No, every person, with all their gifts and talents, with all their strengths and weaknesses, with all their quirks and idiosyncrasies, we’ve all been created by the Lord of the universe. And we carry within ourselves enormous potential. Just like every good seed has the capacity to become a healthy and productive plant, everyone that God has sown upon his earth has something to offer. You see, we’ve got to be realistic as we look at the seeds.

But I’ll tell you something else, we also have to be realistic about the soil in which those good, potential-packed seeds fall. I mean, just like Christ taught in the parable, no matter how good the seed, it’s not going to sprout if it end up on asphalt, or grow if it’s stuck in shallow soil, under a hot sun, or bear fruit if it’s being choked out by weeds. And although I’m not a farmer, I know that the seeds don’t determine the soil into which they fall. Therefore, when you get right down to it, if they don’t realize their potential, it’s really not the fault of the seeds; the problem is with the soil.

And you know, that’s the way it is with people too. I mean, give me a break, it doesn’t matter how many times a person attends church as a child or watches a preacher on TV or even hears us talk about why Christianity is important, my gosh, if those services never mean anything to him or if that preacher is more a source of entertainment than guidance or if our words seem to have nothing to do with his experience, in other words, if he still doesn’t get it, anything close to real dedication is probably not going to sprout. But it’s not his fault; it’s the fault of the soil. And I’ll tell you, if a girl goes to some meeting and gets all fired up about Jesus and in the emotion of the moment, makes all kinds of promises to God, but then, maybe a day or a week or a month later, she sobers up and finds herself hopelessly overextended and realizes that she’s made some commitments that she just can’t or doesn’t want to fulfill, in other words, if she has no spiritual depth when the demands of discipleship get intense, should anyone be surprised that she never grows into an active believer? But it’s not her fault; it’s the fault of the soil. And think about it, if those precious people, possessing all their wonderful gifts and talents, are suffering or stressed, if they’re hungry or homeless, if they’re battle addictions and abuse, my goodness, if they feel lonely or lost, well, I don’t see any chance for them to be truly productive. But it’s really not their fault, is it? It’s the fault of the soil. My gosh, if plant a garden on my drive way, I shouldn’t blame the seeds when I don’t get any tomatoes.

And this is something we need to understand, because if we judge and condemn and ignore those folks, we’re doing something wrong to them and God himself, their creator. How can we blame the seed for landing in bad soil? I mean, let’s face it, if those same people were dropped into good soil, you know, if they were in a place where they could understand and where they were nurtured and supported and where they weren’t being choked by distractions, I think those people could be incredibly productive. But for the grace of God there goes any of us. Now, that’s exactly what I mean by being realistic, the first thing we need to become if we want to be a seedy church.

And second, I think we also need to be productive, in other words, we need to set as a priority the care and nurture of folks on both sides of the stained glass so that everybody can become what God created them to be and to accomplish what God called them to do. That’s what I mean by being productive. And how we do it, well, to me, that’s got to be based on the soil we’re working with, right? I mean, in a world that’s looking more and more like asphalt, I think the church has to do more than just throw out the Word and hope it takes root. In other words, we can’t expect to do the same old things and sing the same old songs inside these walls and hope that those who don’t "get it" wander in and suddenly want to stay. Man, I hope we all recognize that’s not going to cut it anymore. Instead, for those folks who are really lost, we might have to take the time to explain what we believe and to do it in language we can understand or better to show in our daily living that trusting in Jesus Christ really does make a difference. That’s being productive. And for those folks who run hot and then cold, you know, who rush into the church like their pants are on fire, well, maybe we need to slow them down a little bit so they can see that faith is more than just what you feel at the moment. And you know I think we can all recognize that’s probably a good idea. My goodness, how many times have you seen a person, maybe in this church, get all involved in everything, even take a church office right away, but before the year’s over, they’ve burned out and drifted away? Maybe if the church had helped them deepen their faith before it encouraged them to expand their commitments, maybe things would have been different. That’s being productive. And those poor folks who are ready to grow and bear fruit, but who feel strangled by other problems, well, maybe it’s time for us to pull a few weeds, what do you think? I mean, maybe it’s time we helped them physically and emotionally and spiritually, and maybe it’s time we shared with them that they’re not alone, and maybe it’s time we made the decision to not add to the burden they’re already carrying. Of course, it may mean rolling up our sleeves and getting our hands dirty, but maybe when the pressure is eased, then they’ll be able to bear some good fruit, and that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? That’s being productive. And for those in the good soil, man, we don’t want to forget them. My goodness, the church should be doing everything it can to help them develop and to use their gifts and talents. And we should be giving them the freedom to serve God in the way that he’s called them to serve, you know, removing those stupid obstacles that straitjacket folks and getting rid of that ridiculous "it’s either our way or the highway" mentality churches get into. Now, addressing all of those needs will probably mean the church has to change, but I’ll tell you, it’ll be worth it as we see those seeds sprouting and growing and bearing fruit. I’m telling you, seedy churches are productive and that the second thing we’re going to need to become.

And third, seedy churches are also faithful: faithful as they look to the future and faithful as they live in the present. I mean, like I said a little while ago, if we’re going to be realistic, we’ve got to recognize that even though people have potential, there are lot things that can get in the way. In other words, there are all kinds of reasons why people don’t become active and productive
Christians. And you know, believing that, well, it can be pretty discouraging, doing the best we can and still seeing people turn away, drop out and feel overwhelmed. But I’ll tell you, faithful people can keep their eyes on the prize, and believe that in spite of the frustrations right now, God has promised a bumper harvest in the end. You see, they know that they are not powerful enough to frustrate the will of God. That’s one thing they can see, but that’s not all.

Even though they may be tired by the work and even a little scarred about the changes, faithful people know that they have a lot for which to be thankful. And that certainly applies to us. I mean, just think about it, the son of man sows the seed, and for some reason, we ended up here, in this soil, surrounded by brothers and sisters who care about us, in country where we’re free to worship and in community in which we can know the names of our neighbors, if we choose to listen. And considering all the tough places out there in the world, I don’t know about you, but I feel lucky and thankful and blessed to be where I am. And you know, the more I believe that, the more I’m going to be willing to share some of these blessings with others. I’ll tell you, seedy churches are also faithful churches.

Like I said, there are a lot of images for the church. And as we think about what they are and how they might effect how we live, let’s also include an image that’s a little different but that just might lead us to be more realistic and more productive and more faithful as individuals and as a community. In other words, starting today, let’s make the decision to become a truly seedy church.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A Letter from the Moderator of the General Assembly

July 9, 2008

Dear Friends,

I just got done reading a great post on prayer from Jan Edmiston, pastor in the DC area and her post, Praying for Enemies (http://www.achurchforstarvingartists.com/2008/07/praying-for-enemies.html).

It got me thinking about the first two weeks* of my term as Moderator. I don’t know about you, but I may have reached my post-GA punditry and analysis saturation point. While I understand the cathartic need to vent and react, I do think that at some point we must begin moving from where we were to where we are going. And honestly, we all need a break from some of the intensity lest we get caught up in our own little bubble and lose sight of larger issues and/or we begin to actually do damage to the very things we are trying to build up. I know that as I get to feeling a little overwhelmed, it usually means that I have been forgetting to nurture one or more of my spiritual disciplines. I KNOW that I need to get out and ride more, I can’t wait for my next spiritual direction appointment and, good golly, I need to ramp up my prayer life.

Pre-GA, I thought I was in prayer enough. But I tell ya, with the sheer number of interactions—in person and online—the need for perspective and many more outright questions for God, I have been in prayer more in the past few weeks than would have ever thought needed or possible. I have prayed for strangers, new friends, my family, my wife, my daughters, my church and my own personal mental and spiritual health. At my most thankful, I have prayed for those who have supported me on my short- and long-term Christian walk and, when I have been at my best, I have prayed for those who at some level are my “enemies.”
I have found great comfort from prayer, not only in mine lifted to God, but those lifted up to God on my behalf. I have found that, of all the gracious words or actions that people have directed my way, the most meaningful have been the prayers from those with whom there is some level of tension. When the words, “I will hold you and your family in prayer” follows a rational note, comment, or letter explaining why they may disagree with what I believe or how I have acted, I hold that with great care because, as we all know, it is hard to pray, truly pray, for those with whom we disagree.

It is hard to pray for our enemies.

Sure we say we will pray for all of our brothers and sisters, but when I receive sincere offerings of prayer, I am given hope. It is not hope in the survival of a denominational institution or contractual relationship, but hope in the fellowship of Christ. Even if we think the other is straying from core beliefs, we can still lift them up to God, hoping that God’s will will be done in their lives and ours. Our covenant in Christ is still being honored. Heck, I don't even care if the prayer is, “God, please change Bruce’s wayward ways,” because even then, I think there is a level of Christian love that drives the prayer.

Prayer will be one way that we may be able to move together into who knows what kind of future we will have as Presbyterians. I would invite you to pray for one another on your blogs, in your churches, during your quiet time, or if you are a Facebooker, join the Moderator Facebook Group and lift up the many prayers that are being offered up in our Prayers of the People . . . discussion group.

If you believe some of the commentary out there, you would think that there is absolutely nothing we can come together around. I just do not think this is true and prayer lifted up for one another is a good place to begin proving it.

Pray on, my friends, pray on.
Bruce Reyes-Chow
Moderator, 218th General Assembly (2008)

* GA 2010 in Minneapolis, 4th of July Weekend, about 100 weeks away ;-)

Visit my Moderator’s blog at www.mod.reyes-chow.com.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Sermon: Where's John Adams When You Need Him

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

"And to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children, sitting in the market place, who call to one another saying, We play for you a flute and you didn’t dance. We wail and you didn’t mourn. For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a glutton and a drunk, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her works."

At that time Jesus answered and said, "I thank you, father, lord of heaven and earth, that you hide these things from the wise and intelligent and reveal them to infants. Yes, father, that thus it was your good pleasure to do. Everything to me was entrusted by you, and no one is acquainted with the son except the father, nor is he acquainted with the father except the son and those to whom the son wills to reveal [him]. Come to me all who toil and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, because I’m meek and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

******

As I guess most of y’all know, last Wednesday was my birthday. And let me tell you right here and now, it’s not easy turning forty-one...over and over and over again. I think I’ve hit that point in life when the candles on the cake actually represent a fire hazard. But be-that-as-it-may, Wednesday was my birthday and along with some other really neat stuff, my parents gave me the DVDs for that HBO series on John Adams. And I’ll tell you, few things touch the heart of this Ben Franklin look-alike more than something about one of our founding fathers.

But you know, it’s interesting; a couple of days before the second, you know, when I first started to think about what I was going to preach this morning, John Adams was on my mind, particularly about how he thought future generations would celebrate our Independence Day. I mean, right after the Continental Congress approved the Declaration, John wrote this to Abigail, his wife: "I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty."

Now, that’s what he wrote, and I’ve got to tell you, I find it amazing. And although in the next sentence he talked about how it should be "...solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more," his very first thought was on how it should be a day humbly to give thanks and praise to God.

You see, that’s what John Adams saw, what he expected, and for that reason, I think I’m pretty safe in saying, he’d probably be kind of disappointed with how modern Americans celebrate this very special day. My goodness, unless it falls on Sunday, I don’t think many people remember the Fourth with anything close to solemn acts of devotion, unless you call cramming potato salad into your body a spiritual exercise. As a matter of fact, I don’t think any of us expected attendance this morning to be very high, because let face it, this is one Sunday an awful lot of Christians decide to "take off." I mean, give me a break, the Fourth of July is a day for flags and eagles and displays of power, for picnics and parades and pride. I think for most people offering humble thanks to God would kind of get in the way, don’t you?

And you know, how we celebrate the Fourth, well, I think it reflects how a lot of Americans, even American Christians view our country 24/7. I mean, think about it, we’re proud of our independence, right; which means no one can tell us what to do, and when push comes to shove, we really don’t need anyone else. That’s what independence means. And as a country, we’ve got wisdom just coming out of our ears, therefore, regardless of the question, we have the answer, and regardless of the problem, our way is right. And strength, my goodness gracious; man, we can not only endure, we can overcome anything, because haven’t we shown over and over again that our ability and our energy and our ingenuity are virtually without limits? Am I right? Sure I am; or that’s how a lot of Americans see it. And although I think it’s wonderful to treasure and to feel good about our independence and wisdom and strength, if we’re not careful, these very positive feelings can lead us into some attitudes and actions that have been and will continue to be destructive to the very country we love. Let me tell you what I mean.

If we’re not careful, the very independence that fills us with pride can also leave us isolated, separated from other countries and peoples and traditions that we’ve been told have nothing to offer us and even cut off from a God who may say things we don’t want to hear; therefore, we don’t need to listen. You see what I mean? And I’ll tell you, if we’re not careful, our great wisdom can lead to arrogance and even ignorance. I mean, you tell me how we’re going to grow if our answers are always right, and if you disagree, you’re always wrong. And you know, the more we focus on our strength, on our limitless abilities, the more tired we’re going to become trying to carry that burden and the more difficult it’s going to be to accept any kind of help, even help from God. You see, we can actually hurt ourselves and our country if we let our enthusiasm and pride go to the extreme. I’ll tell you, if we’re not careful, we can become no better than those spoiled, know-it-all, dissatisfied children that Christ described in the passage we read a little while ago.

And you know, for that reason, for that very reason, I believe it’s crucially important for us as Christian Americans to reclaim the humble devotion described by John Adams and to listen to the three things our Lord Jesus Christ said in the second part of the passage we read, because I’ll tell you, when we do, not only will we change for the better, so will our country.

I mean, along with celebrating our independence, I believe it’s crucial that we make a concerted effort to recognize just how dependent we are on God and on one another. Now, that’s the first thing we can do. You know, it’s interesting, Jesus thanked his Father that he "...[hid] these things from the wise and intelligent and [revealed] them to infants," to babies who haven’t even learned to speak (that’s what the Greek word means), in other words, to men and women who are absolutely dependent and who know it. You see, according to Jesus, these were the folks to whom God revealed himself, not the high and mighty and not those who don’t need anybody else and certainly not those who can never be corrected or advised, but rather to those who are able to recognize that who they are and what they have comes from a source far wiser and strong than them. Man, we are dependent. And I’ll tell you, when we’ve able to recognize that man, it’s got to move us closer to God, the source of all things. Who knows, we might actually be willing to celebrate Independence Day with solemn acts of devotion. But more than that, I believe it may actually move us closer to one another, I’m thinking about closer to other countries and other peoples and other traditions who are no more or no less dependent than we. We need one another to do what God has called us to do, and working together, we can improve the lives of everyone. You see, as Christian Americans we can recognize that we’re dependent. That’s the first thing we can do.

And second, we can also accept our limitations, or as my wife reminds me every now and then, we can accept the fact that we just might not be as smart as we think we are. And isn’t that what Christ is saying in this passage? I mean, not only did he say that stuff about how God reveals himself to infants and not to the so-called wise and intelligent, he also said, "Everything to me was entrusted by you, and no one is acquainted with the son except the father, nor is he acquainted with the father except the son and those to whom the son wills to reveal [him]." In other words, coming to understand Jesus isn’t something we do ourselves; left on our own, we just can’t full know who God is or what Christ did. Our wisdom and knowledge is limited; therefore, no wonder we can’t figure out how to rein in human nature. Whether we like it or not, the power of greed and lust, the power of fear and hatred, my gosh, the power of sin is just, plain stronger than we. And I’ll tell you, because of that, as we try to wage war against poverty or drugs or terrorism we are never going to be able to say "mission accomplished," not until Jesus Christ returns and redeems creation. We can’t do it. And the sooner we realize that, the sooner we’ll be able to approach God humbly, confessing our own sins and seeking his direction, and then to use what he’s given us as best we can. But I’ll tell you, that’s never going to happen if we allow arrogance and ignorance to get in the way. No, we’re only going to be able to do what we’ve been called to do and do it well, when we accept our limits, the second thing we can do as Christian Americans.

And third, we can also admit that there are times when we’re weak, that there are times when we feel burdened and worn out, that there are times when the yoke we carry as individuals and as a country seems too heavy for us to bear. I’ll tell you, it’s realizing that the old hymn is right on the mark: "I am weak but Thou are strong, Jesus, keep me from all wrong; I’ll be satisfied as long as I walk, let me walk close to Thee. Through this world of toil and snares, if I falter, Lord, who cares? Who with me my burdens shares? None but Thee, dear Lord, none but Thee." I think this is something we need to admit both as individuals and as a nation. And I’ll tell you something else, if we do, if we have the courage to admit this, I believe two things are going happen. One, we’ll be able to respond to Christ’s call, and I’m talking about the invitation he offers right here in this passage. You see, we’ll be ready to come to him and receive rest, because he was talking about us when he invited all who toil and are burdened. And we’ll be willing to take his yoke upon our shoulders and to learn from him, because he’s meek and humble in heart, and we’ll find rest for our souls. Now that’s one thing that will happen. And two, when we admit that we’re weak, that just might help us be a little more tolerant and patient and even generous with all those folks who are also being crushed by their own burdens. You see, that can happen when we admit that in spite of our press clippings, when compared to God, man, we are weak and that admission is the third thing Christian Americans can do.

I’ll tell you, I’m really looking forward to seeing that series on John Adams, but not just because he was one of the founders of our country. No, from what I’ve read about him, including the quote I mentioned a little while ago, he seemed to reflect the kind of humble dedication that I believe our country desperately needs. You see, because we love America, as brothers and sisters in Christ, we can decide to follow the advice of John Adams and the teachings of Jesus Christ and we have the courage and faith to recognize that we are dependent and to accept that we are limited and to admit that we have weaknesses. And if we do, I believe not only will we see both our lives and country change for the better, our solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty won’t be limited to one day a year.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Cove's Vaction Bible School



Dates: July 20 - July 24
Time: 6:00 - 8:30 p.m.
Location: Cove Presbyterian Church

Any questions, please call 748-5980.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Fourth of July

Happy Fourth of July. Although it may be cloudy and rainy, this is still an important day. You see, we have the opportunity to remember the birth of our country and to celebrate those values that have set us apart from the rest of the world. For example, we're a society grounded on personal liberty and social justice, one that affirms the right of each person to speak as guided by conscience and to worship as directed by God. For us, the majority may rule but never at the cost of minority rights. What our founders established over two hundred years ago was truly unique and special. And so, on this Independence Day, let's pause for just a few minutes to offer thanks to Almighty God for the opportunity he's given us to live in this country and to ask for his guidance and strength so that we might always be an example to the rest of the world. On Sunday, during our 11:00 service, we'll discuss some of the ways we might do that.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Sermon: What Jesus Will Say to Mattie

Matthew 10:40-42 - The one who welcomes you welcomes me. And the one who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. The one who welcomes a prophet in a prophet’s name will receive a prophet’s reward. And the one who welcomes a righteous person in a righteous person’s name will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever might give to one of these little ones a cup of cool water to drink in a disciples name, amen I say to you, he will absolutely not lose his reward.

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In my twenty-one years of ministry, I’ve known some pretty special and even remarkable people, many of whom you’re probably going to hear used as sermon illustrations in the future. And be careful, I may include some of the folks at Cove. But don’t worry. I’ll do the same kind of they’d say on Dragnet. I’ll change the names to the protect the innocent, and maybe the guilty too. Anyway, Mattie Carlson was one of those truly remarkable people. You see, I knew her when I working in the Community Presbyterian Church of Fairview, Montana, there in the Yellowstone River valley, right on the border with North Dakota. And I’ll tell you, they aren’t kidding when they call it "big sky" country. Now as I recall, Mattie was somewhere in her late sixties. Dean, her husband, was a retired John Deere salesman. In fact, he was the one who chaired the committee that called me. And Mattie had been an elementary school teacher before she retired.

But you know, it wasn’t where she lived or to whom she was married or what she’d done, that’s not what made Mattie so special. No, it was her amazing sense of service. I’ll tell you, she came as close to selflessness as I’ve ever seen. And if you looked up humility in the dictionary, Mattie’s picture should be there. I’ll tell you, she had an amazing ability to show hospitality. I mean, she made this eastern, city boy feel right at home on the great prairie. Of course, it didn’t hurt that she could make oyster stew to die for, and I’m talking about the really stuff, not those Rocky Mountain oysters, at least I don’t think so. In fact, when I got gassed out of my apartment, there in Martha Huber’s basement because of a crack in the stack, Mattie and Dean put me up, or maybe better, put up with me until I could find a new place. Now that’s what I’m talking about when I say hospitality, but it wasn’t just to me. She welcomed everybody. For Mattie, no one was a stranger. She just, plain knew hospitality.

And when it came to generosity, she was a giving person in every sense of the word. Now, you’ve got to understand, she and Dean were in no way wealthy. Their home was neat and comfortable, but certainly not fancy. And yet, if somebody was a little bit down on their luck, you know, needed a little help, Mattie was always there. And I only know that because sometimes the people would tell me. But I’d never hear it from her, that would be out of character. But more than money, Mattie was generous with her time and talents. I think she’d taught the children in our little, bitty Sunday School for about forty years, and I remember, she hated recognition Sunday because she didn’t like attention put on her. And she was also the unofficial and unpaid church secretary. You see, she typed the bulletins on her Underwood typewriter and printed the copies on our mimeograph machine every Saturday morning. As a matter of fact, Mattie lived a life that reflected the kind of stewardship we often just talk about. I’ll telling you, along with being hospitable, that woman was generous with a capital "G."

And I think that’s all because of her sense of humble service. And I’m talking about the kind of thing Christ told his disciples in that little passage we read this morning. I mean, I think he could have been talking about Mattie when he said: "The one who welcomes you welcomes me. And the one who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. The one who welcomes a prophet in a prophet’s name will receive a prophet’s reward. And the one who welcomes a righteous person in a righteous person’s name will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever might give to one of these little ones a cup of cool water to drink in a disciples name, amen I say to you, he will absolutely not lose his reward." You see, this is just the kind of life she lived.

And I’ll tell you, for that reason, I think I’ve got a pretty good idea about what Jesus will say to Mattie, as she stands before him after the resurrection of the dead, in that new heaven and new earth. I mean, I can hear Christ say to her, "Mattie, when you opened your home to the missionaries who came to speak at the church or folks who’d come about four hundred miles from the presbytery office to help some committee or even the young preachers who passed through with those funny accents, Mattie when you showed that kind of hospitality without expecting any recognition or praise, do you realize what you were doing? You were welcoming me. You were showing me hospitality as sure as if I’d been the one sitting at your kitchen table, eating rhubarb sauce on biscuits. You see, whenever you welcome one of my servants, you’re welcoming me. But more than that, you’re also welcoming the one who sent me, and you know who I talking about. My Father, our father entered your house every single time you opened your door to others. And so thank you, thank you for the hospitality." Now, that’s one thing I think Christ will say.

But that’s not all. I also think he’ll say: "And because of all the hospitality and warmth you showed my servants, you received something very special. Now, granted, as defined by the world, it was kind of a mixed bag. I mean, I don’t think anyone in Fairview, Montana judged, much less persecuted you for what you did; therefore, you weren’t really treated like a prophet in your home town. Still, I know you passed up opportunities to do things with your family and friends because you were busy in my church. I’m sure there were plenty of times you didn’t do something you really wanted to do because those kids in Sunday school or that bulletin that needed to be printed or that pastor who needed to be fed were higher priorities. Of course, I also know that your work was appreciated, even praised by others. And although that wasn’t something that you sought, it still must have been good to hear. No, on earth, a little good and a little bad, but that’s just life. But from my perspective, my goodness, I bet you took a little something away from every minister you met and every child you taught and every person you helped. You were truly rich in memories, and that’s something that you can now enjoy through out eternity." Now, that’s something else I’d expect Christ to say.

And finally, I can just imagine him looking into Mattie’s eyes and saying, "And speaking of eternity, come on in, my good and faithful servant. Because, at the time, you many not have realized it, but when you taught all those Sunday School classes, I was there. And when you worked so hard, putting on all those bereavement dinners, I was there. And when you took the time to simply talk with a person who was a little down, and it didn’t matter when the person was four or ninety-four, I was there too. In fact, you probably don’t even remember feeding me when I was hungry or giving me cool water when I was thirsty or visiting me when I was lonely. I’m sure you don’t even remember when that happened, but it did. Because you were always there to help the little ones, and I’m talking about the least of those who our brothers and sisters. And so Mattie, come, enter the kingdom that’s been waiting for you since the dawn of creation and enjoy life that’s eternal."

Now like I said a little while ago, Mattie Carlson was a really special person, someone who showed the kind of character that Christ called for in the three verses we read a little while ago. And I certainly believe that she has and will receive exactly what he promised. And so, when she sees him at the resurrection, in the new heaven and new earth, well, I think their conversation will be great. But you know, I just wonder, in like of the word we’ve heard and the opportunities we have right now, when we stand before our Lord, I wonder what Jesus will say to us.