Monday, September 15, 2008

What's Happening in Christian Education

Sunday School -- All Sunday Schools now meet at 9:30am in Fellowship Hall for an opening. This is to include a song, any announcements, passing out of the weekly newsletter, some type of entertainment, and some attendance awards. Our first week went wonderfully and I’m hoping that this grows each week. In addition to the opening we also are doing a closing at 10:45 to official close our Sunday School classes for the week! Our teachers are as follows:
  • Hugh Manley – Men’s Bible Group
  • Rosalie Coxen- Women’s Bible Study
  • Eleanor Cline- Myrtle McHenry
  • Rev. Rudiger- Christian Friends
  • Kayla Cline- teens
  • Sue Reynolds- 3-4 grade
  • Morgan Abbott- 1-2 grade
  • Tina Taflan- PreK – K
  • Jenna Maine- infants-3 years old

Missions -- We will continue to collect pop tabs for the Ronald McDonald House. In the past year we have donated almost 200lbs of pop tabs to this fund. For anyone who does not know what this is I can tell you that it is a wonderful service. The Ronald McDonald House is a place that provides sleeping accommodations as well as some simple food staples to parents who have children in the hospital on either an emergency situation or long term. Lindy and I had to utilize the Pittsburgh facility after the birth of one of our children and it was a blessing to not have to worry about driving back and forth. We will also continue collecting stamps. All the information on this program is posted by the back entrance to the church. This year the Sunday School collection on the first Sunday of each month will be a Compassion Child Collection. The adults and the children will each sponsor a child. The collection on the second Sunday of each month will be a collection of items to put together packages for Church World Services. Each package will be announced in the newsletter the week before. It costs Church World Services approximately $2 to ship each kit, so any monetary donations on this week will go towards this donation.

Brown Bag Bible Study -- Grab your lunch and your Bible and explore the Bible with Rev. Rudiger. This class happens at noon each Thursday in Fellowship Hall. Don’t forget to invite a friend to lunch this day!

Jesus Time -- Please find it in your hearts to spend 45 minutes with the children. This program is not difficult and always contains a simple craft or game. It seems that it continues to be the same faces volunteering for this. I’m sure the children would love to see a new face or two!

Children’s Handbell Choir -- The children will practice on Monday, September 15 and 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 the! In October the children will practice on Monday the 13th and Monday the 20th from 6:30-7. In November the children will practice on Monday the 10th and Monday the 17th from 6:30-7.

Kris Cross -- Kris Cross will practice from 12-1 on the following dates: September 28, October 19, October 26, November 2, November 16, and November 23 Kris Cross will also perform for those attending the UOVP meeting on September 23rd.

Slime Time -- Slime Time will be a community event set up similar to a one day VBS. As you can imagine we will incorporate some science into the days Bible lessons. I WILL NEED HELP WITH THIS EVENT!!! Please watch your bulletins and newsletters for more information as the date gets closer.

Glory to God in the Highest -- GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST will be our children’s Christmas program performed on December 14th. Rejoice with the angel’s announcement of the birth of Jesus as the children tell the amazing story of that first Christmas night. You will hear the children sing some familiar Christmas Carols as this story is played out for you. Practice for the children will be on Wednesdays from 6-7 on the following dates: October 1, October 8, October 22, October 29, November 5, November 12, November 19, December 3, and our dress rehearsal will be on December 10.

Christmas ADVENTure -- Our Christmas ADVENTure will be a community event again scheduled like a one day VBS. This day will be full of stories and Bible lessons for the children as well as some crafts and LOTS of music. Why all the music? We will close our program asking all families to join us in a pot luck dinner after which the children will sing (possibly play depending on our numbers) for the parents as a closing to our joy filled day. I WILL NEED HELP WITH THIS EVENT!

Sermon: Forgiveness Made Easier



Matthew 18:21-35 - Then Peter went to him and asked him, "Lord, how many times may my brother sin against me and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I say to you, not as many as seven times but as many as seventy times seven.

"For this reason, the Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a king who wanted to settle the accounts with his slaves. And when he started the accounting, [a slave] was brought to him who owed to him ten thousand talents. And because he couldn’t pay it back, his lord ordered that he be sold and his wife and children and everything that he had, and the repayment be made. Now the slave fell down on his knees before him and said, "Be patient with me, and everything I will repay you." And the lord of that slave was moved to pity and released him, and canceled his debt. And when that slave went out he found one of his fellow slaves who owed him one hundred denarii, and he seized him by the throat choking him and said, ‘Repay what you owe.’ Now the fellow slave fell down before him and began to beg him saying, ‘Be patient with me, and I will repay you.’ But he was not willing, but went and threw him into prison until the debt might be repaid. Now when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were very sad, and went and explained to their lord everything that had happened. Then his lord called him and said to him, ‘Evil slave, I canceled everything that you owed, because you begged me. Was it not right for you to have pity on your fellow slave, just as I also had pity on you?’ And his lord was angry and gave him over to the torturers until everything he owed he might repay. And thus my heavenly father will do to you, unless you might forgive that brother of your’s from your heart."

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Now I’d like you to look at the title of the sermon this morning. And I want you to notice that we’re going to talk about how forgiveness can be made easier, not easy. Because I’ll tell you, if I stood up here and said that forgiveness can ever be easy, I think you’d know I was dishing out baloney, right?

My goodness, I think we all know that it’s not easy to forgive people who have hurt us. I mean, even though during the sermon last week, we focused on how we can handle situations in which we’re disappointed by someone else and we discussed about how we really need to talk with them and carry into the conversation the right attitude, realistic expectations and a lot of faith, even though we covered all that this past Sunday, forgiveness is just, plain hard to do.

In fact, in some ways it almost seems easier, you know, more natural to carry around grudges and grievances for years. I remember back I bet you twenty-five years ago now, a girl I knew was going to introduce me to her mother. But before she did, she told me, "Now whatever you do, don’t mention my father. He’d been running around on her, and it was a really nasty divorce, and so don’t even mention his name." And I remember saying something like, "Oh I’m sorry to hear that. Man, it’s hard to get past that kind of stuff, especially when the wound is fresh. How long have they been divorced." And the girl said, "Twenty years." Now I always thought that was kind of odd, until a member of my own family told me about a year ago that even though his in-laws have been divorced for over thirty years, he and his wife have to hide gifts from her father, including a painting he did himself that they have hanging in their family room, every time her mother comes over. I’ll tell you, sometimes is mighty hard to forgive.

But you know, I think that’s a real shame, particularly for Christians, and I’ll tell you why. If I’m not able to forgive my parents or my children or my spouse or my church, not only does it kind of eat away at me and sort of distort a lot of the relationships I have with other folks, (remember, the friend of my enemy is automatically my enemy), not only does it do that, it also makes it really hard to feel the joy that comes from trusting in Jesus Christ much less to share anything that comes close to good news to others. I’m telling you, the inability to forgive can really hurt us; in fact, it can dominate our lives.

And you know, for that reason, I think this passage is really important, because in it, Jesus offers us a way that just might make it a little bit easier for us to forgive. In fact, in these verses, I believe he offers us three things we need to remember when we’re struggling with forgiveness.

But you know, before I say anything else, y’all need to understand that what Christ said was really directed to his disciples, in other words, to people who had decided to follow him. Therefore, what I’m about to share with you will probably mean next to nothing if you haven’t made that same decision yourself. And so, if you haven’t, that may be something you might want to consider doing, because not only does it open up a source of hope and peace that you may never have had before, I’m telling you, it can sure offer a whole lot of practical direction that can make your life better each and every day.

And in my book, that certainly applies to what we’re talking about this morning. You see, if we want to get that forgiveness monkey off our backs, first, I think it’s a whole lot easier when we remember that Jesus really, and I mean really, wants us to forgive others.

I mean, think about the passage we read. He’d just finished talking about how disciples could deal with difficult people, and Peter came up to him with a pretty direct question: "Lord, how many times may my brother sin against me and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Now I think it’s important to understand what he had in mind with this forgiveness stuff. You see, the Greek word literally means "to send away" or "to make apart." It’s sort of like a guy shooting arrows at a target. Forgiveness is "removing" or "taking away" all the ones that have missed the bull’s eye. In other words, forgiveness is removing all the sin, all the junk, all the crud that keeps people apart.

And Peter wants to know how many times he had to do that, you know, how many arrows he had to pull out of the target: one, three like the prophet Amos suggested, how about seven. Now that’s pretty generous. And let’s see: I forgive, I forgive, I forgive, I forgive, I forgive, I forgive, I forgive, and then powie! Sounds good to me, right? Wrong. "Jesus said to him, ‘I say to you, not as many as seven times but as many as seventy times seven.’"

You see, for Christ, us forgiving others is so important that the number of times we do it is almost infinite, which you know, makes a lot of sense, because let’s face it, when you’re keeping a running a tally, you’re probably not really forgiving at all. You’re just biding your time. No, the forgiveness Jesus is calling for is genuine and heartfelt. And I also want you to notice that there’s no mention of the other guy apologizing first. Good gracious, there’s really no two ways about it, Jesus wants his disciples to forgive others. And that’s the first thing we need to remember.

And second, if we really want to make forgiveness a little bit easier, than we also need to remember that God has already forgiven us. And isn’t that the point of the first part of the parable? According to Jesus, a slave owned his Lord ten thousand talents. Now understand, ten thousand was the biggest number the Greeks used and a talent was the highest form of currency the Jews had. And to get an idea of how much that was, each year, King Herod the Great collected about nine hundred talents in taxes from all his territories. Ten thousand talents, it’s like us talking about a zillion dollars; it’s beyond measuring. But that’s what he owed. It couldn’t be repaid.

And yet after pleading for not mercy but time, "the Lord of that slave was moved to pity and released him and canceled his debt." In other words, he did a lot more than grant the guy what he wanted, a little more time so he could try to repay an amount that couldn’t be repaid, the Lord did something beyond what any person could expect; he wiped the slate clean. Man, he eliminated this huge obstacle that separated him from his slave.

And you know, brothers and sisters, that’s exactly what God has done for us. And even though it may not feel like God’s forgiven us anything close to a zillion dollars, I think we all have things in our lives, you know weaknesses and sins that make it hard for us to feel comfortable with God. And even though the best we might expect is for God to give us a little more time to straighten ourselves out, the good news is that God has released us and canceled our debt; period, close the book, Elvis has left the building.

Now, let me ask y’all; do you believe that? I’m serious, do you believe that? Because if you don’t, if you don’t feel forgiven either because you’re so bad it’s impossible or more likely so good it’s really unnecessary, then you probably are going to feel very grateful as you look toward God. But then, why would you? You’re just getting what you deserve. But if you do, you tell me, shouldn’t that fill you with so much gratitude, so much peace, so much joy that the sky’s the limit in how you might express your thanks? Therefore, if God wants you to forgive the one who sins against you seventy times seven, then you’re probably going do, what? Forgive him seventy times seven. Man, this isn’t rocket science. You see, when we accept that God has already forgiven us, I think it make it easier to forgive others. And that’s the second thing we need to remember.

And third, I think we probably also need to understand that there are consequences when we don’t forgive. And give me a break, why shouldn’t there be? I mean, if we know Jesus wants us to forgive others and we know that God has forgiven us, and if we don’t, we don’t forgive, we shouldn’t be surprised that something’s probably going to hit the fan? Duh.

But evidentially that was something the slave in the story missed, because as soon as he left his lord, he dumped on a fellow slave who owed him a fraction of what he’d been forgiven. But you know, the lord found out, didn’t he? Lords always do. And I wonder what was passing through the mind of that ungrateful slave when he heard his Lord say, "Evil slave, I canceled everything that you owed, because you begged me. Was it not right for you to have pity on your fellow slave, just as I also had pity on you?" And I wonder what he was thinking when "...his lord...gave him over to the torturers until everything he owed he might repay?" I bet he probably thought that he’d made a strategic error in withholding forgiveness from his colleague.

And you know, maybe that should cause us to pause a little bit. I mean, right now, I want you to think about someone you’re having a hard time forgiving, even though you know that’s what Christ has called you to do and that you’ve been forgiven by God. If right now, you’re saying to yourself, I can’t do it; I won’t do it; in a very real sense, you’re putting yourself in the position of the slave. I mean, by your decision, you’re turning yourself over to a torturer, choosing to feel the anger and hatred that comes when to everyone who carries a grudge, and to push people away because it’s mighty hard to enjoy the company of a person who’s oozing with resentments. Man, that’s torture. And how are you ever going to feel close to God so long as the anger you feel toward that spouse or child or parent or whoever is standing in the way? And I’ll guarantee, if this is something you can’t get pass, I don’t know how you can ever really appreciate the good news of love and grace. Not being able to forgive has consequences, and that’s the third thing we need to remember.

Of course, even if we remember all this stuff, forgiveness still isn’t easy. My goodness, I think we’ve all known people who will go to their graves holding on to pain that’s grounded in the past, all because they couldn’t forgive. But I’ll tell you, as disciples of Christ, we know better, because we know that Jesus really wants us to forgive and that God has already forgiven us and that there are consequences if choose not to forgive others. And although that won’t make it easy, it just might make forgiving a whole lot easier.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Mason Vida & Arden Minor Sing During Worship

Sunday, we were lucky to have Mason Vida and Arden Minor sing during worship. If you missed it or would like see and hear it again, check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GNfX451ab-M.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Sermon: When Someone Disappoints Us


Matthew 18:15-20 - "And if your brother might sin against you, then go and tell him between you and him privately. If he might listen to you, then you have gained your brother. But if he might not listen, then take with you one or two, so that on the basis of the evidence of two witness or three every word might stand. But if he might refuse to listen to them, then tell the church. But if to the church he might refuse to listen, then he is to you just like the Gentile and the tax collector.


"Amen I say to you, whatever you might bind upon the earth, then it will have been bond in heaven. And whatever you might loose upon the earth, then it will have been loosed in heaven. Again I say to you that if two from among you might agree upon the earth concerning any matter about which you might ask, then it will happen for them by my father who is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there in the midst of them."



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You know, sometimes you learn things when you least expect it. For example, the other day I was watching Maggie playing with one of her friends. I think they were playing with Polly Pockets, you know, something like that. Anyway, as they were playing, all of a sudden Maggie said to her friend, "Stop that; you’re not playing fair. You’re suppose to share."


Well, I’ve got to tell you, when I heard that, I just took a deep breath and waited for the come back. I mean, if a friend of mine said that kind of thing to me while we were playing with our Polly Pockets, I know I’d have been pretty ticked. And even if I didn’t say anything right then, I’d have probably stewed over it for a while. Man, at the very least, I’d have packed up my dolls and gone home. Because let’s get real, that’s generally how we deal with people who disappoint us or frustrate us or just plain make us mad.


I mean, just think about it, someone does something to you that irritates you, kind of gets under your skin, maybe even hurts you. And doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about at home or in the community or even around the church, when this kind of thing happens, how do people normally respond?


Well, it seems to me, we generally respond in one of three ways. I mean, sometimes we decide just to let it go, right; whether from fear or laziness, we’re not going to make it an issue. No need to build a mountain out of a mole hill. We’re just going to pull in and say with Frank Castanza, "Serenity Now." Or at least that’s what we say. But of course we don’t really do it, I mean, we don’t really let it go. Instead we just shove it down, until the pressure’s so great we explode. Now that’s one way we respond.


But on the other extreme, sometimes we explode right then and there, you know, when we give that person a piece of our mind. We tell them exactly what we think and feel and because we’re so mad, we yell and we stutter and we spit and maybe even curse, of course not if we’re ordained, and then when we through, we pray that he isn’t carrying one of Sarah Palin’s moose guns or that she doesn’t know the number of a good divorce lawyer. Oh blowing up, that really helps a bad situation.


But then sometimes, we try to take a path somewhere in the middle and that may be the worst of all. To the person who’s ticked us off we look like everything is fine, you know, we’re smiling and happy and all that, but then we go around and tell everyone we know what a jerk that guy really is. Now those are the kind of things we often do, right; when folks disappoint us.


But you know it’s interesting, it doesn’t really matter whether we repress our feelings or blow off steam or play a little passive-aggressive game, the result is always the same. The relationships around us suffer, and I’m not just talking about the relationship with the one who hurt us. In a sense, the whole community is damaged when we don’t handle these situations very well.


And I’ll tell you, maybe that’s why Christ offered us another way, another course of possible action in the passage we just read a while ago. I mean, maybe that’s why he told his disciples and right here and now tells us that when someone disappoints us, the best thing we can do is to tell them exactly what’s going on, but when we tell them, to have the right attitude and realistic expectations and of course, a lot of faith.


And you know, I’m glad he did that, because I’ve got to tell you, it makes a lot of sense. I mean, when we have the courage to be honest with those who disappoint us, it’s got to be good for us, if only for the sake of our blood pressure. And it’s certainly going to save our family or community or church a lot of pain, and I’m talking about the pain felt by the people around us when they either have to deal with us as we "suffer in silence" or pick up the pieces after our explosion or are forced to take sides as we spread our frustrations behind the back of the one we think "done us wrong."


But you know, when we confront the situation, I also think it helps the other person as well. I mean, how can a person ever confess and repent, in other words, how can he ever recognize his mistake and apologize, if we don’t say what we think or share how we feel? And I’ll tell you, without confession and repentance, it’s nearly impossible for a person to have a genuine relationship with either God or others. No, in my book, it makes a lot of sense to talk about what’s bothering us.


But when we go into these situations, I think Christ was very clear that we really need to take three things along. For example, first, we need to take with us the right kind of attitude. Let me tell you what I mean. Just think about what he said: "And if your brother might sin against you, then go and tell him between you and him privately." You see, he didn’t say, "Go and tell everybody what that stupid jerk did to you," but rather, "Go and tell that stupid jerk, one-on-one, what you think and feel;" in other words, to be sensitive and compassionate enough to keep the conversation private, you know, to avoid embarrassment. Because, let’s face it, he may not even know what stupid, jerky thing he did. Go and tell him privately.


"If he might listen to you, then you have gained your brother. But if he might not listen, (in other words, if he offers a lot of excuses and justifications and blame) then take with you one or two, so that on the basis of the evidence of two witness or three every word might stand." And by the way, I believe that one witness could be called a marriage counselor. Now I think that’s interesting, because when you think about it, witnesses can do two things. One, they can make sure the other person can’t distort what you said. And two, after hearing both sides, those two witnesses may conclude that you’re the one who’s off-base. Therefore, to do this, well, that takes some humility.


"But [then] if he might refuse to listen to them, then tell the church." And so now we’re talking about a three step process, something that’s going to demand a whole lot of patience, right along with sensitivity, compassion and humility. You see, that’s the attitude we need when we talk with those folks who let us down. That’s one.


And second, I also think we need to be realistic in our expectations, and I’ll tell you, that includes why we’re having this conversation to start with. I mean, for Christ, reconciliation seems to be the goal, not making the other person feel guilty or gaining for ourselves a little bit of sympathy from others. No, when we share what we’re thinking and feeling to our spouse or our neighbor or our Christian brother or sister, the only appropriate reason is to make the relationship better, any other motivation is going to get in the way. And that’s why Jesus said that, "If he might listen to you, then you have gained your brother." Praise the Lord, it worked.


But I think we also need to recognize that the other guy might not listen. That’s the worst case scenario. He just might not listen to me or to us or to all of us. And if that’s the case, then according Christ, we’re to regard him like we would "the Gentile and the tax collector." In other words, by his or her choice, we may no longer have a relationship with one another. But that doesn’t mean that we’re no longer obligated to care for him and to prayer for him and to share the gospel with him as best we can, just like Christ told the disciples to do for the Gentiles. And it doesn’t mean that we can assume she is no longer a child of God, because, according to Jesus, the tax collectors will enter the Kingdom of Heaven ahead of some of the religious authorities. Now, that’s what I’m talking about with realistic expectations. And that’s number two.


And third, when we finally talk with those people who’ve disappointed us, I think we really need a lot of faith, because I’ll tell you, it’s faith that’s going to give us the confidence we need to pull this stuff off. I mean, my goodness, regardless of your attitude or expectations, it isn’t easy to confront someone who’s let you down. Let’s face it, it takes a lot of guts to tell someone that they’ve disappointed you. And I think that’s particular hard in the church, where we’re all suppose to be Christian brothers and sisters.


And you know, I think Jesus understood that, and that’s he gave us a little pep talk before sending us out. You see, I believe we need to remember that God has given us a lot of authority here on earth, and I’m talking about the authority to bind and loose, in other words, to interpret and to apply the word of God to unique situations. But more than that, he’s also promised to hear our prayers, when we pray that our broken relationships be healed. And finally, and maybe most importantly, he’s promised to be with us, when we go with our witnesses to talk with the other person, because remember, Christ said, "where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there in the midst of them."


You see, one of the perks of faith is knowing that regardless of where we go or what we do, Christ is always with us, supporting us and loving us. And if that doesn’t give you the confidence to deal with folks that disappoint you, I don’t know what will. Simply put, we’re going to need a lot of faith and that’s number three.


Like I was telling you a little while ago, the other day I was watching Maggie play and heard her confront a friend whom she didn’t think was playing fair. And like I said, I fully expected either tears to be shed or sparks to fly. But you know, it didn’t happen. Instead, the other little girl handed Maggie the doll, picked up another one and they went on playing as though nothing happened. They worked it out. And I’ll tell you, I really think that’s what Christ had in mind when he told his disciples that "if your brother might sin against you, then go and tell him between you and him privately." You see, for him, it was important to talk before you repress, fight or gossip. And if you do it with the right attitude, realistic expectations and a lot of faith, the result just might be restored relationships and a stronger community.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Sermon: Making Better Decision

This sermon was preached at Two Ridges Presbyterian Church & Bloomingdale Presbyterian Church, Sunday, August 31.

Matthew 16:21-28 - From then on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to scold him saying, "God forbid, Lord. This must never happen to you." And Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Go behind me, Satan. You are a stumbling block to me, because you are not setting your mind on the things of God but on human things."

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone wants to come after me, then let him deny himself totally and take his cross and follow me. For whoever might want to save his self, then he will lose it. But whoever might lose his self for my sake, then he will find it. For to what use is it to a person if he might gain the whole world but he might suffer the loss of his self? Or what would a person give in exchange of his self? For the son of man is going to come in the glory of his father with his angels, and then he will give back to each according to his conduct. Amen, I say to you that there are some who are standing here who will absolutely not taste death until they might see the son of man come in his kingdom."

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Now, y’all may not know this about me, but I have a wonderful and beautiful wife and daughter. And I want to be really clear about this, I’m not saying that just because my wife and daughter are sitting here. (Hi, darling) Anyway, my wife’s name is Debbie and my daughter is Maggie, and Maggie is six and a half years old. Which means, last Tuesday, over in Weirton, Maggie started first grade, certainly a major deal. And right along with every other first grader in her class, she left school with a list of supplies she needed to bring the next day.

And so, she and her mom went to Wal Mart, I think after picking up some curly fries at Arby’s. Now Debbie and I had decided that since she was a big girl, in a grade with a number and in her opinion, much too old to wear the stuff that I wish she’d wear, and I’m talking about little elephants with balloons in their trunks, I mean, since she was now six and a half, she could pick out her own supplies, along with the back pack and the lunch box and some new tennis shoes and all the other stuff you’ve got to get when you’re going into first grade. And so, as Maggie went into Wal Mart, she had some pretty important decisions to make.

But of course, we know all about decisions, right? I mean, my goodness, we all have to make them nearly 24/7. Now, luckily, most are pretty easy, you know, things that we don’t even need to think about. For example, I don’t struggle with whether or not to go to work or to come home. And I’m probably not going to strain any brain cells trying to decide whether I should order a nice, juicy steak or a plate of lima bean. And if I’m all by myself and there’s a football game on television at the exact same time as "What Not to Wear" or "Desperate Housewives" and I have to decide what to watch.., well, you get the picture. No, fortunately most of the decisions we face are pretty easy.

But then there are others that are not easy at, and I’m talking about situations that are so complicated and issues that are so important that the wrong decision could have some pretty grave consequences. For example, as a nation, we’ve got to elect a president in the next few months, someone who’ll do a whole lot more than just hang around Washington for the next four years. And right here in this church, man, y’all are just starting to look for a new pastor, right; someone whom I’m sure you hope will lead y’all into the a wonderful future. And as individuals, my gosh, there’s all kinds of stuff related to families and health and certainly the future, where doing something stupid can really mess us up.

I’ll tell you, whether we like it or not, from time to time, just like Maggie in Wal Mart, I think we all face some pretty important decisions.

And you know, because of that, I want share with you some things that might not only make the deciding a little easier but also the decisions themselves a little better. In fact, I’m going to offer three questions that we can ask ourselves when we’re facing situations and issues that are just, plain tough and I’ll tell you, it’s amazing, all three are grounded in the passage we just read. And let me tell you what they are.

You see, first, when we’re staring down the barrel of a difficult decision, I think it’s critical to ask WHY: why do we have to make this decision at all and why is it both so important and so difficult? In other words, before we charge ahead, I think we really need to have a clear sense of vision and direction, because, to me, that’s the only way we’re going to know where we’re going and how we’re going to get there.

And I’ll tell you, that’s something we see in this passage. I mean, Jesus knew exactly why he had go to Jerusalem, didn’t he? I mean, he knew that he had to "suffer many things from the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed and on the third day be raised." Man, he knew all that stuff, and I’ll tell you, I think that made it easier for him to decide to go.

But good, old Peter, man, he didn’t have a clue, did he; he didn’t have a clue about why all this had to happen, and maybe that’s why he made what I think we can call a pretty bad decision, and I’m talking about when he scolded the person he’d just called "...the Christ, the son of the living God" and said to the one who’s death and resurrection would literally change the history of the world, "God forbid, Lord. This must never happen to you." You see, because he didn’t understand why it was necessary, the Rock became a stumbling block.

And I’ll tell you, for that reason, I believe it’s really important for us to ask ourselves "why" when we’re faced with those big decisions, in other words, to think about goals and objectives and to be as clear as we can be about our hopes and dreams before we stumble into something that might hurt us and the people around us. And I’ll tell you, this is something we’ll be able to do the second we decide to slow down a little bit and look carefully at the whole situation, including not only the different choices and results, but also the potential obstacles, you know, stumbling blocks we may face along the way. You see, before we make those big decisions, first, I think we need to understand why the decisions need to be made.

And second, I also think we need to be pretty clear about the WHAT, what principles are guiding our decisions? In words, when faced with tough choices, before we take any kind of action, I really believe we need to be as clear as possible about the values that shape our judgement. Put another way, what causes us to do the things we do?

For example, when I step into that booth and pull that lever in November, am I voting for this particular candidate because I want to daughter to live in a better world or because I want to get all I can right now? And for y’all, do you call a certain person to be your pastor because he or she will be good for your church and will effective proclaim of the gospel of Jesus Christ in your community or because you’re tired of looking and need a warm body in the pulpit? You see what I mean, as we face those tough situations, I think it’s important to understand the fundamental principles and values that are guiding our decisions.

And I’ll tell you, I’m not sure there’s a better expression of what Christ had in mind than what’s written in this passage. I mean, right here, we have exactly what we need in a nutshell: "If anyone wants to come after me, then let him deny himself totally and take his cross and follow me." This can be the basis for our decision.

You see, we can choose to look past ourselves and what we may want so that we can see the other guy and what he needs. And we can make up our minds that we’re not going to base our decisions on what’s easy or what’s popular or what’s profitable but rather we’re going try our hardest to do what’s right and kind and gracious. And right here and now, we can determine that we’re going to follow our Lord Jesus Christ and what he taught even though that may mean heading to places that, left on our own, we’d never go near.

You see, before we make those big decisions, I think we need to carefully and honestly answer the question: what principles and values really guide what we do and how we live? That’s the second question we need to answer.

And third, if we want to make better decisions, I firmly believe that we’ve got to look at the HOW, how will God view our actions, in other words, our final decision? And for me, that question is important because that’s exactly what Christ challenged us to do when he said, "For the son of man is going to come in the glory of his father with his angels, and then he will give back to each according to his conduct." Now that’s what he said, and later in Matthew, he’s going to talk about how God separates the sheep from the goats based on how they treat the least of these who are their brothers and sisters.

And although I don’t believe that this in anyway cancels or even weakens salvation by grace, I think it does show that what we actually do is important to God and that faith is a whole lot more than the words we use. And so, as we face difficult decisions, I really believe we need to look at our choices from God’s perspective, because I’ll be honest with you, if we decide to care only about ourselves and to do what’s best for us without regard to anyone else, what Christ said, well, I think that should cause a chill to go up our spines. If that’s what we choose, it’s a warning, isn’t it. But, if we’re willing to follow Jesus even though that means putting aside that "we’re number one" attitude, I mean, if we’re willing consider how our actions are going to effect others and then to do things that will make our world a better place to live, I’m telling you, if we’re willing to lose ourselves for the sake of Christ and the people he came to save, then these words are a promise: a promise that we can know real peace in the face of death and that we can have real freedom from the material stuff that can dominate our lives and that we can feel a real source of strength when tempted.

Brothers and sisters, I’ll guarantee, our decisions will improve 100% if, before doing anything, we simply ask this: how God will view what we do? You see, that’s the third question we can ask.

Now, like I said earlier, my daughter had some pretty tough decisions to make this past Tuesday, as she was standing in Wal Mart, looking at all the "back-to-school" stuff. But she did it. She decided that if available, everything had to have a picture of Hanna Montana on it: backpack, lunch box, tennis shoes, even pencils. And I’ve got to tell you, there wasn’t a single little elephant or balloon in the bunch. Oh well, maybe next year. And for us, as we face tough decisions in our lives, well, if we’re able to pause for just a minute and ask ourselves why, why does this decision need to be made, and what, what principles do we really value, and how, how will God view the action that we take; you see, if we ask ourselves those three questions, not only will our decisions be easier to make, but I’m convinced they’ll be better.

Choir News

The adult choir took a well deserved rest during the months of July and August. During those Sundays we were pleased to have solos and piano selections from Shana Pepper, Sue Willson, Justin Taflan, Ruth Ann Dermargosian, Allison Viakley, Tim Connell, Kayla Cline, Judi Bartlett and Molly Cline. A huge thank you goes out to these talented folks that shared their gift of music during our worship service.

Our annual picnic music was led by Kayla Cline. We are so blessed to have her sparkling personality, musical talents and love for the Lord as part of our music program. Kayla along with our very talented Tim Connell, will be leading our congregational singing each Sunday.

As we are rapidly approaching the fall season, our adult choir has resumed practice every Wednesday evening at 7:00 in the sanctuary. New members would be welcomed with open arms as we lift our voices in praise to God. The bible tells us to make a joyful noise unto the Lord. To be a choir member all that is required is to love to sing for our Lord. Soloists are a special blessing but all you need to do is join in song with the other choir members.

The choir plans to present a patriotic cantata for Veteran's Day. It is filled with many of the songs we all know and love about our wonderful country. This cantata will bring out all the pride we have in the USA. We need you to make this a huge success.

The adult choir will be presenting a variety of different types of Christian music. It is an exciting time in the music life of the church. What better time to join the choir than now since we have a new beginning with a new director, Janice Torrance.