Monday, January 26, 2009

Sermon: Discipleship 102 - Disciples Follow

Mark 1:14-20 - And after John had been arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God And he said, "The time has been completed and the Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe in the good news."

And when he was passing by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, "Come after me, and I will make you become fishers of people." And immediately, after leaving the nets, they followed him. And after going on a little bit farther, he saw James, the son of Zebedee, and John, his brother. And they were in the boat, mending the nets. And immediately, he called out to them. And after they left their father, Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, they went after him.

**********

I had a painful to decision to make a couple of days ago. You see, I got an e-mail telling me that two tickets to the Saturday matinee of Jersey Boys, a big Broadway musical that’s appearing right now in Pittsburgh. Two tickets were all of a sudden available, and they were mine if I wanted them. Now, y’all may not know this about me, but I really love the theater almost as much as football and I’ve always enjoyed musicals. And so, I’ve got to tell you, it was with real pain that I had to tell the person that I had a presbytery meeting in Mount Pleasant yesterday. And so, as they were singing "Working My Way Back to You," I was plowing through one committee report after another. O well, such is life.

Of course, I recognize when it comes to seeing plays, I’ve been pretty lucky. I mean, when I lived in Indianapolis, I used to go all the time, at least three times a month. And when you get right down to it, we live pretty close to some mighty good theater right here. As a matter of fact, we’ve already kind of penciled in something Debbie, Maggie and I are going to see in the summer. It’s a musical entitled Into the Woods, by a guy named Stephen Sondheim. You see, I’ve got the cast recording and Maggie listens to it all the time.

And that’s really no surprise, you know, that she likes it, because it’s sort of a blending together of a lot of children’s stories like Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk, but done in an adult way. I mean, by the end of the play, the characters all learn that getting everything you want doesn’t necessarily lead to a life that’s "happily ever after." I’ll tell you, it’s really very good. But the reason I mention it this morning is that there’s one line that I think has a lot to do with discipleship in general and following Jesus in particular. You see, near the end of the musical in the song that I guess you could call the grand finale, the cast sings, this line: "wishes come true, not free." And you know, in light of this scripture we just read from Mark, I think that really does apply to disciples, you know, those folks who decide to do what we’ll sing about at the end of the service. I mean, given the message he proclaims at the beginning of passage, the coming of Jesus is certainly a wish come true, and I’m not just talking for religious folks. No, he really answers the hopes and dreams of the entire world: past, present and future.

I mean, just think about it; what Jesus is sharing really is good news for everybody, a Greek word we talked about a couple of weeks ago that literally refers to the message that a runner delivered to the city right after it’s army had won an enormous victory. In other words, his message really does represent liberation and freedom, it offers a sense of peace and hope, I’m telling you, it something that should cause us to yell and scream, to jump up and down, to run around and act silly, you know just like we’ll doing next Sunday when the Steelers beat the Cardinals, right? Man, what Jesus is announcing is good news; it represents victory, and why is that?

Simple, because "the time has been completed and the Kingdom of God is near." In other words, the one John talked about before his arrest, you know, the one who would baptize not with water but with Holy Spirit, my goodness gracious, the time for waiting was and is over, because the one on whom the Spirit came down and rested was talking to them face to face. You see, when we’re close to Jesus, the Kingdom of God really is near, something that’s not the result of human activity but that reflects the power and promises of God, I’m talking about the rule of God that may appear as insignificant as a mustard seed or as unassuming as a little bit of yeast but that will, not can or might, but will grow into the largest of all trees and that absolutely permeates and transform a whole bowl full of dough. That’s the kind of thing that entered human space with the coming of Christ.

And because it’s here, because we’ve stumbled on that treasure hidden in a field and found that pearl of great prize, we have the chance to repent, which simply means to "turn" or to "change." I’ll tell you, I think repentance has really gotten a bad rap, because we usually hear it as something bad, you know something that you really don’t want to do, sort of like turning the television from the Super Bowl to C-span. But you know, repentance can also mean turning from despair to hope, from confusion to direction, from fear to confidence. You know, it can be turning from doubt and dread to faith and trust in the victory that’s already been won by God through Jesus Christ, something that we didn’t earn but that we can enjoy each and every day of our lives. That’s what I’m talking about, good news. And that was the hope of humanity from the day Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden, but one that is real for us right here and right now. Now, you tell me, that’s not a wish come true.

Sure it is, but you know, when you think about it, it’s really not free. I mean, it certainly wasn’t free for Jesus; my gosh, he was nailed to a cross. And you know, it’s not for us either. Now, before I say anything else, I’m not talking about God’s grace and love. The price has already been paid; therefore, it couldn’t be more free. But having said that, there really is a cost to discipleship. In other words, what isn’t free is the decision to follow Jesus. And again, I think that’s pretty clear in this passage.

I mean, let’s face it following Jesus really is tough. It’s certainly tough on our ego. I don’t know about you, but I think I’d prefer to think that Jesus called me because of my wit, charm and dashing good looks and that my decision to follow shows my wisdom, intuition and dashing good looks. But that’s certainly not the case, not if we assume that what happened in these verses is anything like what happens to us. My goodness, there’s absolutely no sign that he called those fisherman because of their skills, spiritually or appearance. They smelled like fish for crying out loud. And after he called, there’s no indication that they considered the situation, weighed the alternatives and came to the only conclusion a wise and intelligent person could reach. No way, Jesus called, and they went. And remember our position with respect to Jesus is not in front, like we’re leading the church, or side-by-side, like we’ve peers or colleagues, you know, buddies in mission. No, when we’re not moving behind, we’re told to follow. I’ll tell you, if we want our little egos stroked, it’s not going to be here.

And I’ll tell you something else, not only is following a shot to our pride, it’s pretty tough on our plans too. I mean, I can close my eyes and see the way it’s suppose to be. Follow Jesus and be more successful at work. Wrong, he told Andrew and Peter to leave the nets behind. Follow Jesus and have a stronger family, not. He told James and John to leave daddy in the boat. Follow Jesus and he’ll make us become inside, outside happy all the time. Not quite. Jesus said to them, "Come after me, and I will make you become fishers of people." In other words, the one who follows Christ marches in his parade. He does exactly what Jesus did when he was proclaiming the good news. And he recognizes that his only possible success is grounded not in his smarts, but in God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit. In other words, we are only what Christ has made us to be. Yikes, another blow to the ego. But I guess those are just some of the costs of following.

You know, I’m really looking forward to seeing Into the Woods with Debbie and Maggie, and not just because the music is really fun. The fundamental lesson, that wishes come true, not free, well, that’s actually pretty profound. As a matter of fact, it reflects an important truth to everyone who seeks to follow Jesus. Although Christ represents the very best good news of all, being a follower, well, that can get kind of tough. But when you think about, what can you really do. I mean, following, that’s really what discipleship is all about.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sermon: Disicipleship 101 - Disciples Understand

John 1:43-51 - On the following day, [Jesus] wanted to go into Galilee, and he found Philip. And Jesus said to him, "Follow me." And Philip was from Bethsaida, from the city of Andrew and Peter.

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "The one about whom Moses in the law and the prophets wrote, we found: Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth. And Nathanael said to him, "From Nazareth, is anything good able to come?" Philip said to him, "Come and see."

Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and he said concerning him, "See, a real Israelite in whom deceit doesn’t exist." And Nathanael said to him, "How do you know me?" Jesus answered and said to him, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the tree, I saw you." Nathanael answered him, "Rabbi, you are the son of God; you are the king of Israel." Jesus answered and said to him, "Because I said to you that I saw you under the tree, do you believe? Greater things than these will you see." And he said to him, "Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the heavens open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the son of man."

**********

Well, this past week was a sad one for Indianapolis Colt fans. I mean, as y’all were celebrating the Steelers doing what the Colts just couldn’t get done the week before, Tony Dungy announced his retirement. And I can tell you, for a person who’s closely followed the team for about fifteen years, that was a big deal. I mean, I can remember when the Colts were just horrible, and absolutely nobody cared. Back then, they’d give away season tickets with McDonald Happy Meals, and still couldn’t fill the Hoosier Dome.

Of I’m kidding about the tickets, but I’ll tell you, when I moved to Indianapolis in 1992, I wanted to buy a Colts’ jacket, you know, to show city pride and couldn’t find one in the entire town. Purdue and Indiana University, sure; Pacers, absolutely; but Colts, no way. And although things certainly started to turn around with the coming of Peyton Manning, the good, old horseshoes just couldn’t win consistently until Tampa Bay fired Dungy (Praise the Lord), and he came to Indianapolis. And now he’s gone, and that makes me sad.

f course, there’s one conciliation; they’ve already hired Jim Caldwell to be the new head coach. And although few people would consider him anything close to a household name, he has one huge advantage: he’s been on Tony Dungy’s staff for five years, and in fact was the heir-apparent for the last twelve months. And you know, for a fan, that’s nice to hear because he should have a good grasp of how the Colt organization functions. I mean, he’s worked within a pretty successful system. And more than that he knows the owner and general manager, the players and coaches, and of course the Indianapolis fans, and they all know him. And so personally I hope that the fact that he understands the team and city, well, I hope that helps him become a successful coach, just like the person he follows.

And you know, this understanding business, I think it’s not just for coaches. Man, I think it applies to everybody. For example, I know that I don’t want to go under a knife held by anyone who doesn’t understand the basics of surgery. My goodness, whether you’re talking about football or medicine or anything else for that matter, understanding is pretty important. And you know, I think that applies to discipleship as well. In fact, to me, it’s so important that in this little five-week series I’m preaching on discipleship, I decided to put this right up front. You see, before they do anything else, disciples just plain understand.

And I’ll tell you, that’s certainly something we see in the passage we just read, you know, the one about Jesus and Nathanael. I mean, just think about what happened. We’ve got Jesus finding Philip, and Philip hearing the call and then deciding to follow, right? And then Philip went off and found Nathanael and told him about the guy he’d just met, you know, how he was not only the one about whom Moses and the prophets wrote but that he was a hometown boy. You see, he was Jesus, the son of Joseph from the city of Nazareth. Now that’s the information Nathanael had, and I think we’d all agree that his response was nothing like we’d expect from a disciple. I mean, he said, "From Nazareth, is anything good able to good?" In other words, "Come on Philip, both you and I know that there’s no way that anybody that important could come from a reaky dink place like Nazareth. That’s about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard." Now that’s what he said, but of course, you can’t really blame Nathanael, he understood what he heard and what he heard wasn’t all that much. You see, he knew who Jesus was, or so he thought, because he knew from where he came. Pretty cut and dry, right?

But that changed didn’t it? It changed when he encountered Jesus Christ, and without any miracles, without any sermons, without any catchy parables, he came to real faith. In fact, he made one of the most profound and complete confessions in the entire New Testament, one that showed that he now knew exactly who Jesus was and is. He said,"Rabbi, you are the son of God; you are the king of Israel." Suddenly he could see that the man form Nazareth was really the son of God. You see, although he came to Christ in a way that was different from Philip and although his expectations and probably his needs were unique, the fact that Nathanael became a disciple was absolutely tied to his understanding of who Jesus was and why he came.

And I’ll tell you something, that’s the same for us. Our decision to be a disciple is connected to the decision we make about Jesus’s identity, because as each new disciple comes to Jesus, the decision to get up and go is made in response to how we see the one whom we plan to follow. And that decision, well, it all begins with our understanding, with our willingness to look beyond what our mind says is real and concrete so that we can see what is true and glorious, with our determination, as John will write later in his gospel, "to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and through believing...have life in his name." That’s where discipleship begins, not with mission or service although that stuff will come later. No, it begins with understanding.

And I’ll tell you, based on this passage, I think I’m safe in saying that, when it comes to understanding, disciples are pretty clear about two things. First, they understand who Jesus was and is. I mean, they understand that, on one hand, he was a human being, the son of a carpenter named Joseph, from a town that wasn’t even mentioned in the Old Testament, located in a province, Galilee, that wasn’t mentioned either. And without any question, Rabbi was an appropriate title for Jesus, because that’s exactly what he was, a teacher of God’s word.

No, on one hand, Jesus was just like us; and I’ll tell you, that’s something important to know, because when we pray and ask for God’s help, we’re heard by someone who knows exactly how we feel because he walked in our shoes. As it says in the Letter to the Hebrews: "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin." Now, that’s something a disciple understands.

But you know, on the other hand, he also understands that Jesus is a whole lot more than just a good teacher or a powerful preacher or even a spectacular miracle-worker; he’s also the son of God, who’s actual origin wasn’t in Nazareth but somewhere else. As John wrote right at the beginning of his gospel, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God." You see, this same Jesus, son of Joseph, is also God’s son, who came down from heaven as the light of world, with divine power and a divine presence, so that "all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God..." He’s the one who, just like Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, was lifted up on the cross, "that whoever believes in him may have eternal life." As a matter of fact, he is the very expression of God’s perfect and unending love for the entire world. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life." You see, "the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth." That’s who Jesus is and I’ll tell you, this is something disciples understand. But that’s not all.

You see, second, they also understand why he came. And although there are all kinds of reasons mentioned in the New Testament, there’s two right here in this passage. You see, Jesus came to bridge the gap between heaven and earth. That’s one reason he came. In a real sense, he becomes the ladder linking us to God. And you know, I think that’s exactly what Jesus was getting at when he said to Nathanael and everyone within earshot, "Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the heavens open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the son of man."

You see, just like in the book of Genesis, there in the Old Testament, Jacob "dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it," that’s exactly what Jesus has become for us. He becomes the focus of God’s work here on earth, the meeting place of earth and heaven, of the divine and the human, of the temporal and eternal. As Jesus will say a little later, "No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man." You see, that’s one thing Jesus came to do, and those who understand this, well, they have a special connection with God.

And two, he also came to find people who are lost and wandering around in the darkness and to call them using the same words he spoke to Philip, "Follow me." And I’ll tell you what that means. Right now, right here, he’s calling you and he’s calling me to follow: to follow him into a new way of life in which love for one another is more important than love for ourselves. And he’s calling us to follow him into a new kind of community, one that’s inspired and lead by the Holy Spirit and in which brothers and sisters support and encourage one another even to the point of doing what he did, and I’m talking about giving their lives for their friends. And he’s calling us to follow him into a future, one that’s not determined by human effort or wisdom or strength, but rather one that’s grounded in the eternal power and promises of God, a glorious future we can glimpse right now whenever we relax, turn to God and accept that Jesus is exactly who he claimed to be. Man, we can decide to follow. And I’ll tell you, if you have never done that, I want you to talk to me after the service. The congregational meeting can wait for something that important. You know, every Christian disciple knows that’s true, because they know that’s exactly why Jesus came. You see, that’s the second thing they understand.

Now, I don’t really know how the Colts will do with their new coach. Even though he really understands all kinds of stuff about the team and the city, only time will tell if that understanding is translated to the field. And in a sense, that’s true of discipleship too. I mean, although I firmly believe that the first step in becoming a Christian disciple is knowing who Jesus is and why he came, there’s no guarantee that this knowledge will result in genuine action. In other words, although disciples certainly understand, that doesn’t mean much if it doesn’t move them to respond, something we’ll talk about next week.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Prayer for the New Year

A monthly column for the church-at-large by The Reverend Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Lord, go with us as we travel once again into a new year. It stands before us like an untraveled road, full of promise and adventure. Give us the confidence to know you will be there, whether we travel far or wander on the scenic route.

We acknowledge that we are burdened with the scars and scrapes of the past year. Let them not hinder us from new opportunities to see stars and gifts that point us to a new reality.

Help us to remember the many times in days past when we were full of despair – how you never left our side, but sent your Spirit to quicken our hearts with hope and courage.

We will spend this new year with many people – some will be easy to love and others will be hard to like. Remind us that our witness for you should be that we see all people as your children and relate to them as sisters and brothers in Christ.

Strengthen our hands to do the work of bringing your justice and mercy to this world. Open our ears to the cries of the homeless, the hungry, the sick, and victims of war. Show us new opportunities to serve you with hammers, pots, medicine, and our own presence.

Give us the voice to be a ready witness to the good news of your son Jesus Christ. Break through our polite shyness and help us to share how much your gift of faith means to us. Let our eyes sparkle with the joy of your salvation.

Lord, grant us new vistas of faith. Give us a heart that experiences a mountaintop vision in the midst of our daily work. Show us the Christ in the other and help us to hear the wisdom of those on this pilgrimage with us.

In all things we give you thanks and praise.
Amen.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Sermon: The Day the Heavens Were Torn Apart

Mark 1:4-11 - John the Baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all of the Judean country and everyone from Jerusalem came out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan River as they were publically acknowledging their sins. And John was wearing camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locust and wild honey. And he proclaimed, saying, "The one who is stronger than me is coming after me, whose sandal strap I’m not worthy to stoop and unfasten. I baptize you with water; he will baptize you with holy spirit."

And it happened in those days that Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee came and was baptized in the Jordan by John. And immediately, after coming up from the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the spirit as a dove come down onto him. And a voice came out of the heavens, "You are my son, the one who is loved, in you I am well pleased."

**********



I think it’s really important for people to be aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and I’ll tell y’all something, I believe it’s particularly important for ministers. I mean, being a pastor can really be a boost to your ego, because regardless of what you think or may have heard, it’s a job that actually generates a whole lot more positive attention than criticism. Man, it can be a real trip. And you know, because of that, it’s not all that difficult for ministers to get, well, to get kind of a swelled head and to convince themselves that they might be more talented or maybe better, using a good, religious-sounding word, more spiritually blessed than they actually are.

And I’ll tell you, when that happens, even a good minister can get into real trouble, you know what I mean, find himself in a situation that’s really over his head. And for me, well, I don’t want that to happen and so I think I’ve got a fairly good grasp of those areas where I’m strong and those areas where frankly I’m not. For example, I know that I’m just not a gifted counselor. Now don’t get me wrong, I think I’m a fairly good listener, although Debbie might disagree, and I’m not insensitive to the emotional needs of others. Still, whether it’s because of a lack of training or maybe the Spirit chose to bless me in other areas or some combination of the two, I’m not a gifted counselor.

But you know, that doesn’t mean I’m not trying to get better. As a matter of fact, every now-a-then I’ll read some book that’s suppose to hone my counseling skills as it were. And it’s amazing, some of the stuff I read, well, it actually sticks. For instance, a couple of years ago, I read this book on helping troubled marriages, and I remember the author saying that one thing you can do is to help the couple focus on something really good that happened in their past, you know, some experience, like when they first fell in love, or maybe some activity that they really enjoyed doing together, you know, something positive they could remember that just might help them through these hard times.

Now, that’s what the guy who wrote the book said. And although I’m not sure how well it works with marriages, I absolutely believe it can help us as we live our Christian lives. In other words, as we go about our business as followers of Jesus Christ, facing most of the same day-to-day problems everybody faces along with the real demands that come when we take discipleship seriously, you know, as we do the best we can with what we’ve got, I believe remembering something that happened in the past, something like the baptism of Christ, I’m telling you, I think that can help us an awful lot. As a matter of fact, when we look at the three things that occurred immediately after Jesus came up from the water, I think we’ll find a sense of comfort and energy and direction we may not have had before. And let me tell you what I mean.

Now I want you to think about the baptism we just read, and remember that, according to Mark, "immediately after coming up from the water," three things happened to Jesus. First, "he saw the heavens torn apart." Now that’s what Mark wrote, and I’ll tell you, I think it’s no accident that he used those particular words. You see, according to Mark, the heavens didn’t just open, you know sort of like you’d open a door or a box or maybe a jar of pickles. No, instead it was torn apart, sort of like I do when I try to open a box of cereal. It was ripped open, just like, after the crucifixion, "the curtain in the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom," the other place in the gospel where Mark uses the same word. And I’ll tell you, when you think about it, the meaning of the two events are exactly the same.

With the coming of Jesus Christ, whether you’re talking about his baptism at the beginning or the crucifixion at the end, because he came the barrier that existed between God and humanity hasn’t just been neatly opened, which also means it can be neatly closed; no, instead it’s been ripped apart, kind of like Jack Nicholson did with an ax to the door in that old movie, The Shining. Man, it has been so torn up that nothing could make it the way it was before.

And I’ll tell you, I think that’s a pretty good thing to remember, because I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel a little bit isolate as I go about my Christian living. I mean, from time-to-time, I’ve got to admit that I feel a little bit alone as I face the same kind of problems we all face but also as I try to figure out what God wants me to do. Do y’all ever get those feelings, like you’re all by yourself and the rest of the world has moved on? Well, when those feelings crop up, instead of letting them pull us down, I think it’s important that we remember that when Jesus was baptized, God torn the heavens apart; therefore, the connection between him and us is constant and secure. And I’ll tell you, to me that means that regardless of where we go or what we do, God is always, and I mean always close. No wonder Paul could write that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Man, there’s a big old ragged hole connecting us with God. Now, that’s something that we can trust, because of what happened at Christ’s baptism. And that’s one.

But of course, that’s not all, because, second, he also saw "the spirit as a dove come down onto him." Of course, when we read this, I think most of us envision a pure white bird, serenely gliding down from the sky and gently landing on his shoulder. That’s the way they show it in the movies, right?

And maybe that’s the may it happened. But you know, have you ever seen a mocking bird trying to protect it’s young? Growing up, we used to have a little dachshund named Gypsie, and she used to bark at the mocking birds who nested in this big maple tree we had in our back yard. And she’d bark and bark and bark until, out of no where this bird would swoop down and whack her right on her head. Well, you know something, I think that’s often how the Holy Spirit works. It swoops down and whacks us in the head and in the heart and in the hands, offering us understanding and energy and ability. Remember, at Pentecost, it came down like tongues of fire, not like lukewarm dish rags.

And I’ll tell you, a little bit of that fire, that heat, that passion can sure come in handy when we feel worn out, you know, exhausted from fighting the same old battles and tuckered out from doing the best we’re able to do and then seeing no apparent change. At those times when we feel as though in life’s rat race, the rats are winning, we need to remember that the same spirit promised by John the Baptist and that descended on Jesus, rests on us right this minute, and the more sensitive we become to that presence, the more power and energy we’re going to feel. You see, that’s the second thing we need to remember.

And third, as we think about the baptism of Jesus, I think it’s really important that we hear the same voice that Jesus heard, and I’m talking about that "voice [that] came out of the heavens, ‘You are my son, the one who is loved, in you I am well pleased.’" You see, right along with feeling a little bit isolated and tired, I think it’s pretty easy for Christians to become discouraged.
I mean, look around, do you really think the world is getting better? As a society, is our sense of morality, of justice, of basic fairness, do you think it’s getting better? And is our care for the environment and our own health and, my gosh, the least of these who are our brothers and sisters, is that getting better? And as a church, a community of Christian brothers and sisters, that God himself has called together and placed right here, in the city of Weirton, West Virginia, as a result of the work we’ve been called to do, is our town getting better? Discouraging, isn’t it? No wonder some folks, and I’m talking about honest and sincere believers simply give up or begin to squabble among themselves, acting as though the color of the drapes in the parlor or whether our hymnal is red or green makes one pin of difference to the Kingdom of God.

But I’ll tell you, it’s exactly when we feel like this, you know, discouraged by what we see all around us and ready to use these wall and the stained glass windows to be like a blanket to protect us from the cold, cruel world, it’s at that point that we need to remember that we follow the beloved Son of God, who not only died on a cross and walked right out from a tomb, but who also left an example that we can claim. Remember, when the same John the Baptist who said in our passage, "The one who is stronger than me is coming after me, whose sandal strap I’m not worthy to stoop and unfasten. I baptize you with water; he will baptize you with holy spirit," when later in his life he "sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.’" You see, this is the example I’m talking about, an example left by Jesus Christ, a life-style that can not only offer us some genuine focus and direction when we feel discouraged, but that we can also be sure is well-pleasing to God. You see, the voice, that’s the third thing we can remember.

Like I said a little while ago, I’m not sure that remembering the past, you know, the good times can help a troubled marriage. Maybe if I were a better counselor I’d know, but for me, I’m just not sure. But I’ll tell you something on which I am sure, we’re going to feel a lot less isolated and a lot less tired and a lot less discouraged if, from time to time, we open up our Bibles and remember the baptism of Jesus Christ, that wonderful, that incredible day when the heavens were literally torn apart.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

"Tune Up Your Life" Women's Fall Retreat

The Outreach Committee of Grace Presbyterian Church in Martins Ferry is in the process of planning their first of what they hope will be an annual event — a women’s fall retreat. The event will be held on November 6 — 7, 2009 at Salt Fork Resort and Conference Center, Route 22 East, Cambridge, Ohio and will feature keynote speaker, LaDonna Gatlin, sister of the famed Gatlin Brothers. This event is open to all women and you are encouraged to invite all your friends who would love some personal growth time to get to know themselves and the Lord a little better. Reservation commitments must be in by March 15th in order to secure the proper number of rooms at Salt Fork Lodge. It is also important to note that space is limited to 300 in attendance and reservations will be taken on a first-come, first-serve basis; therefore, you don’t want to delay. Information~is available by calling Chairperson Sherry Stratton at (740) 633-2044 or the Church Office at (740) 633-2699.