Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Putting Worship Back Where It Belongs

Well, we’ve entered another fall. Summer is over, and now it’s time to start gearing up for all the church programs we’ll be seeing in the next few months. As a matter of fact, we’ve already had a Project Christmas Smile Spaghetti Dinner and by the time you read this, the Bowling Fundraiser will be a memory. In October, we’re planning a children’s party close to Halloween. And of course, in November, we’ll have a special Veterans Day cantata on November 11 and a service for the Hanging of Greens on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. The choir is singing again. The Bell Choir will play on Sunday, October 4. And the children are getting ready to practice with both their handbells and their sticks. In the next couple of months, the church will be a happening place.

There is something, though, where I have a real concern. Our worship attendance is down. Some of the folks I remember seeing every Sunday last year haven’t been around this fall. And although I know schedules can be hectic, I still think that’s a shame, because it’s during worship that we not only move closer to God through prayers, song and sermon, but we also have the opportunity to move closer to one another. Without worship, at best, our mission and ministry becomes scattered and unfocused.

Of course, the challenge of planning worship is to come up with a service that can speak to everyone. And that’s difficult because we have different priorities and tastes. For example, I know there are people who would prefer to sing every hymn from the hymn book while others wonder why we can sing more contemporary songs. Some prefer a service that’s serious and somber while others are fed by energy and movement. My goodness, I’ve heard that some folks think the cover of the bulletin should be more "spiritual," while others like a picture that reflects the sermon.

Of course, this is only natural. We’re all a little bit different. And although I work hard to create a balance and a blend so that as many people can be fed as possible, including our children, I recognize that doesn’t satisfy everyone. Still we should be able to worship together. I mean, the worship of God is bigger than songs or structure or bulletins. And we can get something out of a prayer or hymn even though it may never be one of our "old favorites." Maybe part of worshiping together is looking beyond ourselves and our differences and accepting one another just like God has accepted us. Imagine how it would be if, instead of pointing out what we don’t like, we all understood that the body of Christ is made up of a lot of parts that God has called together and equipped to do something greater than any of us could do alone.

Now having said all that, I’m not sure this addresses our attendance issues. Therefore, I’d like y’all to do me a favor. For those of you who attend regularly, together let’s try as hard as we can to create a positive atmosphere. Every Sunday, we gather to celebrate the good news. I’m not sure of anything more positive than that. We have good reason to feel wonderful on Sunday morning. And that may mean not focusing of things that can distract us from joyfully worshiping God. Remember, Jesus said that if your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. You know, if the cover or one hymn or even one person causes us to stumble, maybe we should look the other way, because it’s better to ignore one reason to complain than to become distracted ourselves or worse, to cause a little one who believes in Jesus to think that worship is not a good place to be. And you have my word, I’ll try to select hymns and covers that are balanced and inclusive of all tastes.

And to those who are not coming, please tell me if there’s something that would really touch you. Of course, I know that we’re all busy, but I think worshiping God is important. If we can do it better, please let me know.

I’m still excited about the possibilities God has given us at Cove. We have a good diversity of ages which means God has blessed us with both a strong sense of history and the desire to try things that are new and different. And you know, if we all relax and just let the Holy Spirit flow, we may all find that a balanced and blended service will enable us to take what’s best from the past as we move into the future.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Sermon: When Bad Things Happen


Mark 9:38-50 - 38And John was saying to him, "Teacher, we saw a certain person, in your name, casting out demons, and we were trying to prevent him, because he wasn’t following us." 39And Jesus said, "Don’t prevent him, for no one who will do a work of power in my name will be able quickly to speak evil of me. 40For the one who is not against us, he is for us. 41For whoever might give you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen I say to you, that person will absolutely not lose his reward.
 
42"And whoever might cause to stumble one of these little ones who trust in me, it’s better for him to have a millstone put around his neck and to have him cast into the sea. 43And if your hand might cause you to stumble, then cut it off. It’s better for you to enter into the life disabled than having two hands, to go down into Gehenna, into the fire unquenchable. 45And if your foot might cause you to stumble, then cut it off. It’s better for you to enter into the life lame than having two feet, to be thrown into Gehenna. 47And if your eye causes you to stumble, then cast it out. It’s better with one eye to enter into the Kingdom of God, than having two eyes, to be thrown into Gehenna, 48where their worm doesn’t come to an end and the fire isn’t put out. 49For everyone will be salted with fire. 50Salt is good. But if the salt has become unsalty, then in what way will you season it? Have salt within yourselves, and live in peace with others.

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If I’m going to be honest with myself, I’ve got to admit; I’ve had a pretty easy life. I mean, although there have been some, I guess you could say, minor set-backs, for the most part, things have gone pretty well for me. As a matter of fact, most of the problems I’ve face have been self-inflicted, kind of like I was saying to a guy last week: "when it comes to trouble and pain, I think I’ve probably been more of a carrier than a victim."
 
But of course, that hasn’t been the case with some of the folks I’ve known in the past. And right now, I’m thinking of Duncan back in seminary who had muscular dystrophy or Mary, a girl who was in my high school class, who now has TN, a neurological disease that causes intense pain in her face, or my goodness, the Davis’s, a family in my church back in Montana, who lost their infant son to SIDS. I’m telling you, they’ve faced and are facing situations beyond anything I can even imagine.
 
Of course, having said all that, I don’t want to minimize any of the stress that some of y’all are facing right now, either yourselves or within your families. I mean, I know that there are people here who are having to face illnesses that you never thought would happen to you. And as with many folks up and down this valley, some of y’all are dealing with lay-offs and financial stress. And I know right this minute, there are people here who have family or maybe personal problems that you don’t want anyone else to know. And you know, when you come right down to it, it doesn’t matter whether those things were brought on my yourself or imposed on you by others or just happened, the pain and the frustration and the sadness are the same.
 
And although I’d like to be able to stand up here and say that our relationship with Christ all by itself can move us around the difficulties that we face, I’ll tell you, from my experience, that’s not always the case. As a matter of fact, sometimes it seems as though Christians actually have a harder time dealing with stuff like this than those on the outside. And although that probably shouldn’t be the case, it happens and I’ll tell you why. You see, when bad things occur, I’ve known a lot of Christians who are just, plain surprised and confused and sometimes even ashamed. And the reason, well a lot of them, man, a lot of us have bought into the idea that everything is suppose to be good and easy after you decide to follow Jesus. You know, that a real Christian should be like the camp song says, "in right, out right, up right, down right, happy all the time." My goodness, that’s what being blessed means, right; therefore, if things happen that don’t make you happy, things that nobody in their right mind would call a blessing, I’ll tell you, when those things happen, there must be something wrong with you and your relationship with God. You see, that’s what a lot of Christians have been taught to believe. But you know, even if they haven’t, even if they haven’t bought this nonsense, often believers still don’t know how to handle the problems that seem to enter every life from time to time.
 
And I’ll tell you, for that reason, this morning, we’re going to spend a little time talking about this very thing. In other words, we’re going to use this passage and consider how we might better handle life when bad things happen to us. And I hope, by the end of the sermon we’ll be ready to claim two gifts that God has given us that just might get us through and keep us focused when we feel like that poor guy on the bulletin cover/worn out and put down.
 
But before we consider how we can make it through the tough times, I think we’ve got to face some of those false assumptions that a lot of believers seem to make about the Christian life, and I’m talking about the assumption that if you follow Jesus, your life will be filled with nothing but sunshine and flowers. I mean, give me a break, just think about this passage and with a straight face, tell me that this is how Jesus saw things. No sir, as I read this, he had no false illusions about what a disciple could expect.
 
As a matter of fact, if anything, Jesus was painfully blunt about life in the real world. I mean, he understood that people do bad things to one another, for example, that "they might cause to stumble one of these little ones who trust in [him]." And he knew that sin was always a possibility, and that’s why even a disciple, I’m talking about us, that’s why we had better reconcile ourselves to the fact that our own hands and our own feet and our own eyes could actually cause us to stumble into that garbage dump the Jews had in a valley called Gehenna. My gosh, he even suggested that we should expect trials and temptations and testing, because, like he said right here, "...everyone will be salted with fire," in other words, according to Jesus, suffering is just a part of life and that any Christian who thinks otherwise needs to be beamed back the real world or maybe better, to start listening to Christ.
 
My goodness, a little later in Mark, he will say, "As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. ...Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved." I’ll tell you, show me a Christian who’s surprised by hard times, and I’ll show you a Christian who really needs to dust off his Bible and start reading it. Like it or not, bad things happen to Christians like they do to everyone else.

But you know, believers have two things that the rest of the world doesn’t have, and I believe they can make all the difference. You see, in my opinion, not only are these two things gifts given to us by God himself but if we let them, they can get us through the worst of times. And I’ll tell you, they’re both right here in this passage, and particularly, in those two little commands Jesus gives us at the end: "Have salt within yourselves, and live in peace with others."
 
I mean, first, God has given us salt, and although I know, on the surface that doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense, I want you to think about what salt does. You see, it doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about the modern or the ancient world, salt has always been used to do two things. Salt preserves, and salt seasons.
 
And I’ll tell you something, I think that’s exactly what Christ has called us to do in our world. As a matter of fact, through the power of the Holy Spirit, he’s put right within us the ability to do both. You see, God has entrusted to us his word and the sacraments and this incredible history that can provide a moral and spiritual anchor in the middle of a world that often seems really confused about values and beliefs. You see, salt preserves, and we’ve been given the ability do that. But I’ll tell you, salt also seasons. In other words, it provides flavor, changing something that may be bland and uninteresting into something that’s new and exciting. And you know, I think that’s part of our job too.
 
And you know, when you think about it, maybe that’s why Christ calls both the older and the younger into his church. I mean, think about it, with all their history and tradition, older members are really good at preserving the best of the past, helping the whole body avoid making the same mistakes over and over again. No question, we need a little preserving going on. But you know, we all need a little spice too, right? Because without a little flavor, without the ability to speak to new people living in new times, the church becomes more like a relic in a museum than something that’s alive and relevant. And I’ll tell you, that’s where young people step in, because even though they like to do things in ways that are new and different and they make plenty of mistakes along the way, they also provide the energy and enthusiasm and sheer joy that’s going to move us into the future. You see, right here and right now, we have salt, and it’s up to us to use it. And when we do, when we’re active and involved, I just don’t see us being distracted by temporary problems. Now, I think that’s God’s first gift.
 
And second, God has placed us in a community, a home, a family where we can, or at least should be able to find support and encouragement. Now, I’d like you look around right now. The people you see are your brothers and sisters whom God has brought together. There’s no two ways about it, we’re surrounded by the saints. But I also want you to look at those empty pews, because they represent members of this family who, for whatever reason, have decided to not come this morning, people whom we need to reinvolve. And if that means we might have to change a few things, then guess what, God may want us to change. But you know, they also represent all those men, women and children that we see each and every day, people who need the anchor that we can offer but who can also can provide some spice that personally I think we desperately need. You see, this isn’t some kind of voluntary club where people come and go. Man, this is the body of Christ.
 
And for that reason, Christ tells us to live in peace with others, even those we may not particularly like, something that the disciples weren’t doing when they tried to shut up the guy who was casting out demons in the name of Christ just because he wasn’t following them. You know, I don’t think God cares about who hurt your feelings when and why; we know that we’re suppose to be living in peace with others. And if right now, we’re making the decision that we’re not going to do it, we’re not going to live at peace with those in our family, instead we’re going to communicate aggressive hostility or passive dislike or maybe worst of all, malicious gossip, if this is our decision, then that just may be something we’re going to have to explain to God later, and I’m talking about on Judgement Day. But you know, what’s really sad is that, if we decide to hold grudges and to stay upset with our Christian brothers and sisters, who do we hurt the most? Well, I’ll tell you, it’s the body of Christ and ourselves, because we’re choosing to throw away an incredible source of help when times get tough. Man, together, we’re the second gift given to us by God.
 
You know, I wish I could stand up here and say that bad things will never happen to good, Christian people. And although I have no doubt that this kind of message is being promoting on television and from some of the most influential pulpits in our country, I hope everyone here knows that’s just not true. I mean, Jesus pretty told us that into every life a little rain must fall; therefore, it should come as no surprise that from time to time, we’re going to need an umbrella. But, I’ll tell you, he hasn’t left us to drown, because he’s given us salt, something we can use to do the job he’s called us to do, and he’s given us a community that can offer all kinds of help and support. And with all that, we should be ready when bad things happen.

Friday, September 25, 2009

When Bad Things Happen to Good Little Pigs


A couple of weeks ago, as part of my Sunday School lesson, I read the story of the three little pigs. Now, at the time, I used it to consider how the point of a story may change based on your perspective. In other words, the wolf learned something very different than the pigs. Still, I recognize that there are several lessons that can come from this little tale. For example, we can learn that any job worth doing is worth doing well or that hard work now might reap benefits later. But I think we can also learn that bad things can certainly happen to good little pigs. In other words, even though two little pigs didn't exercise the best judgment and probably should have used better building supplies, still I'm not sure what they did justified them becoming a wolf's dinner. But that's exactly what happened.

And when you think about it, that same sort of thing can happen to us as well. I mean, whether it's the result of something that's done by us to ourselves or something done to us by someone else, sometimes bad things happen to good little pigs. In other words, from time-to-time, into every life a little rain will fall. And if, for whatever reason, we don't expect it, we're going to get wet.

And for that reason, during Sunday's worship service, we're going to talk about how we might respond when bad things happen. And during the discussion, we're going to focus on two resources that God offers each one of us that can help us not just survive, but triumph over those difficult times and situations.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Good Friends


Below is the script for the proclamation of the Word, presented at the yesterday's presbytery meeting. It's focused on Mark 2:1-12. The purpose of this devotional was to prepare and move people into a time of meditation and prayer.

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The Narrator: After a few days, Jesus returned to Capernaum, and word got around that he was back home. A crowd gathered, jamming the entrance so no one could get in or out. He was teaching the Word. They brought a paraplegic to him, carried by four men. When they weren’t able to get in because of the crowd, they removed part of the roof and lowered the paraplegic on his stretcher. Impressed by their bold belief, Jesus said to the paraplegic, “Son, I forgive your sins.”

The crowd: Just call me a face in the crowd. You bet, I was there. I saw it all, crammed in that little room. And I’ve got to tell you, it was pretty cool no matter how you cut it. You hadn’t heard? Well, let me tell you what happened.

A couple of buddies of mine, well, we were just killing a little time, you know, hanging out. Well, we were going down this street, you know, looking for something to do. When all of sudden, we see a bunch of people, you know, around the door of this house, you know, kind of looking it. Well, even though we didn’t hear any music or laughing, you know, stuff like that, we figured may be there was a party going on, you know, something like that. So we go up to this guy hanging around outside, just a guy in the crowd, we go up to this guy and ask, “What y’all doing? Something going on in there?” And he tells us to quiet down and that there’s a guy named Jesus inside doing some magic tricks. Now, I don’t know Jesus from Adam, but evidently he’s pretty good, you know, with demons and stuff like that. Anyway, we weren’t doing anything anyway, and so we kind of wedge ourselves into the room. And in the middle there’s this guy, you know, nothing special, and he’s talking about God and the kingdom, you know, stuff like that. I didn’t get it. Well, we were all getting a little antsy, you know, waiting for the show to start. I mean, we weren’t there for a Sabbath school lesson, if you know what I mean.

And so we’re just about set to go, when all of a sudden, this stuff started falling from the ceiling, you know, straw and stuff like that. And when I looked up, these four guys were digging a hole in the roof. Now I’ve done a little construction, you know, on the side, and all I could think about was how much in was going to cost to patch that thing. Anyway, these guys dig this hole, and everybody in the place, including Jesus started looking up, and then, all of a sudden, they lower this guy on a stretcher, you know, right from the ceiling. I’m not kidding, they lower this guy on ropes and put him right before Jesus.

Well, we’re not going to leave now. The show’s just getting going. It’s probably going to be something good. And so we’re just standing there, you know, waiting, when Jesus looks at the guy, you know, there in front of him. And then he looks up at these four guys leaning over the hole. And then he smiles, looks at the guy on the stretcher and says, “Son, I forgive your sins.” That’s it; he didn’t say “Get up and walk around,” “Be raised off the ground,” not even “Bark like a dog or cluck like a chicken.” Just “Son, I forgive your sins.” What a waste of time; I could’ve said that, you know.

The Religious Scholars: (smiling, but calm) I think we have him; hoisted by his own petard, so to speak. But then, he just couldn’t help himself.

You see, we knew he was there. You can’t hide in a small town. And we knew what he was doing. And of course, we weren’t disappointed. You see, we’d been watching Jesus for a while. And although at first, he was rather amusing, a side show to distract people from their situations, ever since his little performance in the synagogue, well, he was a person to watch. You didn’t hear about the synagogue. Let me explain. Jesus taught a lesson that frankly was rather pedestrian, lacking theological depth; if you ask me, a forgettable little homily, until a demon possessed man walked in. Now you tell me, what are the odds. (Said with sarcasm) Right after his little lesson, a person with an unclean spirit suddenly appears. What a coincidence. And the spirit knows Jesus by name. O my goodness, I feel all tingly inside. And you’ll never guess; Jesus casts it out. O stop, my racing heart.

Now, normally this kind of what, dog and pony show, wouldn’t even attract our attention. I mean, the people need diversions, but after his performance, the crowds started to see him as more than a sideshow performer. In fact, some thought he was more important than us. Now, that’s dangerous, because he just might teach some things that aren’t theologically valid and morally sound. And so we started to watch: to watch him cross the line, to watch him violate the rules, to watch him offend God. We just wanted to give him enough rope.

And although he certainly hasn’t been what we consider a paragon of virtue, like us; he didn’t cross the line...that is until this evening. But now, he has (become increasing angry). We could not have cared less if he healed the man on the stretcher. I mean, it wasn’t the Sabbath. But that’s not what he did. He said, “Son, I forgive your sins.” And I swear he was looking right at us when he said it. Well, forgiving sins, this man has obviously either lost it or been reading his press clippings. “Son, I forgive your sins.” We’re going to need to talk about this.

The Four Men: You see, it was an accident. That’s why our friend was paralyzed. It’s not like he did anything to deserve it. One minute he was fine, and then... Well, what would you do if you were in our shoes. Man, we love the guy; it tears us up to see him like this. And the doctors, they haven’t been able to help at all.

And so, when we heard that this healer was in town, well, you got to go, right? I mean, what would you do? But when we got to the place where he was staying, man, it was packed, couldn’t even get near the door. And remember, it’s the four of us carrying our buddy. Talk about disappointment. But what can you do? And so we were ready to turn around and head home, when one of us noticed this ladder on the side of the house. And then it was like these light bulbs going off.

And so we put our buddy down, gently of course, sort of behind the house, you know, out of the way, and we start getting some of the stuff we were going to need. Let’s see: we got us some shovels and some rope and oh yeah, a knife. And then we climbed up on the roof. Now, it took us a while to get our buddy up there and the rope and the shovels and all that, but we did it. Then we cut the rope into four pieces and tied each one to one of the corners of the stretcher. But that was the easy part; now for the hard stuff. Now based on what we saw through the door, we have a rough idea about where Jesus was standing. And then we started to dig; man, we started to dig through that thatched roof. And I’ve got to tell you, at first it was slow going but after we got the hang of it, it wasn’t so bad. Now, I know what you’re thinking, putting a hole is somebody’s roof. Not exactly kosher, right? Well, this was an emergency. We had to do something. Our buddy deserved us giving it our best shot.

Any way, when we got through the roof, we took the ends of the rope, and gently got him over the hole. Of course everyone inside is looking up. Then we lowered him down, right in front of Jesus. You know, we’re looking down, through the hole and Jesus, well, he kind of smiles and I swear he winks at us. And we’re feeling pretty good; this just might work.

Until we see Jesus look around the room and then say to our buddy, “Son, I forgive your sins.” What’s that all about? Maybe if he’d said something like, “Get up, take your stretcher, and start walking.” Man, I’ve got to tell you, we were crushed. We did all this so our friend could walk. There’s no way I expected to be up on a roof, looking through a hole, just to hear this guy say, “Son, I forgive your sins.”

Narrator: Some religion scholars sitting there started whispering among themselves, “He can’t talk that way! That’s blasphemy! God and only God can forgive sins.”

The Crowd: Any way, that’s what the guy says, “Son, I forgive your sins.” That’s it. Well, I hadn’t been to synagogue in years, and you know, I don’t need some kind of prayer meeting tonight. And looking up, you know, those guys looking through the hole; you could tell they didn’t have a clue. So we’re getting ready to go, we hear some of these, ...well, I guess they were preacher-types talking, you know, kind of talking among themselves. And although they sounded kind of angry, I swear some of them were smiling.

The Religious Authorities: And so we got together to discuss our next move. Now obviously, we all knew he’d crossed a line. And although you could tell the crowd was getting a little uncomfortable, there was an awful lot at stake here. I mean, a person can’t forgive sins. That’s wrong. Only God can forgive sins. And since we are religious authorities, we all know the Lord completely and personally, and Jesus, he’s not God.

The Four Friends: Well, we were all like frozen. What’s happening here? Didn’t he understand why we came? I mean , were we too subtle? Didn’t he care about our buddy? Maybe he couldn’t do it. We couldn’t figure it out. And I guess that was the case down in the room, because while these kind of official guys got together, man, you could tell that the crowd was as confused as we were.

Narrator: Jesus knew right away what they were thinking, and said, “Why are you so skeptical? Which is simpler: to say to the paraplegic, ‘I forgive your sins,’ or say, ‘Get up, take your stretcher, and start walking’? Well, just so it’s clear that I’m the Son of Man and authorized to do either, or both . . .” (he looked now at the paraplegic), “Get up. Pick up your stretcher and go home.” And the man did it—got up, grabbed his stretcher, and walked out, with everyone there watching him. They rubbed their eyes, unbelievable—and then praised God, saying, “We’ve never seen anything like this!”

The Crowd: And so, we’re getting ready to leave, when we hear Jesus say something. And I think he said something about which is harder, to say “you’re forgiven” or say to a guy stretched out on a stretcher, you know, get up and start walking.” Well, dah; that’s stupid. Anybody can say you’re forgiven. My wife says that to me all the time. But get up and walk, you know, that’s what I’m talking about. Anyway, he said this and then he said something about the Son of Man, I really didn’t understand it, he said to the guy on stretcher to get up and go home. And you know, that’s what he did. You know, he got right up and left. Man, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Of course when I told the guys at work the next day, they said it was all a trick, you know, the guy was probably a plant. But you know, even if they’re right, it’s still pretty good, and what do you expect; it’s free. I’ll tell you, I’m going to try to catch his act next time he’s in town. (Walk away)

The Religious Authorities: Well, I guess he could tell we were talking. I mean, he’s sure not clairvoyant, right? Well, he asks us a simple question: “Which is simpler: to say to the paraplegic, ‘I forgive your sins,’ or say, ‘Get up, take your stretcher, and start walking’?” Now, I’m not sure he understood the theological implications of that statement, and we were ready to explain it all to him. But before we could say a word, he said something like, “Well, just so it’s clear that I’m the Son of Man and authorized to do either, or both . . .Get up. Pick up your stretcher and go home.” (Yawn) And guess what, the man got up and walked out. (With sarcasm) A miracle. I’d like to take a look at his medical records before I make a fool of myself, praising God.

But even if the unfortunate man was healed, what Jesus did was still wrong. There are rules and regulations, dos and don’ts, lines that you just can’t cross. It’s all black and white, right and wrong. There’s no grey. And if you start making exceptions, even to do good, the whole system comes crashing down. My goodness, if you did that, what happens to religion? You could find yourself with, no law at all. Or maybe at best, just one or two. (Walk away)

The Four Friends: Man, I couldn’t believe it. He picked up his stretcher and walked away. I feel like I’ve been on a roller coaster. I know it’s probably wrong, but we really didn’t care about the sin stuff; we just wanted our buddy healed. And it’s happened. Now I remember Jesus said something between the sin stuff and the healing, but I’ve got to be straight with you, I don’t remember what it was. I guess I’m too excited.

I’ll tell you, I’m sure there are some folks who don’t like this guy Jesus very much. At least that’s what I hear. They say that he breaks the law, and that nobody who breaks the law could be on God’s side. Well, I don’t know about that. I’m not what you’d call a religious person. All I know is that I brought my buddy to him because he couldn’t walk and now he can. And if that don’t mean something to God, then I don’t know. And I’ll tell you something else, speaking for myself, man, I’m glad I did what I did. (Go over to the narrator. Shake his hand. And then they should both leave together.)

2nd Annual Bowling Fundraiser

Calling all Kids.....WE NEED YOU!!!! You can make a difference! Do you like to have fun? Do you like to send time with friends? How about a line of bowling? Join Project Christmas Smile for the .....

2nd Annual Bowling Fundraiser
When: Saturday, October 3rd
Time: 6:15 - 8:15 p.m.
Location: Holiday Lanes, Main Street, Weirton

Bowl for FREE! That’s right...no need to pay to play. All you need to do is collect sponsors in order for your free admittance. Donations can either be a flat rate sponsorship or a donation per pin knocked down. Each donation puts a smile on a child’s face this Christmas! How exciting is that ?! Also, why not bring a friend? Friends can bowl for $ 8.00 a person. If you bring a friend, you will receive a special surprise. So make sure you bring along some company. This bowling fundraiser was such a great time last year! Families and friends gathered together for a lot of laughs and some good old fashioned fun. If you have any questions, please call Nicole Drobish at 304- 723-3987. For forms, check the church office or contact Nicole.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Sermon: Hearing Jesus


Mark 9: 30-37 - 30And after they went out from there, they passed through Galilee, and he didn’t want any to know. 31For he was teaching his disciples and he said to them, "The son of man is to be given into human hands, and they will kill him, and from death, after three days, he will rise." 32But they didn’t understand the word, and they were afraid to ask.
 
33And they went to Capernaum. And when they were in the house, he asked them, "About what were you arguing on the road?" 34But they were silent, for among themselves they were arguing on the road about who was the greatest. 35And after he sat, he called the twelve and said to them, "If any wish to be first, then they will be last of all and a servant of all."
 
36And after he took a child and made him stand in the middle of them and after he gave him a hug, he said to them, 37"Whoever might receive a child like this in my name, then he receives me. And whoever might receive me, then he doesn’t receive me, but the one who sent me."

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This morning, we’re going talk about how we might hear Christ a little better than we do right now. In other words, we’re going to focus on becoming better listeners, so we can take in God’s word, with all those wonderful promises and assurances right along with those uncomfortable challenges and realities that, I don’t know about y’all, but that can sure make me squirm a little bit. In fact, I don’t think it’s wrong to say that the better we are at hearing Jesus, the more we’re going to grow as his followers. And for that reason alone, I think this is a pretty lesson to learn.
 
But I’ll tell you, I think there’s another reason why we all, and I certainly include myself, we all need this kind of message. You see, no matter how hard we try, I really believe all of us have a tendency to drift into what you could call selective hearing. And although I can guarantee that my poor, long-suffering wife knows all about this, especially since we’re now in football season, as the father of a seven-year-old, I see this kind of thing happen all the time.
 
For example, I’ve become convinced that when "Hannah Montana" is on television, Maggie doesn’t hear a single word I say. I mean, as soon as I hear, "It’s the best of both worlds...," Maggie hears nothing else; therefore, I can pretty much give up any hope of talking to my daughter, without, that is, turning off the TV, which I often end up doing. Now frankly I don’t understand it myself, although I have noticed, at those times when I’ve become particularly frustrated, I think I’ve heard Debbie say under her breath, "Like father, like daughter." Of course when "The Young and the Restless" is on...but now I digress. Let’s just say, at least around the Rudiger house, there are times when we all seem to have a hearing loss.
 
In fact, that just might be one of those human problems, or at least, something that kind of hits Americans pretty hard. We just don’t hear very well. And that’s a real shame, because the consequences, well they’re not all that hot. For instance, I don’t know about y’all, but I sure feel as though I miss an awful lot stuff, and not just at home. I mean, I think there are all kinds of messages bouncing around our society that I honestly believe God wants us, wants me to understand. And although I’m sure much of this communication is probably just noise, I know that I’m missing a lot of truth that’s there among the clutter. Now I know that, and yet I still seem to have a problem hearing as much as I should. Of course, I’m not stupid; I’ve got a pretty good idea why that happens, at least to me. I know that sometimes I’m not a great listener. What about y’all? As I’ve told you before, I’ve got a bad happen of cutting people off and finishing their sentences, because look, I already know what they’re going to say. And I can be very selective in the ones to whom I listen. I mean, why listen to people whom I already know are wrong, right? That’s why we should get both our news from one source, right; one that tells us what we already think is true. And I’ll tell you, I’ve even developed the ability to filter out some stuff even coming out of people I do trust so I’m protected from anything I don’t want to hear. Praise the Lord, right? Sure is comfortable, always being confirmed and never challenged.
 
There’s only one problem, with all the filtering and all the selecting and all the cutting off and tuning out, I think I just may be missing some things that are pretty important. My goodness, what might Jesus be saying to me that I’ve just filtered out? Therefore, for the sake of my faith and my family, I wish I were a little better listener so that I could at least hear what I was missing. And frankly I don’t think I’m alone in that.
 
You see, I think kind of thing effects all of us from time-to-time and that’s a shame. But here’s some good news. If you’re with me and would like to hear more by listening better, you’re really in luck, because I think we have all kinds of direction right here in this passage, especially when we look at how the disciples responded to Christ. But before I go any further, let me tell you, I believe the disciples give us an almost perfect example of what not to do if we want to hear Jesus.
 
I mean, give me a break, these guys are poster boys for not listening. My gosh, right at the beginning of the passage, Jesus says, "The son of man is to be given into human hands, and they will kill him, and from death, after three days, he will rise." Not something that you’re going to see on any Christmas card, but something that’s crystal clear, right? But did the disciples hear much less understand what he was saying? You tell me. First, according to Mark, "they didn’t understand the word, and they were afraid to ask." And then, as soon as they could, they started arguing about which one was the greatest. Now, does it sound that they got Jesus’s point? And then, after he told them that their argument was dumb, "If any wish to be first, then they will be last of all and a servant of all,"Jesus gives them another chance to hear. "And after he took a child and made him stand in the middle of them and after he gave him a hug, he said to them, ‘Whoever might receive a child like this in my name, then he receives me. And whoever might receive me, then he doesn’t receive me, but the one who sent me.’" Again, not exactly rocket science: receive a child, receive Jesus; receive Jesus, receive God. Now, certainly they heard that, right? Man, he even used visual aids. They’d have to be brain-dead to miss it, right? Well, in the very next chapter, Mark wrote that when "people were bring little children to Jesus in order that might he might touch them ...the disciples spoke sternly to them." In fact, in Greek, the disciples rebuked them, the same thing Jesus did to demons. Talk about your dumb and dumber. They’re like those cruel and nasty people back in High School used to describe this pretty but rather flighty girl: nice house, nobody home. These guys didn’t hear a thing. Which would be funny if I weren’t just a bad.


But you know, I think the reason they didn’t pick up on what Jesus was putting down is the same reason our hearing is kind of selective. You see, because they had such an uncritical confidence in their understanding and such an absolute comfort in their relationship with Jesus and such an inflated view of themselves and their importance, there was no way that they could listen with anything close to humility, even though the one speaking was the Son of God. I mean, they were fighting about who was greatest, for crying out loud. And because they were so proud of themselves, no wonder they didn’t ask any questions, even though Mark tells us they didn’t understand. As every teacher knows, if one person in a class asks a question, you can assume that at least nine other people don’t understand either, but they’re afraid to ask. I’ll tell you, in a class of twelve, it takes some humility and guts to say that you don’t get it, something that not one of the disciples, including Peter, was willing or able to do. A lack of humility kills questions. But that’s not all, it also leads to a mind that’s absolutely closed to anything new or different. And I think that’s the reason why, when Jesus did something that was politically incorrect and socially unacceptable, namely taking a child in his arms and suggesting that when you receive a child you receive him, the disciples didn’t hear a word. You see, they were first, not twenty-first century men; therefore, for them, children weren’t little miracles, all cute and cuddly. They were really non-persons, until they grew up and became productive. You see, they really did believe children were the future, because they didn’t have much value now. They just didn’t need to listen, because, in their minds, there was nothing much to hear.
 
But just think about consequences; their lack of humility shut them off from understanding how they might move closer to both Jesus and God himself. You see, they didn’t hear any of it, because they weren’t listening with humility. And you know what, I think this same thing happens to us.
 
And I’ll tell you, that’s why I think it’s absolutely essential that we work as much humility into our lives as we can, because if we’re humble when we listen to God and to others, take it from me, we’re going to hear all kinds of stuff we may never have heard before. You see, once we move away from the idea that we already know everything we need to know, we’re going to see the assuming and filtering start to fade, and we’re going to stop completing sentence and cutting people off, in other words, we going to put an end to all that mess that prevents us from both listening and hearing.
 
But more than that, when we’re a little less stuck on ourselves, you know, worried about how other people are going to see us and whether a little confusion will cause us to drop in the view of those around us. I’m telling you, when that nonsense ends, then we’ll be confident and secure enough to ask questions, unafraid of how the asking might affect others or the answers might affect us. It’s like a professor once said, "There are no stupid questions, just stupid people. And the stupid people are the one who won’t ask the questions." You see, the more humble we become, the more likely we’ll be to raise questions, even with God, when we don’t understand. That’s what humility will do.
 
And I’ll tell you, it’ll also free us to be more open to the answers we receive. I mean, instead of tuning out anything and everything we don’t already believe or want to believe, we’ll actually be able to listen with a more open mind. Now, I’m not saying that we will or should accept everything that comes down the pike; that’s ridiculous. But at least we’ll hear enough to really know what we believe. And who knows, when we take Jesus and his word out of the box that we’ve created and listen to what he has to say without using our assumptions as a filter, who knows, we just may see our faith grow in ways we couldn’t have imagined before.
 
Now I’ve got to admit, sometimes I probably get more frustrated with Maggie than I should, because I recognize that Debbie is probably right: like father, like daughter. I guess the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. But you know, that doesn’t have to be case, not with either one of us and not with anybody here. You see, we can do something about our selective hearing, by looking carefully at what the disciples did in this passage, then doing the exact opposite. In other words, if we’re serious about hearing everyone from God to the person sitting next to you in the pew, I mean, if we’re serious about hearing them better, then I think it’s important to listen with a bit more humility, recognizing that not only do we lack all the answers, we may not always be sure of the questions. And speaking of questions and answers, when that humility is part of our lives not only will we be more comfortable asking the questions, we’ll also be more open even when we receive answers we didn’t expect. And I’ll tell you, if we decide to start doing this today, it won’t take long for us to a lot better at hearing Jesus.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Selective Hearing


Now, before I even start this, I need to give y'all a warning. I'm going to use a football-related example; therefore, if you're tired of this particular focus, please move away from this site. I promise you, it was not my intention to hit you with football again. But the illustration really is pretty good.

And although I said it had to do with football, I'm really focusing on myself, and more specifically, on how I am while watching a football game. I have the remarkable ability to block out everything else while a game is on television: images, smells, and of course sounds. My focus never leaves the screen. Now to be completely honest with you, I'm not always sure whether this is a gift of a curse. I mean, even though I never miss a play, I might get a little singed if a fire suddenly broke out in the family room. Of course, that's me; if you talked with Debbie, she wouldn't even need to think about this blessing-curse business. You see, one of the sounds I'm able to block out is her gentle voice. In fact, it's hard for me to hear anything she says when the game is on.

And as it relates to selective hearing, I think the same thing can happen to us as Christians. Although Jesus is constantly speaking to us in a variety of ways, sometimes we either don't hear a thing or we hear only what we want to hear. Either way, we're in jeopardy of missing an awful lot, maybe even the good news itself.

And for that reason, we're going to focus on improving our listening skills during the sermon on Sunday. In other words, if you're able to come, we'll discuss how we can better hear Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Spaghetti Dinner

On Sunday, September 20, the community is invited to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, for a Spaghetti Dinner. Each meal will cost $5.00, and we'll serve from 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. Take out is available. All the proceeds will benefit Cove's Project Christmas Smile, a program to provide a Christmas dinner and gifts to some of the underprivileged children in our community. If you have any questions, call the church office, 304-748-5980, or send an e-mail to Covepresbyterian@aol.com.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sermon: We're Number 2!


Mark 8:27-38 - And Jesus and his disciples went out into the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way, he started to ask his disciples, saying to them, "Who do people say that I am?" And they said to him, saying, "John the Baptist, and others Elijah, and others one of the prophets." And he started to ask them, "But you, who do you say that I am?" Peter answered and said to him, "You are the Christ." And he sternly gave them an order so that they might say nothing concerning him.
 
1And he began to teach them that the son of man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the rulers and the scribes and be put to death and after three days rise. And he spoke this freely. And after taking him aside, Peter began sternly to give him an order. And when he turned around and saw his disciples, he sternly gave Peter an order and said, "Get behind me, Satan, because you haven’t set your mind on God, but on people."
 
And after he called to the crowd with his disciples, he said to them, "If any wish to come after me, then let him totally renounce himself and let him take up his cross and let him follow me. For if a person might want to save his self, then he will destroy it. But if a person will destroy his self for my sake and the good news, then he will save it. For what does it benefit a person to gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his self? For what might a person give in exchange for his self? For if a person might be ashamed of me and my word in this adulterous and sinful generation, then the son of man will also be ashamed of him when he might come in the glory of his father with the holy angels."


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Before I say anything else, let me ask y’all a question. How many of y’all would like to live a more successful Christian life? And what I mean by successful is this: a life in which you feel more comfort and peace, one that really seems to make a difference in the lives of others, including your friends and children and grandchildren, you know, a life in which you feel not just connected to Jesus but are actually growing in your relationship with him. Now, how many y’all would like to be able to live a life like that? Just raise your hands. And don’t worry, this is a Presbyterian church. Nobody’s going to mistake us for Pentecostals.
 
O.K., well outside of a few of y’all (some of whom probably wouldn’t raise your hands in church even if the roof was coming down), I think we all want to have Christian lives that are more satisfying, more dynamic, more successful. There’s just one problem; I think most believers really don’t know how do it. And I’ll tell you, for that very reason, we’re going to spend a little time talking about it this morning. And if I do my job and the Holy Spirit does his, y’all will leave with a clearer understanding about how this kind of thing might happen.
 
And I think that’s probably a good thing, because like I said just a minute ago, when it comes to living a successful Christian life, most of us are high on desire but pretty low on direction. In other words, I’m not sure we know exactly what we should be doing. What does Jesus want us to do? That’s kind of a mystery. And you know, I think that probably explains why we often look out into the world for answers. I mean, success in business and in sports and in school, well, it’s measured by how close you are to the top, right? Let’s face it, the most successful person is the one who’s number one, the one who dies with the most toys.
 
And I’ll tell you, that’s why I have no doubt that as I watch the NFL games this afternoon, I’m going to see a lot of people with the kind of foam finger that’s on the cover of the bulletin. Man, even in Detroit and Oakland, little kids are going to be waving around their finger. And even if the score is 38 to nothing at half-time, the cameraman is going to catch some fool on the short side holding up one finger and mouthing, "we’re number one." And you know, if they really end up first, that’s a successful season, right? And the same goes for a business deal or test in school or a membership drive.
 
And you know, if that standard applies to everything else, then why shouldn’t it be the case inside these beautiful stained glass windows? I mean, it’s all about being number one: being the most spiritual, the most respected, the most blessed believer, aren’t those the signs of a successful Christian? Man, if it works in the world, it’s got to work for the faithful. Or so we think.
 
There’s only one problem. Sometimes the book doesn’t always match the cover, and all that external spirituality and all that acquired respect and all those apparent blessings just don’t jive with what’s on the inside, and I’m talking about inner joy and peace, any more than it reflects a strong and growing relationship with God. In other words, even though we may have a religious foam finger and the desire to be first, that doesn’t automatically mean we’re living the kind of lives God wants us to live.
 
Therefore, when it comes to living a successful Christian life, we may be barking up the wrong tree if we use as a guide what’s happening out in the world. At the very least, the solutions seem on the weak side. But you know, I think we can get some real answers when we open up our Bibles and read a passage like the one we’re looking at this morning. Because, I’ll tell you, when we do, I think we’re going to see that for a Christian, in other words for you and me, success doesn’t come when we’re trying to be number one, but rather when we decide to be number two.
 
I mean, look at the verses there in your bulletin. And I want you to notice that Jesus didn’t tell either his disciples or the crowd that he wanted them to be leaders, instead he was calling them to be followers. I mean, give me a break, even though he just called Jesus "the Christ," Peter wasn’t praised when he stepped forward to state his opinion and speak his mind. No, Jesus didn’t say, "Good job. I like your initiative, son. You may be a little off in what you’re saying, but way to be a leader." Now, he didn’t say that; instead, after Peter had run off at the mouth, Jesus "...turned around and saw his disciples, [and] he sternly gave Peter an order and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan, because you haven’t set your mind on God, but on people.’" In other words, he said, "Peter, you’d better be clear about your place, and it ain’t directing the band. That’s what the world says you should seek, and that’s how Satan tempts us. No, your place isn’t in front, but it’s behind, behind me." You see, if Christ knows anything about how we’re suppose to live the Christian life, I think it’s pretty important that we recognize that we’ve been called to be followers.
 
But you know, in these verses he doesn’t stop there, does he? Because look at the passage and notice that he told them and tells us exactly how we’re suppose to do it. I mean, what does he say "after he called to the crowd with his disciples"? According to Mark, "he said to them, ‘If any wish to come after me, then let him totally renounce himself and let him take up his cross and let him follow me.’" Now let’s pause a minute and think about what that might mean, because I’m going to be straight with y’all. I think this is the answers we need.
 
"If any wish to come after me, then let him totally renounce himself..." You see, following Jesus is about sacrifice, you know, giving up something we value because something else is more important. I’ll tell you, it’s about simple self-denial, but I’m not talking about giving up desert after dinner or ordering the chicken instead of the prime rib when someone invites you out. No, it’s about whether we can turn away from our desire to get good things for ourselves while giving nothing to others. It’s whether we’re willing to stop gossiping and putting down people and complaining when we don’t get our way. It’s whether we’ve got the guts and faith to reject building bigger barns for ourselves so that we can show greater compassion to others. Put another way, it comes down to whether or not we’re going to follow the example of our buddy Peter, who decided not to deny himself and what he thought was right, and as a result ended up denying Jesus. Man, if I’m serious about living a successful Christian life, I’ve got to ask myself a couple simple questions: what things of value have I given up for the sake of following Jesus? And what have I sacrificed because I’m a Christian? You see, these are some questions I’d better ask, because that’s what renouncing self is all about. But Jesus didn’t stop there.
 
He also said "If any wish to come after me, then let him [also] take up his cross..." Now when you hear this, I’ve got a pretty good idea about what most of y’all are thinking. You see, we tend to see the cross as an instrument of torture that would eventually lead to a painful death; therefore, it’s easy to assume that Jesus is saying that any follower worth his salt should be willing to suffer and to die. And I’ll tell you, if he’d said something like "let him hang on" or maybe "let him be nailed to a cross," I would agree. But that’s not what he said, is it? Instead he used a Greek word that literally means "to pick up and carry." In other words, I think he was talking about a decision to carry a cross through the city, something, back in the day, they’d make the accused do as a public sign of guilt. It’s sort of like that guy who got caught cheating on his wife, and she made him stand on the corner of this really busy intersection wearing a sign that read, "Here stands a man who committed adultery." There was a lot of public ridicule when you were carrying a cross through town. And you know, that kind of changes what this cross carrying is all about. I mean instead of the question being, "would you be willing to die for Jesus;" something that most Christians would say they’d be willing to do knowing that it’s probably not going to happen; instead of that being the question, maybe Jesus is challenging us to ask ourselves if we’re willing to publically display our faith, in other words, through our words and actions to let people know in whom and what we believe, even if that means that people may laugh at us or that we’ll no longer be part of the crowd or that we’ll seem different and strange because our values and morals and priorities don’t quite jive with everyone one else. You see, he may be simply calling us to decide that we’re willing to face the kind of rejection he endured and to say, "Yes, I’ll carry my cross right through the busiest intersection in town, because that’s what following’s all about.
 
And once that’s taken care of, once we’ve renounced ourselves and decided to wear our faith on our sleeve, then I think we’ll be ready for the last part, to actually follow Jesus. I mean, instead of just talking about it, we’ll be ready to do it. It’s like that song we sang at the beginning of the service, I’ll be able to look up to heaven and right in the face of my best friend and say, "I have decided to follow Jesus; I have decided to follow Jesus; I have decided to follow Jesus; no turning back, no turning back." And I’ll tell you, once we’ve made that decision, we’ll be right where Christ has called us to be: looking to his word not our world for direction, reaching out to others with an open heart and not a closed mind, and living a life of joy and peace and hope instead of jealously and pride and hate. And I’ll tell you something else, when we get to this point, this glorious position not leading the parade but rather following the savior, then I believe we’ll be able to say that our Christian lives are truly successful.
 
As long as we live in a world full of foam fingers, I think there’ll always be a little confusion about what real success is all about. But you know, we’re truly fortunate. You see, we have the Bible and if we’re willing to hear Jesus say, "If any wish to come after me, then let him totally renounce himself and let him take up his cross and let him follow me," then I think we have a real chance to avoid this confusion. And even though I don’t expect it ever to be popular in the world and probably not in any football stadium I know, maybe we’ll be able to look right up to heaven and with a big smile on our face say to God almighty that we’re glad we’re number two.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Coming Attractions

Normally, on Friday, I write something that introduces the sermon I'm preaching on Sunday. And even though the focus will be important (we'll look at how we be more successful in following Jesus Christ), I want to use this space to emphasize three events that are truly special.

First, on Sunday, we're going to celebrate Rally Day, and even though we do that every fall, this year is going to be a little different. We're launching an exciting new program for our children. From 9:45 to 10:45, they're invited to a special time of Bible stories, songs and crafts. Adults may attend one of the four Sunday School classes that we offer for them. Then at 11:00 children and adults will gather in the sanctuary. This week, we'll open with songs especially for young people. And then after their time with me, they'll be dismissed for their own worship experience. During a gathering time, they'll sing, pray, and learn some of the fundamental parts of our worship service (The Lord's Prayer, Doxology and Gloria, for example) Then we'll divide them into age groups for lesson and craft time. I want to thank all the parents who got together on Wednesday evening. Because of your input, I believe we'll have a program that will glorify God and provide the kind of spiritual and moral foundation on which our young people can build as they grow up.

Second, next Sunday, we have the chance attend a Spaghetti Dinner, the proceeds of which will go to support one of the best programs with which I've ever been associated. If you weren't around last year, Project Christmas Smile provides a Christmas experience for children who, due to factors outside their control, may otherwise have a pretty bleak holiday season.

And third, we'll be starting our third season of Sprouts of Faith on Tuesday, September 15, beginning at 10:00 a.m. Sprouts is a special time for music and stories offered to preschool children and their caregivers. Please talk to me if you need more information.

I'm excited about what's happening at Cove, and I hope you are too.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Sermon: Making Better Decisions


Mark 7:24-37 - And [Jesus] arose and went from there into the region of Tyre. And although he went into a house and didn’t want anyone to know, he wasn’t able to remain unnoticed. But immediately, after a woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit heard about him, she came and fell at his feet. 6And the woman was a Greek, a Syro-Phoenician by race. And she continued to ask him in order that he might cast out the demon from her daughter. 7And he said to her, "Allow first the children to be satisfied with food, for it’s not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs." 8And she answered and said to him, "Lord, even the dogs under the table eat from the crumbs of the little children." And he said to her, "Because you said that, go. The demon has come out from your daughter." And she went into her house and found the little child lying upon the bed and the demon had come out.
 
And again, when he was coming out of the region of Tyre, he went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 2And they brought to him a person who was deaf and had trouble speaking, and they begged him so the he might lay upon him hands. 3And after taking him from the crowd by himself, he put his fingers into his ears and he spat and touched with the spittle his tongue. And after he’d looked up into heaven, he sighed, and he said to him, "Ephphatha," which means "Be opened." And immediately, his hearing was restored, and the string on his tongue was released, and he spoke properly. And [Jesus] ordered them so that they might tell no one. But however much he ordered them, they more zealously they proclaimed. And they were amazed beyond all measure and said, "He’s done everything well, the deaf hear and the dumb speak." 

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Way, way, way back in the last century, I think 1991, Tom Cochrane wrote a song entitled, "Life Is a Highway." Of course I think it probably became better know about fifteen years later when Rascal Flatts covered the song for the Disney movie Cars. Anyway, if both Tom and Rascal are right and life really is a highway, it seems like I’m always facing signs like the one that’s on the cover of the bulletin. What about y’all? On the highway of life, are y’all ever faced with having to make some decisions: some difficult, some easy, but most somewhere in between? And does it ever feel as though you’re having to make those decisions while driving in the fast lane, with a big, old Starck Van Lines truck coming up on your rear?
 
I’ll tell you, from where I stand, it sure seems as though life is just crammed full of decisions, you know, things that I should or shouldn’t be doing. And even though I’m a Christian therefore according to some folks, making those decisions should be as simple as thumbing through the Bible and finding a verse to fit, I think we all know it’s not always as easy as that. I mean, even if you have a great set of guidelines, making the right choice can be tough.
 
But you know, when you think about it, that’s just a fact of life and it hits all people, whether they’re Christians or not. For example, a couple of weeks ago, I went to a two day, sixteen hour seminar on how to make better decisions in the stock market. And I guess because the instructor was so good and his guidelines were so clear and simple, I’ve got to tell you, I came home fired up and ready to make some trades. That is until I was looking at the computer and at some of the stocks I already own and have owned for years, some for decades, and had to apply those simple ideas in the real world. And as I sat there, I just starred at the screen, frozen. I had a hard time deciding what to do. Making good decisions is tough.
 
But of course, I’m not telling you something you don’t already know, right? I mean, whether we talking about work or home, moral choices or ethical dilemmas, I think everybody has to deal with all kinds of choices, many of which are not "no–brainers." And because of that, I think all us would probably like to make them a little better.
 
And I’ll tell you, if I’m right and this is something you think and feel, I hope you’re going to be glad you came this morning, because this sermon is directed for you. You see, we’re going to look at some of the people in this passage, people who had to make some pretty important decisions, namely Jesus and the woman with the demon-possessed daughter, and the unnamed folks who brought the guy who was deaf, people Mark calls "them;" we’re going to look at these folks and consider three steps that they took which might help us as we fly down life’s highways. And so strap on your seat belts, and let’s go.
 
You see, if we want to make better decisions, I think, first, we need to look carefully at the situation we’re facing. In other words, it’s important to understand what’s going on before we get going. And you know, that was certainly the case in the two stories we just read; each of those people faced their own unique situation. For example, according to Mark, Jesus had gone to the region of Tyre to avoid being recognized. He wasn’t there to preach and teach, but rather to get away from the fame and blame he’d acquired in Galilee. Put another way, he was there to duck the paparazzi. But it didn’t work, did it? Because not only was he unable to be unnoticed but immediately he had a Syro-Phoenician woman stalking him, getting in the way and asking over and over for him to heal her demon-possessed daughter. For Jesus, that’s not exactly like "getting away from it all." Now, that was his situation, right?
 
And the woman, who would have sure been annoying to me if I were Jesus’s sandals, well, her situation was a lot different, wasn’t it? Man, she had a demon-possessed child and here, in her neighborhood, was a person who could cast it out and getting his attention, for her, this was a matter of life and death.
 
And then in the second story, you know, the one with the deaf man, "they" were facing a situation a lot like the woman, weren’t they? Man, they had to speak now or maybe forever hold their peace. In a nutshell, those were the situations faced in the passage.
 
And I’ll tell you, as we make our decisions, I think we need to be clear about the state of affairs we face too. For example, we need to be aware that how we understand our circumstance is going to be based on who we are and what’s going on in our lives. I mean, being tired and needing a little R&R is a lot different from having a tormented child or a handicapped friend. And with that in mind, I think we need to be aware that how the situation is described and defined may differ from person to person, without anybody being necessarily right or wrong. I’m always amazed by folks who say things like, "She couldn’t feel that way" or "He couldn’t have found that offensive" or "They can’t believe that’s right." Well, unless we can crawl into their heads or do some kind of Vulcan mind-meld (I saw Star Trek when I was in Indianapolis), we just can’t be sure about what she feels or he finds or they believe. And for that reason, it’s probably a good idea, before we decide, to look at the situation from as many angles as we can, maybe even from some perspectives that might make us a little uncomfortable. I think that’s important, if we really want to make better decisions. For me, that’s step number one.
 
And the second step, well after we’ve we looked at the situation, we’d better start considering our options. And isn’t that exactly what we see those three people doing in the passage we just read? I mean, think about Jesus. Man, he knew that he could just keep walking, doing the best he could to ignore this pest on the road, you know, showing some tough love, or he could stop and heal her daughter, something that I’m sure if it happened now, somebody would accuse him of being an enabler, especially since the woman had never really done anything to deserve his attention, other than being persistent, or he could do what he evidently thought was a pretty good idea, maybe something in between, you know, to kind of put her off, maybe let her down easy and get her off his back right now. You see, he could tell her that if she’d be patient, he get around to helping her. I mean, isn’t that what the statement "Allow first the children to be satisfied with food, for it’s not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs," isn’t that what he means? After I take care of the kids, I’ll get to you foreign dogs. Just wait for your turn. You see, those were Jesus’s options. And for the woman and "them," well, they could give up and go home or they could keep pushing or they could decide to do what Jesus suggested and take a number. Given the situation, those were the options they faced.
 
And as we deal with our lives, it’s the same with us. Regardless of the situation, we need to understand our alternatives, and I’ll tell you, I think it’s really important that we come up with more than two. You see, if we have only two, now it’s an "either-or." No, if we can’t come up with a third, I think we should keep trying. And I’ll tell you something else, the situation itself might cause one option to be more obvious than another. You can take it to the bank, if Maggie were sick and Jesus were here, I’d push as hard as I could to get him to act. And I’ll be honest with you, it wouldn’t matter to me that might be messing up his vacation. And you know, when we’re at this option stage, I think it’s really important to look at the Bible for some direction. And although I doubt that I’m going to run across a passage that tells me to eat at DJs rather than Undos or Eat N Park, I am going to find principles that may open up some real possibilities. For example, I think I’ll be moving in the right direction if at least one of my choices is grounded in love for God and love for neighbor. Before we can make a decision, we need to consider our options. That’s step number two.
 
And the last step, well, somewhere down the line we have to act don’t we? I mean, the woman in the story did. After Jesus called her a dog, something that I’ve got to tell you, makes me uncomfortable, and pretty much told her to wait for the children to eat, she made the decision to speak up, "Lord, even the dogs under the table eat from the crumbs of the little children." Now I don’t know how you feel, but that’s one sharp woman. And because of what she said, well, that caused Jesus to back off from what he’d just said. "Because you said that, go. The demon has come out from your daughter." And although, when you think about it, he really wasn’t exactly gushing with praise, he certainly got the job done. Jesus took action.
 
And so did the guys in the second story. You see, after Jesus had healed their friend, they had a decision too. According to Mark, "[Jesus] ordered them so that they might tell no one;" now, I don’t think he could be clearer than that. But is that what "they" did? "...However much he ordered them, they more zealously they proclaimed." You see, after weighing their options, they chose to disobey the one who’d just healed their friend.
 
And you know, when we decide to act, I think we’re going to find ourselves in one of those three positions. I mean, like the woman, sometimes our decisions and actions are going to be right on the mark. But you know, I find it really interesting, that even though in this case she was clearly in the right, in her final approach to Jesus, she wasn’t angry or arrogant and even aggressive. Instead, she was claim and respectful and very reasonable. And based on his response, that approach had a lot to do with her reaching her goal, something that we might want to file away. And with Jesus, well, his first answer wasn’t his final answer, which means he had the courage and insight to change his mind. And you know, if the Son of God can change his mind, it’s probably O.K. for me to do it to, especially when I’m moving toward showing more love.
 
And with them in the second story, I don’t know about you, but I think their decision was pretty bad. And I’ll tell you, that’s going to happen to us from time to time. We’re going to make bad decisions, and we’re probably going to hurt others, maybe even some of the people who are closest to us. That’s going to happen. But the good news is that we have a father who loves us even when we’re stupid. It’s like I’ve heard people say, we’re not perfect, but we are forgiven. And remember what I said a few minutes ago, we are still free to change both how we think and what we do. In the end, we’ve got to take the action.
 
If life really is a highway, I think we’ll probably always have to decide exactly where we’re going to go. And although that’s never easy, I think we can make better decisions if we remember these three steps: first to look carefully at the situation; second, to consider the options, and third, to take action. And then, well, those road signs we see along the way, well, they won’t be nearly as confusing as they were before.

Friday, September 4, 2009

But Which Game Should I Watch?


PRAISE THE LORD! HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN! THE FIRST COLLEGE FOOTBALL GAMES WERE ON LAST NIGHT. And although I was only able to see about thirty minutes of South Carolina and North Carolina State (South Carolina won), I know that for the next four months there'll be wall-to-wall college games. You see, I love the college football even more than the pros. And since this will be the first year since the 1940s that my college has fielded a team, I've spent most of my life without any collegiate "live or die" loyalties. Therefore, regardless of who's playing, I want to see the best game.

And I'll tell you, that perspective creates a problem. On your typical, Fall Saturday, there's at least three competiting games on television from noon to midnight, and I have to decide whether to watch one game or use the remote control to surf. And if I decide to watch one game at a time, then I have to decide which one. I guess you could say my enthusiasm leads me to this delimma.

Of course, in the vast spectrum of things, this is a pretty trival issue, and if this is the biggest problem I face, I'm living a charmed life. Still, the decisions I face during the Fall are an awful lot like the decisions we all confront in life. In other words, we all face circumstances that demand that we do something. And although the ones that are clear and obvious are easy, that's not the case with others. As a matter of fact, sometimes we face situations where the choices aren't clear and the results aren't obvious. Deciding can be tough.

And because it is, during the sermon on Sunday, we're going to use the two stories found in Mark 7:24-37 to look for direction. Specifically, we'll use three of the characters in the passage to develop some guidelines for making better decisions. Therefore, if you've ever faced tough choices, this sermon is directed to you.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Remembering Jack Wilson


Let's remember Mary Bohach and her whole family on the loss of her father, Jack Wilson. Friends may call at Dunlope-Shorac Funeral Home, Wintersville, Thursday 2-4 & 7-9 p.m. where a service will be held Friday at 11 a.m. with Rev. Dr. Phillip Makari officiating. Entombment at Union Cemetery. FOP Lodge 97 Service Thursday 7 p.m. Memorial Donations may be directed to FOP Lodge 97, PO Box 2477, Wintersville, OH 43953.

John W. “Chief” “Jack” Wilson, 79, of Wintersville, Ohio died Monday, August 31, 2009 at Trinity West. He was born June 7, 1930 in Steubenville, Ohio a son of the late Ralph H. and Marie Arlene Tichnel Wilson. Jack attended Starkdale Presbyterian Church. He was a member of Steubenville Masonic Lodge 45 F & AM, Scottish Rite Valley of Steubenville, Aladdin Shrine, Steubenville Shrine Club and FOP Lodge 97. He was an Army veteran and worked at Weirton Steel for 37 years in plant protection. Jack retired as the Cross Creek Township Chief of Police in 2007 after 40 years of service. He was inducted into the Policeman’s Hall of Fame in 2008.

Preceding Jack in death was two brothers Robert E. & James D. Wilson. Surviving are his wife of 57 years Martha Ann Parks Wilson whom he married September 27, 1951; children Suzanne (Jeff) Smith of Dover, OH, Jeff (Cindy) Wilson of Wintersville, OH and Mary (Frank) Bohach of Weirton, WV; three grandchildren Michelle (Alan) Bauman of Sewickley, PA, Johnna (Derrick) Webb of Louisa, KY and Alicia Wilson of Wintersville, OH; five great grandchildren Isiah, Mackenzie, Jackson and Brody Bauman and Hunter Wilson Webb; two brothers Ralph R. “Dick” (Pat) Wilson of Bloomingdale, OH and Donald E. (Pat) Wilson of McGowan, TX; sister Cheryl A. (John) Bronner of Michigan City, IN; sister-in-law Barbara Wilson of Wintersville, OH and many nieces and nephews.