Monday, November 30, 2009

Sermon: If We Stay Focused


Luke 21:35-46 - 25And there will be signs in the sun and moon and stars; and upon the earth, tension among nations in perplexity at the sound the seas and waves; 26people fainting from fear and expectation of things which are coming upon the inhabited world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27And then they will see the son of man coming in clouds with power and great glory. 28And when these thing begin to happen, straighten yourself up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near.”

29And he said a parable to them, “See the fig tree and all the trees. 30When already they put forth, because you see yourselves, you know that already near is the summer. 31Thus also you, when you might see these things happen, you know that near is the Kingdom of God. 32Amen, I say to you that this generation will absolutely not pass away until all these things happen. 33The heaven and the earth might pass away, but my word will absolutely not pass away.”

34“And pay attention to yourselves lest your hearts might be weighed down in dissipation and drunkenness and cares of life, and that day might come upon you suddenly. 35For as a snare it will come upon everyone who dwells upon the face of the whole earth. 36And be awake at all times praying so that you might have strength to escape all these things that must happen, and to stand before the son of man.”

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Before we get started, since we may have eaten maybe a little too much on Thursday, I’ve got a little aerobic exercise. But before y’all panic, I think you can underline that word “little,” because it’s about as little as you can get. I just want you to raise your hands. That should burn off about five of the five thousand calories I consumed on Thanksgiving. OK, here we go, question number one: Since this past Friday was “Black Friday” and you could have shopped all night at Walmart, how many of y’all have done all your Christmas shopping? Just raise your hand. OK, since a lot of us had a long weekend, how many of y’all have gotten all the Christmas decorating done? OK, two more. Since Thanksgiving probably put you in the mood, how many of y’all have done your Christmas baking? And now the last one: how many of y’all raised your hands three straight times? Well, I’ll tell you, that’s probably good, because I really hate to see the season of Advent begin with violence. Of course, it wouldn’t be senseless violence, because anyone who’s done all that, well, they deserve exactly what they get.

I mean, even though Christmas stuff started going up in the stores when we were still wearing short pants, most people are, at best, somewhere in the middle of their Christmas preparations. And some of us, well, we’ve still got all kinds of time to get started. My goodness, Christmas is next month, and as long as gas stations are open on Christmas Eve, I’ve got plenty of time to do my shopping.

But you know, even if we’re calm now, the tension is going to build as we move closer to the big day. I know that’s the case around our house. My mother usually sends Maggie one of those Advent calendars that count down the days from the first to the twenty-fifth, and so every night we’ve got a reminder that we’re getting closer and closer. And you know, it seems that the closer we get, the more we become distracted by everything that’s going on. Sometimes I feel like that little girl in The Exorcist, with my head doing a 360 trying to keep tract of everything I should have done last week but didn’t.

The pressure just builds. It’s a lot like my plate on Thanksgiving. I mean, you start with the normal amount of stress, but then you start piling on all the holiday extras, you know like the sweet potatoes and the green bean casserole and of course the cranberry sauce. And by the time you eat down to the bottom of the plate, well, you’re probably seriously questioning why you started. All that extra stuff can really make you miserable. The distractions can interfere with your Christmas cheer.

And I’ll tell you something, I think the same thing can happen as we look into the future. You see, I think we can become totally distracted by all the things that are happening around us, in fact, so distracted that it can really interfere with how we live in the present. I mean, we’ve become addicted to things like CNN, which I heard a guy last Tuesday call “constant negative news.” Of course, if you watch Fox, it’s a lot more positive, right; especially after Obama was elected. Twenty-four hour news can be distracting.

But you know, you don’t even need to turn on the television to get distracted. Man, anyone who has a job or a family, who goes to school or even to church knows that we all have distractions to burn. Last week, Debbie was telling me about a conversation with a church member who hasn’t come much in the last year, and she asked him why we hadn’t seen him lately. He just shook his head and said, “Had to get away for a while. Too much drama.”

You see, I think it’s really easy to get distracted by the drama, and I talking about the drama of everyday living. And it’s interesting, when it happens, it interferes with life right now. For the guy with whom Debbie was talking, well, it’s kind of pushed him back from a place where he could hear the Word of God. And for others, it can drive wedges within families and between friends, even between brothers and sisters inside the church. And I’ll tell you, if you ever watch the news, I don’t care if it’s CNN or Fox or the Daily Show, and if the national debt and the environment, what’s going on in Iran and Afghanistan, the state of the economy and health care, declining morality or increasing intolerance, if that stuff doesn’t make you at least a little uneasy about the future, then I don’t think you’re listening. Man, distractions can drive you nuts.

And you know, I think we see the same sort thing in the passage we read from Luke. I mean, as he started to talk about the future, Jesus gave the people all kind of things that could distract their attention, you know, like “...signs in the sun and moon and stars; and upon the earth, tension among nations in perplexity at the sound the seas and waves; people fainting from fear and expectation of things which are coming upon the inhabited world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” Man, this is scary stuff.

And if you don’t think signs of the end aren’t powerful today, just check out a typical Christian book store. I bet they have a whole case just on the end of the world, you know, the return of Christ. My goodness, Hal Lindsey has made a fortune writing books predicting the end, and even though he’s never been right, his books still sell. You know, you don’t have to be one of those people who go up to the top of a mountain to wait for the mother ship to come down, you don’t have to be like them to be distracted by this kind of stuff. Remember, 2012.

And I’ve got an idea that Jesus understood that, in other words, he understood human nature, and that’s why, right after he gave the signs, he said, “And when these thing begin to happen, straighten yourself up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is near.” Now I think that’s amazing; he was telling folks who, like us, would probably obsess on what’s happening, he was telling them that in spite of all these, all these distractions they should never lose their focus: their redemption was near.

And I’ll tell you what, I think the same is true for us right here and right now. I mean, regardless of what you think about the dangers of global warming or health care reform, I’m going to tell you right here and now, your redemption is near. And it doesn’t matter what you think your boss or your mother is trying to pull, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ our lives have been rescued from whatever controlled them in the past and we’re right on the threshold of being totally and eternally free. And take it too the bank, regardless of the drama that always seems to creep into the Body of Christ and probably always will, at least as long as Jesus calls sinners into his church which means people like us, we can be certain that in the vast spectrum of things, the folks whom we assume are the stars of the show are actually bit players and the ones who keep things stirred up aren’t nearly as important as they think they are.

You see, because God has authority and power and Christ rules with mercy and grace and the Spirit is constantly moving around and through us, the distractions don’t call the shots; therefore, we can move into the future with confidence and hope. That’s is, if we stay focused on redemption. And you know, if we do, man, it’s got to change how we live right now in the present. And again, I think Christ understood this too. I mean, I want you to notice how he tied up what he said about the end: “And pay attention to yourselves lest your hearts might be weighed down in dissipation and drunkenness and cares of life, and that day might come upon you suddenly. For as a snare it will come upon everyone who dwells upon the face of the whole earth. And be awake at all times praying so that you might have strength to escape all these things that must happen, and to stand before the son of man.”

In other words, once we get past the distractions and our focus is clear, we can start living in the present. I mean we can start paying attention to ourselves and stop doing some of the stupid, self-destructive things we might do when our vision and our direction is all messed up. But more than that, we’ll also be awake and ready to live a life that’s positive, one that’s full of prayer and one that reflects the kind of life of which we can be comfortable when we stand before the son of man and hear his judgement of us. In other words, now that we’re not being controlled by the often petty little drama we all face and our attention isn’t being pulled in a half dozen different directions, we can start doing what we were called to do: as individuals, simply to love God with everything we’ve got and our neighbor as ourselves, and as the church, boldly to proclaim the redemption we have through Jesus Christ to anybody who’ll listen. You see, I’m convince that this is possible, if we stay focused.

And I’ll tell you something else, a little focus wouldn’t hurt our preparation for Christmas either. I mean, if we can remember that the one who’s birth we’re going to celebrate is also our redeemer, well, maybe the shopping and the decorating and the cooking won’t dominate our thoughts and drain our Christmas spirit. Instead, we’ll be able to get past the gift cards and the garland and the fruit cakes so that we can fully appreciate the reason for this season. In other words, we just might have the best Christmas ever, if we stay focused.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Keeping Our Focus


I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. And for all y'all who are taking full advantage of "Black Friday," a term that "merchants and the media have used it...to refer to the beginning of the period in which retailers go from being in the red (i.e., posting a loss on the books) to being in the black (i.e., turning a profit)" and you were waiting at the doors of JC Penny's at 4:00 so that you could hit Big Lots when it openned at 5:00, I have two things for you. First, you're in my prayers. And second, from what I hear, medication can really help.

But be-that-as-it-may, today we move from Thanksgiving to Christmas mode. Before we make that shift, though, I have one more thing for which we can be thankful, something that may help us put Christmas in the right perspective. I think we can be thankful for the redemption we have through Jesus Christ. In other words, we can thank God that through the life, death, and resurrection of his son, we have been set free from the power of death and fear, and we've been given the opportunity to live lives of mercy and hope. You see, as we'll talk about on Sunday, if we focus on redemption, I believe we'll be less distracted as we prepare ourselves not only to celebrate the birth of Jesus but also live the rest of our lives.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Christ in Christmas



If you’ve never been on Facebook, you may not realize that you can state your support for certain causes and encourage your friends to do the same. Lately, I’ve received a lot of requests for me to support a cause entitled “Keep Christ in Christmas.” Of course, the point of that is pretty clear. With all the secular and cultural stuff that’s crept into this holiday, the birth of Jesus can sort of get lost in the shuffle. As a matter of fact, sometimes it seems that the birth disappears somewhere between the coming of Santa to the mall and shoving the torn wrapping paper into big trash bags. For some folks, Christ has lost his place as we have a “Happy Holiday Season” and celebrate Xmas.


And although I certainly see their point, I’m less concerned about Jesus losing his place on December 25 than during the rest of the year. You see, I think Christ is holding his own around Christmas. I mean, so long as you can still buy nativity sets at Wal Mart and Charlie Brown learns the meaning of the day every, single year, I think the birth of Jesus will never get lost among the other stuff. In fact, I think most Christians, even those who voice the most concern, seem pretty content with the balance. Personally, I’ve had no one suggest to me that we have a special service on Christmas morning so that we can celebrate the real meaning of the season.

No, I’m not overly concerned about keeping Christ in Christmas. I’m far more worried about the rest of the year; because it seems as though, within our society, Jesus intrudes into our space only about twice every twelve months: once in the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas and again in the week before Easter. And so the more pressing problem, in my opinion, isn’t how to keep Christ in Christmas, but how we can celebrate his presence the rest of the year.

And although that may be more challenging than punishing a retail store for putting “Happy Holidays” on its ads, I certainly think it’s possible. In fact, I think we can remember three things associated with Christmas that will make it much easier to keep Jesus in our lives 24/7. You see, first, we can simply remember the reason for this season. In other words, after the ornaments have been packed away and we face the dog days of January and February, we can remember that the Son of God was born in Bethlehem. And as the flowers start to bloom and the snow birds begin to fly home, we can remember that God himself entered our time and space, in a way that we could see and understand. And when we’re all complaining about the heat and wondering whether we’re ever going to get a break, we can remember that because he was born and lived and died, our world will never be the same. And when the leaves finally start to turn from green and fall all over the yard, we can remember that baby in the manger became our savior. You see, throughout the year, we can remember the reason for the Christmas season. But that’s not all.

Second, we can also remember the joy and excitement most of us feel during this time of year. I think far too often, Christians take Christianity for granted, and maybe that’s understandable. Even though that new car may excite the pudding out of you for a while, eventually the smell fades and we pick up some unavoidable dings and dents. Even Christianity can become routine. But maybe if we can remember the joy of this holiday season and carry the excitement into January and February, than maybe our relationship with God will continue to be joyous and exciting. And more than that, maybe we’ll be able to communicate those feelings to others.

And third, if we want to keep Christ in rest of year, I think we can also remember the spirit of Christmas. I’ve read that charitable giving is highest during this time of year. Of course, that’s no surprise. Christmas is time for giving. But we don’t have to limit that spirit to just one day. Everyday we can look for opportunities to give: to give our time to help those who need our involvement and support and to give our talents so that as we work together we can become greater than any of us could be on our own and to give our money because that’s exactly what some folks desperately need. And the more we give, the more the spirit of this special time that we’re now entering will live and grow within ourselves and touch the lives of others.

I’m sure we’ll hear plenty of concern about how Christ is being removed from Christmas. And although I understand their concern, I’m far more worried about what’s happening the rest of the year. But you know, we can counter this by remembering the reason for the season and the joy and excitement we feel and the spirit that spreads with each gift we give. And when we do, not only will Christ remain in Christmas but in the other 363 days as well.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sermon: A Reason for Thanks


John 18:33-37 - 33Then again Pilate went into the praetorium, and he called Jesus and said to him, “You, are you the king of the Jews?” 34Jesus answered, “On your own accord are you saying this or did others say [this] concerning me?” 35Pilate answered, “I myself am not a Jew, am I? Your nation and the chief priests handed you over to me. What did you do?” 36Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If from this world was my kingdom, then my attendants would fight so that I might not be handed over to the Jews. But now my kingdom is not from here.” 37Then Pilate said to him, “So then, you are a king, aren’t you?” Jesus answered, “You yourself said that I’m a king. For this I myself have been born and for this I have come into the world, so that I might bear witness to the truth. All who are from the truth hear my voice.”

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As I’m sure everybody here this morning knows, later this week will be Thanksgiving. As a matter of fact, four days from this minute, some of us will be just about ready to sit down to eat or maybe desperately trying to find either the nutmeg which you know you bought or that stupid leaf for the dinner room table that you only use once a year. And people will be trying to decide where everybody’s going to sleep in a house that has only one guest room or to figure out why the daughter decided to bring her new puppy that isn’t quite house broken. And of course, since kick-off isn’t until 12:30, the Detroit Lions still have a chance of winning their annual turkey day game or turkey of a game, depending on how you look at it. Yes sir, in less than a week, we’ll be right in the middle of our annual commemoration to food and family and of course football. And I didn’t even mention the Macy’s parade.

And even though that’s what Thanksgiving is around a lot of houses, I know it was back home when I was growing up, I think most of us recognize that there’s something more important about this day than worrying about how you can stuff yourself at 4:00 and still work in a turkey sandwich before going to bed. Like the name implies, Thanksgiving is or at least should be a day for giving thanks. And you know, I think that’s something we really need to remember, because no matter how lousy the last twelve months have been, there are at least a couple of things for which we can be thankful. I mean, without minimizing or ignoring the genuine pain and heart-ache some of y’all have been through, right now, in this place, you’re surrounded by friends and neighbors who really care about you. And if that’s all you’ve got, that’s still a reason to give some thanks.

But you know, I think there’s another reason, one that’s even better and I’ll tell you, it applies whether your year has been wonderful or the pits. And it centers on the meaning behind this particular day. You see, today is the last Sunday in the church year. Next week we start Advent, with everything pointing toward to the birth of Jesus. And every year, on this last Sunday we focus on Christ the King. And although it’s only a coincidence that these two days are always in the same week, I think one really has a lot to do with the other. You see, I think one of the things for which we can be thankful is that Christ is not only our king, but one that’s so much more than anything we’d find on earth. For this, we can be thankful. But let me be specific.

You see, I believe that Jesus is without question our king. I mean, isn’t that the point of the passage we just read from John, and I’m talking about that conversation Pilate had with Jesus right before his crucifixion. My goodness, as you read just these verses, it sure looks like Pilate was moving to that conclusion. I mean, think about it. He started by asking Jesus, “You, are you the king of the Jews?” But then a little later in our passage he said, “So then, you are a king, aren’t you?”, to which Jesus replied, “You yourself said that I’m a king.” Now, to me, that sure sounds like Pilate is coming around. And remember, a little bit later, not only does he try to release Jesus, but above him, nailed to the cross, Pilate hung a pretty profound sign. And although the chief priests tried to get him to change it and to add the words, “This man said, I am...,” Pilate refused. And the sign he, himself ordered, well, it read in Hebrew, Greek and Latin: “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” You see, the longer Pilate was with Jesus, the more convinced he became that Jesus really was a king.

And I’ll tell you, that’s just as true today as it was two thousand years ago. Jesus is still a king; he’s still our king. And I’ll tell you, he offers us exactly what we’d expect from a good ruler. I mean, he certainly demonstrates power. My gosh, right in the opening verses of his gospel, John wrote that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” You see, the divine word that “became flesh and lived among us” rules with the kind of authority than makes all those powers that scare us so much, you know, those people and groups that cause us to doubt the future, to give up hope; man, he makes them look like a joke. Jesus is a king who has power.

And I’ll tell you, he also rules with justice. I mean, even though we run into people all the time who are arbitrary and capricious, men and women who seem to base their decisions on their feelings and change their minds more often than their socks, there’s a consistency and a coherence to Christ. In other words, in an unstable world, he offers something you can count on. (And I’ll tell you, I thought about comparing this to Peyton Manning leading the Colts, but I thought that may be a little too much, you know, over the top.) But be-that-as-it- may, our’s is a just king.

But one that also rules with compassion, which I think is something we always need to remember. You see, unlike what we often value, Christ’s justice is neither blind or impartial. Instead, he rules with mercy and grace, giving us far more than we deserve. And even though we may not always want this quality in the people we elect to office, when you’re talking about the one holds our destiny and the destiny of the universe in his hands, and who can see what we’re doing and knows what we’re thinking, I don’t know about you, but personally, I want my lord to look at me with as much mercy and grace as possible. You see, like a good king, Jesus rules with power and justice and compassion, and for that I think we can all be thankful.

And if that were all there is, for me that’s enough, but you know, when it comes to his kingdom and his reign, Christ is so much more than anything we find on earth. I mean, that sure seems to be what he was getting at when he said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not from this world. If from this world was my kingdom, then my attendants would fight so that I might not be handed over to the Jews. But now my kingdom is not from here” and then a little later, “You yourself said that I’m a king. For this I myself have been born and for this I have come into the world, so that I might bear witness to the truth. All who are from the truth hear my voice.” Now that’s what Jesus said, and although I think Pilate picked up on the king stuff, I’m not sure he ever realized how much more Jesus was than that.

But you know something, we can. I mean, we can recognize that Jesus’s kingdom is not from around here, because, praise the Lord, he does some things that would be impossible for any person, king or not, to do. You see, Jesus is the one who comes to us with the presence of God himself, as John wrote at the beginning of the gospel, “he was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And 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 what John wrote. And like Jesus said in our passage, “for this I myself have been born and for this I have come into the world.” You see, we don’t have to find him. Right here and right now, Jesus has come to us and he’s found us.

And more than that, he also gives us the ability to believe and to follow. What does the passage say; he bears witness to us. In other words, through his word and spirit, he bears “witness to the truth.” And you know, this is exactly what he promised would happen when he said to the disciples, “the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” You see, not only does our king come to us, he enables us to understand who he is, which in turn gives us the ability to believe. It’s an amazing. It’s just like he said to Pilate, “All who are from the truth hear my voice.” This is the one we recognize as our king.

And I’ll tell you, we can sure remember this fact on Thursday. You see, right along with the all the food and all the family and all the football, we can be thankful that Christ is not only our king, but one that’s different from anything we’d find on earth. In other words, we can spend a little time thinking about what it means to say that Christ really is our king, you know that he rules with power and justice and compassion, just like the best king the world has ever produced. But you know, even more important than that, Christ is a king to comes to us with God’s presence and actually gives us the ability to believe and to obey. And you know, when you think about it, if that’s not a reason for thanks, I don’t know what is.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Two Special Days


Within the next week, there are two very special days that we should all probably remember. Of course, one is pretty easy to guess. As a matter of fact, I think everybody receiving this message knows that Thursday is special. And although often we view it as the one day a year when you can justify shoving as much food as possible into your body, we actually have a much better reason to celebrate it. You see, Thanksgiving is a time that’s been set aside to remember some of the positives things that have happened in the last year and to offer thanks. Therefore, Thanksgiving is obviously a special day.

The other day, though, is not so obvious. You see, the last Sunday of the Christian year, in the fact the Sunday right before the beginning of Advent, has been established to remember Christ the king. In a couple of days, Christians all over the world will focus on what it means to say that Jesus is Lord, both of their lives and their world. And for that reason, Sunday is going to be important too.

And you know, if you think about it, there’s really a link between the two, a connection that we’re going to discuss during the service on Sunday. I mean, I can’t think of many better reasons to thank God than for the fact that Jesus is our king. In other words, because of who he is and what he did, we have hope as we look into the future and direction as we live in the present. And for that, I think we can offer God both thanks and praise.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Congratulations to The Children's Academy

It is with tremendous pride and excitement that the staff of The Children’s Academy, LLC announce the recent achievement of West Virginia’s Child Care Licensing Tier II standards status. This tiered system provides recognition and reimbursement to programs that demonstrate they meet higher standards of care in areas of program management, health, safety and nutrition, child growth and development, positive interactions and relationships, curriculum, child observation and assessment, and professionalism. The Children’s Academy, LLC is the only child care facility within the northern panhandle of West Virginia with this accreditation.

The Children’s Academy has been recognized for providing qualified staff who possess extensive training and/or bachelor and master degrees, as well as ongoing annual training credentials in early childhood and professional development. The Children’s Academy, LLC offers a broad range of resources incorporated into classroom Set up, cultural diversity, daily communication with parents and community and family ethics.

The dedicated staff of The Children’s Academy, LLC deserve special recognition for their consistent hard work and success in offering a comprehensive and compassionate developmentally based caring environment for all children enrolled in this facility.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Karen Vida's Resignation

It's with sadness that at Monday's meeting, the session received and accepted Karen Vida's resignation as Christian Education Director. Personally, I've appreciated her dedication and involvement during my time at Cove. She will be missed. The elders decided to begin looking for a replacement after the new session is installed.

Since we're about to move into the Christmas season, I think we all want to make sure our children have the chance to celebrate fully the birth of Jesus. To do this, we need to work together. We have a Christmas pageant scheduled for December 13 (program at 6:30, preceded by a dinner at 5:30). We've also discussed a parents day out for December 5. If you're willing to help with either activity or if you have an idea for something else we might do, please give me a call. Any time you can offer would be appreciated.

As a word of good news, TJ Smith has volunteered to work with our older youth. I know he'd also welcome any help you can offer and of course your prayers.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sermon: Facing the Future


Mark 13:1-8 - 1And as he was going out from the Temple, one of his disciples said to [Jesus], “Teacher, see what sort of stones and what sort of buildings.” 2And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Absolutely not one stone which shall be absolutely pulled down shall be left upon a stone.”

3And when he was sitting upon the Mount of Olives opposite the Temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him a question among themselves, 4“Tell us when these things will be and what signs when all these things shall be accomplished” 5And Jesus began to say to them, “Watch out that you might be led into something that’s wrong. 6Many will come in my name saying, ‘I am,’ and many will be led into something that’s wrong. 7And when you might hear of war and reports of war, don’t be troubled. This must happen. But it’s not yet the end. 8For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places. There will be famines. These things are the beginning of birth pangs.”

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The future is a pretty hot topic now-a-days, especially with the big budget movie 2012 having hit the theaters on Friday. Now, I’ve got to admit, that’s a movie I would mind seeing myself. Of course, a couple of days ago, I was reading some of the reviews on RottenTomatoes.com, a site for anyone who likes movies, and the reaction among critics, well, I think you could call it mixed. But who cares about them; what do they know? To me it looks really fun, with a lot of action and special effects. And just out of curiosity, has anybody seen it yet?

Of course, I think most of y’all know what it’s about, right? But just in case you don’t, it’s based on the fact that an ancient Mayan calendar ended on December 21, 2012. And instead of assuming that, like a cartoon I saw a couple of days ago, they just ran out of room on the rock, some people seem to think that marks the end of the world. And although for me, this just means three years from now I won’t be buying Christmas presents early, from what I understand, some folks are really freaked out about this stuff. As a matter of fact, this past Friday, I was talking to a colleague who was telling me about a member of his congregation who was all bent out of shape about this movie. I mean, they were really afraid and a little depressed as they thought about the future.

But when you get right down to it, you don’t need a movie to make you at least a little apprehensive as you look into what’s coming. I mean, give me a break, facing the future is always challenging, and you know, that’s the case whether you’re a Christian or not. My goodness, since none of us can be one hundred percent sure of what’s around the bend, tomorrow is always a little bit of a mystery and so is how we should respond to it. And yet, our response, well, it’s going to affect not only ourselves personally but also our relationships with God and with one another. And for that reason, we’re going to spend a little time talking about how we might better face the future.

And you know, I don’t think it’s a minute too soon, because I’ve got to tell you, the two ways we generally do it just don’t seem to work out for us very well. And again, Christians are at least as guilty as everyone else. You see, on one hand, an awful lot of people deal with what’s coming by trying to live in the future. And it’s really interesting, although folks do this kind of thing on both sides of the stained glass, they’re generally mirror images of one another. Let me tell you what I mean.

Often people who aren’t very religious are really negative as they try to live in the future, you know, always worried about the horrible things which they’re sure will happen any day. For them, every single silver lining is about to be surrounded by a dark cloud. O yes, they’re a joy to be around. But you know, it’s exactly opposite for Christians who are trying to live in the future, because all they can see is heaven and harps and angels floating around on clouds. For them, it seems that their whole lives are geared around what happens when they die. The dead seem more important than the living. You see, what I mean by interesting?

But you know, either way, these folks generally aren’t worth very much in the present. It’s like they say, they’re so heavenly-minded, or maybe overly pessimistic, that they’re no earthly good. But that’s what happens when you try to live in the future.

On the other hand, though, there are plenty of people who work as hard as they can to deny the future, you know, if you pretend that it can’t happen it won’t. Both inside and outside the faith, they’re kind of like my former brother-in-law who, even though he had heart problems all over the place in this family history and had a diet literally to die for, he wouldn’t see a doctor, because if he never heard about the risk he was running on a daily basis, he’d never get sick. That’s what I mean by denying the future.

And Christians who do this kind of thing sort of put their own spin on it by assuming that whatever happens, God will bale them out. Don’t worry about the consequences, live for the moment. The trouble is, if you deny the future, then you’re going to be pretty unprepared to deal with it when it comes, and trust me, it’s going to come. And so you see, it really doesn’t matter whether you try to live in it or to deny it, neither path really prepares us to face the future in any meaningful way.

But you know, we’re not limited to only two options, because I believe Jesus gives us another way to move forward without falling in the holes we’ve been talking about. And I’ll tell you, it’s right here in these verses we just read. I mean, just think about what Christ said in this passage. It’s pretty hard to deny that the future of the Temple was going to be pretty tough, right; especially after he said, “Do you see these great buildings? Absolutely not one stone which shall be absolutely pulled down shall be left upon a stone.” This was a future those disciple just couldn’t deny.

And yet, I think he was about as clear as he could be that this future wasn’t happening now, because remember he said, “Watch out that you might be led into something that’s wrong. Many will come in my name saying, ‘I am,’ and many will be led into something that’s wrong. And when you might hear of war and reports of war, don’t be troubled. This must happen. But it’s not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places. There will be famines. These things are the beginning of birth pangs.” Now, that’s what he said, and man, if we listen, it’s got to shape how we face the future.

You see, it seems to me that Jesus was saying that instead of trying to deny it, we need to accept it, which means doing two things. First, it means accepting that as we all move forward, things change: some things for the better but other things... And it happens whether we want it to or not. For example, here in the church, I wish things could be the way they were when I was a boy and everybody I knew went to the church because not only did the city but all the stores and actives shut down. For a kid to play some kind of organized sport on Sunday was absolutely unthinkable. And we all liked singing the old hymns. And men wore suits and women hats and gloves. You know, I can close my eyes and see Ocean View Presbyterian Church on Sunday morning.

But you know, if I try to deny that the world and people have changed in the last forty years and try to recreate that community right here, I mean, if I try to stop or worse, roll back the clock, we’re going to wither and die, because when you get right down to it, the only thing constant is change. Man, we can deny it until the cows come home, but the future’s going to come whether we like it or not. And that may not make us happy. First, it’s just suicide to deny the future.

But you know, second, as we brace ourselves for what’s coming, we can continue to trust that God is in control, that last time I looked, he hasn’t stepped away from his universe, and regardless of our last CAT scan or biopsy, our lives are still in his hands, and he will, not may but will lead us even through the valley of the shadow of death. This we can believe, and to me, believing it, man, it’s going to help us deal with what’s coming, even the stuff we’d much rather deny. You see, as we face it, we can accept the future.

But that’s not all that I believe Jesus wants us to do, because I also think he wants us to live not in the future, but right here, in the present. I mean, just like he warned his disciples not to be mislead by people who say that time has just about run out and the end is almost here, that same warning applies to us too. You see, none of us have reached the end of our story. And it really doesn’t matter how old you are or what the doctor said at your last appointment, and I’ll tell you, it also doesn’t matter how much you’re looking forward to heaven or what you hope to receive in the sweet by-and-by, God has given each and every person who woke up this morning a wonderful gift. He’s given us all the present, the moment we have right now, and he’s given us the freedom to use it as we wish. I mean, we can use it to look and feel miserable, to remember all the times we think we’ve been wronged and to think about all the reasons we have to be unhappy. I’m telling you, we can sit right here in the pews and never see beyond ourselves, or

...Or we can open our ears and start listening to what Jesus is calling us to do. And we can open our eyes so that we can see that the same kind of people that were touched by our Lord, those same kind of people are still here and their needs haven’t changed one bit. And then we can open our minds so that we can begin to entertain ways that we might do the Lord’s work, to sing the Lord’s song in a strange, new land. And then we can get up and start doing it. In other words, instead of just waiting for the future, we can begin working to make the world better in the present, something that I think Jesus wants us to do.

Some time in the next few months I’ll probably see 2012, but not because I expect the world to end on December 21. It may, but I’m not ready to bet the farm. And right along with that, I going to try as hard as I can not to deny or to live in the future. Instead I’m going to follow the example Christ left to us and accept the future while living in the present. Now that’s what I’m going to do, and so can we all, as together, we face the future.

Friday, November 13, 2009

How Can We Face the Future?

Back in August, I went to a financial seminar. And although I had several reasons for going, my primary motivation was age, and in particular, my age. You see, I’m 52. Now, that may not sound like a big deal to some of y’all, but for me it’s huge. I’ve hit the point when my most productive years may be behind me, and the amount of time I’ll be working for an income may be less then the amount of time I’ve already worked. Of course, I understand that may be "all out the window" depending on how much graduate education Maggie wants.

But be-that-as-it-may, I’m moving to the point in my life when I have to think about retirement which means I had better start thinking about my future and the future of my family. And let me tell you, that’s not a particularly comfortable thing to do. I mean, it’s a lot more fun to deny the future, you know, to pretend that it doesn’t exist, something that’s getting a lot harder to do every time I see all the hair in the brush after combing or try to convince myself that clothes actually do shrink as they’re hanging in the closet. Denying the future is sure better than facing it.

But then so is trying to live in the future, something that’s especially tempting for Christians. I mean, as I’ve heard people say, we can become so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good. In other words, the vision of paradise can so dominate our thoughts that we really stop living in the real world with all it’s real problems and real needs. That’s living in the future.

And so, if we shouldn't deny it or try to live in it, the question still remains, how should we face the future? Well, on Sunday, we’ll use a passage from Mark to address that very problem. So plan to attend the service or read the sermon after it's posted on Monday.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Sermon: The Importance of Stewardship


Mark 12:38-44 - 38And in his teaching, he said, “Look out for the scribes who want to go around in long robes and to get greetings in marketplace 39and to have the first seat in the synagogues and the first couch at the banquets, 40those who devour the houses of widows and for show, have long prayers. They will receive more abundant judgement.”

41And he sat down opposite the contribution boxes and began to watch how the crowd put copper coins in the contribution box. And many rich people put in many [coins]. 42And one widow who was poor put in two small coins, which were worth a quarter of a copper coin. 43And he called to his disciples and said to them, “Amen I say to you, that poor widow put in more than all those who put [money] into the contribution box. 44For they all from out of their surplus put in [money], but she from her poverty put in everything she had – her whole livelihood.”


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This morning we’ve asked y’all to turn in those promise cards we sent out a few weeks ago. And, I guess, in a final push to encourage you to make some kind of pledge, I was asked to preach a stewardship sermon. And let me be absolutely clear about this, that’s the only reason I chose the picture on the cover of the bulletin. It has nothing to do with the fact that one or two people have sort of suggested that I look a little tiny bit like the guy on the one hundred dollar bill. Of course, I’d really like to know the church where that picture was taken. Man, that’s quite an offering, isn’t it; I’m talking about all that cash. Not like anything I’ve seen.

In fact, that reminds me of the old joke I sent out with the bulletin. Three old, worn-out bills were waiting to be incinerated: a hundred, a fifty and a dollar. And as they were waiting, they started to talk to one another. The hundred said, “Well, I guess I’m ready to go, because I’ve lived a wonderful life. I’ve seen the best restaurants, the best hotels, the best resorts. I can go in peace.” After he finished, the fifty started to talk, “Well, I guess I’m ready to go too, because I’ve also lived a wonderful life. Although I didn’t see the places you saw, I’ve seen some good restaurants and some good hotels and some good resorts. I think that I can go in peace too.” After he finished, the dollar spoke right up and said, “Well, I’m sure not ready to go, because I’ve lived an unbelievably boring life. All I’ve seen is church, church, church.” Such is the spiritual life of a one dollar bill. Poor George Washington.

But you know, that joke really says a lot about how we see stewardship. I mean, it’s something we might kid or maybe better, given the way things are now-a-days, worry about. It’s something that we may talk and ask ministers to preach about. I mean, we know it’s important, because I don’t think there’s a person here that doesn’t recognize that, like every single business and family, the church has bills to pay nor do I think there’s a minister out there that doesn’t feel sort of uncomfortable talking about it, because I know that I’m probably the single biggest church expense. My goodness, all this stuff I think we all recognize.

We may not be quite as clear about what this has to do with our relationship with God or with Jesus Christ. In other words, it’s not hard to understand how filling out that promise card is financially important to the congregation, but I believe for most of us, it’s tough to see how it relates to us spiritually. Although it may be important to Allegheny Power and my ability to pay my mortgage, it just doesn’t seem all that important to Christ. He’s more interested in me giving him my life or my heart or my mind than whether I put a Washington or a Franklin in the offering plate, right?

But let me tell you, even though I recognize that I may have a conflict of interest, I don’t think that’s true. You see, when you listen to what Christ taught, I think it’s pretty clear that what we think of as financial stewardship was important to him. As a matter of fact, if we use this passage as a guide, I believe that there are three facets of stewardship which Jesus considered really important, three aspects that if we take them seriously just might change the way we view the plate as it passes by.

You see, first, when it comes to stewardship as we know it, I think Jesus believed that money was important, and in particular, how we choose to use the money that we consider our’s. And I’ll tell you, not only do we see this in the passage just read, especially with the people giving money in the Temple, we actually see it all over the place in the gospels. As a matter of fact, if you read everything that he taught and said, Jesus spent far more time teaching about personal finance, you know, how to use your money, than about personal morality. Whether you’re talking about Jesus telling the rich man to sell everything he had, to give money to the poor and to follow him or Christ accepting a financial gift from Zaccheus, a tax collector who without a doubt got what he gave through corruption and intimidation, man, throw a dart at the Gospels, there’s a good chance you’re going to hit something that has to do with money. As a matter of fact, Jesus went so far to tell his disciples to “...store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” How we use our money was important to Jesus.

And I’ll tell you, because of that, it should be important to us as well. And although I think for far too long stewardship has been limited to cash or checks and that it’s a good thing to broaden it out to time and talents as well, I believe it’s wrong to pretend that money doesn’t matter, because it does. In fact, how we spend what we have may be a better of reflection of what we treasure and value and believe than what we say. And if the example of the rich man who couldn’t sell and give wasn’t enough, Jesus’s praise of that poor widow should probably eliminate any doubt that money was important to Christ, the first thing he can teach us about stewardship.

And second, I think we’re also pretty safe in saying our attitude is also important, and I’m talking about not only our feelings but also our motivation in giving. And as I look at it, this applies regardless of whether you’re talking about money or time or talents. Now, to me, this certainly seems to be what Jesus is getting at when he let the scribes have it. I mean, not only were they incredibly self-centered and proud, you know the kind of guys who never met a mirror they didn’t like, but when Jesus said that all this reflected what they wanted, what they desired, now he was also talking about their motivation.

And I think you can apply that same thing to stewardship. You see, I think some people use what they give to the church to boost their ego. Of course, we’re not talking about folks who work quietly behind the scenes and don’t want any one to know what they contribute. No sir, unless they’re in charge you don’t see them, and they have all kinds of subtle ways to let people know what they contribute. You see, just like the scribes, they really enjoy the recognition, even though sometimes people get pushed aside, maybe even devoured. And for them, what they offer is the way to get thanks and appreciation and praise. And that’s a problem.

But so are the folks who use their contributions to get their way. Their gifts always seem to have strings attached. If I give, then you should [fill in the blank]. And when they pull this kind of stuff, sometimes it almost sounds like blackmail. For example, a couple of months ago I was talking to a colleague who told me that he’d gotten a letter from one of the biggest givers in his church, and it said that unless the board agreed to do something he wanted done, he was going cut off his contributions. I’ll tell you, my friend had no idea what to do, and between you and me, I think it was unfair that he was put in that situation. You see, our motivation can be a problem too.

Therefore, when we sign our check or volunteer our time, I think it’s important to work as hard as we can to develop an attitude that’s as far from the scribes as possible, maybe one the reflects genuine humility because we’re just returning to God a little of what he’s given to us and that recognizes that in the Body of Christ there are a lot of different opinions and perspectives and needs. Humble, selfless giving: now I think that’s the kind of thing Jesus wants to see in his church, because, for him our attitude is important, the second thing he says about stewardship.

And third, if we take this passage seriously, we’ve got to recognize that when you get right down to it, what we actually do is important. And to tell you the truth, for me this is where the rubber hits the road. I mean, in the part of the passage that deals with the offering of that poor widow, Jesus sure seems to be offering an example of the kind of giving he wants all his disciples to make, one that reflects a genuine sacrifice made by the giver. With her, I think we see the ideal. But you know, I find it really interesting, although he certainly praised her, he didn’t condemn the others. In other words, even though her gift represented a bigger sacrifice, especially when you think about the fact that she put in two coins and she could have put in one just as easily, and because of that her contribution was greater, he never said that those who’d given out of their surplus had done something wrong.

And you know, I think that’s pretty good news for us, because let’s face it, I don’t think anyone here would drop their last dollar in the collection plate. Now, I may be wrong, but as I look at myself and what Debbie and I contribute, it’s coming from our surplus. And you know something, that’s O.K. Although we may not be like that poor widow, we can give a portion of what we have so that the work of God is accomplished in this community. It’s like I heard someone say years ago, “God loves a cheerful giver, but he’ll take money from grouches.” What’s really important is that we give something, and as we look at next year, maybe plan to give a little more. Because, there’s no two ways about it, what we do is important to Christ.

Now, stewardship will probably always be a tricky topic. And I’ll probably always feel a little uncomfortable talking about it. But you know, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t, because regardless of how we feel, I think we’re making a big mistake if we try to avoid it. You see, Jesus didn’t, because he recognized that money and attitude and action were all important. You see, for him, I think those three things all work together to make stewardship important.

Friday, November 6, 2009

What the Dollar Said

Here's an old joke. Three old, worn-out bills were waiting to be incinerated: a one hundred dollar bill, a fifty dollar bill and a one dollar bill. And as they were waiting, they began to talk to one another. The one hundred bill said, "Well, I guess I'm ready to go, because I've lived a wonderful life. I've seen the best restaurants, the best hotels, the best resorts. I can go in peace." After he finished, the fifty dollar bill started to talk, "Well, I guess I'm ready to go too, because I've also lived a wonderful life. Although I didn't see the places you saw, I've seen some good restaurants and some good hotels and some good resorts. I think that I can go in peace too." After he finished, the one dollar spoke right up. He said, "Well, I'm sure not ready to go, because I've lived an unbelievably boring life. All I've seen is church, church, church."

As we consider what we can offer to the body of Christ during the next year, let's remember that when we make a pledge, we are demonstrating that we're thankful for what we've already received and the opportunities we've been given. We're also saying that we want to see the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed in our community. Therefore, let's be challenged to pray and to listen for the voice of God, as we consider what we can give on Sunday and during the next year.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Sermon: The Living and the Dead


John 11:32-44 - 32Now Mary, when she came to the place Jesus was, and when she saw him, she fell at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you’d been here, then my brother wouldn’t have died.” 33Now when Jesus saw her crying and the Jews who were with her crying, he let out a snort of indignation and was deeply troubled. 34And he said, “Where have you laid him?” And they said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35Jesus wept. 36Now the Jews said, “See how he loved him.” 37But others from among them said, “He who opened the eyes of the blind is able to do something so that he might not die, isn’t he?”

38Now again Jesus let out [another] snort of indignation within himself, and he went into the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the man who’d died, said, “Lord, already it smells badly; for it happened four days ago.” 40Jesus said to her, “I said to you that if you might believe, then you will see the glory of God, didn’t I?” 41Now they took away the stone. And Jesus raised his eyes upward and said, “Father, I thank you that you heard me. 42But I know that you always hear me. But because of the crowd which is standing around, so that they might believe that you sent me...” 43And after he’d said these things, he cried out in a great voice, “Lazarus, come out.” 44The dead man who’s feet and hands were bandaged and who’s face was wrapped in a handkerchief came out. And Jesus said to them, “Release him and let him go.”

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Now, if you’re new to Cove you may not know that on the first Sunday in November we remember members and friends of this congregation who’ve passed away during the last the year. And I think it’s particularly appropriate that we’d do that this morning, because as you can see on the first page of the bulletin, November 1 is All Saints Day, a day that’s been set-aside to remember the saints.

And for us, well, that may be more special and more appropriate than most of y’all may think. I mean, even though in the Presbyterian Church we don’t have what I guess you could call “card-carrying saints,” you know, men and women who’ve been identified and set apart for spiritual qualities, and to whom we can show special devotion and dedication, even though we don’t have that kind of stuff, that doesn’t mean we don’t have saints, because we believe in what’s called “the sainthood of all believers.”

In other words, just look around; you’re looking at the saints; did you realize that? Therefore, every time we say or do something that hurts a brother and sister in Christ, every time we spread a little gossip or sit there while someone else does, and every time we smile at them until their backs are turned, well, we’re really dissing a saint. And speaking only for myself, that’s not exactly what I want on my resume.

No, right now we’ve got saints all around us, but not just the ones we can see. Like the writer of Hebrews said, we’re surround by a great cloud of witnesses, in other words, saints who have gone on before us, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, husbands and wives who’ve given us examples that contribute to who we are and what we’ve become. And some of these people we remember this morning.

Of course, when we talk about the saints who are no longer with us, we’re really dealing that uncomfortable reality called death, and I say uncomfortable, because that’s how death makes us feel. I mean, isn’t that we why we tend to avoid talking about it as much as possible, and when we do, we use code words like “passed away” or “gone on before us,” you know, the kind of words that I’ve been using so far in the sermon? No, even though I think most of us would say“death is just a part of life” in a heart beat, when you get right down to it, we’d rather not even talk about it.

And I’ll tell you, I think part of the reason that’s true involves our focus whenever this subject comes up. You see, whenever we’re forced to think about death, I believe we tend to focus on either the living or the dead, sometimes both and that gets us into trouble. Let me tell you what I’m talking about. On one hand, when faced with death and dying, often we think about the living, you know, those who’ve been or will be left behind. In other words, we focus on ourselves, on what we’ve lost or might lose, I’m talking about all those experiences that sure appear to be gone forever, because the person with whom we want to share them, well, in our mind, they’re gone forever, right?

And so naturally, if, in the face of the death, we’re focused on the living, then we’ve got to feel grief, and I’m talking about grief over what’s been lost, and maybe even regrets, because every unkind word or act stands forever and so does everything that was undone or unsaid. You see, in the face of death, that pretty much has to happen if our attention is focused on the living.

On the other hand, though, it’s not much better when most of our attention is on the dead, you know, the one who’s gone. And I’ll tell you, sometimes this is where a lot of Christians kind of get stuck, especially when the person who’s died is outside the faith. I mean, what do you do, if you believe that for a person to avoid the fires of Hell, they had better accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior, my gosh, what do you do if you believe that a person’s ultimate destiny is in their hands and determined by the words they use and the promises they make, and then what do you do when you know, and I’m talking about in your heart of hearts, that a person you love hasn’t done what is necessary to “get in?”

I’m telling you, that can be devastating to a person’s faith. I mean, it can lead them to create all these loopholes to get the person in. I once had a woman tell me that she could tell on his face that her father, who was in a coma, had just accepted Jesus as Lord before he died; man, it can lead you to do that kind of silliness. Or it can cause you to live the rest of your life sad because of what the dead could’ve done but didn’t or guilty, thinking about you should’ve done but didn’t. You see, it’s really shouldn’t be any surprise that we’re so uncomfortable in the face of death, when our focus is on the living and dead.

And you know, when you think about it, maybe that’s why, in the passage we just read, Jesus reacted the way he did when he saw Mary and those with her crying and then a little later, when he went to the tomb. You see, in both cases, he let out “a snort of indignation,” in Greek, the word used for the sound a horse makes when it’s mad. And even though John wrote that “Jesus wept,” the word he used isn’t the same as the one that described Mary. You see, again in the Greek, her tears came from grief; Jesus’s had to do with intensity, sort of like talking about “blood, sweat and tears.”

I’ll tell you, no matter how you cut it, in this passage, Jesus was just plain ticked off by the situation, by both the grief shown by everybody right along with the assumption that he should have done something to help Lazarus, but now it was too late. You see, just like us, when we focus on ourselves and the what we’ve lost, Mary and Martha and everyone there at the tomb were so tied up with themselves and Lazarus that they missed something far more important than either the living and dead. They completely missed the power, the authority, man, the glory of God. Remember, after Jesus asked for the stone to be removed and Martha said, “‘Lord, already it smells badly; for it happened four days ago,’ Jesus said to her, ‘I said to you that if you might believe, then you will see the glory of God, didn’t I?’” You see, I think he could see that they were so distracted by the living and the dead, that they were about to miss the very thing that would radically change their view of both life and death.

And I’ll tell you right here and now, the same thing can happen to us. Although it’s natural for us to miss those who have died and even to think about what’s happening to them now and will happen to them and us in the future, we want to make sure this focus doesn’t distract us from what is really most important, and I’m talking about the one who called himself “the resurrection and the life,” the one who through his own death broke the power of death forever, and the one who right here challenges us to believe so that we can see the glory of God. Man, we can completely miss it all, if our focus is a little out of wack.

But you know, that doesn’t have to happen. Take it to the bank, there’s no reason for us ever to hear Jesus snorting like a mad horse, because we can do what those people in the passage had such a hard time doing. I mean, instead of focusing on the living and everything that we’ve lost, we can see death as an opportunity to show our faith in God. You see, we can affirm that God really is that good shepherd who leads his sheep through the valley of the shadow of death and we can state with energy and passion and trust that he’s promised that the time is coming when God going to recreate his universe and we’ll be raised into a new a glorious world, one without war and poverty and oppression, one where violence and hatred and greed have no place, a glorious world where there’s no more tears or pain or parting for the former things have passed away. When we’re focused on the power of God, death is time for faith not grief or regrets.

And I’ll tell you, it’s also a time for peace and hope instead of guilt and worry. You know, I think it’s amazing. No where in the passage, my goodness, no where in the Bible does anyone tell us what kind of person Lazarus was. No one wrote that he was a good, much less spiritual man. And there’s absolutely no way we can assume that he was raised because of his deep and abiding faith in Jesus. In other words, if you can find any place were it says that Lazarus accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior, please show me.

No, what happened to Lazarus really has nothing to do with Lazarus, but it has everything to do with the power and love and glory of God made real through Jesus Christ. And you know, if he can do it for Lazarus, than I think he can also do it for us. In other words, as we think about those who’ve died, I believe we can trust that God has the power and the freedom to give life to anyone he wants.

And you know, when you think about it, maybe that’s what upset those Jewish leaders so much after this incredible miracle. You see, they decide to kill Jesus right after they were told about what happened to Lazarus, because maybe, in part, they didn’t like the idea that God had the power to give life to people they didn’t think deserved it. You see, if that’s the case, they could no longer control of salvation, their own or anybody else’s. Man, they’d be left simply having to trust God. For them, that was unacceptable. But for us... Well, I don’t know about you, but that makes me want to praise the Lord, because I’d much rather have my salvation grounded in his will then left in my hands. Focusing on the power and the glory gives peace and hope.

Now I doubt that death will ever become something that we’ll feel comfortable talking about around the dinner table. No, I think it’ll continue to a topic that makes us uneasy and that most of us will probably try to avoid if at all possible. And I also think, as we deal with death, we’ll continue to spend some of our time focused on what we’ve lost and what they face. I think that’s probably natural. But even though that’s the case, let’s make sure that what’s really most important doesn’t get lost in the shuffle, because as we focus our attention on the power and love of God, death becomes a time for faith and hope, and that applies to both the living and the dead.