Thursday, January 31, 2013

A New Devotion on Cove's Prayer Line - By Word and Deed

Job 2:11-13

Now when Job’s three friends heard of all these troubles that had come upon him, each of them set out from his home–Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They met together to go and console and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads. They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.

 

A Devotion by Irina Ivanova (Pskov, Russia)

I was deeply concerned about someone who is dear to me. The gray, cold day of constant rain made me feel even worse. At work as I stood by the window and sobbed, one of my colleagues came up to me. He told me that everything would be okay. However, these words did not comfort me. In fact, they made me feel worse. A while later, another person came up to me. Seeing that I was suffering, he did not say anything but simply gave me a hug and stayed with me. This silent sympathy and empathy did far more for me than words. He did what the Apostle Paul urges us to do: "weep with those who weep" (Rom. 12:15). Today’s reading in which Job’s friends mourned with him reminded me that words of comfort can be important but also important is another kind of consolation — to simply be quiet together.

From The Upper Room.

Sunday's Minute for Mission - Souper Bowl of Caring

A boy with a pot of soup.
A.J. with Soup Pot
Lord, even as we enjoy the Super Bowl football game, help us be mindful of those who are without a bowl of soup to eat.” Little did I know that these words of prayer would spring to life. Little did I know that the hearts and minds of students across the U.S. would prove to be fertile soil for the movement of God’s grace being born that Sunday morning long ago. I’m talking, of course, about the Souper Bowl of Caring.

On the first Sunday of February, the country’s attention turns to the Super Bowl. And while we should enjoy the game, perhaps God wants to stir us to imagine something more.

What if the hundred million viewers of the big game would give a dollar or two each to help feed a neighbor in need? What if students across the country were mobilized and encouraged to collect canned goods and money that would all be given to a charity they choose? What if churches across the land would take the lead in transforming that weekend into a time of giving and caring?

The students of Spring Valley Presbyterian in Columbia, South Carolina, got the ball rolling when 22 churches participated that first year. Since that kickoff, this youth-led effort has mobilized people from every state and every stripe to give an aggregate of $90 million in cash and cans to soup kitchens and food banks across the country. What a joy to have watched this movement of God’s grace grow all these years! What a delight to imagine what could yet come to pass.

Be a part of it. Email soup@souperbowl.org, call (800) 358-SOUP, or visit and ask how you can help.

—Rev. Brad Smith, pastor, Eastminster Presbyterian Church, Columbia, South Carolina

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A New Devotion on Cove's Prayer Line - Becoming a Butterfly


Ephesians 2:1-10 

You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved–and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God–not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.


A Devotion by Sandra Hastings (Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany)

Have you ever watched a butterfly working its way out of a cocoon? The process requires an amazing struggle. Anyone who does not understand the purpose of the struggle might in sympathy snip the cocoon. This would make it easier for the butterfly to get out, but the butterfly would likely be underdeveloped and never fly. The struggle is part of the process of developing strong wings. For many years of my Christian life I felt like a butterfly trapped in a cocoon — a cocoon of secular values, philosophy, and standards. Struggling through my feelings of inferiority, fear, and failure was agonizing and time-consuming. However, shortening this spiritual metamorphosis would have resulted in a weak, superficial Christian life. I became a new creature when I accepted Christ as my personal Savior. Slowly, like an emerging butterfly, I was freed — I found spiritual freedom in Christ. Christ desires that every one of his followers live unencumbered by our old nature and develop strong wings to fly free as new creations.

From The Upper Room.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sunday's Sermon - We Are the Body of Christ


1 Corinthians 12:7-31a

And to each the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. For to one through the Spirit is given a word of wisdom, but to another a word of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another trust by the same Spirit, but to another the gracious gift of healing by the one Spirit, but to another works of power, but to another prophecy, but to another spiritual discrimination, to another kinds of tongues, but to another an interpretation of tongues; but all these are worked by the one and same Spirit who apportions them to each one individually just as it wills. For just as the body is one and has many parts, but all the parts of the body which are many are one body, thus also is Christ. For also in one Spirit were all baptized into one body–whether Jew, whether Greek, whether slave, whether free–and we were all given one Spirit to drink. For  also the body isn’t one part but many. If the foot might say, “Because I’m not a hand, I’m not of the body,” it doesn’t follow that it isn’t of the body, does it? And if the ear might say, “Because I’m not an eye, I’m not of the body, it doesn’t follow that it isn’t of the body, does it? If the whole body was an eye, where would hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would smelling be?

But as it is, God placed the parts, each of them, in the body just as he wanted. But if all were one part, where would the body be? But now there are many parts but one body. But the eye isn’t able to say to the hand, “I have no need for you;” or again the head to the feet, “I have no need for you;” but rather the parts of the body which seem weaker are necessary, and those of the body which we think to be less honorable, these we clothe with greater honor, and our indecent [parts] have been clothed with greater decency, but our decent [parts] don’t need [this]. But God blended the body to give greater honor to [the parts] that are lacking [honor], so that there might be no division in the body but the parts might have the same concern for one another. And when one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it. When one part is glorified, all parts are glorified with it.

But you yourselves are the body of Christ and individual parts. And some God placed in the church, first, as apostles, second, prophets, third, teachers, then those who have power, then those who have the gracious gift of healing, those who help others, those who offer guidance, those who speak in tongues. Not everyone is an apostle, are they? Not everyone is a prophet, are they? Not everyone is a teacher, are they? Not everyone has power, do they? Not everyone has the gracious gift of healing, have they? Not everyone speaks in tongues, do they? Not everyone interprets, do they? But be zealous for the greater gracious gifts.


We Are the Body of Christ

Yesterday morning, when I posting the daily Bible readings to Facebook, I got a message from a young woman that I know. Without going into details, something had happened in her personal life that had sort of thrown her for a loop. And as we texted back and forth, she sounded really mixed up and isolated, you know, cut off from any clear sense of direction and support. And even though I tried to be encouraging and supportive, she just sounded empty inside, like someone had removed the stopper and all her hopes and confidence had just gone out of her like air from a balloon.

Now that was yesterday morning, but I’ve got to tell you, this kind of thing, well, it’s really not unusual. I guess about once a week, I run into something very similar. Something happens, sometimes expected, sometimes not, that seems to take all the wind out of a person’s sails that leaves them in the same position as that young woman, rudderless and isolated in hostile waters. Now, like I said, I hear that kind of story all the time. And it always makes me sad.

But you know, more often than that, I run into Christians who seem to have figured it all out, who claim to have all the answers, especially when it’s happening to somebody else, and who’s confidence has crossed over into arrogance; man, I run into them almost daily, usually because they object to something I’ve written. And even though more often than not I end up drifting into a fruitless debate with them, every now and then, only by the grace of God, I resist the temptation to argue back and instead start to listen to what the person is saying between the words. And then I start feeling the exact same sadness, because I’m listening to a person who’s really walking a tight rope, relying on some highly structured and detailed system of religious dogma and rigid laws to keep his balance, while at the same time so scared that he’s going to encounter some idea or person that might cause him to question his certainties, I’ll tell you, this possibility seems to fill him with so much fear that he cuts himself off everything and everyone he can’t control. You see, in spite of the arrogant confidence, he’s just as mixed up and isolated as that young woman with whom I texted yesterday, and ultimately, well, I think he probably feels every bit as empty. I see this kind of thing all the time, and to be completely honest, every now and then, I feel it myself and I begin to wonder if confusion and loneliness and emptiness is just one of the consequences of living in our modern world.

But you know, if it is, if these feelings just go along with our age, then I think the passage we just read from First Corinthians is absolutely essential for us to claim, because in it, I believe Paul offers to them and to us exactly what the church, and I’m talking about the Body of Christ is all about. In other words, in these verses, I think he tells us three things that we have, that we’ve been given as members of Christ’s body, and they’re three things that I think can sure help us as we do the best we can with what we’ve got. And here they are.

You see, first, according to Paul, because we’re part of the body of Christ, we now have a purpose. And I’ll tell you, that’s exactly what he said right at the beginning of the passage. Remember he wrote, “And to each the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” And then he went on to explain the different forms this Spirit might be shown. But you know, as we wade through all these “spiritual gifts,” I don’t think we should loss sight of the reason why they were all given. Again, “And to each the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” You see, that’s our purpose, our focus, our reason to be. It’s all for the common good, in other words, for the benefit of others both within and outside the church. For Paul, that’s why we’re here. And I’ll tell you something else, that’s why we’ve been given what we have. You see, God has given us the talents, the means, even the interests that we have to make the world a better place and to improve the lives of those around us. In a real sense, we’ve been given exactly what we need so that we might better express our love for both God and neighbor. You see, that’s our purpose, something that should lead us both to listen for the real needs all around us and to develop and coordinate the talents and possessions we have to address those needs. And understand, when I say needs, I’m not just talking about the physical, although we can’t ignore the real need for food and shelter and clean water all around us. I mean, look out there in the real world; there are plenty of folks who are spiritually confused, I’m talking about men and women who really don’t want a set of pat answers but rather are looking for someone who’ll take seriously their questions. And right here, we have the ability to do just that. God has given us the means and all the talents we need to get this job done. And all we have to do is to focus those gifts and develop and coordinate those talents, all for the sake of the common good. You see, in the Body of Christ, we have a purpose. That’s one.

And you know, we also have a place. In the Body of Christ, God’s given us a home, and that’s second thing we have. Again, listen to what Paul wrote: “But as it is, God placed the parts, each of them, in the body just as he wanted.” And as he went on, he explained that because this is the work of God and the means by which we can accomplish our purpose, every single part is there for a reason whether we understand that reason or not. In other words, God has given me a home, a home right here at Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia just like he’s given me a home within his holy catholic church. And because that home is God’s gift, it’s real whether I want to accept it or not. I have a place. But you know something, so do y’all, and I’m talking about all of y’all. Y’all have a place, a home. Y’all belong here, and no one has a right to say anything else, because you are here by the will of God. And that applies whether you’re talking about an individual sitting in a pew or a congregation is a town on the Ohio River. And you know, if this is something we believe, then it’s got to move us beyond the congregational tribalism that a lot of Christians seem to have accepted, you know, that I’ve somehow done something great for the Kingdom of God when I move someone from their tribe to mine. When I believe that God has given us a place, a home, that nonsense has got to stop. And in it’s place, we’ll be working to increase our unity, within and between congregations as well as within and between denominations. And if that means we may have to be a little more open to how the Holy Spirit is working and a little more accepting of those who hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, in ways different from us, then that’s exactly what we’ll do. Why? Because we believe that we have a place. And that’s two.

And third, because we’re part of the body of Christ, we also have a presence. As Paul reminds us, “But you yourselves are the body of Christ and individual parts.” You see, God has brought us together, and it’s through us that God is working. In fact, it’s a lot like a poem written by a Christian mystic named Teresa of Avila almost five hundred years ago:
“Christ has no body but yours, 
No hands, no feet on earth but yours, 
Yours are the eyes with which he looks 
Compassion on this world, 
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good, 
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, 
Yours are the eyes, you are his body. 
Christ has no body now but yours, 
No hands, no feet on earth but yours, 
Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world. 
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” 
You see, God is present with us right here and now, something that we’re going to celebrate in just a few minutes when we gather around the table and share the bread and the cup. God is here, and he’s working with and through us, and for that reason, in a very real sense, the world judges him by what they see in us. Within our lives and our community here, we carry the presence of God. And that’s number three.

I haven’t heard from the young woman I was talking about a little while ago, not since she texted me yesterday. I pray she doing better but I don’t know. Unfortunately, how she feels won’t change the fact that alienation has become a fact of life in our modern world, and there are plenty of folks who live with confusion and loneliness and emptiness. But that shouldn’t be case with us, because we have a purpose, to work for the common good. And we have a place that God has given us within this Christian community. And we have a divine presence that flows through and around us all the time. This is what we have, because we are the Body of Christ.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

A New Devotion on Cove's Prayer Line - Other Sheep

John 10:14-16

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

 

A Devotion by Alissabeth Newton (Washington, USA)

When I was 17 years old, I participated in a foreign-exchange program. For almost five months I went to school in Russia and lived with a Russian family. It was my first time to be away from my family for more than a couple of days. My well-meaning church back home sent several Bibles with me, certain that part of what I was called to do on that trip was to bear witness as a Christian. However, after my arrival in Russia all those years ago, I soon discovered that God had been there long before I came. I experienced God through the people I met and loved and depended on during my visit. Although the ways we worshiped and understood God differed, we all nonetheless experienced relationship with our Creator.

When I recall this period in my life, I think about Jesus’ words in John 10:16 about his sheep that belong to another fold. He doesn’t say that the disciples must find the other sheep or that they will listen to anyone other than their shepherd. And he does not speak of them as being lost. Instead, Jesus said, "There will be one flock, one shepherd." Let us listen to the voice of our shepherd, Christ Jesus.

From The Upper Room.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Prayer Requests, to be shared during Sunday’s worship service


On Sunday, January 27, Cove Presbyterian Church will lift the following needs to God.

Adults
Alden & Delores Edwards
Alicia Parr
Amy Kauer
Andrea Vincent
Anthony LaPosta
Bonnie Bowen
Cara Nicoleon
Charles Saffle
Christy Cybulski
Dale Brant
Dar
Darrell Glover
Delores Huey
Diane Szymanek
Dick Bonyak
Dolly
Doug Friends
Eleanor Williams
Elizabeth McCutcheon
Emery Edwards
Gen Meyer
Harman
James Mitts
Jamie Edwards
Jeanne Stark
Jeff Grant
Joan Gallagher
John Mason
Joy Zaslocke
Kelly Stephens
Leisa Montgomery
Louann Seevers
Marjie Dinger
Martha Meadows
Matt Keenan
Mellie Poblete Nazaire
Rhonda Bruich
Rich Hvizdak
Richard Ceraolo
Richard Redfern
Robert Krupp
Ron Taflan
Rose Bell
Rose Sanders
Susan Ponville
Virginia Marston
Wink Harner

Children
Aksel Ace
Audri King
Brandon Wares
Brody McUmor
Brooke Ash
Daniel Marchione
Hunter Stafford
Jeffrey Konovich
Jonah Becker
Jonathan Marte
Justus Loughry
Kade Haines
Kya Schwertfeger
Lily Ghrist
McKenna Popish
Michael Liptak
Shelby Kamarec

Military
Chris Cameron
Jason Kerr
Jonathan Criss
Michael Criss
Stephen Mader

In the Hospital
Martha Haspel – Weirton Medical Center
Eleanor Williams – Shadyside
Dolores Edwards – Trinity West

Bereaved Families
The Family of Beulah Mallory
The Family of Nick Palavis

Church Families
Rob & Jeanne Starck
Marilyn Stead & Morgan Abbott
Edward & Terry Steding

Local Church
Mercy Baptist Church

Special Friends
Kay Manley – Weirton Geriatric Center, 2525 Pennsylvania Ave., Weirton, WV  26062-3652

Upper Ohio Valley Presbytery Churches
Hill Top Presbyterian Church, Toronto, Ohio – Rev. Robert Meyer
Roney’s Point Presbyterian Church, Triadelphia, Ohio – Rev. Darrin Jones

Also Remember in Your Prayers
Alice Orr – Weirton Geriatric Center, 2525 Pennsylvania Ave., Weirton, WV  26062
Bob Morgan – Weirton Geriatric Center, 2525 Pennsylvania Ave., Weirton, WV  26062
Harry Hutch – Villa Vista, Room 507, 1800 Sinclair Ave., Steubenville, OH  43953
Kay Manley – Weirton Geriatric Center, 2525 Pennsylvania Ave., Weirton, WV  26062
Margaret Heaton – Heritage Place, 608 N 10th Street, Weirton, WV  26062-2423
Mike Valiga – Weirton Geriatric Center, 2525 Pennsylvania Ave., Weirton, WV  26062
Thelma Longacre – Chambrel at Montrose, Unit 210, 100 Brookmont Rd., Akron, OH 44333-3091

Three Dimensions of the Church


Sunday will be an important day at Cove Presbyterian, because we’re going to do some things that I believe point to three different dimensions of the church in general and this congregation specifically.

First, immediately after the service we’re going to have our annual meeting. During that time, we’ll receive information about what our congregation has done within our community. We’ll also get an better understanding about how we’re living our call to share the gospel and to love one another. And even though this involves this specific body, it’s part of our identity as the church.

But so is our role as a part of the greater church, and that’s the second thing on which we’ll focus. Both the service and the sermon will deal with 1 Corinthians 12:7-31, the passage within which Paul calls the church “the Body of Christ.” Now I think that applies to us as individuals and communities. As individuals, God has called and equipped us to do a specific work; and even though some jobs may seem more “spiritual” than others, all are essential to the function of the entire body. As congregations, God has gifted us with people who have certain skills and passions. If each congregation decides to go it alone and tries to be all things to all people, they will probably fail. But if we decide to work together, without envy or competitiveness, but rather with love and grace, I think we’ll be able to accomplish so much more. That’s what it means to be the church.

Finally, during the service, we’ll celebrate the sacrament of communion. We’ll gather around the Lord’s table and focus on his presence and promises. I believe this is something the church also needs to remember. No matter how good we’re doing as a congregation or effective we are as a church, it’s still about God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And it’s his presence we celebrate when we share the bread and the cup.

Now this is what we’re going to do on Sunday, and if you’re close to Weirton, I hope you’re able to be here. But if you’re not, remember that we’re still made one by the presence that surrounds us and fills us and unites us all.

Below is a poem that reminds me of our call as members of the church. It was written by Teresa of Avila (1515–1582) and is entitled “Christ Has No Body.”

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Cove’s Sunday Bulletin for January 27, 2013


Below is a copy of Sunday’s bulletin. I’ll preach from 1 Corinthians 12:7-31a. I’ll be preaching on baptism, and the title of the sermon is “The Body of Christ.”







A Letter from the Bonyak Family

Dear Cove Family!
I wanted to take this time to write you a short note to explain just how much my family and I miss you.
For almost three years, you all have been so welcoming and inviting.  Our first Sunday, we were introduced to and joined the choir.  My children were invited to take part in the Christmas play!  It was such a breath of fresh air to have a church community that was so bonded and willing to accept new folks such as us.
In the three years that my family spent at Cove, we went through many hardships.  With Mike not having a full time job, my losing a baby and then to discover I had cancer, well that was more than enough drama for my life.  Through it all though, my Cove family kept me encouraged and I truly felt loved and appreciated.  All the cards and well wishes from different members just really made me feel for the first time in a long time that I had found a true church home.
As for Debbie and Pastor Ed, you all were so amazing.  I could easily talk to either one of you and feel so much better after doing so. Ed, you were there for me when I didn’t want to be there for myself.  I wanted to give up, but you never did.  Through your generosity and selflessness, I discovered just how special I was in God’s eyes.  For that I am eternally grateful.
Now that we are now in our new city, we have found a church to call home, but never fear, it will never compare to the amazing love and support that we received from you, our Cove Forever Family.  Each day we miss you.  I know most of you are missing the stories my children would create for Sunday morning, but knowing you miss us is all the consolation we need.
Love always!
The Bonyaks:  Michael, Faith, Robin and Joshua

A New Devotion on Cove's Prayer Line - Balancing Accounts


Titus 3:3-7 

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.


A Devotion by Gale A. Richards (Iowa, USA)

When I balance my checkbook, I confirm that my record matches my bank’s record of my financial activity. I am good with numbers, and usually my account balances with the bank’s. This is not the way it works with spiritual accounts. The Bible proclaims that all people have sinned. Sin separates us from God. If we hope to be in relationship with God, something positive must balance the negative of our sin. But nothing we can do is good enough to compensate for our sin. Only God has that power. God loves us enough that, through grace, Jesus’ sacrifice outweighs our sin. With my bank account, I do my part for it to balance. But when it comes to sin, only God is mighty enough to balance our account. God does this through grace. Praise the Lord!

From The Upper Room.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Sunday's Minute for Mission - Criminal Justice


Criminal and justice: mutually exclusive words, unless justice is understood as “punishment.” In the Old West, “bringing someone to justice” meant that the bad guy was going to face the music.

Understood this way, justice is always bad news for someone.

But as Christians rooted in the Reformed faith, Presbyterians understand that justice and mercy are inseparable aspects of God’s nature. From the clothing of Adam and Eve upon their departure from the Garden to Jesus’ last words on the cross (“Father forgive them”), we understand mercy and justice to be two sides on the coin of redemption.

Ask Theo about redemption. Incarcerated for 40 of his 63 years, he finally connected with the Presbytery of Hudson River’s prison ministry, led by Hans Hallundbaek. Theo is now a free man and about to publish his autobiography, A Wretch Like Me: Memoirs of a Felon.

Participants at the organizational gathering of the Presbyterian Criminal Justice Network—a network of the Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association—met Theo and heard his story at Stony Point in February 2012.

They also heard a story of restorative justice from New Zealand. A young man broke into a car and stole a camera, in the process erasing precious family pictures. Although the photos were irretrievably lost, the family recognized that the young man was not and so agreed to an installment repayment plan for damages done.

These and similar accounts led network members to commit themselves to work for the transformation of our criminal justice system and to resource other Presbyterians called to the same work—because redemptive justice is good news for everyone.

—Rev. Trina Zelle, national organizer/executive director, Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association (PHEWA)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A New Devotion on Cove's Prayer Line - One Lost Sheep


Matthew 18:10-14 

“Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven. What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.

“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.”


A Devotion by Doug Ralls (Tennessee, USA)

I don’t know about you, but when I think about the practical aspects of the parable of the lost sheep, I don’t understand it. Why would the shepherd leave 99 sheep unprotected just to look for one that was lost? Wouldn’t some of those 99 sheep wander off or even be attacked and killed by wild animals? Going after one sheep is simply not a practical solution to the problem. It seems to be a bad business decision.

But ultimately, I don’t think this parable is intended as a practical solution to an everyday problem. I see it more as a description of the radical love that abounds in the kingdom of heaven. God loves us with such reckless abandon that God will ignore practicality in order to find us and bring us home.

From The Upper Room

Monday, January 21, 2013

Sunday's Sermon - Concerning Spiritual Things


1 Corinthians 12:1-11

And concerning spiritual things, brothers, I don’t want you to be ignorant. You know that when you were Gentiles, to voiceless idols you were led away. This is what I made known to you: that no one in God’s spirit, when he speaks, says, “Jesus is cursed,” and no one is able to say, “Jesus is Lord,” unless in the Holy Spirit.

And there are a variety of gracious gifts, but one Spirit; and there are a variety of forms of service, and one Lord; and there are a variety of works, but one God who works everything in everyone.

And to each the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. For to one through the Spirit is given a word of wisdom, but to another a word of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another trust by the same Spirit, but to another the gracious gift of healing by the one Spirit, but to another works of power, but to another prophecy, but to another spiritual discrimination, to another kinds of tongues, but to another an interpretation of tongues. But all these worked by the one and same Spirit who apportions them to each one individually just as it wills.


Concerning Spiritual Things

Sometimes it’s really interesting how things work out. I mean, today our passage is from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, a church that had all kinds of problems, including the fact that they just couldn’t seem to get along, and they were dividing up for all kinds of reasons. For example, right at the beginning of the letter, Paul kind of summed up their problem, when he wrote, “Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” Now that was happening within the Corinthian congregation, and in the passage, you know the one we just read, Paul was just beginning to talk about the nature of the church, something he compared to a body, within which all the parts work together. And he started this discussion by dealing with some basic spiritual things that could, if understood, underpin this body. Now, that’s what’s going on in the passage.

And within the church right now, and I’m talking about the Body of Christ, well, on Friday we entered what’s called “The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.” Now, this is how the week is described on the World Council of Churches website: “At least once a year, many Christians become aware of the great diversity of ways of adoring God. Hearts are touched, and people realize that their neighbors’ ways are not so strange. The event that touches off this special experience is something called the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.”

Now do you see why I think it’s interesting? On a Sunday when we’re challenged to look beyond ourselves to how other Christians worship God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit; Paul is challenging the Corinthians to do the same thing, and he seems to be focusing on certain Spirit truths about which he didn’t want them to be ignorant.

And even though, he wrote this letter almost two thousand years ago, I’ll tell you something, I think it has a lot to say to us, because I believe we still get messed up with this same sort of stuff. I mean, let’s face it, in modern American Christianity, spiritual issues don’t unite us. In fact, more often then not, they divide us. Often they move Christians to fight with one another. Man, they even lead believers to be downright nasty to folks who are supposed to be their brothers and sisters. I mean, for some, arguing with and condemning and trying to convert other Christians has almost become part of their faith. And when I say arguing, I mean arguing, with name-calling and broad accusations and nasty innuendoes. And I’ll tell you, it’s generally not over what must people would consider “the big stuff.” It’s about things like the proper name for God or the amount water used in baptism or some political issue, you know, like would Jesus support gun control or drive an SUV. It’s the details that set off the fires.

And of course, these arguments almost always lead Christians to start judging the spirituality of one another, certainly if their experience is different from mine. I remember another minister telling me about something that happened when he was a young adult. During a religious conference a girl asked him, “Tell me about when you first believed in Jesus.” And my friend said, “Well, to tell you truth, I don’t know that there was ever a time in my life that I didn’t believe in Jesus.” The girl sort of shook her head and said, “Too bad.” Or like a young woman told me, after she gotten involved in one of those Christian groups in college. She said that she’d never be able to share her faith with the others, because she’d never been bad enough to have a good testimony. You see, only real sinners can be converted, and the bigger the sin, the more dramatic the conversion. Judging one another seems to be a growth industry in the American church.

And naturally, once you start arguing and judging, once the mean-spirited names have been called and the faith experiences evaluated and ranked, there’s really very little chance that Christians will ever be able to work together. And if you don’t believe me, just look at Weirton. How many churches do we have in this town? I mean, how many half-empty buildings are being maintained? And on every Sunday, how many ministers are preaching at the exact same time and during every summer, how congregations spend all kinds of money to put on a week of Vacation Bible School, often using the exact same materials as the church down the road? It just doesn’t make sense and let’s face, it probably can’t be sustained. Sad, very sad. I’ll tell you, this competitive congregational atmosphere, where everybody is afraid to work together because they might lose members, well, I think it really goes back some of these spiritual issues that are dividing the church.

And for that reason, I think it’s a pretty good idea for us to spend a little time with this passage from Paul, because with regard to spiritual things, Paul didn’t want the Corinthians ignorant. In other words, in these verses, he challenged the Christians of that divided and polarized church to look beyond what they thought so that they could see what God was doing. And as I look at the mess we have in the American church, that might be a challenge we might want to take up ourselves.

I mean, take a look at the passage and notice that Paul pointed out three things that God was doing through his Holy Spirit. First, he said that God’s spirit had enlightened the Corinthians. Remember, he wrote, “You know that when you were Gentiles, to voiceless idols you were led away. This is what I made known to you: that no one in God’s spirit, when he speaks, says, ‘Jesus is cursed,’ and no one is able to say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ unless in the Holy Spirit.” You see, Paul wanted them to know that, through God’s Spirit, they’d been freed from their past, from those plaster gods they used to worship, from those empty beliefs they once followed. They’d been set free and God had enabled them to understand who Jesus really was and is, that he’s not some kind of petty deity interested only in himself and those who follow his rules. No sir, instead he was truly Lord, Lord in every sense of the word. Lord of those who follow and those who don’t. Lord of those who’ve made him Lord and those who haven’t. Man, he’s Lord whether we like it or not. And it’s through that confession, that recognition that our faith is judged, not by the amount of water we use in baptism or whether Jesus would endorse or oppose a certain candidate or political issue. It’s the ability to stand up and say, “Jesus is Lord,” that’s the sign of the Holy Spirit. You see, in that way, the Spirit enlightens.

Just like, according to Paul, it also inspired those Corinthians. That the second thing God did and does. As he wrote, “And there are a variety of gracious gifts, but one Spirit, and there are a variety of forms of service, and one Lord; 6and there are a variety of works, but one God who works everything in everyone.” In other words, different people may have different skills and talents, but they all come from the same Spirit. And there are all kinds of different ways a person might serve God, but they’re all directed to the same Lord Jesus Christ. And there are all kind ways God might be working within us, but it’s the same God who’s doing the work. So is my talent is more important, is the way I serve others is more righteous, are my experiences are more spiritual than yours? Ridiculous. They were all inspired by the same God, and that’s the second thing Paul wanted them to remember.

And third, he reminded them that God’s spirit empowered them. I mean, God gave them their focus, “...to each the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” In other words, they were empowered for the benefit of all, not just for themselves but for everyone. And God gave them their tools. I mean, whether you’re talking about wisdom or knowledge, faith or healing, works of power or prophecy or spiritual discrimination or tongues or the ability to interpret tongues, all the tools were from the same source. Man, God even gave them balance, and I’m talking about a proper distribution of gifts so that the job could be done. You see, according to Paul, not only did God enlighten and inspire, he also empowered those Corinthians to do what they’d been called to do.

And I’ll tell you, I believe he does the same thing for us. Just like God did all this for those divided and squabbling Corinthians, he also enlightens and inspires and empowers us. And he does it in the exact same way.  Now that’s what I believe. And you know, when it’s something we all accept I think we just might see some very interesting things start to happen here, first in this congregation and then, who knows, in the broader church.

I mean, I think finally we’ll be able to come together as brothers and sisters who confess Jesus is Lord, because let’s face it, the minute we recognize that God’s spirit has enlightened both us and the guy down the street and that’s why we can both confess that Jesus is Lord, suddenly we have a point of contact, even if he doesn’t agree with everything I believe or can identify with every experience I’ve had. The arguing and the name-calling will stop and the sharing and listening will start. But more than that, believing that God may inspire us in different ways, finally we’ll be able to celebrate how God actually works. I mean, we’ll begin to appreciate the different gifts and the different callings and the different ways we experience God as well as the different ways each person and congregation might want to express those gifts and callings and experiences. Who knows, we might even want to learn more about folks whom we’ve, in the past, either dismissed or condemned, all because we believe that we share a common source of inspiration. And finally, right along with all this other stuff, we might be able to accept God’s empowerment and then take the abilities we have and use them for the common good, both as individuals and congregations.

We’ll be in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity until next Friday. But instead of just praying, let’s make the decision to do a little more. I mean, in the face of all the divisions and the divisiveness, let’s decide to listen to Paul and not be ignorant. In other words, let’s accept that it’s God who enlightens and inspires and empowers us all. And then let’s decide that this knowledge of spiritual things will shape our lives from this point on.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A New Devotion on Cove's Prayer Line - Pure Words


Psalm 32:6-11 

Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them.
You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. [Selah]
I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you.
Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD.
Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.


A Devotion by Shannon L. Hale (Missouri, USA)

When I was a conscientious college student, my stomach knotted at the mention of the word test. Despite hours of study, I worried that I’d studied the wrong facts. I feared forgetting what I’d memorized. Even after I checked my work and turned in the test, my elation was quickly replaced by self-doubt: Did I do as well as I think? College tests have been replaced by tests with less clear-cut results. As a parent, I hope that I am teaching my children the skills they need to navigate life. Birthdays come and go, and I wonder how I will deal with the challenges of aging. I won’t know the results of these tests for many years. But Proverbs 30:5 reassures us that the wisdom found in God’s word survives life’s tests. “Every word of God proves true.” The Hebrew word in that verse translated “proves true” (NRSV) is also translated “is tested” (nasv) and “is pure” (kjv). The image comes from the process of refining or purifying metal. Everything God says or does is for our good. The truth of scripture grows from and reflects God’s love, which upholds and strengthens us in any test we face.

From The Upper Room.

Cove's Sunday Bulletin for January 20, 2013

Below is a copy of Sunday’s bulletin. I’ll preach from 1 Corinthians 12:1-11. I’ll be preaching on baptism, and the title of the sermon is “Concerning Spiritual Things.”







Remembering Our Brother George Ferrari

George B. Ferrari
Born in Colliers, WV on Mar. 9, 1930
Departed on Jan. 18, 2013 and resided in Weirton, WV.
 
 
Visitation: Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013
1:00 pm - 4:00 pm
 
Service: Private Service
Cemetery: Private



George B. Ferrari, 82, of Weirton, WV died Friday January 18, 2013, at the Valley Hospice Care Center North, in Steubenville, OH.

Born on March 9, 1930, in Colliers, WV, George was a son of the late Louis and Irmalinda Faggini Ferrari. He was also preceded in death by his brother, Joseph Ferrari, on May 15, 2004.

George served in the United States Army in the 86th Heavy Tank Battalion 3rd Armored Division.

During his career, George was the co-owner of the Tri Sate Truck Service. He later joined Tom's Express before he was named Manager of National Accounts for Compass Trucking. George retired in 2000, from Comprehensive Logistics, Youngstown, OH.

An avid golfer, George was a member of the Williams Country Club for 47 years, where he served on the Board of Directors, when the Club was purchased by the members from National Steel. He was also a member of the Cove Presbyterian Church, and the Weirton Lodge 171 AF & AM , the Hancock Lodge 14 R.A.M., and a

former member of the Weirton Salvation Army Advisory Board.

He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Elaine Raveaux Ferrari; his two nephews, David L. and Luanne Ferrari of Weirton, WV and Dorin and Kathy Ferrari of Las Vegas, NV; and a niece Dorene and Nick Zanke of Bellaire, OH.

Friends and relatives will be received from 1-4 PM on Sunday, at the Greco Hertnick Funeral Home 3219 Main Street, Weirton

Funeral services for George will be private.

Dr. Ed Rudiger will preside.

Interment will follow at Paris Cemetery.

Memorial contributions may be made in George's memory to the Cove Presbyterian Church 3404 Main Street Weirton, WV 26062 or to the Weirton Salvation Army 800 Cove Road Weirton, WV 26062

Friday, January 18, 2013

Prayer Requests, to be shared during Sunday’s worship service


On Sunday, January 20, Cove Presbyterian Church will lift the following needs to God.

Adults
Alden & Delores Edwards
Alicia Parr
Amy Kauer
Andrea Vincent
Anthony LaPosta
Beulah Mallory
Bonnie Bowen
Cara Nicoleon
Charles Saffle
Christy Cybulski
Dale Brant
Dar
Darrell Glover
Delores Huey
Diane Szymanek
Dick Bonyak
Dolly
Doug Friends
Elizabeth McCutcheon
Emery Edwards
Gen Meyer
Harman
James Mitts
Jamie Edwards
Jeanne Stark
Jeff Grant
Joan Gallagher
John Mason
Kelly Stephens
Leisa Montgomery
Louann Seevers
Marjie Dinger
Martha Meadows
Matt Keenan
Mellie Poblete Nazaire
Nick Palavis
Rhonda Bruich
Rich Hvizdak
Richard Ceraolo
Richard Redfern
Robert Krupp
Ron Taflan
Rose Bell
Rose Sanders
Susan Ponville
Virginia Marston
Wink Harner

Children
Aksel Ace
Audri King
Brandon Wares
Brody McUmor
Brooke Ash
Daniel Marchione
Hunter Stafford
Jeffrey Konovich
Jonah Becker
Jonathan Marte
Justus Loughry
Kade Haines
Kya Schwertfeger
Lily Ghrist
McKenna Popish
Michael Liptak
Shelby Kamarec

Military
Chris Cameron
Jason Kerr
Jonathan Criss
Michael Criss
Stephen Mader

In the Hospital
Dolores Edwards – Weirton Medical Center

Bereaved Families
The Family of George Ferrari

Church Families
TJ, Debi, Tucker & Wyatt Smith
David Snodgrass
Richard & Linda Spencer

Local Church
Mercy Baptist Church

Special Friends
Dorothy Saffle – 100 Wyngate Dr., Weirton, WV  26062-5048
Alden Edwards – 3510 Elm St., Weirton, WV  26062-4545

Upper Ohio Valley Presbytery Churches
Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church, Steubenville, Ohio – Mr. William Brown
First Presbyterian Church, Toronto, Ohio – Rev. Mike Bongart

Also Remember in Your Prayers
Alice Orr – Weirton Geriatric Center, 2525 Pennsylvania Ave., Weirton, WV  26062
Bob Morgan – Weirton Geriatric Center, 2525 Pennsylvania Ave., Weirton, WV  26062
Harry Hutch – Villa Vista, Room 507, 1800 Sinclair Ave., Steubenville, OH  43953
Kay Manley – Weirton Geriatric Center, 2525 Pennsylvania Ave., Weirton, WV  26062
Margaret Heaton – Heritage Place, 608 N 10th Street, Weirton, WV  26062-2423
Mike Valiga – Weirton Geriatric Center, 2525 Pennsylvania Ave., Weirton, WV  26062
Thelma Longacre – Chambrel at Montrose, Unit 210, 100 Brookmont Rd., Akron, OH 44333-3091

What's Happening at Cove Presbyterian Church?

Below are the announcements as they appear in Sunday's bulletin.


CHANCEL CHOIR WILL PRACTICE . . .
on Wednesday, January 23 at 6:45 p.m. in the sanctuary.  New member are always welcome!

THE BROWN BAG BIBLE STUDY . . .
will meet on Thursday, January 24 at 12:30 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall. We’ll look at Hebrews 10:19–11:40.

ANNUAL CONGREGATIONAL MEETING . . .
Is scheduled for Sunday, January 27 immediately following the morning worship service in the sanctuary.

BOOKMARKS . . .
Cove’s Reading Group will meet on Monday, January 28 at 6:30 p.m. in the church parlor.

SPECIAL SESSION MEETING . . .
Tuesday, January 29 at 6:30 p.m. in the board room. All members are urged to attend.

SUPER BOWL LUNCHEON . . .
sponsored by the Board of Deacons will be held on Sunday, February 3rd at noon. Menu will include soup, sandwich and beverage. Further details to follow.

BOY SCOUT SUNDAY . . .
will be observed on Sunday, February 10 during the morning worship service.

HAND SANITIZERS . . .
are located on the entrance wall downstairs past the door to the kitchen. Also upstairs located on the far wall in the narthex. Using them will help decrease the spread of germs this winter.

2013 CALENDAR UPDATE. . .
a heartfelt THANK YOU to everyone who participated in our 8th Annual Community Birthday Calendar. A profit of $990.05 was realized from the project and will go toward the sanctuary roof fund. Thank you one and all for another successful calendar project!

NEW BOARD MAILBOXES . . .
have been set-up. Please check the name under the mail slot to insure that you are collecting the correct mail. Board minutes, financial statements and giving statements are regularly deposited in the boxes for your reference. We ask that you empty your mailbox periodically.

PRAYER CHAIN UPDATE . . .
we will be updating our prayer chain monthly. If you wish to have someone remain on the prayer chain for a longer period of time please contact the church office or Floy Fetty.

2013 OFFERING ENVELOPES . . .
are available on the table in the narthex. Please take yours and any neighbors or friends that you can deliver, saving us postage. Also, if you did not receive a box of envelopes and wish one please contact Floy Fetty at 304-670-1561.

WE HAVE HEARD . . .
that at times individuals do not attend services because they have difficulty getting into the building, if this is the case, PLEASE call the church and we will make arrangements for someone to meet you and escort you to and from church. Please do not stay away!

DO YOU HAVE A NEW ADDRESS. . .
new phone number or new e-mail ? Please contact the church office so we can update our records. We like to keep everyone informed of our events.  If you don’t receive mailings,  we may not have your current/correct information.

GREETERS NEEDED . . .
if you would like to serve as a greeter before a Sunday morning worship service, please contact Bonnie Nichols at 304-723-5134.

WE ARE BLOGGING!
We now have five blogs that you can check out for information and on which you can leave comments. They're listed below:
The Cove Community (www.thecovecommunity.blogspot.com) - This is for the whole church. I'll post sermons and announcements. I also invite y'all to send in material that you'd like to share with other members of the congregation. And please feel free to comment on anything you might read.
Cove Kids (www.covekids.blogspot.com) - This is tailored for the preteen young people in our church. Again I'll post announcements. You're also invited to send in any writings, photographs and art work you'd like to post. And they don't have to all deal with the church. We also post artwork from Jesus Time.
Bible Talk (www.cove-bibletalk.blogspot.com) - We've established this blog to give pastors and lay people the chance to discuss Scripture. The weekly passages are from the Common Lectionary, and we're posting the pastor's translation of the  Greek text. We want you to read any or all of the passages and to leave any comment or ask any question that you feel is appropriate. Please include any research you've done. As we share our ideas and insights, we hope that we'll all come to a better and deeper understanding of the Bible. Each passage is linked to a website that offers some informative information.
Let's Talk About It (www.cove-talk.blogspot.com) - Through this site, we hope to encourage a conversation on a variety of topics. Since this blog is sponsored by a church, we expect most of the issues to involve the Christian faith. Still we don't want to limit ourselves or you. If you have a topic that you'd like us to discuss, include it as a comment to a previous issue. Please phrase it as a question and offer a summary of at least two positions. We'll add a new item to discuss every three weeks. We hope this challenges you to apply your faith to issues that are important to you.
The Bible in a Year (www.cove-bibleinayear.blogspot.com) - Each day, we'll post passages so that you can read the Bible in one year.

IT IS OFTEN DIFFICULT TO HEAR PRAYER REQUESTS . . .
on Sunday mornings. If you would like to have someone added to the prayer chain please drop a short note into the collection plate with their name and any other information you would like to share.  You may also call the church office or e-mail the church with the information.

IF YOU LEAVE AN ITEM AT  CHURCH . . .
for someone or for a specific function, please take a moment to write the information on the item.  If there is no information on the item we will assume it is for the church in general.

IN THE HOSPITAL? HOMEBOUND? RECENT ILLNESS?. . .
if you are unable to attend services and would like to arrange for a visit from Rev. Ed Rudiger please contact the church office. Also if you would like to receive copies of the Sunday Bulletin contact the church office.

WE CAN ALWAYS DO A BETTER JOB MINISTERING . . .
to the needs within this congregation, community and world. Please feel free to offer any suggestions as comments.

LOOSE CHANGE OFFERING . . .
Session approved the Deacons collecting a “Loose Change Offering” that will be used to assist the Deacons with their utility assistance outreach program for Weirton residents or Cove Church members. We hope church members can help with the assistance program by donating some of their spare change. A container is placed in the Narthex each Sunday morning before church. The Deacons thank you for your support of their projects.

VASES OF FLOWERS. . .
can be purchased for a service. The cost is  $16.00 a vase.  Silk flowers or live plants can be purchased for an additional cost. The  flower calendar is located on the far wall in the church narthex or you can telephone the church office to place your order. After the service, the flowers will be placed in a plastic vase for you to take with you.

WE’RE UPDATING OUR PRAYER AND DEVOTION LINE . . .
about four times a week. If you would like to call and hear a devotional, please call 304-748-7900.

ONGOING MISSION PROJECTS . . .
Campbell’s Labels are being collected by the Presbyterian Women for the Weirton Christian Center.  The labels including the bar code or just the bar code can be dropped off in the container located in the main  hallway downstairs.
Greeting Cards are being collected. Please drop off your Greeting Cards or just the front of the card in the box located in the main hallway downstairs. The cards are being sent to St. Jude’s  Ranch to be remade into cards to be sold in their gift shop.  Hallmark, Disney or American Greeting Cards can not be accepted as they are trade marked.
Can Tabs are being collected for the Ronald McDonald House in Morgantown, West Virginia. Deposit your tabs in the container locate in the main hallway downstairs.
We thank you for your participation and support of our mission work.

Some Thoughts on Christian Unity


In the last couple of days, I’ve engaged in an online conversation with a brother in Christian who disagrees with some of the thoughts I’ve shared and some of the choices our denomination has made. During the discussion, sadly, he’s done something I think we’ve all seen happen both in our society and within the Body of Christ. He started calling me names. He said that I was ignorant, that I’m working to pervert the church, that I’m promoting “liberal socialism” to name a few. To each I responded, and although I hope I didn’t resort to name-calling, I certainly wrote things that kept the conversation going, things to which I knew he’d respond.

Now this has been going on for about a day, and up until this morning, I felt as though my responses were thoughtful, mature and Christian. In fact, I actually felt good that not only had I avoided the opportunities to get nasty, I’d also resisted the temptation to be sarcastic and cleaver. Yes sir, I’d taken the higher ground; I had done what Christ would have done.

Now that’s exactly how I felt until I noticed that today begins the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and it suddenly hit me that “when the role is called up yonder”, I’m going to be held just as accountable as the one with whom I’ve been corresponding. You see, even though I don’t think I was nasty, my interest in showing that I’m above attacks, my need to have the last word, and of course my desire to get my point across did absolutely nothing to enhance Christian unity. As a matter of fact, since people all over the world had the opportunity to read our exchange, including some who follow other religions or who have no faith at all, I certainly contributed to making Christianity in the United States look fragmented, ineffective, obsessed with minutia, and ridiculous, and that’s sad. But sadder still, this might be a pretty accurate assessment of the whole church in America.

And for that reason, maybe during the next week, we might consider three things that could reverse the flow. First and maybe most obvious, maybe we need to stop, stop engaging in fruitless debates to convert people to our own narrow view of Christianity. Of course, if we make the decision to stop this kind of foolishness, we’ll also stop doing some other things that I believe are equally foolish, things like sarcasm, name-calling, using broad generalizations, and calling down the wrath of God, as though any of us have that power. Second, once we stop, then I think we need to focus, focus on what’s essential to being a Christian. Of course, for Paul it was pretty simple. As he wrote to the Corinthians, “Now I want you to know that if you are led by God’s Spirit, you will say that Jesus is Lord, and you will never curse Jesus.” For me, there are two fundamental marks of Christianity. One is faith in God as revealed through Jesus Christ and inspired by the Holy Spirit. And the other is a willingness to love God and neighbor. Everything else flows from these, and if something I believe is contrary, at the very least, I might want to question it. And third, as soon as we’ve stopped the divisiveness and focused our attention, then maybe we’ll be ready to start really working together. We live in a world full of physical, emotional and spiritual needs. Imagine what the Body of Christ could do if we combined all our gifts, talents and resources. It literally stagers the imagination.

Now, having said all this, I’m sure that in the future I’ll find myself in the kind of debates I described earlier. As a matter of fact, I’ll probably get some hostile responses to this essay, if certain people feel inclined to read it. Over that I have no control, but I can control my response. You see, instead of doing what I’ve done in the past, I can pray that I have the wherewithal to stop the divisiveness, to focus on God and to start looking for a way we might all work together.

Personally, I think the spirit of this week was expressed well by John Bowring, in his poem Christian Unity:

Keep the unity of spirit,
Keep it in the bonds of peace,
So alone shall we inherit
Hope, and truth, and blessedness.
Unity-the link’d communion,
Which with spirits, spirits hold,
Love, the all-entrancing union,
Scattering blessings manifold.
To the Christian feasts, invited,
Welcoming and hallowing each,
All accordant, all united,
What sweet sympathy they speak,
Willing service, free allegiance,
Dear dependence, peaceful bond;
Earth, the scene of love’s obedience;
Heaven, the recompense beyond. 

Today's Minute for Mission - Christian Unity

A man phoned the Kentucky Council of Churches to tell me that he and his wife go to casinos to gamble. He wanted me to know about gamblers like himself, “good Christians who are generous to our churches” and who stay inside “our entertainment budget” at the casinos.

I got this call because the 12 Christian traditions united in the Council speak with one voice against public policies that would expand casino gambling in Kentucky.

On this and other issues where we speak out, we know that having found unanimity across such an impressive array of traditions does not give us license to be haughty. Psalm 51 reminds us to praise God not with empty gestures but from “a right spirit” and a “contrite heart.” Similarly, the 2013 text for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is the Micah admonition to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.

I assured the caller that we do not have any intention to judge individual gamblers. Our concern is to counter predatory practices and share a vision for the roles of government, work, and taxes. (Another reason not to let ecumenical unanimity on some issues lead us into the temptation of pride is that there are still so many issues where we have not made enough progress.)

Repeatedly, the Scriptures remind us that our heartfelt attitudes matter greatly to God. Attitudes affect the message our hearers receive. Our witness begins with a humble heart, a right spirit; thus, Jesus prayed for his disciples’ unity “so that the world may believe” (John 17:21).

The organ pipes photograph reminds us that just as the air in organ pipes determines the sound that reaches our ears, so the spirit in our hearts determines the witness that is received.
 
—Rev. Marian McClure Taylor, executive director, Kentucky Council of Churches

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A New Devotion on Cove's Prayer Line - A Forgotten People


Matthew 25:31-46 

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”


A Devotion by S. Rajan (Kerala, India)

Our mission team was distributing clothes in a village about 550 kilometers from my hometown in South India. At noon, I said to the local pastor, “Let’s have our lunch.” When I noticed he and his wife had brought along very little food, I asked them, “Why didn’t you bring lunch for yourselves?” They responded, “People in this village usually eat only twice a day, morning and evening. They have no money for a noon meal. Since they have nothing to eat, how could we?” We were stunned at these words from the pastor. We learned further that in addition to having only two meals a day, children from this village have to walk many kilometers to school. Those who are sick likewise have to walk to the hospital. To get drinking water, they must walk 15 kilometers. They live with poor sanitation and no transportation facilities. I returned home thinking, How can they live without food, water, medical care, transportation, schools? These painful and unjust conditions can and will change when we tune our hearts to the heart of Jesus and resolve to bring his compassion and love to those in need.

Sunday's Minute for Mission - Race Relations


Photo: (M) Hate is taught, no one is born hateful. Thanks to LIBERAL And Proud Of It for finding this.

Posted on the Being Liberal fan page.
In 1983 I lived in Schneppenhausen, Germany, a village outside of Darmstadt that then had a large U.S. military post. We lived on the eighth floor of a large high-rise housing other military families, Turks, Germans, and Yugoslavians. Our son Jay was two years old. Each day the children from our building gathered on the playground. We watched in amazement at the freedom in which they interacted. They did not speak each other’s languages. Nor were they familiar with one another’s culture. However, they were playmates. These children played together and found ways to communicate and become friends.

Each time I think about how people in both the church and the world struggle to connect with one another and how issues big and small lead us to devalue one another, my mind goes back to Schneppenhausen and the children at play. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me . . . for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs” (Matt. 19:14). He also said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39).

Let us continue to grow in our ability to love others as we love ourselves. The first step is to greet the world as a child, to embrace difference with curiosity and assume that diversity is one of the things that makes life more interesting. The second step is to begin a dialogue with those who are different from us. Intentional learning communities provide one medium for such dialogue. Consider beginning one in your area. Bring people together regularly for meals, entertainment, worship, and joint mission. Talk, talk, and talk; dialogue, interaction, and acceptance is the key.

Rev. SanDawna Gaulman Ashley, former associate for gender and racial justice, Racial Ethnic & Women’s Ministries/Presbyterian Women, and current associate of leader development, office of Vocation, Office of the General Assembly

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A New Devotion on Cove's Prayer Line - Creative Compassion


Matthew 5:38-48

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”


A Devotion by Wessel Bentley (Gauteng, South Africa)

Here in South Africa, we recently celebrated the 21st anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. I can still remember that day. I sat in front of the television watching history unfold. “Tata Madiba,” as he is affectionately known in South Africa, has played a major part in changing our nation. That someone can stand for peace and the inclusion of even his enemies in a new government after serving 27 years as a political prisoner is remarkable.

Jesus spoke about the power of nonviolence. He called his followers to be creative and to point out the injustices in their communities. Jesus did not call us to retaliate. Retaliation only breeds more violence. This passage from Matthew can lead us to meaningful ways to bring about justice and peace in our homes, in workplaces, in public settings. It can help us make a difference for good in the world. We are not perfect, but the Spirit of God can make us instruments of grace, forgiveness, love, and peace. Are we willing to let the Spirit work through us this day?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Sunday's Sermon - The Questions of Baptism


Acts 8:14-17

And when the Jerusalem apostles heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who went down and prayed concerning them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for it had not yet fallen upon any of them when they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands upon them and they received the Holy Spirit.


The Questions of Baptism

As you can tell by the bulletin, today is the day on which we focus on two things. Specifically, we remember the baptism of Jesus Christ, you know by John in the Jordan River. But more than that, today we can also think about baptism in general. And you know, that seems really appropriate, because I’ve got to tell you, in the last few months we’ve seen a lot of baptisms around here, both of children and adults. In fact, we had a hat-trick on the Sunday before Christmas.

And I think it’s kind of interesting; there’s a lot of questions associated with the baptism service. I mean, just think about what I say. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a adult or a child or an infant, I always ask the same kind of questions, either of the person who’s being baptized or to the parents. And they all involve either making or restating faith in Jesus Christ and stating a desire to grow in faith and involvement. And as with so many questions asked in the church, they really aren’t tricky. It’s sort of like when I ask a groom, “Will you have this woman to be your wedded wife,” the right answer isn’t “I think so” or “maybe” or “can I get back to you tomorrow,” it’s simply “yes.” Not exactly rocket science.

But you know, when it comes to baptism, there are some other questions that are not so easy to answer, but that doesn’t mean that they haven’t riled up churches and Christians for centuries. Let’s face it, this sacrament has separated, is separating and unless we do something about it will continue to separate one Christian church from another and causes all kinds of arguments among believers, something that seems pretty stupid considering the fact that church involvement in the United States is in decline and nothing resinates more with young people than folks my age fighting about a ritual they neither understand nor care about. I’ll tell you, when they hear this endless debate, some folks on the other side of the stained glass end up just shaking their heads, often because of all the baptismal questions that we think are really important, but the rest of the world considers kind of silly.

I mean, just think about the sort of stuff that gets different groups all bent out of shape, you know, the kind of questions that have been and still are a big deal for a lot of Christians. For example, churches are still arguing about who should be baptized? Should it only be people who’ve made some kind of personal dedication to follow Jesus? Or can it also be made by parents on behalf of their children, sort of like what happened in the Book of Acts, when, according to Luke the jailer “...and his entire family were baptized without delay.” Now, in the ancient world, households included not only children but slaves. And there’s absolutely no indication that everyone in the household believed before they were baptized. But irregardless, the “who” is still a big deal. And so is the “when,” and I’m talking about when a person can be baptized. I mean, can a infant be baptized? I remember a grandmother telling her daughter that she had a hard time sleeping at night knowing her granddaughters hadn’t been baptized. Or should it only be for adults? And if it’s only for adults, when is a person an adult: twenty-one when you can drink, eighteen when you can vote, sixteen when you can drive? Man, I know people in their sixties who haven’t reached adulthood. And even if they talk about something called “the age of accountability,” an idea found no where in the Bible, when does that occur? You’ve got me. But the when is worth fighting about, right? And then there’s the where, where should a person be baptized? Should it be in a church during a worship service? Can it be in a private chapel? What about in a stream or a lake or a swimming pool? And if you get baptized in a church and you get baptized in a pool and I get baptized in the Jordan River, is my baptism better than yours? Some people think so. And of course, that leads to another question that some see as crucially important, and I’m talking about how should a person be baptized. And along with the “when,” for some folks this is huge. Can you be sprinkled? Should you be immersed? If immersed, should the water be moving or is still water acceptable? Do you need water that has set aside as holy, or can God do the same with water from the tap? And when you do the service, is it in the name of Jesus like our passage above, or should it be in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Man, people get all fired up about this stuff. And I’ll tell you, if you think most of this is just a little bit unnecessary, my gosh, we’re on the inside, you know, we’re folks who are suppose to see this as important. How do you think it’s viewed by people on the other side of the stained glass? It shouldn’t be a surprise that in some of the big, megachurches, they don’t even encourage baptism any more.

And I’ll tell you, maybe the reason is that they’ve seen and can see what our focus on these questions has done to the church. I mean, outside of what it does to how we’re seen by the people to whom we’re suppose to be bearing witness, it’s done some other, more obvious damage. Good night, we all know it’s divided up the Body of Christ into these little franchises in which the amount of water used in baptism, not faith, dedication and service, but water quantity really separates the sheep from the goats. Now that’s a problem. And the adult vs. infant debate and how we can convert sprinklers into dunkers and vice versa, well this business has simply fractured the unity of what should be a family. And that’s a problem too. But you know, I think the more important thing that we lose is this: our focus on the who, when, where and how distracts us from what I think is really most important, and for me that’s the what and the why, the meaning and the reason. Let me tell you what I’m talking about.

Just think about it, what is baptism? I mean, what was it intended to be when Jesus Christ himself, on that mountain in Galilee, as his last command to his disciples said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...” And what was it intended to be when, in the passage we just read from Acts, these new believers in Samaria had been “...baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus,” but had not yet received the Holy Spirit? What is baptism?

And you know, even though I believe what it says in the Larger Catechism, one of the confessions in the Presbyterian Book of Confessions, you know, that baptism is “a sign and seal of our regeneration and ingrafting into Christ, and that even to infants,” I also believe this sign and seal is a gift given to us by God. In other words, whenever we share in a baptism, just like we did about three weeks ago, we’re celebrating something that God has given to us, a gift that we haven’t earned nor do we deserve, something external and tangible that signifies something internal and mysterious, an action that involves our senses and which we can remember. And it may mark the beginning of our Christian lives or may be another step along the way. You see, baptism is really a lot like a team jersey or a social security card. Unlike anything else, it gives us a home and it offers us an identity and a purpose. I’ll tell you, for me, this is what baptism is. As a matter of fact, in a real sense, it truly is the gift that keeps giving.

And you know, that really leads to the why, both why was it given and why do we baptize. Well, simply put, I think it’s because we’re human and as humans, well, sometimes we just plain need a reminder. And I’ll tell you, that’s what this gift does and that’s why it’s important. You see, first, it reminds us of where we were. Man, humanity was trapped, it’s a simple as that. We were trapped by sin. We were imprisoned by an inner force that we couldn’t understand much less control. And we were bound to use a system of laws and rules to do what it was never intended to do, to put us in a right relationship with God. I’ll tell you, we need to be reminded about where we were.

But that’s not all, second, I think baptism was also given to remind us of who we are. You see, through baptism, we have a tangible sign that we can turn from our past. In other words, we can confess our sins, those things that separate us from God and that, as we live our lives, we’re going to look to our parents and our church to help us do that. And right along with that, baptism also reminds us that we have the ability to change right now. We can choose to be better than we were, to be more faithful, to be more loving. And we can create an environment, a community within which these qualities are reenforced and enhanced.

And third, I believe God gave us this gift so that we could get a glimpse into the future, you know, into what we can become. Although the Holy Spirit isn’t bound to baptize, there’s certainly a connection. And it through that Spirit, the same Spirit that filled the Samaritans during the time of Paul, that same Spirit fills us. It fills us as individuals and it rests upon us as a community. And as such, we have the opportunity and the ability and the tools to do things we could have never been able to handle on our own. You see, baptism is a reminder, and that’s why it was given. And along with what, in my opinion, those are the most important questions of baptism.

And you know, when they that’s what they become for all Christians, when our focus in on the what and why instead of all the other stuff, I think we’re going to see two things happen within the whole Body of Christ. I mean, one, I think we going to be able to claim the unity we were always intended to have. Remember, it’s not the bodies of Christ, but one body, one community, one fellowship, one church. When we look at the big picture rather than whether a person is sprinkled or dunked, maybe we’ll be able to work together to do what we were called to do. That’s one. And two, maybe those on the outside, and I’m talking about the men and women who may need something but don’t feel that any group where the members treat one another like Christians often do can help, maybe with our new focus, maybe we’ll actually be able to reflect what should be most important.

Let’s face it, life is full of questions, and why shouldn’t baptism. But you know, even though that’s the way it is, that doesn’t mean that all questions are equally important. And so, rather than getting side-tracked and missing the most important questions, maybe we should shift our focus. In other words, let’s not allow the who and the when and the where and how distract us. Because after we get passed the other questions, we’ll be in a much better position to understand what baptism is and why baptism is important. And I’ll tell you, I think those are the key questions of baptism.