Tuesday, January 31, 2017

A Thought from the Word - A brief thought based on a Ephesians 4:2

A New Devotion on Cove's Prayer Line - Enough

Below is a new devotion I just left on the Cove Presbyterian Church prayer line. You can find a recording of this devotion on the prayer line (1-304-748-7900) or on the Cove Presbyterian Church Podbean page. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

If you find this meaningful, please consider sending an offering directly to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.

Mark 8:1-9

In those days when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, he called his disciples and said to them, “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way — and some of them have come from a great distance.” His disciples replied, “How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?” He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them to the crowd. They had also a few small fish; and after blessing them, he ordered that these too should be distributed. They ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. Now there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away.

Image result for i've had enoughEnough

I find that I’ve been using the word “enough” a lot lately, and rarely has it been in a good sense. I mean, usually I say it after one more twittered whine coming from either the presidential winners and losers. Or I say it after listening to complains coming from folks who’ve focus one particular thing I’m doing but half are telling me I’m not doing it enough while the other half are upset that I’m doing it at all. And of course, I say it after my dog, Coco, barks for thirty seconds straight just to let me know that she needs to go out. In each of those situations, if you’re within earshot, you’ll probably hear me say, “I’ve had enough” or “Enough already” or, when I’m really frustrated, just “Enough.” And when you hear me say it, you can take it to the bank, brothers and sisters, I mean it.

But this passage reminds us that there’s another kind of “enough” of which we should never lose sight. You see, when it comes to God’s love and grace, there’s always more than enough to cover everyone with plenty extra. And in an age when we’ve become almost paranoid about protecting what belongs to us from “them”, and we’ve justified not sharing anything to “them” at all, I think this is something nice to remember.

The Bible in a Year: Bible Readings for January 31, 2017

The Bible in a Year: Bible Readings for January 31, 2017: Today our passages are Exodus 12:14–13:16; Matthew 20:29–21:22; Psalm 25:16-22; and Proverbs 6:12-15 . The readings are the Conte...

Monday, January 30, 2017

A Thought from the Word - A brief thought based on John 4:24

Sunday's Sermon – Spiritual Growth for Short People: Loving One Another

Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, January 29, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. You can find a podcast of this sermon on the Cove Podbean page. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

If you find this sermon meaningful, please consider supporting this ministry by sending an offering to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.


Well, here we are again, and I hope y’all are ready to spend a little time talking about how we might grow spiritually, you know, how we might understand God a little better than we do right now and how our relationship with him might become a little stronger than it is right here. And since there’s no football on today and we don’t have anything going on after the service, you know like a congregational meeting or a dinner, we can spend as much time as we need to do it, right? Just kidding; I wouldn’t do that to y’all.

Anyway, in case you don’t know it, we’re in the middle of a sermon series we started a couple of weeks ago, and like I just said, it’s all focused on spiritual growth. Now, as you remember, during the first sermon, we talked about how recognizing our limits is really the first step, because when we do that, when we accept that we’re human, that leads to realistic expectations and a focused approach to growth and a faith that’s patient. Now that was the first week. And last week, we looked at the importance of trusting the Lord, you know, that faith is actually trust and how it starts with a decision and that when we decide to trust, we’re suddenly free to explore all kinds of possible ways we might grow. And so that’s where we’ve been.

And this morning, we going to consider another step that I believe is important if we’re serious about becoming the men and women God created us to be, and right now I’m talking about loving one another. And to get us sort of focused, we’re going to look at some verses from the first letter of John. It’s in your bulletin and on the screen. Hear God’s word as written by John. “For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”

Now, I recognize that for most of us this seems pretty straight forward. I mean, outside of a few believers like a friend of mine who told me that the biggest problem in modern Christianity is that there’s too much talk of love, outside of guys like him, I think most of us believe that we’re suppose to love one another, especially since that’s what John said right here and Paul wrote to the Romans and Jesus told his disciples. “We should love one another.” To me, that seems pretty clear.

But I’ll tell you, what throws a little mud in the water is the fact that the Greeks had two different words which are translated “love” in the English New Testament. You see, the word φίλος can mean love. In fact, that’s the way it’s used in the word philosophy; that literally means “the love of knowledge” and in the name Philadelphia, the city of “brotherly love.” You see, when the Greeks used the word φίλος, they were talking about a feeling, an emotional kind of love. Put another way, using this word, you really need to like what you love.

But I’ll tell you, that’s not the Greek word used here, not in this verse nor when Paul wrote to the Romans nor when Jesus said, “you will love your neighbor as yourself.” None of them used φίλος. Instead they used the Greek word ἀγάπη. And to get a sense of what this kind of love involved, just listen to how Paul described it to the Corinthians. He wrote, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Now that’s the kind of love Christians are called to show, you know, to God and to their neighbor and to one another. And I think that’s really important, because this kind of love isn’t a matter of the heart, instead it’s something that involves both the mind and the will. In other words, like we talked about with faith, love is a decision. We decide to love. And I’ll tell you, we can decide to love people that we just don’t like, because ἀγάπη love isn’t about our feelings, rather it’s about both our attitudes and our actions. I mean, we don’t have to be friends for me to be patient and kind with you, in other words, to treat you in a loving way. And while φίλος may affect certain relationships when it happens, ἀγάπη has got to shape our behavior, because let’s get real, you can’t act like an arrogant, self-centered jerk, if you’ve decided to love one another as Christ has loved you. Nobody has ever nor will ever fall into ἀγάπη, because this kind of love isn’t accidental. Man, it’s as intentional as it can be. And it’s this kind of love that we’re commanded to show, and I’ve got to tell you, that’s a good thing, at least for me, because there’s no way I’m going to be able to like everybody. Maybe I can fake it, but I wouldn’t be able to actually do it. But I sure can be loving to all people, even my enemies, you know, like Jesus told me to do. And I’ll tell you something else, I believe it’s this kind of love that leads to genuine spiritual growth and I’ll tell you how.

First, I believe our decision to love one another forces us to look away from the values of the world. And isn’t that exactly what John was getting at when he wrote, “Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another.” Man, the world wants us to look after ourselves, right? The world tells us that we’re number one and that we should be first and that, if everything works out, we should be the ones served; am I right? That’s what the world says we should want, and what we should seek. So it shouldn’t be surprise that the world is confused when we say things like, in God’s Kingdom the first will be last and the one who leads must be the servant of all. For the world that’s stupid, maybe a little dangerous. And that’s probably why the world gets frustrated when we decide to turn from ourselves, from what’s best for us so that we can address the needs of others and from what we believe so that can listen to those who are often ignored. For the world that’s a waste of time, to say nothing of kind of subversive. And I’ll tell you, our willingness to show love not just to ourselves and those like us but to all people, when that’s what people do, in other words, when we actually listen to Paul and stop conforming ourselves to the world, that world is going to hate us, because now we’re a threat to its fundamental values. In fact, it’s going to hate us just like it hated Jesus. You see, when we decide to love, we’re undermining all those assumptions that make it possible for us to ignore people who are on the outside and we’re undermining all those preconceptions that permit us to condemn and exclude folks who are different from us, and we’re undermining all those prejudices that allow us to hate men, women and children whom we don’t even know. Brothers and sisters, the world going to hate us, because the decision to love forces us to look away from it’s values, something that really has to happen if we what to grow spiritually. That’s one.

And second, when we decide to love others, it really makes us genuine, bonafide followers of Jesus Christ, because that’s exactly what he did for us. As John wrote, “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” You see, when we decide to love others, especially those who really don’t deserve our love, we’re walking in the footsteps of the one who died on a cross because he loved all people, including the guys who drove the nails. And by following his example, we move pass any kind of shallow Christianity, you know what I’m talking about, the kind of discipleship that has the all the depth of a balloon, one that may be expressed with a lot of high-sounding, spiritual words on Sunday but one has almost no affect on Monday. I guess you could call it a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. I’ll tell you, these are the folks that don’t let Jesus Christ cramp their style. And even though I believe God loves them and so should we, they’re not exactly the kind of examples we’d want to follow, not if we want to grow. Instead, as we deny ourselves and take up our crosses and follow Christ, in other words, as we become more and more aware that the simple answer to the question, “What would Jesus do?”, is always “He would show love,” I believe both our understanding of him will expand and our relationship with him will deepen. And isn’t that what spiritual growth is all about? You see, I think that’s the second thing that’ll happen.

And third, as we decide over and over again to treat everyone in a loving way, frankly, I can’t see how our lives won’t change. As John wrote, “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” You see, as we turn from the world’s values and turn toward the  world’s creator, I think we’re going to understand the difference between φίλος and ἀγάπη and to recognize that, even though both are important, we’ve been called to live love, not just to feel it. And we’re going understand just how shallow loving words can be and to recognize that what we say doesn’t mean a hill of beans unless we do something about it. It’s like James wrote, “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?” We’ve got to act. And finally, I think we’re going to understand that God has given us the tools, and I’m talking about the talents and the time and the money to take this action and to recognize the places where we, as individuals but more importantly as the church, can act. And as our lives become more loving, spiritually we’re going to grow.

And I’ll tell you, that’s going to happen as we decide to love one another. But remember, with this loving business, neither John nor Jesus was telling us that we have like everybody. And that’s a good thing, because that’s something that I don’t think any of us can do. But we can be loving, we can be kind and patient, we can be open and understanding to everyone. That we can do. And if we do, I believe we’ll be looking away from the values of the world and moving closer to Jesus Christ and changing how we live in relationship to him and others, all of which, I believe, will enable us to grow spiritually into the men and women we were created to be.

Sunday's Sermon – Keep a-Going: Easier Said than Done

Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, January 29, in Two Ridges Presbyterian Church, Wintersville, Ohio. You can find a podcast of this sermon on the Cove Podbean page. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

If you find this sermon meaningful, please consider supporting this ministry by sending an offering to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.


Image result for sermon on the mountMatthew 5:1-12

And when [Jesus] saw the crowds, he went up on to the mountain, and after he sat, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, because to them is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who are mourning, because they will be consoled.
Blessed are those who are gentle, because they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, because they will be satisfied.
Blessed are those who are merciful, because they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are those who are pure of heart, because they will see God.
Blessed are those who are peacemakers, because they will be called the sons [and daughters] of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, because to them is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and say evil things against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, because your reward will be great in heaven. For thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.


Keep a-Going: Easier Said than Done

I’ve got a little poetry for y’all this morning. Now aren’t you glad you came?
“If you strike a thorn or rose,
Keep a-goin'!
If it hails or if it snows,
Keep a-goin'!
'Taint no use to sit an' whine
When the fish ain't on your line;
Bait your hook an' keep a-tryin'
–Keep a-goin'!
When the weather kills your crop,
Keep a-goin'!
Though 'tis work to reach the top,
Keep a-goin'!
S'pose you're out o' ev'ry dime,
Gittin' broke ain't any crime;
Tell the world you're feelin' prime
–Keep a-goin'!
When it looks like all is up,
Keep a-goin'!
Drain the sweetness from the cup,
Keep a-goin'!
See the wild birds on the wing,
Hear the bells that sweetly ring,
When you feel like surgin', sing
–Keep a-goin'!”

Image result for henry gibson poemsNow this is a poem written by a man named Frank Stanton, but made well-known if not famous by the comedian Henry Gibson, who’d stand up and recite it a timid voice. But regardless of who’s reading it, the meaning is about the same. No matter what happens in life we should pull up our socks, tighten our helmets and keep a-goin.

And although that sounds as good as all get out, and excellent advice for parents to tell their children, let’s face it, any way you cut it, it’s easier said then done. Come on, sometimes it’s hard to keep going. And even though I think that’s the case everywhere, with everyone, I believe it’s particularly difficult for Christians, both as individuals and communities. Let me explain.

I think most of us try to do what’s right, to help people when we can, to treat others with kindness and respect, to put them first even if that mean we’re second. And you know, I think for the most part, we make a sincere effort to follow the example of Christ and to serve God by serving others. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we’re perfect or spiritually superior people, but I think by in large we do the best we can with what we’ve got, as brothers and sisters in Christ and as the church.

And yet sometimes, sometimes our efforts to do the will of God, you know, to do what’s right, well, what we do is met with a response that’s, let’s just say, a little less than what we might expect. I mean, sometimes our acts of kindness are ignored, overlooked, treated as though they weren’t worth  mentioning, and sometimes by the very people receiving them. And I’m not talking about “thank you’s,” but just a simple acknowledgment, would that be so hard? But no, we don’t even that. But of course, that’s better than the criticism or the mocking we sometimes do get. “I mean, what was she thinking, making me chili, and she knows I don’t like kidney beans. And then, showing up right in the middle of “The Young and the Restless”, can you believe that, the nerve of some people. And then she wanted to visit. I’m telling you, I guess some people got nothing better to do than to bother sick folks.” Oh yes, nothing makes a person feel like he’s doing something worthwhile like some good, old fashioned neglect and abuse. But it happens.

Image result for frustrated
And since is does, I’m telling you, there’s little wonder that sometimes we become downright discouraged, if not just plain mad. I mean, we end up feeling unappreciated and overlooked and used, and we resent it. And we end up thinking that maybe a lot of stuff we talk about in church is just that, a lot of stuff, and that the world really is right when it tells us that “good guys finish last” and that you better look after number one and of course, “do unto to others, before they can do it to you.” And you know, maybe that’s why there seems to be a lot of bitter people out there, men and women who’ve become cynical about helping anyone who’s different from them, brothers and sisters, who’ve gotten to the point where they’ve just thrown up their hands and said, “Never again. I mean, what’s the use.” Let’s get real, sometimes it difficult for us to continue doing the very things that we know in our heart of hearts Christians should be doing. Man, I can sure understand how we might be more willing to start building walls to protect ourselves  then to keep showing love to help others.

But you, it’s at those times, those times when we’ve tried as hard as we can and seem to have gotten paid back with nothing but disappointment, it’s right then we may need to open up our Bibles to this passage in Matthew, because I’m telling you, remembering the beatitudes can help us stay focused and faithful. In fact, if we let them, they just might be able to keep us a-going. And I’ll tell you why, I think that’s exactly what they did in Bible. I mean, just think about the situation in this passage. Jesus had gone up onto the mountain with his disciples, and he was about to begin his great Sermon on the Mount. In other words, in just a little bit, Christ was going to teach the disciple how to live their lives. He was going to tell them about life under the reign of God. He was going to give them a new set of rules for a Christian community.

Image result for sermon on the mountBut you know, before he started telling them what to do, he offered them the beatitudes. As though he knew what they were in store for, as though he knew that he was sending them out into a world that either would fight against them or just wouldn’t care, as though he knew that they would, from time to time, become discouraged and feel unappreciated and neglected and taken advantage of, he said to them:
“Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, because to them is the kingdom of heaven. 
Blessed are those who are mourning, because they will be consoled. 
Blessed are those who are gentle, because they will inherit the earth. 
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, because they will be satisfied. 
Blessed are those who are merciful, because they will be shown mercy. 
Blessed are those who are pure of heart, because they will see God. 
Blessed are those who are peacemakers, because they will be called the sons [and daughters] of God. 
Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, because to them is the kingdom of heaven. 
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and say evil things against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, because your reward will be great in heaven. For thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” 

In other words, instead of starting the sermon by telling them what they should be doing, Jesus reminded his disciples of what God had already done. I mean, he reminded them that they were already blessed by God, and that their intentions were alright, and that in time, God was going to allow them to see change, that the day was coming when those disciples who lived the kind of life that Christ himself lived, man, they were going witness a new world and would become part of a new a reality.

And you know, this message is just as true for us as it was for them. I mean, as we talked about earlier, our situation is an awful like their’s. And because of that, I think it’s important for us to remember the beatitudes, to remember what they are and what they mean. That in these verses, we don’t have a list of shoulds or orders or commands, but rather a clear and definite statement that blessed are those who are humble enough to recognize their own spiritual poverty and therefore, put their trust in the giver not the gifts; man, they are already in the presence of God. That blessed are those who grieve the condition of the world and who turn away from violence and who want to see “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven;’ they will be there when the condition of that world changes and they will inherit this new world and they will see righteousness finally come out on top. That blessed are those who show mercy and who focus on God with an undivided heart and who work to bring peace to others; they will receive that same kind of mercy from God and they will see face to face the one on whom they focused their attention, and they will become a part of a new family, the sons and daughters of God. That blessed are those who suffer because they’ve had the guts to stand up for what’s right; like those who are humble as they look at themselves, they are already in God’s presence too. You see, like them almost 2,000 years ago, when we’re discouraged, we need to remember the beatitudes.

Because when we do, they’ll offer us the same thing they offered those disciples who sat in front of Jesus on that mountain and to that persecuted Christian community which first read Matthew’s gospel. You see, for them and for us, these words offer three things.

First, they offer encouragement, encouragement rooted in the blessings that God has already given to his people. You see, before we begin to live, before we begin to follow, and before we begin to serve, we can be encouraged by the fact that our lives are grounded in the one who has already given so much to us, and that we follow the one who’s blessings are secure and that we serve in response to what has already been given to us. And when our life and following and service seem to be met with indifference or hostility, we can also be encouraged by the fact that those blessings are not going away. That’s one.

But you know, second, not only do they offer encouragement, the beatitudes offer an affirmation. In a world where the rich are often seen as the superior and the powerful are constantly getting more power, and where arrogance and aggressiveness and ambition are viewed as virtues and are not only admired but rewarded, and where those who show mercy and who focus on God and not the world and who work for peace my gosh, they’re called weak and foolish and stupid, and where persecution and opposition and anything else that would make you unpopular are to be avoided at all cost, in this kind of world, it’s important for those who are poor in spirit, those who mourn and are gentle and desire righteousness, those who are merciful and pure of heart and peacemakers, and those who are willing to put up with opposition and mocking and even violence for what is right but not popular, man, it’s absolutely crucial that they hear that in spite of what the world says, God calls them blessed. That’s two.

And finally, these beatitudes give those who continue to try hope. And you know, that’s something pretty important for us to remember, because I think we all know that humility and grief, gentleness and righteousness, mercy and purity, peace and endurance, man, they’re never going be the ticket to health and wealth and happiness, not in this life time. But listen, the day is coming when God will set things straight, in a recreated world, with a system of values and standards of success that’s like a mirror image of our own, a place where the first will be the last, and those who lead will be the servants of all. You see, that’s exactly what the beatitudes offer us right here and right now.

Image result for sermon on the mount“If you strike a thorn or rose,
Keep a-goin'!
If it hails or if it snows,
Keep a-goin'!
'Taint no use to sit an' whine
When the fish ain't on your line;
Bait your hook an' keep a-tryin'
--Keep a-goin'!
Well, Mr. Stanton, that’s easier said than done, for people trying to make in the world, even for brothers and sisters in the church. Man, out there and in here, there’s plenty of reasons to become discouraged. But of course, in here, we have an advantage, because Christ has given us these beatitudes, a set of clear reminders of what God has done, a source of encouragement and affirmation and hope, and I’m talking about a strength that just might help us keep a-going.

The Bible in a Year: Bible Readings for January 30, 2017

The Bible in a Year: Bible Readings for January 30, 2017: Today our passages are Exodus 10:1–12:13; Matthew 20:1-28; Psalm 25:1-15; and Proverbs 6:6-11 . The readings are the Contemporary ...

Saturday, January 28, 2017

On the Road Again - Continuing the Journey, Part 4 (Luke 15:1-32)

Growing in Grace: On the Road Again - Continuing the Journey, Part 4...: Below is the passage we discussed in a series entitled "On the Road Again: A Study of Luke/Acts. This week we discussed Luke 14:1-35. Y...

A New Devotion on Cove's Prayer Line - Being One

Below is a new devotion I just left on the Cove Presbyterian Church prayer line. You can find a recording of this devotion on the prayer line (1-304-748-7900) or on the Cove Presbyterian Church Podbean page. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

If you find this meaningful, please consider sending an offering directly to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.

Galatians 3:23-29

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Being One

Image result for one in christWe live in a world that divides us into groups. Of course, that just might be one of those signs of sin, you know, signs that we’ve fallen from God’s intention for the whole human race. Still, we are constantly facing divisions. And we’ve accepted that those divisions actually have meaning. I mean, think about it, we’re divided by things as basic as gender and height and weight. And we’re divided by the color of our skin or the sound of our speech and the area of the world where we were born. Now these things are fairly basic and obvious. But we also divide ourselves by things as ill-defined as our view of God and our philosophy of government and the importance we place on class and income. I think we’d all agree that we use these factors to divide people, to divide ourselves, and often these vague and fuzzy standards become the most important factors. They become the very basis for our assumptions and prejudices.

But as Christians, I think it’s crucial that we recognize that, whether the characteristics we use are easy to see or in the eyes of the beholder, in the sight of God, none of them have meaning. Although they may have been necessary for society to function in the past, things changed when Christ entered our world and when he died for all humanity and when he was raised to begin a general resurrection that will involve his entire creation. You see, when Jesus came, those old divisions disappeared, and we all became one, something that those who trust that it happened can allow to shape both their words and their lives.

Minute for Mission from the Presbyterian Historical Society

Servants of Christ and People

When the 110,000 American citizens and immigrants of Japanese descent living on the West Coast were taken without due process into ten “Relocation Camps” by the federal government in the first year of the US’ involvement in World War II, they set about immediately organizing places of worship through which to seek solace and strength.
Protestant congregations vital to this effort could no longer afford to pay their pastors, however. The government capped the monthly pay an incarceree could receive for his or her employ at $19 for professionals, such as doctors and teachers, with clerks receiving $12 per month. (In contrast, white-collar working women earned about $125 monthly at this time.) As the government followed a strict separation of church and state, places of worship would have to fund their own religious leaders.
The ecumenical Protestant Commission for Japanese Service convinced various Protestant denominations to provide a monthly stipend for the incarcerated pastors serving so critically in the camps. At the insistence of clergy wives like Yoshiko Kawamorita and Mrs. Tokujiro Horikoshi, the Protestant denominations took an unprecedented step by providing a monthly $12 allowance to the ministers’ wives as well.
Yoshiko was born in Japan and had eight years of high school and seminary education at the Presbyterian Miyagi College before she moved to the United States. She would minister in northern California for 25 years beside her Presbyterian pastor husband, Dr. Eiji Kawamorita. A missionary worker, pastor’s wife, and mother of six, her duties did not ease within the confines of the Topaz camp. Unlike some Issei, or first-generation Japanese Americans, who saw their first “vacation” in decades turn into an extended retirement in the incarceration camps, Yoshiko remained busy visiting the “sick or lonesome,” helping the poorest of the poor, and taking care of her four children who still lived at home.
In a letter to the Presbyterian Home Missions office, Yoshiko wrote that her husband used most of his salary for his work, leaving her with little either to provide food for her children between the communal mealtimes or to clothe them. Without a stipend of her own, she would be forced to give up her service to the church and seek other work in the camp instead.
Presbyterian pastor Tokujiro Horikoshi of Heart Mountain camp wrote to the Presbyterian Mission Board thanking them for recognizing his wife’s status as a “regular religious worker.” He mentioned the growing popularity of her work among the Issei women and that her speaking calendar was full for the coming month.
These women were, as Yoshiko noted, as much servants “of Christ and for people” as their husbands and sons who were ordained. We can rejoice that in a time of great injustice and harm, our church acknowledged the invaluable witness and work of these clergy wives and ensured that they received compensation for their service.
Beth Shalom Hessel, M. Div, Ph.D., executive director, Presbyterian Historical Society, associate stated clerk, Office of the General Assembly
Let us pray
Christ our Lord and Brother, you call us to the dusty and forgotten places of this world to minister with courage to those who need a word of hope. Help us to be servants of Christ and for all people. Amen.

The Bible in a Year: Bible Readings for January 28, 2017

The Bible in a Year: Bible Readings for January 28, 2017: Today our passages are Exodus 5:22–7:24; Matthew 18:23–19:12; Psalm 23:1-6; and Proverbs 5:22-23 . The readings are the Contempor...

Friday, January 27, 2017

A Thought from the Word - A brief thought based on James 4:10

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

On Sunday, January 29, Cove Presbyterian Church will lift to God the following needs.

Adults
Amy Slisik
Audrey Vincent
Betty Michael
Bruce Mader
Carol Baker
Chad Peppler
Chad Wilson
Cindy Kuzel
Clyde Flesher, Sr.
Darcy Keffer
David Johns
Debbie Zuccaro
Debi Edge
Doris Greene
Emery Edwards
Ethlyn Dellaria
Faith Bonyak
Gen Meyer
George & Mary Shepherd
Greta Billham
Jan Jackson
Jim & Shelley Pearson
Jim Neil
Joanie Lawrence
Josh and Dee
Karen Lombardi
Katy Allen
Kenny Orlando
Kevin Kuzel
Linda Spencer
Marcia Cooper
Marge Oslett
Matthew Kirtley
Michael Shade
Mike Churchman
Minnie Pazich
Miranda Flesher
Patricia Cox
Paul Welch
Phyllis Manley
Randal Kane
Richard Ballard
Rocco Zuccaro
Ronnie Buffington
Sally Robinson
Sandra Duckworth
Sharon Wheeler
Shirley Everhart Kirtley
Stacy Jo Vogel
Susie Hawkins
Twinkle Smith
Vicki Williams
Wayne Channing

Children
Elijah Parker
Jameson Criss
Jeffrey Konovich
Jonathan Marte
Lily Ghrist
Meadow Abbett
Michael Daugherty
Mitch Almason
Wyatt Smith

Military
Isaac Stephens
Jason Kerr
Jonathan Criss
Justin Schmalstieg
Kara Criss
Michael Criss

Church Families
John & Judy Morris & Jessica
Nick & Penny Mourat
Red & Bonnie Nichols

Local Church
Christian & Missionary Alliance

Special Friend
Edna Harrison – 55 Woodridge Park, Weirton, WV  26062-5039

Upper Ohio Valley Presbytery Congregations 
First Presbyterian Church, Wheeling, WV – Rev. Robert Willits
Stone Presbyterian Church, Wheeling, WV – Rev. Robert Nagy

Also Remember in Your Prayers
Alice & Kenny Orr – Weirton Geriatric Center, 2525 Pennsylvania Ave., Weirton, WV  26062
Carl Hamill – Serra Manor, Apt. 11, 205 Serra Manor, Weirton, WV  26062
Dolores Edwards – Wyngate, 100 Wyngate Dr., Weirton, WV  26062
Harry Hutch – Villa Vista, Room 406, 1800 Sinclair Ave., Steubenville, OH  43953
June Virtue – Grace Cottage, 195 Eden Dr., Weirton, WV  26062-3664
Theresa Skiles – Weirton Geriatric Center, 2525 Pennsylvania Ave., Weirton, WV  26062
Ruth Ann Oestering – Woodland Hills, 608 North 10th St., Weirton, WV  26062

What's Happening at Cove Presbyterian Church?

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

THE SEASON AFTER EPIPHANY
“The festival of Epiphany presents us with a great richness of images concerning Jesus Christ, the Light of the world.  It is truly a feast of plenty, proclaiming the manifestation of the Son of God incarnate in human flesh.  Three primary mysteries of the Christian faith are brought together:  the star leading the Magi to the cradle, the presence of Jesus at the marriage feast and miraculous water-turned-wine, and baptism of Jesus in the Jordan.  The Sunday after Epiphany, beginning with the Baptism of the Lord and ending with Transfiguration, do not in themselves constitute a special season.  They are ordinary time, if you will.  However, the Scripture readings continue to shine with the radiance and sound forth echoes of the meaning of Christmas-Epiphany.  The basic color for the Sundays after Epiphany is green, except for the Baptism of the Lord on the first Sunday following, and Transfiguration on the last Sunday following. (Handbook of the Christian Year, pp. 89-90)

AS IT RELATES TO SPIRITUAL GROWTH, 
have you ever felt “height challenged”? If you’ve ever felt somewhat short in the spirituality department, this sermon series is for you. For six Sundays starting January 15, at 11:00 am, we’ll discuss how we might grow in our faith and in our relationship with God. Specifically, in the next few weeks, we cover the following growth-related topics:
January 29 – Loving One Another
February 5 – Making an Impact
February 12 – Sharing the Message
February 19 – Bringing in the Harvest
There’s no reason to feel like a dandelion in the midst of spiritual sequoias. Join with us at Cove Presbyterian Church and grow into everything God created you to be.

YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED THAT BEFORE THE SERVICE . . .
the Rev. Rudiger pours water into the baptismal font even though we might not have a baptism on that particular Sunday. Here’s the reason. Since baptism is one of the pillars of our identity as Christians, this is a reminder that we’re united as members of the Body of Christ. It represents a gift given to us by God, one that we can’t earn and don’t deserve. As we move forward as a congregation, it’s important to remember and to celebrate the sacrament that unites us. And since Jesus said that part of making disciples of all nation involves baptizing them, it’s also a reminder of the mission we’ve been given.

DURING THE SERVICE THIS MORNING . . .
Tucker and Wyatt Smith and Kaylee Ross will be receiving Bibles, gifts from the congregtion.

“JESUS TIME” IS SPECIAL TIME FOR . . .
all our children and young people. This Sunday School experience offers them the opportunity to learn the Bible story and apply that story to their lives. “Jesus Time” meets at 11:00 a.m. and runs until the end of the Worship Service. If you have children and teens, ask one of the greeters to direct you to the children’s location.

OUR TUESDAY EVENING STUDY . . .
will meet on Tuesday, January 31, at 6:30 p.m. to continue a series entitled “On the Road Again: A Study of Luke/Acts.”  During this session, we’ll continue to look at Luke 16:1 – 16:30.

THE BELL CHOIR . . .
will practice on Saturday, at 11:00 a.m.

CHOIR WILL REHEARSE . . .
Sundays, from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. They’ll rehearse in the choir room each Sunday from 9:30 to 10:30.

WE’RE HAVING A "SOUPER" BOWL LUNCHEON . . .
to recognize outgoing church board members on Sunday, February 5, immediately following the worship service. Naturally we’ll serve soup. Even though there’s no charge, items for the Food Pantry or monetary donations will be greatly appreciated. You’re also invited you to wear your team colors to church that day! We’d also appreciate the help of all congregational soup-makers.

BOARD MEETINGS. . .
The Board of Deacons will meet on Monday, February 6 at  6:30 p.m.
The session will meet on Sunday, February 12, at 9:00 a.m.
The Board of Trustees will meet on Monday, February 13 at 6:30 p.m.

THE CHURCH COULD USE YOUR LOOSE CHANGE.
In the narthex, there’s a fish bowl where you’re invited to leave any pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters you might have rattling around in your pocket or purse.

QUARTERLY GIVING STATEMENTS AND OFFERING ENVELOPES . . .
are on the table in the narthex.

WE APPRECIATE ALL THOSE WHO ARE OFFERING . . .
their time and special gifts to the church. In particular, we thank the following:
We thank Ray Seifert for directing our choir, Sue Willson for directing the bells, and Chris Pierce for running our sound system during the service.
We thank Dean Allen, Rick Baldt and T.J. Smith for the repairs they’ve done around the church.
We thank the Trustees (Dan Grant, Burnie Huey, Chuck Caleffie, and Dean Allen) for making needed repairs and clearing space last Saturday.
We thank Rick Baldt for all the work he continues to do so that we might utilize all the electronic equipment the church already has.
We also thank Rick for shoveling the snow.
We thank Chris Connell, Debbie Seifert, Heather Campbell, and Diana Durst for volunteering to chaperone the scouts.
Finally, all those who offer their time, talent and money to further the God’s Kingdom.

IF YOU KNOW OF ANY COVE KIDS . . .
who have not received a Bible please let us know.

WE ARE UPDATING THE BIRTHDAY & ANNIVERSARY LIST.  
If you are not on it or know someone who should be added please give the information to  Heather Campbell or Debbie Seifert.

DEAR SUPPORTERS AND FRIENDS OF LAUGHLIN CHAPEL: 
The words "Thank You" are not enough to say for your generosity and support of Laughlin Memorial Chapel's mission: “To care for and empower families and others by working cooperatively with existing community groups so that the standard and quality of life in the greater Wheeling area are enhanced and reflected in God's love.” Your support, starting with the school supplies, hygiene products, and the clothing and winter-wear, your more than generous monetary donations, and your Christmas giving has greatly helped this program succeed and become a greater asset to all we serve in this community. Our gratitude and thanks go to every and all organizations in your churches for your benevolence. The Chapel started the fall session with many changes as our Executive Director retired. The Board and remaining staff have come together to continually provide everything the Chapel has stood and continues to stand for. This year 2017 we are holding on to God's promise of supplying all our needs, and we realize He will never leave us or forsake us, as long as we continue to seek his guidance through prayer. As always, there is an open invitation to stop by the Chapel and spend time with the children you support. You will truly be blessed.
God's Blessing to all during the coming year.
Grace and Peace,
Laughlin Memorial Chapel, Board, Staff, & Students

MEDICAL BENEVOLENCE FOUNDATION PRAYER REQUESTS FOR JANUARY:
Pray with anticipation as God continues to unfold the plans He has for MBF and all of our partners. As there is great unrest in Congo and Haiti, pray that the unrest dissipates and the medical relief workers can return soon. Pray that trust grows in the communities, and the sick and wounded are free to seek health care from the hospitals and clinics. Pray for our partner hospitals and clinics that they are able to serve the communities effectively.
Pray for the ten nursing students from Egypt starting school on MBF scholarships. Pray that God would surround them with community who will encourage their study habits. Pray for the implementation of the BSCN program in Kenya.
The staff and current board of MBF are happy to welcome the five new board members. Please pray for a renewed understanding and a fresh perspective that can create effective strategies and new plans for the future.
Pray for the importance of sustainable health care to be deeply understood in a way that ignites a passion in the larger Body of Christ. Pray that many more churches are able to grasp the vision in their missional plans for the upcoming year.

IF YOU’D LIKE TO OFFER A COUPLE OF HOURS TO THE CHURCH . . .
we need volunteers for Wednesday evenings to chaperone the Cub Scouts. If you’re available, please tell the pastor or call the church office.

WANT TO BE A YAV?
Apply by Feburary 1 for international placement. Young Adult Volunteer applications are due February 1 for international placement in the YAV program. Encourage young people, ages 19 to 30, to apply for a transformational year of service as a YAV. Follow @yavprogram on social media for updates on each YAV site. Help spread the word!

A SPIRITUAL MESSAGE . . .
can be found by calling 304-748-7900 Cove’s Prayer Line. You can call at anytime to hear a message by Rev. Rudiger. The messages are changed every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.  You can also hear the devotion at covepresbyterian.podbean.com and iTunes (search Cove Presbyterian). You can also read the devotion at www.thecovecommunity.blogspot.com.

YOU CAN NOW MAKE DONATIONS THROUGH PAYPAL . . .
by go on the link you can find in our daily e-mails and on our website (covepresbyterian.org) and all our blog. We can also help you set up a PayPal account, if you don’t already have one.

WE ARE UPDATING OUR PRAYER CHAIN . . . 
regularly. If you wish to add someone, contact the church office.

IF YOU’RE IN THE KROGERS COMMUNITY REWARDS PROGRAM . . .
your enrollment is valid for 12 months from the registration date. You will need your Kroger rewards card number. To confirm that your registration is still active or to re-register you can contact Kroger customer service at this number: 1-866-221-4141. If you need to re-register all you'll need is your Kroger Card number and  our Cove Church number which is 80270. All that is required is that you go to Kroger.com; Community; Rewards; Enroll Now; type in Cove and hit search; click on Cove Presbyterian; click on Enroll Now. Please check your receipt the next time you shop, the bottom should read You requested Kroger to donate to Cove Presbyterian Church. If you need help with this process just call the church office, and Heather Campbell will be happy to assist you.

WHEN YOU REGISTER FOR AMAZON SMILE,
you get the same products and service we expect from Amazon except the Church gets .5% of every qualifying purchase. The Amazon Smile registration for first time users is https://smile.amazon.com/Ch/55-0462066. You only have to register once then go to www.smile.amazon.com to place orders.

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 - This is for the whole church. I’ll post sermons and announcements.
Cove Kids - This is tailored for the 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.
Bible Talk - We’ve established this blog to give pastors and lay people the chance to discuss Scripture. The weekly passages are from the Common Lectionary.
The Bible in a Year (www.cove-bibleinayear.blog spot.com) - Each day, we’ll post passages so that you can read the Bible in one year.
Growing in Grace - Although we’re saved by God’s grace, we can grow in our understanding of grace. At Cove Presbyterian Church, we offer a variety of different classes for children and adults, many of which are recorded and posted on our PodBean page (covepresbyterian).

IF YOU’RE ABLE AND WILLING TO PROVIDE TRANSPORTATION . . .
so that some of homebound members are able to attend our worship services, please tell the pastor or another member of session.

SERMONS, DEVOTIONS, LESSONS, AND ESSAYS ARE AVAILABLE ON . . .
the Cove PodBean page (covepresbyterian.podbean.com) and iTunes (search Cove Presbyterian).

IF YOU’RE ONLINE . . .
“like” us on Facebook (Cove Presbyterian Church) or join our Facebook group (The Cove Community). You can also connect with Pastor Rudiger on Instagram (rev_ed).

IN THE HOSPITAL? HOMEBOUND? RECENT ILLNESS?
f you know of someone who is in the hospital please contact the church office, due to privacy laws the hospital is unable to contact us. If you are unable to attend services and would like to arrange for a visit from Rev. Ed Rudiger or to receive communion please contact the church office. Also, if you would like to receive the Sunday Bulletin contact the church office.

IF YOU DON’T PLAN TO TAKE YOUR BULLETIN HOME . . .
drop it in the purple container at the back door so that it can be recycled.

VASES OF FLOWERS CAN BE PURCHASED . . .
for a service. The cost is $16.00 a vase.  You may also purchase silk flowers or live plants, the choice is yours.  Telephone the office to place your order. After the service, we’ll place the flowers in a vase for you to take.

ONGOING MISSION PROJECTS . . . 
Campbell’s Labels are being collected by the Presbyterian Women for the Weirton Christian Cent er.  The labels including the bar code or just the bar code can be dropped off in the container located in the hallway downstairs.
Greeting Cards are being collected by the Myrtle McHendry Class. Please drop off your used Greeting Cards or just the front of the card in the box located in the main hallway downstairs. No envelopes -please. The cards are being sent to St. Jude’s  Ranch to be remade into cards to be sold in their gift shop.  FYI . . Hallmark, Disney or American Greeting Cards can not be accepted as they are trade marked.
Can Tabs are being collected by the Presbyterian Women for the Ronald McDonald House in Morgantown, West Virginia. Deposit your tabs in the container located in the hallway downstairs.

Cove's Bulletin for Sunday, January 29, 2017

Below is a copy of our Sunday bulletin. We're starting the 6-week series entitled "Spiritual Growth for Short People," and during the third service we'll consider how it's important for us to love one another.










From Presbyterian Disaster Assistance - Response to Southern Tornadoes

From January 21 through the 23, as many as 29 tornadoes swept across six states, leaving as many as 20 people dead, hundreds of homes and businesses destroyed and scattered power outages through out.
a damaged tree next to the sign for Flint River PresbyteryDisaster officials say as many as four people died in Hattiesburg, Mississippi when the EF3 tornado, believed to be a half mile wide, carved a path for 25 minutes on the ground. An estimated 600 homes were damaged and destroyed.
PDA has deployed National Response Team members to Flint River Presbytery after receiving an invitation, and grants are being processed where requested. 
 Until the Long Term Recovery Groups are set up and PDA has established host sites for volunteers, here is what you can do:
  • Donate to PDA. We are using account DR000015 for this disaster. You can give online by clicking the Donate button on this page. 
  • Make Gift of the Heart kits. Click here for more information.
  • The American Red Cross of South Georgia is involved in the immediate relief efforts. Click here to apply to volunteer.
  • Samaritan's Purse needs volunteers to assist with the cleanup efforts in the Albany area. In particular, skilled volunteers able to operate chainsaws and construction equipment are needed, however unskilled volunteers ages 14+ are also needed. At this link, click "Volunteer in Georgia or Mississippi" for information on the Albany project, among others. 
Your gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing (OGHS) enable our immediate response. For more information on OGHS, click here.

Southern states begin clean up following weekend of tornadoes


Long road to recovery ahead

LOUISVILLE – Residents along the deep south and Gulf Coast have begun to dig out from the damage left behind following an outbreak of tornadoes over the weekend.  From January 21 through the 23, as many as 29 tornadoes swept across six states, leaving as many as 20 people dead, hundreds of homes and businesses destroyed and scattered power outages through out.
Disaster officials say as many as four people died in Hattiesburg, Mississippi when the EF3 tornado, believed to be a half mile wide, carved a path for 25 minutes on the ground. An estimated 600 homes were damaged and destroyed.
”The people in this community have been through this before so the first response was ‘oh no, not again,’” said the Rev. Mike Anderson, interim pastor at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Hattiesburg. “The loss of life is forefront on everyone’s minds and there are still some areas without power.”
Anderson, who began his interim duties at Westminster on January 1, is working with local and state agencies along with the Presbytery of Mississippi to offer assistance where needed.
“Our congregation came out pretty good in that no one sustained major damage. There were a few members who saw some minor damage, though,” he said. “FEMA is preparing to come in to do an assessment and things are beginning to line up for volunteers to help with yard clean up and home repairs.”
The presbytery has requested a $7,500 grant from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.
“The outbreak of tornadoes is not typical for this part of the country in January and it took everyone by surprise,” said Jim Kirk, national associate for PDA. “We will work with the presbytery, as well as other local and state organizations to help in whatever capacity we can. Our prayers go out to all of those impacted by the tornadoes.”
One of the hardest hit was William Carey University, a private Christian liberal arts college in Hattiesburg.
“The campus was devastated by the storms. Nearly every building on campus suffered damage, some of them severely, including dormitories,” said Anderson. “No lives were lost at the school but the campus is closed and many of the students have gone home while authorities try to determine how to continue the semester for the students.”
Anderson says the school is trying to offer as many online classes as possible so that students can complete the course work on time without having to continue into the summer. In some cases, he says, efforts are being made to find alternative places to conduct classes, especially for those that require lab work.
“We are offering our facilities to the school for classes and recitals,” said Anderson. “Most of what we have scheduled now are music students who need space for practice. We have it covered through February.”
Three years ago, Westminster was heavily damaged by a tornado and Anderson says William Carey moved pianos and other items to the campus and stored them until the church was restored. He says the church wanted to return the favor.
Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency adding that preliminary estimates put the damage at $200 million in Hattiesburg alone.
Other states impacted by the tornadoes include Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Florida and South Carolina.  A PDA National Response Team has been deployed at the request of Flint River Presbytery in Georgia to assess the needs. Authorities say Albany, Georgia had significant damage and loss of life.
For those interested in contributing to relief efforts, click here and give to account DR000015.
by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

Friday's Essay - Sacrificing Comfort for Christ

Below is an essay that I sent to those on the Cove Presbyterian Church e-mailing list. You can hear a podcast of this message by going to the Cove Presbyterian Podbean page. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

If you find this meaningful, please consider sending an offering directly to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal

Image result for comfortableThe longer I live, the more I’m convinced that people seek comfort above everything else and I include health and wealth and happiness. People just, plain like to be comfortable. And I’ll tell you, I believe that desire has a major impact on how the church, the Body of Christ, goes about it’s business in the real world.

But before explaining what I mean, I think it’s important for me define what I mean by comfort. You see, I’m not really talking about something that’s all cuddly and cozy, you know, like a nice warm blanket nor do I have in mind something that’s large enough to provide what we might want, for instance, like a comfortable income. Although both define something that’s comfortable, my definition here is slightly different. You see, in this little essay, when I use the word “comfortable,” I’m thinking about something that’s predictable, something that’s certain, something that’s reliable. In other words, I feel comfort when I have a pretty good idea what’s going to happen next, you know, when I know what to expect. That’s when I’m most comfortable, and that’s what I really want to be. And when you think about it, that makes a lot of sense. For instance, when I know when and how the ball is coming, I know exactly when and how to duck. And when I suspect that there’s a bunch of people on the other side of the door about to shout “Happy Birthday,” I can sort of prepare myself to be surprised. And when I have the playlist, I know what songs to skip and which to listen to twice. Now, that’s what I mean by comfort.

Image result for abuse of children
Of course, this also means that being comfortable isn’t the same as being happy. I mean, even though many comfortable situations are also positive, that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. What’s predictable and certain and reliable isn’t, by it’s nature, positive or good or meaningful. For example, if I can predict what violent things my father will do every time he comes home drunk, that may be comfortable because it’s predictable.  But it sure isn’t positive. And if I’m fairly certain that’s he’s going to start hitting me and my brother, that may also be comfortable but not good. And if I can rely on him apologizing when he sobers up and promising never to do it again, that may be comfortable but not meaningful. Defined in this way, being comfortable is not being surprised. It’s knowing what to expect; therefore, my father taking the pledge and trying to be nurturing 24/7 and following through on his word, all those things may be positive and good and meaningful, but when it first happens, man, it’s uncomfortable. I may not know how to respond. I might feel as though something strange is happening. In fact, it may be so uncomfortable that I might unconsciously long and even try to recreate the world in which things a re predictable and certain and reliable. Put another way, I think most of us would agree that change is hard. It makes us uneasy. It creates stress. And I don’t think any of us want more stress in our lives. That would be uncomfortable. We want comfort.

Image result for stagnant churchAnd I think all that applies to our spiritual lives and our life as the church just like it doesn’t to everything else. Frankly, we like to be comfortable in our relationship with God, in what we believe about him and in how we worship him. And to remain in that comfortable, predictable, secure zone, often we resist change. Even being open to the possibility of change seems disconcerting. And even though that, in and of itself, isn’t bad, it can certainly lead to bad things happening. For example, at the very least, it can lead to stagnation, the unavoidable result of only being exposed to ideas that confirm what we already believe and practices that conform to what we’re comfortable doing. And I think that’s about the best for which we can hope. At worst, for the sake of predictability, we can perpetuate ideas and practices that may have lost their relevance decades ago. It’s a little like the young woman who asked her mother why she’d always cut off the end of the ham before baking it. Her mother said that she didn’t know, that was just what her mother did, and that she’d have to ask her grandmother. And when the young woman asked her grandmother, she said the same thing her mother said and told her to ask her great grandmother. And so, when the young woman asked her great grandmother why she cut off the end of the ham before baking it, the elderly woman said, “Oh, that’s easy. I had a small oven.”  You see, we may end up doing things we no longer understand just because that’s the way they’s always been done. In other words, we may continue doing those things because they’re comfortable.

Image result for modern worldAnd even though a case could be made that we’re only hurting ourselves, when you’re talking about the Body of Christ, that’s not the case. I mean, we’ve been charged by Jesus himself to “make disciples of all nations.” That’s our job. But if our focus is on keeping things comfortable for those disciples who have already been made, we may be severely damaging our ability to reach anybody else. And although we may convince ourselves that we’re standing for the truth, we better be sure that we’re not standing for form rather than substance. The truth is eternal, but how we respond is shaped by who we are, including what we’ve always done, in other words, what makes us feel comfortable. And so, if we’re not careful, this desire can not only hurt us, it can damage our outreach.

And for that reason, we might want to ask ourselves if we’re willing to sacrifice some of our comfort for the Jesus Christ. In other words, are we willing to consider replacing some our predictable and reliable forms so that the eternal substance within God’s Word might be effectively communicated to folks who find comfort in other places? Simply put, are we willing to change in ways that may strengthen both our own faith and our witness? Now, that may be the question we need to ask ourselves and more importantly to answer, and I’ll tell you why. Our answer is going to impact far more than our personal tastes and preferences.