Groundbreaking Reflection

Sunday truly was a joyful and exciting day as we remembered God’s faithfulness to this congregation over the years, and look forward with expectant hope for the future!

As I’ve had a few days to reflect on Sunday’s events, I wanted to share some of my thoughts. First, the words of Paul to the church in Corinth come to mind. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, he writes:

“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. 10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 3:5-11)

Paul is reflecting on the work he had done in the name of Christ to establish a church in Corinth. He marveled how God had used other servants of Jesus to help grow and establish them. Paul saw his place in God’s plan as laying the foundation, and others were used by God to build upon it.

Sunday took me back to our 40th Anniversary celebration, where we marveled and celebrated God’s faithfulness. By God’s grace, the work done by the saints that came before us, has given us a firm foundation. We are now building (both spiritually and physically) on the foundation that was laid. This new addition is a tangible reminder of this truth.

Second, in verse 11 Paul reminds us that the only true foundation is Jesus Christ. As I shared on Sunday, this is not only true for our spiritual growth, but it is also true for this physical growth we are embarking on. The foundation that supports this growth is Jesus Christ. As a church, we must continue to build on the foundation of Jesus. It is by him, in him, and through him that all things were created and are sustained. This is just as true for our church as it is for all of creation.

Third, it was moving to see God’s people lined up around the building site. Those who have been here for years and years, and those who have recently joined our family. It was a wonderful reminder that God’s blessings are just as much for those who have “endured the trials,” and those who are experiencing his blessings without the “blood, sweat, and tears.”

Finally, we were reminded that God’s goodness and faithfulness is from generation to generation. We are blessed to have a group of adults who were raised in this church. They serve and lead our congregation, and some of them are now parents. To see their kids, with all the kids of the congregation, gathered around the shovel was a beautiful sight! This project will certainly be a blessing to the next generation, and by God’s grace, they will grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, and one day serve and lead this congregation in years to come.

I pray that each of us, like Paul, can say, “According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it.” May we build with expectant hope, knowing that God will bring it to completion.

Work & Rest

man-resting-in-field-small-640x360As we enter the workweek following the Labor Day Weekend, I wanted to follow up with a few things from my sermon on Sunday. While the title of the sermon was Work & Rest, I focused much of the sermon on the Sabbath. So, I wanted to say a few things that I didn’t have time to expound on about our work. I also promised that I’d post some ways to help us Sabbath better.

First, we believe that our work, our vocation is a good gift from God. Work is a part of the good creation. God works and it was very good. He gives man and woman work to do, together, and it was good (Gen. 1:26-31, 2:15-24). While work is affected by sin (Gen. 3:17-19), just like everything else in the world, it still is good. Not as good at it could be, but it is still good.

As author Steven Garber says, our work is “integral not incidental” to our discipleship. Meaning, our work is one of the ways in which we live out following Jesus, and it’s used by God to grow us in the grace and truth of the Gospel.

Our work is also used by God to serve and care for others, what theologians call Common Grace. As Martin Luther said, “God is milking the cows through the vocation of the milkmaid.” We serve God and our neighbor in and through our work.

There is more that could be said about the biblical view of our work, but hopefully this gives you some encouragement and a renewed mission and appreciation for your work.

But, as good as work is, as God honoring as work is, as much as it provides not only for our needs, but the needs of others – the common good, we need rest as well. In fact, God desires that we rest. He created work, but He also created rest into the very fabric of creation. While many of us work hard, if you’re like me, we don’t rest very well.

We have so many good things that allow us to do our work from anywhere, check-in at any time, do this quick task… while I’m thinking about it. But, what we find is that these good things that allow us ‘freedom’ also can make us slaves to our work. God in his goodness knew that we would work and work and work until we would kill ourselves, and so he instituted a day of rest, what the Bible calls Sabbath.

We need Sabbath. “The Sabbath was made for man,” (Mark 2:27) as a day of rest and refreshment for the body and of blessing to the soul. The Sabbath offers us rest from work and from business. God’s command of Sabbath was a declaration of freedom from slavery, from the tyranny of work (Deut. 5:12-15). God had freed his people from slavery in Egypt, from a place where they found no rest from their work, now to freedom to rest. It also frees us from busyness because it ‘limits’ productivity. We are commanded by God to trust Him with our time – to allow Him to care for body and soul. It’s counter cultural, it may even seem counter intuitive, and yet God says this is what’s best for you.

Sabbath is not just rest from our work and busyness, but it’s also rest for the enjoyment of God, the freedom we have in the gospel, life in general, and what we have accomplished in the world through God’s help. It’s a day for Worship and enjoyment, finding refreshment in God’s good gifts. It’s also rest for showing mercy. Jesus explains what God means in Hosea 6:6 when He says, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” True faith produces mercy. Of course, mercy or compassion does not make one a Christian. Nevertheless, true faith produces a merciful heart. True Christians are compassionate to the needy—the poor, the immigrants, the cultural outcasts, unstable people, alcoholics, drug addicts, prisoners, etc. Dynamic mercy in all its dimensions is nothing less than the life of Christ in us.

Sabbath is finally most experienced and understood as our rest in Jesus. Jesus declares himself as “Lord of the Sabbath,” and as the Lord of the Sabbath he supplies in his person everything the Sabbath was meant to give—peace, rest, restoration, and communion. Jesus came, not to destroy the Law, but to keep it and fulfill it in everyway. Jesus has come to mercifully meet the needs of his people. As “Lord of the Sabbath” he shows mercy and meets our deepest spiritual needs—regeneration, renewal, peace, restoration, and rest.

Finally, as I promised, here are “Five Ways to Rest” that I have taken from an article by Tim Keller posted on the Q Ideas website. I hope these are helpful as you think and ‘work’ to rest well.

  1. Sheer inactivity – There must be some cessation from activity or exertion. This pause in the work cycle is analogous to Israel’s practice of letting a field lie fallow every seventh year to produce whatever happened to grow (Leviticus 25:1–7). The soil rested so over-farming would not deplete its nutrients and destroy its ability to keep producing. Whatever came up in the soil came up. You need some unscheduled time like that every week to let come up—out of the heart and mind—whatever will.
  2. Time for avocational activity – An avocation is something that is sheer pleasure to you, but that does require some intentionality and gives some structure to your Sabbath rest. In many cases an avocation is something that others do for ”work,” which is analogous to occasionally planting a different crop in a field to replenish the nutrients and make the soil more fertile for its normal crop. Include these elements:
    • You need some contemplative rest. Prayer and worship are a critical part of Sabbath rest, from any perspective. Regular time for devotion, reading the Scripture, and listening to God forms the basis for inner rest and provides time away from the more exhausting exertions of life.
    • You need some recreational rest. The Puritans and others were rightly skeptical of recreations that required spending a great deal of money and time and exertion, because those types of recreations exhaust people. Be careful that recreation really refreshes.
    • You need to include aesthetic rest. Expose yourself to works of God’s creation that refresh and energize you, and that you find beautiful. This may mean outdoor things. It may mean art—music, drama, and visual art. God looked around at the world he made and said it was good, so aesthetic rest is necessary for participating in God’s Sabbath fully.
  3. Consider your Sabbath activities in light of being an extrovert or an introvert – When planning your Sabbath rest, ask yourself what really “recharges” you. This self-assessment can help you determine how relational your Sabbath time should be. Introverts tend to spend their energy when out with people and recharge their batteries by being alone. Extroverts tend to spend energy in personal work and recharge their batteries by getting out with people. If you are a real introvert, be careful about trying to maintain all of your community-building relationships during your Sabbath time. That would be too draining. On the other hand, relationship building could be one of the greatest things a true extrovert could possibly do. Don’t try to imitate an introvert’s Sabbath rhythms if you are an extrovert or vice versa! Recognize that some avocational activities take you into solitude, while some take you out into society.
  4. Don’t necessarily count family time as Sabbath – Do a realistic self-assessment of “family time” and how it affects you. Family time is important, but parents need to be very careful that they don’t let all of their regular Sabbath time be taken up with parental responsibilities.
  5. Honor both micro and macro-rythems in your seasons of rest – Israel’s Sabbath cycles of rest-and-work included not only Sabbath days but also Sabbath years and even a Year of Jubilee every forty-nine years (Leviticus 25:8–11). This is a crucial insight for workers in today’s world. It is possible to voluntarily take on a season of work that requires high energy, long hours, and insufficient weekly- Sabbath time. If you must enter a season like this, it should not last longer than two or three years at the most. Be accountable to someone for this, or you will get locked into an “under-Sabbathed” life-style, and you will burn out. And during this “under-Sabbathed” time, do not let the rhythms of prayer, Bible study, and worship die. Be creative, but get it in.

The Sabbath is a sign of the hope that we have in the world to come. Let’s Sabbath well together, and in so doing, proclaim this hope until He comes again!

From Generation to Generation

vision[1]This past Sunday, January 31 was our annual Congregational Meeting. I closed my pastors’ report with the following thoughts…

Two weeks ago we celebrated two milestones in the life of this congregation. We celebrated 40 years of God’s faithfulness as a church, 40 years as the people of God; Covenant Community Presbyterian. 40 years of ministry, that by God’s grace has touched thousands of lives. We also celebrated 15 years as two congregations coming together as one. We celebrated renewal; we celebrated new life. The Lord has been faithful over these 40 years by sustaining this covenant community, many times in spite of us. There have been challenges over the years, some more significant than others. Some that divided, some that were merely an annoyance. And yet, the Lord has been faithful.

The Lord has been faithful, is faithful, and will be faithful. He calls us to be faithful to him, and to one another. We have celebrated 40 years, now it is time for us to plan for the next 40 years. It’s time to build upon the foundation that has been laid.

Themes from the weekend that were shared, that showed how some things haven’t changed all that much were… close community, family, kids running you over, etc. It’s comforting to know that those are still evident here. But, I also heard from those who aren’t currently here… past members and pastors alike, “there’s something new happening here, and we like it!” The Lord is doing something new here at Covenant, something that hasn’t happened in the previous 40 years, something that by God’s grace will be a beacon of hope and light that the gospel is the answer in a lost and hurting world.

I hope that encourages you. I hope that you see that what the Lord has begun here (by begun, I mean this first 40 years) is something that we should excite us, and led us to pray in earnest that we might have the mind of Christ Jesus among ourselves for the next 40 years. I hope that you will pray with me, and labor with me that we would be the next faithful generation, who leaves a legacy like that which has been given to us. Not a legacy for us, but for the next generation. That we continue, by God’s grace, to build upon the foundation that has been laid.

In the “For The Life of The World” series that we did last Spring in Sunday school, we were reminded that it takes a generation (which in biblical terms is 40-70 years) for meaningful, lasting change to happen. May the Lord give us the strength and the vision to be faithful, perhaps preparing for something that we may never benefit from, but our kids, and their kids after them will. That those who are yet unborn might know the Lord Jesus, and tell their children – because of the ministry that we’ve been faithful to pursue.

Psa. 78:5        He established a testimony in Jacob

and appointed a law in Israel,

which he commanded our fathers

to teach to their children,

6          that the next generation might know them,

the children yet unborn,

and arise and tell them to their children,

7          so that they should set their hope in God

and not forget the works of God,

but keep his commandments

The Gospel & Sexuality


This past Sunday in our series “In the Meantime: A life of faith, love, and hope” I preached from 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8. In this letter Paul reminds the Thessalonians and us to abstain from sexual immorality. The reason we need this reminder is we often disregard God’s will for sexual morality. Paul says that the will of God is our sexual morality: for our sanctification, with self-control, and for our brothers and sisters in Christ. You can listen to the message here.

Since our worship services are generationally mixed, and we have a varying degree of ages listening, I stayed fairly broad, and wasn’t too specific. With that in mind, here are a few things that I would have said.

  1. While it may have been uncomfortable to have our kids listening to this sermon (I got some questions when we got home!), our kids need to hear their church talking about sexuality from a biblical perspective. They need instruction at home, but also from the church. They need to hear that our sexuality is a good gift from God, sex is good, but there are boundaries God has placed around it. They need to know that the Bible says that husbands and wives are to enjoy one another sexually, that the Bible isn’t prudish about sex, and there is great freedom to explore the joy of sex and their sexuality within the bond of marriage.
  2. I hope that my message didn’t misrepresent what God has given us in his word in terms of whom this applies to. It applies to everyone… single (homosexual or heterosexual), divorced, widowed, unhappily married, and happily married. God’s will is for our sexual morality. That means that singles are to be celibate. Those who are divorced or widowed are to remain celibate as well, unless they remarry. Those who are both unhappily and happily married are to have their sexual needs meet only by their spouse. This means self-control and self-denial. It means not merely just abstaining from sex outside of marriage or outside of your marriage, but abstaining from pornography, emotional affairs, and all other ‘passion of lust’ as Paul describes it. For some, abstaining will be fairly easy, for others, it’s as if they are holding back the force of Niagara Falls. Either way, Jesus says his disciples must deny themselves daily, take up their crosses, and follow him. Some of those crosses will be much heavier than others. But, Jesus also says that his grace is sufficient, and he will bear that weight with us. He is the one that gives us the strength to live according to God’s will, to live a holy life.
  3. Sexual immorality in the Bible is defined as anything outside of a one man, one-woman bond in marriage. When we seek sexual pleasure or intimacy in any other relationship, other than this, we are going against the will of God. As Scott Sauls points out in his book, Jesus Outside The Lines, “Sex between husband and wife points to the ultimate union: the union between Christ and his bride, the church. It also points to the wedding feast promised to believers in the new heaven and new earth as well as the ‘happily ever after’ we will enjoy with Jesus the Bridegroom.” When sex is found anywhere outside of God’s will, we distort the picture of what God has given us to remind us that in Christ, we are in the ultimate union.
  4. As we apply the gospel to our sexuality, there will be issues that we must wrestle with. Some will be spouses who have Alzheimer’s, are paralyzed, physically can’t have intercourse, or other issues that keep them from engaging in sex. And, while those are heartbreaking, and require much grace, there is probably nothing greater in requirement than the surrender a gay man or woman must do to apply the gospel to their sexuality – to surrender all romantic longings to Jesus. While the pain and struggle maybe similar to singles who wish to be married, or those who are in a nonsexual marriage, the struggle of the gay man or woman is much more difficult. While others have the possibility of having their sexual desires met by their future (or current) spouse, that possibility doesn’t exist for a same-sex-attracted Christian. Their surrender to Jesus can feel in this area of their life, like a lifelong prison sentence. This is where the Church needs to begin with much love and compassion, and maintain compassion. This isn’t a ‘just get over it’ sense of loss; it’s one that only Jesus can heal, it he may not heal it in this life.
  5. When Paul exhorts the Thessalonians not to “transgress and wrong his brother in this matter” an application that I didn’t speak to was how this applies to sexual misconduct with children. We must address this, and say that as our brothers and sisters in Christ (little ones, but still brothers and sisters), they are not to be transgressed or wronged in this way. To have to say this, shows how deceitful our hearts can be, and as the Church, we must not provide an environment where this is happens – ever.
  6. Finally, as I said in my sermon, there is nothing in heaven, on earth, or under the earth – nothing – that can keep you away from the love of God in Christ Jesus. We believe that so strongly here at Covenant Community, that nothing can keep you from our love and fellowship. If you are struggling with sexual sin of any kind, please don’t keep that struggle bottled up inside, don’t keep it to yourself, because it will explode – either in destructive ways sexually, or in deep depression. Neither of those will give you what you desire. Only in Jesus can your deepest desires and longings be met. Please come to an elder, a Christian friend, a counselor, or me. There are other resources as well that I would suggest you seek, such as Harvest USA. We have a local office here in Pittsburgh, and they help individuals who are struggling with sexual sin, find hope and freedom in Christ. If you are in need of other resources, I’d be happy to help.

May these words from Jude 1:24-25 give you great hope and steadfastness. “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen”

The Year That Was… The Year To Come

This past Sunday, January 18 was our annual congregational meeting. I gave my pastor’s report as part of the meeting. After reviewing highlights of 2014, and sharing a few items to look forward to in 2015, I closed with the following thoughts…

Philippians 2:1-11

As I just mentioned, this year marks the 40th Anniversary of the founding of Covenant Community Presbyterian Church. The Lord has been faithful in over these 40 years by sustaining this covenant community, many times in spite of us. There have been challenges over the years, some more significant than others. Some that divided, some that were merely an annoyance. And yet, the Lord has been faithful.

I want to draw your attention to this… the Lord is faithful. Do you realize that this congregation as existed as long as the people of Israel were in the wilderness? What was their consistent complaint? Is God there, what is God doing, what has he done? They quickly forgot the past work of God, and lost sight of His promises, and yet God was faithful. Christ builds his church, he will continue to bless as we continue to participate in the Spirit. Philippians 2 is the call of the Church, to lay down our lives for one another and for the lost, as Christ laid down his life for us.

The leadership understands that this past year has been challenging for some as we seek to integrate Spanish into our Worship. We realize that we could have done things differently and better at times, but there is no blueprint for this. This isn’t something that many churches seek to do because it’s not easy. We weren’t seeking to do it, but God in his providence brought people into our life, and we are actively engaging what God is doing. That’s what we did with Pastor Mark as well, actively engaged the opportunity that God brought to us. The Lord is doing something new here at Covenant, something that hasn’t happened in the previous 40 years, something that by God’s grace will be a beacon of hope and light that the gospel is the answer in a lost and hurting world. That as Jesus prayed on the night before dying for us, that we would be one, just as the father and son are one – so that the world would see and believe that Jesus is God the son.

Do you know that there are churches all over the country and even around the world praying for us? Praying that we might, by God’s grace, see something happen here that defies worldly wisdom. You know why they’re praying? Because in the work that God is doing here, they see hope. They see that a church in a predominately white, middle class denomination in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, might be a model for the rest, might give a road map for restoration and reconciliation. Of people coming together from every tribe, tongue, and nation to be Christ’s church on earth as it is in heaven. This church, which 40 years ago was, the first church planted in the PCA north of the Mason Dixon Line, might once again be a pioneer in our denomination.

I hope that encourages you. I hope that you see that what the Lord has begun here is something that we should be excited about, and praying in earnest that we might have the mind of Christ Jesus among ourselves.

On this Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, I think it’s right to remind us that the dream Dr. King spoke of is not yet a reality, not even in our churches, where Jesus says it must be. Where the gospel gives the answers. My prayer for this coming year is that as a congregation we might continue to actively engage what the Lord is doing, and that we’d have the grace and mercy to lay down our lives for one another, that the world might see a glimpse of the dream. The dream of the Apostle John… that all peoples would be one in Christ, that we would worship him together… and as we pray that it might be here on earth as it is in heaven.

They Sang A New Song… Bilingual Reflections

Revelation 5:9-10Bilingual Service

And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.” (ESV)

Y entonaban este nuevo cántico:

«Digno eres de recibir el rollo escrito
y de romper sus sellos,
porque fuiste sacrificado,
y con tu sangre compraste para Dios
gente de toda raza, lengua, pueblo y nación.
10 De ellos hiciste un reino;
los hiciste sacerdotes al servicio de nuestro Dios,
y reinarán sobre la tierra.» (NVI)

As I reflect on worship yesterday, I’m overwhelmed with the glory and goodness of God! If you had the privilege of worshiping at Covenant Community yesterday, you know what I mean. Not only did we have the opportunity to come together in corporate worship of our God and Savior, as we do every week, but we were able to experience a unique foretaste of eternity. As Revelation 5:9 tells us, we will sing a new song before the throne of Jesus with every tribe, language, people, and nation represented! While we didn’t have everyone represented… we had people representing many different nations, as well as several languages. We were able to worship in two of those languages, and it was beautiful. Not because it was different, but because it reflected the glory of God! It reflected his glorious design of people and language. It reflected his glorious design for the Church, to be united in Christ, even though there are obvious differences of culture and language.

Yesterday was also such a blessing because we got to see and experience the church being the church! Beginning early in the morning for several hours, we were intervening through prayer seeking justice for those who have no voice, participating in 40 Days For Life. We were able to gather for education, worship, and fellowship. As a community we were able to show hospitality to many guests who were with us for the first time. Many also served one another in various ways from teaching, leading in song, preparing food, setting up, and cleaning up. It was a day of the body working together and serving one another. While this is not unique for Covenant, yesterday was unique in that we saw this so clearly and vividly in one day!

As we look back on this day, I hope that it would not be something that we look back on and say, “That was a nice thing we did.” I pray that we’d see it as a defining point in our history as a church, and that we’d look back and see it as a “A great thing that the Lord has done, and it is marvelous in our eyes!”




Covenant DNA: God’s Design For His Church

CovenantDNA2Church… when we say that word we’re usually referring to the building or place we go to attend a service or other religious gathering. But, Jesus and the New Testament writers seem to believe that church is much more dynamic than that. The Greek word ‘ekklasia’ which is translated as ‘church’ literally means ‘called out ones.’ The church of Jesus are ‘called out’ disciples who are to love one another, and be ambassadors of Jesus in the world.

As we start the new year, we’ll be starting a new sermon series; Covenant DNA. We’ll explore the ‘Why’, ‘How’, and ‘What’ a community of believers is called to be and do, and how we as Covenant Community Church believe God is calling us to live that out in this particular place, at this particular time.

If you’re new to the area, looking for a church home, or are just curious about Christianity and/or the Church… please join us! You’re always welcome at Covenant Community!

Keeping Christ In Christmas

I know it’s nothing new, but it seems to be hitting new highs the past few years, people getting all bent out of shape because someone wishes them “Happy Holidays” or using “Merry Xmas” instead of Merry Christmas. There’s even a group who’s called for a boycott of Radio Shack because they use Happy Holidays in their advertising instead of Merry Christmas.

Now this seems really silly because the word Holiday actually is a shortened form of Holy Day. So, when someone wishes you a ‘happy holiday’ they’re actually wishing you a happy holy day! That’s cool. And the X in Xmas is actually the X of the Chi Rho, which is the first two Greek letters in the word Christ. So, the X is the first letter of Christ. So, he’s there, whether you know it or not.

But, where I think we need to look more closely as we consider ‘keeping Christ in Christmas’ is how we view Santa. I know, I’m on thin ice here, but please hear me out. I’m not saying that people who ‘believe’ in Santa are evil, that Santa is evil, or as the Church Lady on SNL might have said, “Satan.” But, I do think Santa can be confusing if we don’t explain him truthfully to our kids. This has been made clear to me this year as our 3-year-old Sam has been struggling to understand this ‘jolly old elf.’

Here’s what I mean. Santa brings presents if you’re good, they magically appear, and you get whatever you want from Santa because he grants your every wish and wildest dreams. While I understand the fantasy and fun behind that, how does that help us understand the realities of the world in light of who Jesus is and what He has said? After all, we want to keep The Christ in Christmas… right?

In her blog post, ‘Why My Family Says ‘No’ to the Santa Clause Myth’ Tara Samples makes some interesting and good observations. She explains, “We have chosen to say “no” to Santa based on our faith, our understanding of social psychology, and commitment to economic justice. Our decision is not driven by some “trendy theory” about pushing children into a world of reality or disapproval of imagination. I’m quite fond of promoting childhood expeditions into fantasy (and believe it’s good for their developing brain and spirit). We aren’t anti-Santa because of anger. The jolly old elf brought a lot of joy into my life when I believed, but as an adult I have discovered Santa’s magic is a poor imitation of God’s grace and his mythology brings joy to only a privileged few.”

While it seems that Megyn Kelly of Fox News is the only one who thinks that Jesus is white, I don’t think she’s the only one who confuses what Christmas is about. Is Christmas about Jesus and Santa? We’d all say no, but that’s really what we’re saying when we go so far out of the way to make the myth of Santa a reality. Can we have fun with Santa, and pretend about Santa, sure. Pretending is still fun, still ‘magic’ but it’s not true. And that’s where we need to draw the line. We need to help our kids know that Jesus is the TRUTH. It’s all about him. All reality is about him. All our celebrations are because of him. Everything we do is because of him. Christmas included.

Think about it… Santa brings gifts because you’re good – you EARN them. Is that a gift? Does that reflect the gospel? Santa’s gifts are poor in comparison to the gift of Christ. Gifts are good and fun, but aren’t they just as good and fun… and appreciated if you know the giver? We can’t know Santa, and so we can’t be grateful to him, or thankful for him. We can know God in Christ, and so we’re grateful and thankful, and learn to give and love others because he first loved us and gave himself for us.

Like I said before, I don’t think Santa is evil. As a family we have fun with Santa, but we don’t ‘believe’ in Santa. I don’t think people who do the Santa thing are bad or evil. But, I would ask you to think about why you do it, and what message it’s sending your kids? Is it helping to point to Jesus and clarify the good news of great joy, or does it make Jesus a little bit harder to see and hear in Christmas?

If we really want to keep Christ in Christmas, focusing on Jesus is the best place to begin.

Can We Trust The Bible?

WTBSA...We’ve just begun our new series titled, “What The Bible Says About…” Throughout this series we’ll be looking at what the Bible says about different issues that are often brought up in opposition to the Bible itself, Christianity in general, and ultimately the existence of God. We’ll be looking at such topics as Marriage, Science, The Character of God, Slavery, Women, Hell, Oppression, Violence, the existence of Evil, and several others. While many of these topics can’t be exhausted in a sermon or two, my hope is that we’ll at least get a good foundational understanding of what the Bible has to say, and that it might spur us on to even more study of some or all of these topics.

As I was thinking and praying about what our next sermon series would be following Mark, I kept seeing different statements about the Bible in reference to different social issues that called into question the reliability of the Bible. Several had to do with the notion that the Bible condones, and even encourages many different alternatives to the idea of marriage being between one man and one woman. As I read a letter to the editor in the Cranberry Eagle a couple of months ago, the individual was in a sense laughing at the idea of Biblical marriage because in his words, the Bible gives examples of all kinds of alternatives to what is commonly said to be Biblical marriage. Then there were the posts on Facebook questioning the biblical ideal; some posted by those I know to be Christians. And it’s not just marriage. It seems that I can’t have a conversation, read my Facebook newsfeed, read blogs or the paper without someone questioning if we should really listen to what the Bible says… even those who claim to be Christians. It seems that if we don’t like what the Bible says, or how it’s said, then we have the authority to dismiss it or rework it.

So, to begin this series, instead of just jumping into one of these topics, I thought that we should first ask the question, “Can we trust the Bible?” Do we have reason to trust what it says about these topics? Can modern people, trust an ancient book for wisdom on living in the world today? What makes the Bible different? Is it different?

I hope you’ll engage this series, either through worshiping with us on Sunday morning, or by listening online. Either way, it’s my prayer that you’ll be both challenged and encouraged as we engage these, and other questions… What The Bible Says About…?

Sermon: Can We Trust The Bible?

How Are You Using Holy Week?

If you’re like me, you’re not reflecting as much as you should on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. You see a bunch of other stuff gets our focus. And it’s not just our ‘everyday’ lives. Last night was my (geek alert) fantasy baseball draft, which while not consuming as much time as usual (it is Holy Week after all) it did take up some valuable time. There are birthdays, family needs, and a whole lot of stuff going on, both in our country and in our denomination that I want to read about. All those are actually important things (well, maybe not fantasy baseball, but that can be debated), but they can be a distraction… if we let them.

I was reminded of this in two ways this week. First, I got an excellent reminder from my Alma Mater, Covenant Theological Seminary (see below) that every aspect of our lives is an opportunity to not just reflect on, but experience what Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection really means for a broken world, and a redeemed sinner like me.

all of life redeemed

Text reads: Jesus rose from the grave to redeem all of life. Not just our Sundays.

Second, I’ve been reading John Stott’s excellent devotional, “Through the Bible, Through the Year.” Today I caught up on a few (yes, pastors fall behind too), and one of them was Mark 14:1-11 where Mary anoints Jesus with almost a year’s wages worth of perfume. Many at the dinner saw it as a complete and utter waste, but not Jesus. Stott points out a few things that I needed to be reminded of. Her act was one of costly devotion, and a beautiful thing. Stott doesn’t comment on this, but I was struck with the fact that this was Mary (as John tells us in his gospel), the sister of Lazarus who had just been raised from the dead. She still doesn’t realize that Jesus is going to die for her and the sin of the world, and will rise again. But, she’s witnessed resurrection power in the life of someone she loved dearly, and it moved her to worship Jesus with costly devotion. Also, he points out “she did what she could according to her resources, while recognizing that other people serve Jesus in other ways.”

How do those two things fit together? May I suggest that while it’s good to take time to reflect during Holy Week (and any week for that matter), Jesus didn’t live, die, and rise again for us to merely reflect upon it. He came to save sinners, that we might be ‘in Christ,’ united to Him. He came to give us life! Life lived in costly devotion to Him; serving Him in the unique ways he’s gifted us and positioned us.

So, wherever you are, or whatever you’re doing – school, work, home, play, and yes church, remember that your life, all of life, has been redeemed by the blood of Christ and the hope of the resurrection compels us to costly devotion. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1Cor. 10:31)… and by doing that, we’ll be preparing our hearts and minds for the wondrous love of God in Christ Jesus displayed in his death and resurrection this Easter… because, it’s not just for Sundays.