Rev. Rhoda's Weekly Sermons


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(Sermon as Written)


Matthew 18:15-17 (NIV)

If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

 We have had a summer of very light sermons.  We have looked at some of our favorite hymns.  As we go through this list, we find they are encouraging and uplifting.  We walk away from both the sermon and the songs feeling better about our God and even ourselves.  Now I am going to leave preaching and am heading into meddling.  I want to look at what I am calling “Sins of the Church.”  I am referring here to the universal church.  These are sins that seem to pervade every church organization, ones that we as Christians have trouble avoiding for as long as there have been Christians.

We don’t like to talk about sins, especially if they are sins of which we are guilty.  In fact, we might even prefer to miss church so that we don’t have to suffer through tougher revelations.  If we truly love the Lord with all our heart, we will want to learn what pleases him and what displeases him, even the tough things.

The first topic I want to deal with is exactly when should we correct someone regarding their behavior or attitude and what is the Biblical way of doing it.  The Universal Church throughout history has been accused of judgmentalism, a public and vocal stand against what it believes is wrong behavior.  Sometimes this behavior has even been done in the name of evangelism.  Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians, What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?” (1 Corinthians 5:12 NIV)  In other words, we have no right to judge anyone who does not claim to be a Christian.  I am sure if you work as a judge or if you serve on jury, you are exempt from this.  But think how much judgment the Universal Church has administered to the rest of the world.  For centuries, the church has been trying to inflict its morals on the rest of the world.  Now getting personal, how often have you or how often have I judged someone who does not claim Jesus Christ as Savior?

OK, so let us assume we never judge anyone outside the church.  What is our guide to inside the church?  In the passage where Paul is making the statement I have already quoted, he is judging a Christian for a sin that is “of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate.” (1 Corinthians 5:1b NIV)  For example, we know that murder and theft are both considered wrong by our pagan government.  Certainly, Christians should not be involved in such actions.  In the case of Corinthian church, there was a member who was sleeping with his father’s wife.  Although this is not against the law in our society, most pagans here would also have a problem with that situation as well.  Paul’s concern is that Christ’s church is called to higher standards than the society in which it exists.  Persons who claim to be Christians should not be involved in actions which the pagan world considers wrong.  

Such behavior should be addressed by those who are spiritual.  In Galatians 6:1 we read Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.” (NIV) 

We have several clues in this verse about talking to someone about what they have done:  1) they must be caught in the sin; 2) the confronter must be living by the spirit; and 3) he or she is to do it gently.  In another letter, Paul tells us that we are to speak the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15 NIV)

Does caught in the sin mean that the Christian is involved in an ongoing altercation or does it mean there are witnesses?  I tend to think it is an ongoing sin.  However, I think the second issue is more important.  Is your life spirit led?  How many hours a day do you spend talking with God, listening for his voice?  Listening to the wisdom of other Christians and reading your Bible?  There must be a constant communication with God the Father to be a Spirit-Driven life.  To truly understand how difficult this might be, try for just one day to ask God—“What should I do next?” before proceeding to anything else.  Then take the time to listen to his response.  I find this a very difficult task; and I’m actually employed in the work of his church.

We must have a good knowledge of the sin, all the facts.  We must be leading a spirit driven life and the last item deals with the method of addressing the issue.  This last item has to do with the presentation—gently and with the love of Christ.  In addition, the Gospel lesson tells us how.  “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.”  (Matthew 18:15 NIV)  Jesus said you must go to your brother or sister in Christ and talk just between the two of you.  Here I believe is the greatest violation among Christians.  They will talk to their friends, they might write notes to the person (sometimes signed and sometimes unsigned), and they will write notes to others.  But to go and talk to their brother or sister?  

It was just about this time last year that I made mention of a problem here in this church.  There had been a rash of unsigned notes and information passed through others during the summer.  I pay little attention to these types of communication because I know to do so is against God’s word.  But it had started to affect someone else and I had finally spoken out.  After my presentation, Sharon found an article that suggested that pastor’s should have someone in the congregation to intercept all such communications as a protection for the pastor.  People, there are so many grey areas in Scripture—at least grey to us, ones that could be taken more than one way.  I have just mentioned one concerning the idea of being “caught in sin.”  But nowhere in Scripture is the Christian given permission to simply send a note or a letter.  If one does not have the courage to speak personally with the one who they feel has sinned, then they should let it go.

If you go to that person and talk, you might find out you have the facts wrong or your perspective might have to change.  Stephen Covey in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People tells us “Our paradigms, correct or incorrect, are the sources of our attitudes and behaviors, and ultimately our relationships with others.”[i]  We are uncomfortable with change.  We like to hang on to our paradigms whether they are correct or incorrect.  Paradigms don’t change if you only complain to others or write a letter or note.  But if you speak privately with the person whom you believe is in the wrong, there is a chance you will need to change the source of your attitude.

Mr. Covey tells a story to illustrate his point about a change of information changing his attitude.  “I remember a mini-paradigm shift I experienced one Sunday morning on a subway in New York.  People were sitting quietly—some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed.  It was a calm.

“Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car.  The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed. 

“The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation.  The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers.  It was very disturbing.  And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing. 

“It was difficult not to feel irritated.  I could not believe that he could be so insensitive as to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all.  It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too.  So finally, with what I felt was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, ‘Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people.  I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?’ 

“The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, ‘Oh, you’re right.  I guess I should do something about it.  We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago.  I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.’ 

Can you imagine what I felt at that moment?  My paradigm shifted.  Suddenly I saw things differently, and because I saw differently, I thought differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently.  My irritation vanished.  I didn’t have to worry about controlling my attitude or my behavior; my heart was filled with the man’s pain.  Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely.  ‘Your wife just died?  Oh, I’m so sorry!  Can you tell me about it?  What can I do to help?’  Everything changed in an instant.”[ii] 

God created us and he knows better than anyone how our minds work.  He said, “Go to that person and talk with them privately.”  Speak gently and in Christian love.  And make it a conversation.  Saying what you have to say and then leaving is not talking with that person. 

If Mr. Covey had fumed behind his own newspaper instead of addressing the man, he would have returned home full of irritation.  Yet he didn’t.  He was filled with compassion.  If Christians want to be seen as very different people, people who are free from many of the negative feelings we have against others, we need to follow the instructions of Jesus.  Otherwise, we are no different from the pagan world.  This would truly set us apart.  “Go and talk privately with that person.”  

Let’s pray. 


[i] Covey, Stephen R. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  New York, NY:  1989.

[ii] Ibid.



(Sermon, "GOD WILL TAKE CARE OF YOU" as Preached)

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(Sermon as Written)

1 Peter 5:5b-11 (NIV)

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.


I am going to do something a little different this morning. You know, I love to do that just to keep you on your toes. Today, I am not going to read for you from the New International Version, but from the Scripture paraphrase called The Message. I am using a passage of Scripture written by Paul that is a little more difficult to understand. You know even Peter had problems understanding Paul sometimes because Peter wrote “His letters,” that is Paul’s, “contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16b NIV)  


One Sunday in 1904, Walt was scheduled to preach some distance from the Bible School in Lestershire, NY, where he was spending several weeks to make a songbook for the president of that school.  His wife, Villie, was confined to bed with illness.  Walt wanted to cancel his trip out of concern for his wife.  While Walt and Villie were discussing the matter, their nine-year-old son entered the conversation.  “Father,” he said, “don’t you think that if God wants you to preach today, He will take care of Mother while you are away?”  Can you imagine the response of this Baptist Minister?  The Psalmist wrote Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.”  (Psalm 8:2 KJV)  Or, as Eugene Peterson wrote in the Message, “Nursing infants gurgle choruses about you; toddlers shout the songs that drown out enemy talk, and silence atheist babble.” (Psalm 8:2 the Message)  


Rev. Walter Stillman Martin went to that preaching engagement.  When he returned home that evening, his wife’s condition was greatly improved.  She handed him a poem she had written during the day, inspired by the words of her son.  Within an hour, Walter sat down at his little Bilhorn organ and wrote the music.  “That very evening a couple of other teachers at the school came by, and they all sang the song together. Later in the week it was sung at one of the school assemblies, and the suggestion was made for it to be included in the new hymnbook. Thus, it was first published in 1905 in ‘Songs of Redemption,’ compiled by Martin and John A. Davis.”[i]  Today we still sing “God Will Take Care of You.” 


I found that Civilla Durfee Martin has composed the words to 471 hymns which she wrote as poems that were put to music.  She has written another hymn with which this congregation is very familiar.  Don Fernandez has sung it for us several times.  “His Eye is on the Sparrow.”  “She once reflected, ‘I wrote the song 'His Eye Is on the Sparrow' in the company of a bedridden saint in the city of Elmira, New York. I was reading and singing to her; and during our conversation, I chanced to ask her if she did not sometimes get discouraged. This is when she responded about God's care for the sparrow. Her answer prompted me to find paper and pencil, and in a very short time I had completed the poem.’”[ii]


The theme of both songs is concerning God’s care for us.  Peter says Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”  (1 Peter 5:7 NIV)  Using this verse from 1 Peter and others, Matthew 6:25, Psalm 84:11 and Romans 8:28, Matthew Henry created the following paraphrase, “Throw your cares, which are so cutting and distracting, which wound your souls and pierce your hearts, upon the wise and gracious providence of God; trust in him with a firm composed mind, for he careth for you. He is willing to release you of your care, and take the care of you upon himself. He will either avert what you fear, or support you under it. He will order all events to you so as shall convince you of his paternal love and tenderness towards you; and all shall be so ordered that no hurt, but good, shall come unto you.”[iii]


There are three important messages in this verse.  1)  First, Peter says to cast ALL your cares on God.  2) Secondly, when we labor under anxiety, we are distracted from doing what God calls us to do. And 3) three, if we do not give them over to God’s care, we are telling God we don’t trust him.  


First, cast all your cares.  The author wants us to know that God cares about everything.  In Matthew, Jesus says “And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”  (Matthew 10:30 NIV)  I often think of that verse as I am combing my hair and one of those long ones come out.  Believing that God has a sense of humor, I frequently ask him, “Lord, have you subtracted this one out?”  God knows you have personal cares, family cares, cares for the present, cares for the future, cares for yourself, cares for others, and cares for the church.  God wants them all.  He doesn’t separate your spiritual life from your physical life.  He doesn’t separate your relationships with Christians with your relationship with non-Christians.  He wants all your cares.


Secondly, when we labor under our cares, we become distracted from what we have been called to do.  A perfect example of this is in the story about this song.  Rev. Martin was about to cancel his speaking engagement.  It took a child to remind him of God’s ability to protect his mother.  No wonder Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3 NIV)  If you are like me, you worries have affected your health.  How many sleepless nights have we spent because we couldn’t shut down the worry center?


Lastly, casting our cares on him is trust!  Peter didn’t write, give your cares to God.  He said cast.  Cast here means to throw something forcefully in a specified direction.  He means we are to get rid of it!  Our something is our cares and our specified direction is at God.  Next time you pray about your worries, imagine yourself throwing bricks as hard as you can in God’s direction.  He can handle it.  You have to trust him.


And then, don’t pick them back up.  Do you really want to tell God “Oh, by the way, I’m taking these problems back on because I don’t really believe I can trust you with my problems?  I think I can do a much better job of handling these things that are wrong.  Who do you think you are after all, God?”  I am so glad God is gracious as well as a father who cares, who counts the number of hairs on my head.


Once, when I was on crutches, Sawyer and Eve were with me at a strip center.  After I finished shopping, we had some extra time before we were to meet Grandpa.  I let the kids play for a while; and I laid my crutches against a tree and sat down in the driver’s seat of my car.  After about 20 minutes, we took off to meet Grandpa for dinner.  Since I did not have to stand, I had left the crutches there.  I did not discover it until I was in the Wendy’s parking.  I had the kids tell Grandpa that I was going to look for the crutches as I sent them into the restaurant.  But Sawyer didn’t stop with the message to Grandpa.  He added, “Let’s pray right now that the crutches are still there.”  A little 6-year-old boy taught me a lesson that day about casting all cares.


God wants all your cares.  He wants you focused on doing what he has asked you to do and not your problems.  He wants you to throw everything his direction to prove that you truly trust him to handle all things.


Let’s pray.  


[ii] Ibid.




(Sermon, "HOPE IN HEAVEN" as Preached)

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RE:  "Victory in Jesus" 


(Sermon as Written)

I am going to do something a little different this morning. You know, I love to do that just to keep you on your toes. Today, I am not going to read for you from the New International Version, but from the Scripture paraphrase called The Message. I am using a passage of Scripture written by Paul that is a little more difficult to understand. You know even Peter had problems understanding Paul sometimes because Peter wrote “His letters,” that is Paul’s, “contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16b NIV)

Because this passage of Paul’s is a little hard to understand, I am going to use The Message. “The Message is not a translation, nor can it strictly be said to be a paraphrase of the original languages of the Bible. Peterson’s goal in creating The Message, in his own words, was to ‘bring the New Testament to life for two different types of people: those who hadn't read the Bible because it seemed too distant and irrelevant and those who had read the Bible so much that it had become ‘old hat’.’” No matter which group you are a part of, I am going to read this version. 

2 Corinthians 5:1-10 (the Message)

1-5 For instance, we know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not handmade—and we’ll never have to relocate our “tents” again. Sometimes we can hardly wait to move—and so we cry out in frustration. Compared to what’s coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we’re tired of it! We’ve been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less.

6-8 That’s why we live with such good cheer. You won’t see us drooping our heads or dragging our feet! Cramped conditions here don’t get us down. They only remind us of the spacious living conditions ahead. It’s what we trust in but don’t yet see that keeps us going. Do you suppose a few ruts in the road or rocks in the path are going to stop us? When the time comes, we’ll be plenty ready to exchange exile for homecoming.

9-10 But neither exile nor homecoming is the main thing. Cheerfully pleasing God is the main thing, and that’s what we aim to do, regardless of our conditions. Sooner or later we’ll all have to face God, regardless of our conditions. We will appear before Christ and take what’s coming to us as a result of our actions, either good or bad.


Our song for today in our sermon series on the history of songs is “Victory in Jesus.”  For any of you who have been to Fairhaven Rescue Mission, helping to serve and then staying for the worship after the dinner, have heard this song.  It is a favorite in this shelter house for the homeless of Covington.  We feed them physically on the second Saturday of every odd month, and follow that up with spiritual food.  On every visit I have made, the men always choose to sing “Victory in Jesus.”  They sing the song with a refreshing belief in what they sing.

I am going to share with you a video about the history of this hymn.  

Personally, I found this information humbling.  Bartlett couldn’t communicate with speech.  He was partially paralyzed and bedridden.  Yet, somehow he was able to write this hymn.  I was reminded of this passage in Corinthians I read to you as I reflected on Mr. Bartlett’s story.  Compared to what’s coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we’re tired of it!” (2 Cor. 5:1-5 section of the Message)  Any of us who have lived in bodies that haven’t always worked the way we hoped or any of us who have found our bodies less cooperative as we age can truly relate to what Paul is talking about.  Yes, we are tired of it!  But, can we keep our hearts and our minds focused on our resurrection bodies? 

Our friend who has been on our prayer list for some time recent had his surgery.  As a result, he has six weeks where he cannot sit down.  He can lay and he can stand, but he is not allowed to sit.  My heart goes out to him.  Yet, if we were in his shoes, could we truly say with Paul?  We live with such good cheer.  The living conditions here on earth don’t get us down.  It’s who we trust that keeps us going.  And we can do all this because we have “Victory in Jesus.”

We had a very dear friend, Evelyn Michaels.  She had the sweetest disposition of any person that I have ever met.  My children adopted her as their local grandmother and called her Grandma Evelyn.  Eve, who sang this morning, is named Evelyn in her honor.    When Evelyn Michaels was asked how could always stay so positive, she shared her lifelong verse.  Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.” (Isaiah 26:3 KJV)  On what or whom do you stay focused?  Do you find victory in your life over all things? 

We are in a battle, a battle for our minds.  Paul writes “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”  (2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV)  Here the battle language?  We need to set up as our prisoners those selfish thoughts against our knowledge of God.  Fortunately, we know where victory is available.

“But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57 NIV)

Let’s pray. 



(Sermon, "BY THIS GOSPEL" as Preached)

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RE:  "I Love to Tell the Story" 


(Sermon as Written) 

1 Corinthians 15:1-11 (NIV)

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.  For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.


 ‘The Story Told.’ It was dated November 18,1866. …

I am fascinated by the words of Paul, "By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you.  Otherwise, you have believed in vain." (1 Corinthians 15:2 NIV)  "By this gospel..."  The original Greek word translated gospel here is Ευαγγέλιο which means "good news."  Paul then restates the good news, Christ's death for our sins and his resurrection.  This is good news!

But as we look around the world and even in our own country, we are not greeted with any good news.  One must search hard and long to find Good News of any kind.  We learn of the mudslide in Freetown, Sierra Leone, with the death toll as of yesterday afternoon at 467.  We have a terrorist attack in Barcelona, Spain, where 14 were killed and more than 100 injured.  And closer to home, we have our own people rioting in Charlottesville, Virginia, with one dead and 14 injured.  Where is the good news?

Our hymn for this week is "I Love to Tell the Story."  How does this fit into what is happening today?  "Arabella Katherine Hankey was the author of a great poem of some one hundred verses.  This poem was written over a period of nine months and written in two parts.  The first part she called 'The Story Wanted.'  It contained fifty verses and was dated January 29, 1866.  The second part was titled 'The Story Told.'  It was dated November 18, 1866. ...

“Katherine was born … in the upper class of London. Her father was a Banker. She never wanted or needed for the better things in life since her father was very prospersous. Although she could choose her friends from the elite, she had a place in her heart for the poor and hungry people in the poorest parts of London. She and her father were devout Christians. They belonged to the Anglican Church where hymns were not sung and the music was by way of chanting the psalms. The congregation could not take part in the service. The Hankeys were aroused by the great awakening in England. The fires of revival were sweeping over all of England. This movement was started by John Wesley and his brother Charles, who provided the hymns that everyone could sing.

“‘Kate,’ as her friends called her wanted to get involved and Tell the Story of how Jesus saves. She began organizing Sunday School classes throughout London and not only taught each week, but wrote and published poems, and tracts to hand out in her classes. … They taught that everyone had to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Saviour and that they commune with God though personal prayer.

“Kathrine was in her thirties when she became seriously ill and was bedridden for over nine months. It was during this time that she wrote this great poem. ‘Tell Me The Old, Old Story’ was the hymn taken from the first half of the poem and set to music. This hymn, ‘I Love To tell The Story,’ was taken from the second section of the poem and set to music by William G. Fischer.”[i]

By this gospel, the story that Kathrine loved to tell, we are saved.  By this good news, we are saved.  By this story, his story, we are saved.  Today, it is only by this story, we are saved.  Today, it is only by this story, we are saved.  Do you know the story?  Do you know the words of Jesus?

Did you know that Jesus said, "There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven."  (Luke 21:11 NIV)?  Should we be surprised by what is happening in Sierra Leone?  Jesus followed those words up with "But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you.  They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name."  (Matthew 21:12 NIV)  Should it surprise us when ISIS or other terrorists attack Christians?  Did you know that Jesus said, "Fake Messiahs and lying preachers are going to pop up everywhere.  Their impressive credentials and dazzling performances will pull the wool over the wool over the eyes of even those who ought to know better,"? (Matthew 24:24-25 the Message)  Should we be surprised by what is happening in Virginia?  But by this gospel, you will be saved.

What should be our response?  1) Do not worry.  2) Know Jesus Christ and what he says  3) Don't remain silent  4) Help where you can.

DO NOT WORRY!  "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."  (Philippians 4:6 NIV)  "But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves.  For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict."  (Luke 21:14-15 NIV)  Worry is probably the most unproductive thing we do and also the most insulting to our heavenly Father.  We are telling him we don't believe he always has our best in mind.  We are telling him we don't believe he can defend us.  And on and on...  Is that really what you want to say to God Almighty who sent his Son to die for us?

Secondly, KNOW JESUS CHRIST AND WHAT HE SAYS.  Probably the saddest thing Jesus says is "Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you.  Away from me, you evildoers!'" (Matthew 7:23 NIV)  He says this in response to people telling him at the gates of heaven, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?" (Matthew 7:22b NIV)  Could we not rewrite that to now?  Lord, Lord, did we not give food to Fairhaven in your name?  Did we not go to church each Sunday in your name?  Did we not put money in the offering plate in your name?  Did we not help the mission committee serve at Third Presbyterian?  Will he say, "But you never attended a Sunday School class to learn about me and you never were involved in corporate prayer."  Will he say to you "I never knew you"?

DON'T REMAIN SILENT!  Do love to tell the story, the gospel by which you have been saved?  If we knew Jesus was coming back tomorrow, by the way Jesus himself says no one knows that information, but if we did, would we not be telling everyone we knew about how to avoid the final death? By this gospel, you are saved.  If you know the words of Jesus, share those.  Such as "I'm telling you to love your enemies.  Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst.  When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves.  This is what God does.  He gives his bestthe sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless:  the good and bad, the nice and nasty.  If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus?  Anybody can do that." (Matthew 5:44-46 the Message)

Lastly, HELP WHERE YOU CAN.  The Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is already looking how they can help those in Sierra Leone.  So if you gave to the One Great Hour of Sharing last Easter, you have already started to help those in Sierra Leone.  Another way to help is to take a stand against those who preach some other gospel.  Paul wrote to the Galatians "Those who are provoking this agitation among you are turning the Message of Christ on its head.  Let me be blunt:  If one of us—even if an angel from heaven!—were to preach something other than what we preached originally, let him be cursed." (Galatians 1:7-8 the Message)  One of the articles I read called the white supremacists "twisted Christians" because they were claiming the name of Christ for their actions which are completely against Jesus' message of loving.  It is by this gospel and no other that we shall be saved.  In dealing with others, we must remember that we are all sinners.  Those who believe this gospel, this story, have been saved by grace.

Therefore:  Do not worry; Know Jesus Christ and what he says; Don't remain silent; and Help where you can.

Let’s pray.





(Sermon, "RIVER OF LIFE" as Preached)

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RE:  "Shall We Gather at the River"



(Sermon as Written)


We are continuing our sermon series that reflects on the origin of favorite hymns.  Today’s hymn is “Shall We Gather at the River.” The composer and author is Robert Lowry.  Robert Lowry was a devout Baptist who grew up in Philadelphia and became ordained as a Baptist minister.  He served at the Park Avenue Church in Plainfield, NJ, until 1880.  At that time, he took a four year vacation outside of the United States.  Upon arriving home, he removed himself from his pastoral duties.

Lowry was well known as a great composer, “but he would have much rather been known for his preaching than for his hymn writing.  ‘Music, with me has been a side issue,’ Lowery said.  ‘I would much rather preach a gospel sermon to an appreciative audience than write a hymn.  I have always looked upon myself as a preacher and felt a sort of depreciation when I began to be known more as a composer.’  Though Lowry did not want to be known as a composer, he accepted his role as a musical editor in 1885.”[i]

Late one afternoon in 1864, in the midst of the civil war, “Lowry was inside resting from being drained from the heat.  He began to have visions of the river flowing from Christ’s throne.”[ii]


Revelation 22:1-5 (NIV)

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.


“Lowry began to wonder why so many composers had focused on the river of death, and not of the crystal clear waters coming from the river of life, that flowed from the throne of Christ and of the Lamb.  ‘Shall we be among the privileged few who stand before the throne singing the praises of the savior?’ … ‘Yes, we’ll gather.’  After coming to this conclusion, Lowry was so struck by the thought that he immediately awoke and went over to his pump organ and began composing the piece right away.  While the hymn was written in 1864, it wasn’t until 1865 that the hymn was published in his collection of Happy Voices.[iii]

Let’s imagine for just one moment what Lowry was seeing in vision.  Picture the throne of God and the throne of the Lamb.  Are they not one?  How does one picture such a thing?  Then flowing from the throne is this river of life, clear as crystal.  It must be gently flowing water because rushing water turns white.  Then we have one tree, the tree of life that spans the river.  Each month it bears a different kind of fruit and the purpose of the leaves is healing.  There will be no more curses and no more darkness.  The light will come directly from God.  God’s name will be on our foreheads and we will serve him as ruler forever and ever.

If you turned to the passage of Scripture with me, you will have seen the header given to this section.  It reads “Eden Restored.”  I had Richard read that description from Genesis about the river and two trees of Eden that were mentioned in the passage.  The tree-of-knowledge-of-good-and-evil was the tree that was forbidden that dived humanity into sin.  But the tree-of-life was also mentioned.  It is mentioned again at the end of Genesis chapter 3.  And the Lord God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’  After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.”  (Genesis 3:22 & 24 NIV)  The tree of life is once again given to his own.  Heaven is a restoration of perfect Eden!

Sometimes we become so focused on this earthly life that we forget we are simply on a journey.  Consider a car trip to the Florida beaches.  We pack up clothing and things to entertain us during that two day trip.  Kids today may bring their tablet or their Nintendo DS.  In my day, we brought books and car games.  I have taught my grandchildren the old alphabet game, seeing how long it takes us to find the entire alphabet off the billboards and road signs and license plates.  Then we try to beat that record.  On our car trip, we must also stop to eat and to stretch our legs.  We need an overnight stay somewhere, possibly with a pool.  We may even enjoy the scenery and the Smokey mountains as we go through the Cumberland gap.  The driver may be tired and stiff, even getting tired of hearing “Are We There Yet”? from the kids.  But none of what we do will compare with our final destination.

This life is a journey.  Our final destination is the Kingdom of God.  But sometimes we are too focused on the trip.  We complain about our problems or worry about our earthly possessions.  We are heaven bound!  This time here on earth is only the car trip.  We can pack sandwiches for the trip and snacks for the car ride.  Or, we can spend our entire food budget at expensive restaurants along the way and eat only bread and water in heaven.

Jesus tells us to “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  (Matthew 6:19-21 NIV)  Are you investing yourself in the trip along the way?  Or, are you investing yourself in the final destination?  When you meet on that beautiful shore, will you be dressed in finery because you invested in a heavenly wardrobe or dressed in rags because your fine clothes will still be on the earth?

Let’s pray.



[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.



(Sermon, "COME NEAR TO GOD" as Preached)

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RE:  "Just a Closer Walk with Thee"


(Sermon as Written)

James 4:4-10 (NIV)

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

“God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.


We are now in the last month of looking at the reasons hymns and songs were written.  From a very long list of choices, I have a chosen a song rather off the beaten path.  It is a well-known song, but unique from all of the other choices for one important reason.  The song is anonymous. 

According to Wikipedia, “‘Just a Closer Walk with Thee’ is a traditional gospel song that has been covered by many artists. Performed as either an instrumental or vocal, ‘A Closer Walk’ is perhaps the most frequently played number in the hymn and dirge section of traditional New Orleans jazz funerals. The title and lyrics of the song allude to the Biblical passage from 2 Corinthians 5:7 which states, ‘We walk by faith, not by sight" and James 4:8, ‘Come near to God and he will come near to you.

“The precise author of "A Closer Walk" is unknown. Circumstantial evidence strongly suggests it dates back to southern African-American churches of the nineteenth century, possibly even prior to the Civil War, as some personal African American histories recall ‘slaves singing as they worked in the fields a song about walking by the Lord's side.’ Songs with similar chorus lyrics were published in the 1800s, including ‘Closer Walk with Thee’ with lyrics by Martha J. Lankton (a pseudonym for Fanny Crosby) and music by William Kirkpatrick, which was published in 1885. Some references in Atchison, Kansas credit an African-American foundry worker and vocalist, Rev. Elijah Cluke (1907-1974), for the current rendition of the song. ‘Just a Closer Walk with Thee’ became better known nationally in the 1930s when African-American churches held huge musical conventions. In 1940 Kenneth Morris arranged and published for the first time the well-known version after gospel musicians Robert Anderson and R.L. Knowles listened to William B. Hurse direct a performance of it in Kansas City and then brought it to Morris' attention. Morris added some new lyrics and a choral arrangement. In the 1940s, a boom of recordings recorded the number in many genres, ranging from Southern gospel to jazz and brass bands. … By the end of the 1970s, more than a hundred artists had recorded the song.”[i]

“Perhaps no witness is stronger than the now traditional use of the song in New Orleans jazz funerals.  The confluence of French and Spanish martial music placed within the African-American cultural context began near the start of the 20th century.  For the first half of the century the white community did not consider the jazz idiom appropriate for the church and the Catholic Church did not approve of secular music at a funeral.

“Beginning in the 1960s, the practice of the jazz funeral spread across social and ethnic boundaries to the point that it became an honor to have a jazz procession where musicians would participate as a sign of respect for the deceased person.  While not the only song played on the funeral procession from the home, funeral home or church to the cemetery accompanied by family, friends and a brass band, ‘Just a Closer Walk with Thee’ remains the traditional tune most associated with this event, especially as a dirge.”[ii]

The well-known status of this song is also a testament to our own desire of personal intimacy with our God.  When we sing “In the Garden,” we are yearning for the closeness of the relationship with our God.  But the author of “Closer Walk with Thee” truly understands that it is in our weakness that we develop that relationship. 

“God’s friendship is with people who know their poverty. He can accomplish nothing with the person who thinks that he is of use to God.”[iii] None of us have ever been slaves. But in looking at the words of this song, you can sense the hopelessness of such a life.  And so, the author simply wants the walk because he or she has nothing else to offer. 

“As Christians we are not here for our own purpose at all— we are here for the purpose of God, and the two are not the same. We do not know what God’s compelling purpose is, but whatever happens, we must maintain our relationship with Him.”[iv]  Society encourages us to make plans and to pursue our visions.  But when Jesus called the twelve to himself, they had no clue of the future.  They just walked with him, listened to his words and built the relationship.  If they knew the future plans of God, they might not have made that walk.  Can we walk with him in complete poverty?

“We must never allow anything to damage our relationship with God, but if something does damage it, we must take the time to make it right again.”[v]  We crave the intimacy with our God, but seldom take the time to repair the damage.  It probably began, as James puts it, our friendship with the world.  Once we befriend the world we are in opposition to God.  James also tells us that God actually jealously longs for our friendship.  To make it right again, James tells us to “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”  (James 4:7-10 NIV)  This is the cure: humility in the presence of our God, in the terms the author of the song understands. 

I am weak, but Thou art strong, Jesus, keep me from all wrong,
I’ll be satisfied as long As I walk, let me walk close to Thee.
Through this world of toil and snares, If I falter, Lord, who cares?
Who with me my burden shares? None but Thee, dear Lord, none but Thee.

“The most important aspect of Christianity is not the work we do, but the relationship we maintain and the surrounding influence and qualities produced by that relationship. That is all God asks us to give our attention to, and it is the one thing that is continually under attack.”[vi]  We need to join the author of this song in humility and enjoy the walk in his presence even though we may not know where we are going.

Let’s pray.



[iii] Chambers, Oswald.  My Utmost for His Highest.  August 4.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.



(Sermon, "AROUND THE CAMPFIRE" as Preached)

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RE:  "Pass It On"




The flicker of the campfire, the wind in the pines

The moon in the heavens, the stars that shine

A place where people gather make friends of all kind

A place where all man’s troubles are always left behind

So give me the light of the campfire, so warm and so bright

And give me some friends to sing with I’ll be there all night

Love is for those find it. I’ve found my love right here.

Just you and me and the campfire and songs we love to hear

Ba-dom, Ba-da-da-da-da-da-da-da, Ba-dom, Ba-dom.


I had the privilege of spending most of my summers at North Central Camp Cherith.  Camp Cherith was the summer camp for an organization for girls called Pioneer Girls.  It’s motto was “Christ in Every Phase of a Girl’s Life.”  The verse was “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and light unto my path.”  (Psalm 119:105 KJV)  It’s symbol was the open Bible with a candle behind it.  In my childhood there were about 30 camps serving the Pioneer Girls Clubs.  In 1972, I graduated from their CILT program, (Christian in Leadership Training).  I attribute all my self-esteem to Pioneer Girls and Camp Cherith.  It had such a significant impact on me that I took my daughter there when she was 8, serving as junior high counselor—my favorite age.  Next summer I plan to bring Eve and Ella, again counseling junior high. 

The end of each day was spent around a campfire.  We would end our evening activity with much energy, talking and laughing.  But around that campfire, led through a careful chosen set of songs, starting out super silly and bridging into worship, our hearts would be settled into receiving the message.  We would listen, covered with bug spray, to the message with a background of a crackling fire and stare into the flames leaping into the air.  I can relive those moments over and over.  I can even hear some of my favorite messages.  You have heard some of those same messages although we have never had a fire here in the sanctuary. 

As we continue our journey with favorite songs, we come across the song “Pass It On.”  Disciples Ministries writes “If you are a baby boomer, raised in the church, and born in the late 1940s or 1950s, you probably grew up singing Kurt Kaiser’s “Pass It On” around a campfire or at youth group meetings.”[i] 

Mr. Kaiser writes “In 1969, Ralph Carmichael and I collaborated on a musical, Tell It Like It Is.  It was written to get young people involved in the Church.  After reviewing what we had written, we decided there needed to be a closer, a modern ‘Just As I Am’ [a hymn by Charlotte Elliott written in 1835, and a favorite of Evangelicals for altar calls].

“On a Sunday night I was sitting in our den by the fireplace where there were remnants of a fire, and it occurred to me that it only takes a spark to get a fire going…and the rest came very quickly.  My wife suggested that I should say something about shouting it from mountain tops, and that ended up in the third verse.  It only took about 20 minutes to write the lyrics.  Afterwards my wife and I went for a walk, letting the song ruminate in our minds.”[ii]

“This song reflects the power of a simple idea set to a singable tune.  Such songs take on a life that the composer never considered.  Mr. Kaiser notes, ‘I am always amazed how the Lord can take a little song and use it to reach so many people.  It has been sung at countless weddings and funerals, at ordination services, by the Sea of Galilee, in Rhodesia, on the aircraft carrier Enterprise, and lots of camps.’”[iii]

Have you ever thought about Jesus giving a campfire message?  Have you ever wondered about what songs the disciples might have sung?  They must have sat around a campfire many times as they traveled around Galilee and into Judea.  However, we only have one story with Jesus beside a campfire.

It is after the resurrection.  Seven of Jesus’ disciples are sitting beside the Sea of Galilee, perhaps feeling lost because they are uncertain about what they should be doing.  Jesus had told them to go to Galilee and wait for him there.  Like us, they apparently got tired of waiting.  Peter decides to return to what he knows the best and announces that he is going fishing.  The others decide to join him and they go out in the boat.  They fish all night and catch nothing.  As they are returning to the shore, someone calls out to them asking if they have had any luck.  Then this someone tells them to throw out their net on the other side of the boat, probably a difficult thing for a right-handed person.  They net is so full it starts to break.  Because this has happened one other time in the past, Jesus is immediately recognized.  Jesus then builds a campfire.


John 21:9, 15-19 (NIV)

When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. … When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”  “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”  Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”  Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”  He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”  Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”  The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”  Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”  Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”


Now it would be easy to dwell on the fact that Jesus’ is asking Peter three times about his love for himself.  And I truly believe Jesus is asking three times because Peter denied him three times.  But I want to focus on the commands that followed.  “Feed my lambs.” Then “Take care of my sheep.” Next “Feed my sheep.”  Lastly, “Follow me!” 

First, Jesus is asking him to feed lambs, that is, baby sheep, little ones that haven’t developed much in their faith and they need to be feed.  Just like in the example of the children’s sermon.  Our new nature when we first believe is very small and needs feeding.  Peter is asked to feed them.  As they grow, they need care.  Secondly, Peter was commanded to take care of these lambs as they grow into sheep.  Thirdly, the grown-up sheep need to eat as well.  And lastly, remember who is the true shepherd, the good shepherd and follow his example.

We can make this same analogy to the fire.  When one builds a fire, you start with the tinder.  “The tinder is lit, and the kindling is allowed to catch fire. When it is burning briskly, it is broken and pushed down into the consumed tinder, and the larger kindling is placed over the top of the logs. ... Eventually, a pile of kindling burns between two pieces of fuel wood, and soon the logs catch fire from it.”[iv]  Once the wood is burning, then we need to tend the fire to keep it burning.  We will continue to feed a large fire with wood as it is consumed.  Yet, we must never forget our source, the woodpile.  Without keeping a woodpile stocked, our fire will eventually quit and burn out. 

In the song, “Pass It On” we start with a spark, but end shouting it from the mountain tops.  Think of that campfire where Jesus sat with these fishermen and his simple instructions.  Think how far the gospel of Jesus Christ has come from a few men gathered around a fire.  They didn’t have social media or fast traveling vehicles or airplanes to cross the oceans.  They didn’t use an army on horseback.  All they had were the instructions of Jesus and a message of the love of God. 

Let’s pray.


[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.




(Sermon, "REFRESHED EACH MORNING" as Preached)

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RE:  "Great is Thy Faithfulness"


We continue our spiritual journey by looking at hymns and songs that are favorites of this congregation.  Today we will look at the hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” written by Thomas Chisholm.  “You don’t need to be rescued from life-threatening danger or see God’s miraculous provision in the direst of financial crises to truly know the faithfulness of the Lord.  God remains faithful day in and day out in the largest and smallest of circumstances.  Thomas Chisholm wrote ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness’ as a testament to God’s faithfulness through his very ordinary life.”[i]

“A native of the small Kentucky town of Franklin, Thomas Obadiah Chisholm (1866-1960) was born in a log cabin.  He lacked formal education.  Nevertheless, he became a teacher at age sixteen and the associate editor of his hometown weekly newspaper, the Franklin Advocate, at age twenty-one.

“In 1893 Chisholm became a Christian through the ministry of Henry Clay Morrison, the founder of Asbury College and Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky.  Morrison persuaded Chisholm to move to Louisville where he became editor of the Pentecostal Herald.  Though he was ordained as a Methodist minister in 1903, he served only a single, brief appointment at Scottsville, Kentucky, due to ill health.  Chisholm relocated his family to Winona Lake, Indiana, to recover, and then to Vineland, New Jersey, in 1916 where he sold insurance.  He retired in 1953 and spent his remaining years in a Methodist retirement community in Ocean Grove, New Jersey.

“By the time of his retirement, he had written more than 1200 poems, 800 of which were published.”[ii]

“Chisholm explained toward the end of his life, “My income has not been large at any time due to impaired health in the earlier years which has followed me on until now.  Although I must not fail to record here the unfailing faithfulness of a covenant-keeping God and that He has given me many wonderful displays of His providing care, for which I am filled with astonishing gratefulness.”[iii]

His song is inspired by a passage of Scripture from the Old Testament book called Lamentations believed to be written by the prophet Jeremiah.  According to religious tradition, he also wrote the Book of Kings and Book of Jeremiah.

According to Jeremiah 1:2–3, Yahweh called Jeremiah to prophetic ministry in about 626 BC, about five years before Josiah king of Judah turned the nation toward repentance from idolatrous practices (1 Kings 22:3, 8). … Jeremiah was said to have been appointed to reveal the sins of the people and the coming consequences.

“Jeremiah resisted the call by complaining that he was only a child and did not know how to speak. However, the Lord insisted that Jeremiah go and speak, and he touched Jeremiah's mouth to place the word of the Lord there. …

“Jeremiah's ministry prompted plots against him. (Jer.11:21–23) Unhappy with Jeremiah's message, possibly for concern that it would shut down the Anathoth sanctuary, his priestly kin and the men of Anathoth conspired to kill him. However, the Lord revealed the conspiracy to Jeremiah, protected his life, and declared disaster for the men of Anathoth. When Jeremiah complains to the Lord about this persecution, he is told that the attacks on him will become worse.

“A priest Pashur …, a temple official in Jerusalem had Jeremiah beaten and put in the stocks at the Upper Gate of Benjamin for a day. …

“The Biblical narrative portrays Jeremiah as being subject to additional persecutions. After Jeremiah prophesied that Jerusalem would be handed over to the Babylonian army, the king's officials, including Pashur the priest, tried to convince King Zedekiah that Jeremiah should be put to death because he was discouraging the soldiers as well as the people. Zedekiah answered that he would not oppose them. Consequently, the king's officials took Jeremiah and put him down into a cistern, where he sank down into the mud. The intent seemed to be to kill Jeremiah by allowing him to starve to death in a manner designed to allow the officials to claim to be innocent of his blood. A Cushite rescued Jeremiah by pulling him out of the cistern, but Jeremiah remained imprisoned until Jerusalem fell to the Babylonian army in 587 BC.

“The Babylonians released Jeremiah, and showed him great kindness, allowing Jeremiah to choose the place of his residence, according to a Babylonian edict.”[iv] 

Unlike Chisholm, Jeremiah’s life did not reflect simplicity.  Yet they both come to the same conclusion.  The book of Lamentations is Jeremiah’s lament over the city of Jerusalem as it falls to the Babylon.  Yet somehow, in the midst of this he sees the same faithfulness of God that Chisholm maintained.  I am going to show you a short clip from the end of the movie, “Jeremiah.”  Reflect on what you see and then hear the word of the Lord.


Lamentations 3:1-26 (NIV)

I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of the Lord’s wrath.  He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light; indeed, he has turned his hand against me again and again, all day long.  He has made my skin and my flesh grow old and has broken my bones.  He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and hardship.  He has made me dwell in darkness like those long dead.  He has walled me in so I cannot escape; he has weighed me down with chains.  Even when I call out or cry for help, he shuts out my prayer.  He has barred my way with blocks of stone; he has made my paths crooked.  Like a bear lying in wait, like a lion in hiding, he dragged me from the path and mangled me and left me without help.  He drew his bow and made me the target for his arrows.  He pierced my heart with arrows from his quiver.  I became the laughingstock of all my people; they mock me in song all day long.  He has filled me with bitter herbs and given me gall to drink.  He has broken my teeth with gravel; he has trampled me in the dust.  I have been deprived of peace; I have forgotten what prosperity is.  So I say, “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”  I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.  I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.  Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:  Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”  Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.


Imagine standing on that pile of rubble and proclaiming Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV)  In spite of preaching to the city day after day and then watching the destruction, Jeremiah can proclaim that God’s love and compassions and faithfulness are new every morning!

The Psalmist writes In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.” (Psalm 5:3 NIV)  Wait expectantly for what?  God’s love and compassion and faithfulness.  What are your first thoughts each morning?  What do you wait for expectantly?  Me?  I wait for Richard to bring me that first cup of coffee so that I am capable of thought.  But then?  It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.  They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV)

Let’s pray.




[iv] [] 



(Sermon, "STRENGTH TO THE WEARY" as Preached)

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RE:  "On Eagle's Wings"


Psalm 91 (NIV)

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked. If you say, “The Lord  is my refuge,” and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent. “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”


We continue our spiritual journey by looking at hymns and songs that are favorites of this congregation.  I did receive two more suggestions under my door this past week.  Unfortunately, the selection list I worked from was created in the middle of May.  The summer sermon schedule was planned long before it started.  I have tried to choose a variety of songs and ones that have been frequently requested at other times.  Today, we will look at the song Eve Roth sang for you last week, “On Eagle’s Wings” by Father Jan Michael Joncas in 1979.  The piece is the most recent one chosen.

“Father Joncas said the song came about when he was visiting a friend at the major seminary in Washington.  One evening, Father Joncas’ friend got word that his father had suffered a fatal heart attack.  Father Joncas wrote ‘On Eagle’s Wings’ in the days that followed and it was sung for the first time publicly at the friend’s father’s wake service.  The song is based on Psalm 91, its lyrics drawing from the Scripture’s descriptions of God’s protection and providence.”[i] 

You will notice several of the lines from the verses are exact matches to the Psalm.  Verse 1 “You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord Who abide in His shadow for life Say to the Lord ‘My refuge, my rock in whom I trust!’” compare with verses 1 & 2 of the Psalm.  “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” (Psalm 91:1,2 NIV)  Verse 2 “The snare of the fowler will never capture you And famine will bring you no fear Under His wings your refuge His faithfulness your shield.” compare with verses 3 & 4 of the Psalm.  “Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” (Psalm 91:3-4 NIV)  Verse 3 of the song “You need not fear the terror of the night Nor the arrow that flies by day Though thousands fall about you Near you it shall not come.” Compare with verses 5 and 7.  “You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, … A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.” (Psalm 91:5, 7 NIV)  And the last verse “For to His angels He’s given a command To guard you in all of your ways Upon their hands they will bear you up Lest you dash your foot against a stone.” comes from verses 11 and 12 “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”  (Psalm 91:11-12 NIV)

But if you listened carefully to the entire Psalm, there are no eagles.  Although the author of the word of the song did not give the scripture reference for his chorus in the interview about the song, I believe he was thinking of Isaiah 40:31 but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.(Isaiah 40:31 NIV)  And perhaps Matthew 13:43 “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” (Matthew 13:43 NIV) And ending the chorus with John 10:28 “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.”  (John 10:28 NIV)

This Psalm was my mother’s favorite Psalm.  I once heard a pastor say when I was a child that he always asked to see a copy of a person’s Bible before doing a funeral.  The well-worn pages would tell him which passage was their favorite.  That was certainly true for my mother, who loved Psalm 91.  After she passed away and I leafed through her Bible, I remembered what that man had said.  The page of Psalm 91 was well worn.

Of course, that was a time period when a person only owned one Bible.  Today, many of us, especially scholars of the Scripture, own several Bibles.  I have several on my shelf in the office and probably an equal number at home.  But it does not take away from the comfort of favorite passages.  Remember, it was C. Austin Miles favorite passage of John 20 that inspired the song “In the Garden.”

But with as much comfort as this Psalm brings, we must be careful not to misuse its promises.  This was a hymn written by the ancient Hebrew people.  As Psalm of promises made to a people who were told they would receive all these things if they dwelt in his presence and rested in him.  These were promises given to a nation.  They can be misapplied to us today. 

Satan did it when he tempted Jesus.  In Matthew 4, we read “Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down. For it is written: “He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” (Matthew 4:5-6 NIV)  Can you believe that Satan tried to use Psalm 91 to test Jesus?

If we believe that these promises are of a physical nature rather than a spiritual nature, we will be facing major disappointment.  Remember the passage from Ephesians that Jaimie read?  Paul said he could do all things through Christ who gave him strength.  He had learned to be content in all situations.  In other words, Paul flew on eagle’s wing above the physical problems of this world because he dwelt in the shelter of the Lord and rested in the shadow of the almighty!

Let’s pray. Lord, we want to be your friends, your confidants, loyal to death. We want to walk with you, talk with you, listen to you, hear your heart, and participate in your activities in this momentous hour. Teach us, Lord, to walk with you!  We pray all this in your precious name and in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen





(Sermon, "MEDITATION" as Preached)

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RE:  "In the Garden"



John 20:1-18 (NIV)

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.  So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) Then the disciples went back to where they were staying. Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.


Our summer sermon series is drawn from the congregation’s list of favorite hymns or songs.  One of the most popular hymns of this congregation is “In the Garden.”  It wasn’t difficult at all to choose this hymn from the list.  However, I was surprised as I looked into its history. 

Charles Austin Miles wrote this hymn in 1912.  He had “studied at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and the University of Pennsylvania. In 1892, he ceased to practice as a pharmacist. His first gospel song, ‘List! ’Tis Jesus’ Voice’, was published by the Hall-Mack Company. He worked as editor and manager at Hall-Mack for 37 years. …

“He said, ‘It is as a writer of gospel songs I am proud to be known, for in that way I may be of the most use to my Master, whom I serve willingly although not as efficiently as is my desire’. He wrote at least 398 songs, and the music to at least 8 more.  His best-known song may be ‘In the Garden’ (1912); sometimes known by its first line, "I Come to the Garden Alone". It has been included in 210 hymnals, and recorded numerous times.”[i]

Here is the account of how this beautiful hymn was written from the hymn writer, C. Austin Miles, himself, “One day in April, 1912, I was seated in the dark room where I kept my photographic equipment, and also my organ. I drew my Bible toward me and it opened at my favorite book and chapter, John chapter twenty. I don’t know if this was by chance or by the work of the Holy Spirit. I will let you the reader decide. That story of Jesus and Mary in John 20 had lost none of its power and charm.

It was though I was in a trance, as I read it that day, I seemed to be part of the scene. I became a silent witness to that dramatic moment in Mary’s life, when she knelt before her Lord and cried, ‘Rabboni’. I rested my hands on the open Bible, as I stared at the light blue wall. As the light faded, I seemed to be standing at the entrance of a garden, looking down a gently winding path, shaded by olive branches. A woman in white, with head bowed, hand clasping her throat, as if to choke back her sobs, walked slowly into the shadows. It was Mary. As she came unto the tomb, upon which she placed her hand, she bent over to look in, and ran away.

John, in a flowing robe, appeared looking at the tomb. Then came Peter, who entered the tomb, followed slowly by John. As they departed, Mary reappeared leaning her head upon her arm at the tomb, she wept. Turning herself, she saw Jesus standing there, so did I. I knew it was He. She knelt before Him, with arms outstretched, and looking into His face cried, ‘Rabboni’.

I awakened in sunlight, gripping my Bible with my muscles tense, and nerves vibrating, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I wrote as quickly as the words could be formed the lyrics exactly as it is sung today. That same evening, I wrote the tune. It is sung today as it was written in 1912.”[ii]

Mr. Miles was experiencing a walk with God that very day.  I believe it is a favorite because we all want to walk with God in the very same way.  “From the very beginning, God had a relationship with Adam and Eve that found them "walking in the garden in the cool of the day" (Genesis 3:8). God created man[humanity] for the enjoyment of a walking relationship that involved companionship, dialogue, intimacy, joint decision-making, mutual delight, and shared dominion. God longs to walk with you, which is why his arms of grace have been pulling you into a closer walk with him.  … Jesus went on these kinds of walks with his disciples, and he still likes to walk with us this way today.

“The secret place is not the destination; it is only the catalyst. It is designed of God to establish us in an intimate friendship with him that is walked out through the course of our everyday lives. The goal we're after is an everyday walk of unbroken communion with our Lord and friend.

“Enoch was the first man in the Bible who walked with God: ‘After he begot Methuselah, Enoch walked with God three hundred years, and had sons and daughters. So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him’ (Genesis 5:22–24).

Even though men[humanity] began to call upon the name of the Lord in the early days (Genesis 4:26), Enoch was the first man to uncover the true delight of walking with God. He found something even Adam didn't experience. He pressed into God until he learned how to commune with God through every facet of life. To find that dimension of relationship certainly required an intense spiritual pursuit, and then when he found it, the Lord made a graphic statement by taking him up to heaven.

“… As we walk with him, he will open the Scriptures to us through the Spirit of wisdom and revelation and reveal to us the light of the glory of God that is to be found in him.

“When we walk with God, we enter the dimension where God unfolds the secrets of his kingdom. These are the paths that the ancients trod before us. Noah knew the secret of walking with God (Genesis 6:9), as did Abraham (Genesis 24:40). Through Christ, you can explore the glorious riches of knowing God like they did—and to even a greater degree because of the Spirit which has been given to us!

“God wants to walk with us before he works through us. So he will wait to act until he finds the right man or woman through whom he can work. To put it bluntly, God works with his friends. When God has a friend, divine activity accelerates. When God has a useful vessel that has been prepared for noble purposes, he will use that vessel. … God will use the one who walks with him. But he's looking especially for three crucial qualities: humility, faithfulness, and loyalty. He wants to work with friends who are loyal to him, no matter what. Even when circumstances would suggest God is unjust, his true friends continue to walk with him. So the Lord will test our fidelity. When we prove ourselves his friends through the greatest calamities of life, we qualify as useful vessels.

“Jesus was the quintessential example of a man who walked with God, he walked so closely with God that he was always in the Spirit, even when shaking himself awake from a groggy sleep. When I first wake up, I'm sometimes grumpy or dopey. But when they awakened Jesus out of a deep sleep, he silenced the storm! What an amazing attainment, to be awakened out of a dead sleep and be instantly in the Spirit.

“The secret place is where we develop a walking relationship with God. We must develop a secret history with God before he gives us a public history before people. Hidden in the secret place, we learn what he's looking for in friends, and we find out what pleases him. Our inner chamber with him becomes our training ground for a life that is rooted and grounded in love.”[iii]

This secret place is cultivated through the practice of the discipline of meditation.  Just as Mr. Miles saw himself in the garden on that first Easter morning, you too can experience Jesus, walk with Jesus as he walked this earth.  Our imaginations are a precious gift.  Use them!  Perhaps you would like to join him in the boat, fearful with the disciples and wake Jesus to calm the waves.  Or perhaps you would like to join the disciples on the road to Emmaus.  Begin your walk with your Bible in your hand and a metaphoric blue wall where Jesus can show his own movie in your imagination as you walk with him.

Let’s pray.

(Sermon, "GOD'S JUDGMENT" as Preached)

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RE:  "Battle Hymn of the Republic"


Revelation 14:14-20 (NIV)

I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like a son of man with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, “Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.  Another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle. Still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar and called in a loud voice to him who had the sharp sickle, “Take your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe.” The angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia.



Our summer sermon series is drawn from the congregation’s list of favorite hymns or songs.  When I saw “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” I became excited about it being perfect for July 4 weekend.  As I begin to prepare for this sermon, I can’t help but wonder about how to present the information.

You see, when I was a computer consultant, I installed the Kenton County Water District’s payroll system.  After returning from vacation, the main bosses in the office invited me to lunch.  Sitting around the table of about 8 persons, I was asked about my vacation.  We had just taken our children to the Gettysburg State Park to see the reenactment of the battles of Gettysburg.  As I started to talk about the things I had learned from the week there, I was suddenly interrupted by my lunch companions that I had it all wrong.  Their defense of the south confused me.  “After all,” I said to them, “Kentucky never succeeded from the union.  Even as a slave state, you still fought with the north.”  They continued to confront with me how the north started the war and why Kentucky was not allowed to leave.  Again I answered them, “Wait a minute, the war started with the shots fired on Fort Sumter by the south.”  The response to that was, “Winners always get to write the history books.”  I changed the conversation.

So you can see my apprehension.  Where does this congregation stand with regards to the Civil War?  But, according to the Margaret Garner story on our website, written by Ruth Brunings, a member of this church, Presbyterians led the anti-slavery movement in Kentucky, joined by Methodists and Baptists.  Presbyterians believed slavery was morally wrong, but could only be ended by government.  Therefore, they saw that the role of the church was to change the hearts of men so men would change the law.”[i]  I am going to proceed believing we are on solid ground.

Our story regarding this hymn begins with John Brown, born in 1800.  He “was an American abolitionist who believed armed insurrection was the only way to overthrow the institution of slavery in the United States. … Dissatisfied with the pacifism of the organized abolitionist movement, he said, "These men are all talk. What we need is action—action!" … In 1859, Brown led a raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry to start a liberation movement among the slaves there. During the raid, he seized the armory; seven people were killed, and ten or more were injured. He intended to arm slaves with weapons from the arsenal, but the attack failed. Within 36 hours, Brown's men had fled or been killed or captured by local pro-slavery farmers, militiamen, and U.S. Marines led by Robert E. Lee. He was tried for treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia, the murder of five men, and inciting a slave insurrection. He was found guilty on all counts and was hanged.”[ii]

From this incident rose the song “John Brown’s Body.” “The song was popular in the Union during the American Civil War. The tune arose out of the folk hymn tradition of the American camp meeting movement of the late 18th and early 19th century. According to an 1890 account, the original John Brown lyrics were a collective effort by a group of Union soldiers who were referring both to the famous John Brown and also, humorously, to a Sergeant John Brown of their own battalion.[iii] 

You have heard the tune, [sing first verse].  The other verses are “He’s gone to be a soldier in the Army of the Lord, “followed by “John Brown’s knapsack is strapped upon his back,” and “John Brown died that the slaves might be free,” ending with “The stars above in Heaven now are looking kindly down.”

“In November of 1861, Julia Ward Howe, the daughter of a well-to-do New York City banker, was touring Union army camps near Washington, D.C. with Reverend James Freeman Clarke and with her husband, Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, … . During the course of their camp visit, the group began to sing some of the currently popular war songs, among them ‘John Brown's Body.’ In one of those rare flashes of inspiration that leave their mark on the history of a nation, Reverend Clarke was moved to suggest that Mrs. Howe pen new lyrics to the familiar tune. She replied that she had often thought of doing just exactly that.

“The following morning, as Mrs. Howe later described it, she ‘ the gray of the early dawn, and to my astonishment found that the wished-for lines were arranging themselves in my brain. I lay quite still until the last verse had completed itself in my thoughts, then hastily arose, saying to myself, “I shall lose this if I don't write it down immediately.”’

“Mrs. Howe's lyrics first appeared on the front page of the Atlantic Monthly in February of 1862. Editor James T. Fields, who paid her $5 for the piece, is credited with having given the song the name by which it is known today.”[iv]

Yesterday, in preparation for this sermon, I watched the movie “Gettysburg,” which was based upon the novel “The Killer Angels” by Michael Shaara.  Although we cannot know the actual conversations said at that time, Mr. Shaara took great care in being true to the battle and today’s knowledge of the characters.  Even though the south won the first day of the battle, based upon several unusual events; the war turned to the advantage of the north that day on July 2nd and 3rd.  When General Lee is told that tomorrow is the 4th of July, shortly before Picket’s charge, he declares “The Lord has a sense of humor.”  Throughout the movie, Lee is looking for the “will of God” and believes he is drawn into this battle by God’s will.  Until the battle at Gettysburg, General Lee has won every battle.  He has outmaneuvered the Union army every time even with the Union’s larger fighting force.  But this time, his decisions do not work.  Gen. Lee then says “God’s will be done.”  While singing the words of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” one cannot miss that Mrs. Howe believes the Union was fighting for God’s justice. 

Although today, most believe slavery is wrong, these southern soldiers believed they were fighting for states’ rights.  They were fighting for their home state to be able to choose its own country.  What impressed me the most in this movie was the commitment!  As the south advanced on cemetery ridge in Picket’s charge, it looked like an advancement toward death.  And the day before, Colonial Lawrence Chamberlain of the Union army held the right flank “to the last.”  They ran out of ammunition as the southern soldiers kept coming again and again.  So, the colonial ordered a bayonet charge.  53,000 soldiers, the total of both sides, died in those three days of battle.  They were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.  They had left their homes, their families, and the comforts of life behind to fight.  General Lee called it duty.

Where are our loyalties?  Where are our commitments?  Peter writes “Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.” (1 Peter 1:17 NIV) and follows that up with “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.” (1 Peter 2:11 NIV).  One day God’s judgment will come for everyone.  We don’t usually worry about it.  After all, we have confessed our sins and God has forgiven us!  Have we really confessed them all?  What about the command to seek God’s kingdom first?  And if we have confessed that one, does it make a difference in the way we live on?  Or do we leave our time of confession and still make ourselves top priority?  If every Christian, every person who claims the name of Jesus Christ would make God’s Kingdom their number one priority, how much difference do you think it would make in our country?  May God never again need “loose the fateful lightening of his terrible swift sword” on this country.

Let’s pray.


(Sermon, "UNLESS THE LORD" as Preached)

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RE:  "The Little Brown Church in the Vale"


Psalm 127:1-2 (NIV)

Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.  Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain.  In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves.


We are beginning a new series for the summer.  Fortunately, this series is not connected like usual, one building on another.  I will be able to skip the review at the beginning of each sermon.  Our series this summer focuses on favorite hymns or songs of the congregation and the story behind them.  The Worship Committee had asked for a submission of songs; and we received a great number.  It would have been fun to talk about each one, but I had to limit the number so this series would end on Labor Day Sunday.  I tried to pick songs covering a variety of topics and eras, as well as those with interesting stories behind them. 

Today’s choice is “The Church in the Wildwood.”  It is a favorite of this congregation and often requested to be sung on the birthday of this church.  I have printed a picture of the actual church the song was written about on the front of the bulletin.  The church is located in Bradford, IA.

“The first settlers came to the Bradford area in 1848 and with an abundant water supply and virgin timber, the town grew.  By 1855 the first members of the Puritan-Congregational Church had begun holding meetings.  By 1856, Bradford had 500 residents and was the first town in this part of Iowa.

“A young music teacher named William Pitts was traveling by stagecoach from Wisconsin to Iowa to visit his future wife.  While waiting for the stagecoach horses to be changed, he walked down Cedar Street and saw the empty lot where the church now stands.  Being a romantic young man, the thought came to him of what a charming setting the spot would make for a church.  Returning home, he wrote the poem ‘Church in the Wildwood,’ and later set it to music.  He put it away in a drawer and forgot it.

“Meanwhile, church members grew tired of meeting in places such as the lawyer’s office, abandoned stores and parishioners’ homes.   They began making plans to build a church.  A family in the parish gave them the property.  When Rev. Nutting arrived, talk of building became serious.  Limestone was quarried and by 1860 the foundation was laid.  The Civil War slowed the work, but when one family gave trees and another donated the sawing of the lumber, the work never really ceased.  By 1862 the building was enclosed and not a penny had been spent.  When it came time to paint the building, the cheapest paint to be found was Ohio Mineral Paint, which would protect the wood but which was unhappily brown.  With help from friends in the east, the building was finished, complete with bell, in 1864.

“Meanwhile, Mr. Pitts had married and was living in Wisconsin.  In 1862 the couple moved to Fredericksburg to be near her elderly parents and Mr. Pitts was hired to teach a singing class at the Bradford Academy.  Imagine his surprise when he saw a little brown church nestled in the very trees where he had stood some years before.  He went home and found the song and taught it to his class who sang it at the dedication service of the church.  Pitts had written a song for a church that wasn’t there.  The congregation had painted their little church brown without ever hearing of the song.”[i] 

Because you are sitting in a sanctuary built within 10 years of this same church, it should be no wonder that everyone here feels a connection to the song and the church in Bradford.  Also obvious to me is God’s hand in the building of this church.  The Scripture read this morning Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1a NIV) surely applies in this situation.   God is responsible for building his church, whether that is in membership or in a physical building.

I get a kick out of the number of “marketing experts” who call or send me e-mails, wanting to help us enlarge our congregation.  Although we have a website and a Facebook page, I believe these are for information purposes only.  Jesus Christ is not a product that needs to be sold.  God’s Holy Spirit is responsible for convicting souls and bringing people to the church where he wants them to serve.  Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.” (Psalm 127:1a NIV)

How do we make sure we do not labor in vain?  Laura Tewes has been attending meetings at our presbytery about how to see God at work in our community and join him.  She shared this information at a Deacon/Elder Retreat two years ago.  But session’s response was that our congregation is so busy, taking on such a project requires a commitment that they felt we as a congregation were unwilling to make.  We have difficulty getting Sunday School teachers Children’s Worship leaders to give Sharon and Barb some respite.  We have difficulty getting deacons and elders and committee members.  Transformation 2.0, as the project is called, requires more time than being either a deacon or an elder. 

Are there options that require a smaller time commitment?  The largest Christian congregation in the world is located in Seoul, South Korea.  “It’s the mother of megachurches, with the largest congregation in the world. On a typical day 200,000 will attend one of seven services along with another two or three hundred thousand watching them on TV in adjoining buildings or satellite branches. While some other churches may be losing members, this one just keeps growing. The main sanctuary here holds 21,000 worshipers packed to the rafters seven times every Sunday. Each service has its own orchestra, its own choir, its own pastor. There are hundreds of assistants. There need[s] to be. Each service is translated into 16 different languages for visitors.”[ii]

One of their many pastors came to address our chapel at Asbury while I was in seminary.  This church had very humble beginnings.  Their only “marketing” tool, if you can call it that, was prayer.  It started with a small group gathering for prayer one morning a week.  Jesus said, Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:19-20) 

Today at the church in Seoul, “every morning at 4:30 people come to church, and they pray for one or two hours, and all-night prayer meeting on Friday evening.”[iii]  Gathering for the purpose of prayer is crucial to this church.  Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.” (Psalm 127:1a NIV)  You are given an opportunity to gather for prayer in this church, both Wednesday evening and Thursday morning.  Are you willing to see what God can do if just a few will commit to 45 minutes a week dedicated to prayer and praise?  Are you willing to be part of “just a few”?

What happened to the little brown church?  “History was hard on the Little Brown Church.  The railroad by-passed the town and a flour mill moved to New Hampton to be on a bigger river.  The railroad and other industry moved to Nashua.  The town, once the county seat, slowly disappeared.  In 1888, the church building was closed, although the congregation continued to hold Sunday School every week at the school.  Occasional services were held at the building.  In the early 1900’s a Society for the Preservation of The Little Brown Church was started and by 1914, services were again held, as they are now.

“History took another turn when the Weatherwax Quartet traveled throughout Canada and the United States between 1910 and 1921.  Their theme song was “The Church in the Wildwood” and they talked about the little church.  After World War I, highways were improved and cars brought many visitors.  When a School superintendent and a merchants’ daughter were married at the church, a new tradition was started, the ringing of the Church bell. It was a means to proclaim the wedding and pronounce blessings on the new couple.

“In August of 2014, the 74,000 wedding was held at the historic church site.  It remains, as it was founded, a Congregational Church.  The song continues to be sung, as the response to the Benediction, in a little church that is painted brown and sits in the wildwood.”[iv]

In C.S. Lewis’ book, Prince Caspian, a child named Lucy encounter Aslan, the Christ-figure of the Narnia stories, after not seeing him for a long while.  “‘Aslan, you’re bigger,’ she says.  “That is because you’re older, little one,’ answered he.  ‘Not because you are?’  ‘I am not.  But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.’”[v] 

Have we found God bigger as time passes?  Do we trust him to do his will and his pleasure with our church?  Are we willing to look about in our community and discover where God is working?  Are we willing to give of our time to help this church to join God in his work?  Are we willing to gather in prayer to see what God wants to do with the little white church at the corner of Richwood Road and Richwood Church Road?  God does not call us to follow the plan of the little brown church in the vale or the plan of the great big church in Seoul or the marketing plan of advertisers.  God has a plan for Richwood Presbyterian Church.  He expects us to “Ask and it will be given to [us] you; seek and [we] you will find; knock and the door will be opened to [us] you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8 NIV Italics Added)

Let’s now ask.




[iii] Ibid.


[v] Lewis, C.S. Prince Caspian, The Chronicles of Narnia. New York, NY:  Collier/Macmillan, 1985.


(Sermon, "ONENESS:  THE TRINITY" as Preached)

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6/18/17 Fathers' Day


2 Corinthians 13:11-14 (NIV)

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.  Greet one another with a holy kiss. All God’s people here send their greetings.  May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.


Paul’s closing to this letter should sound very familiar.  Only I have added adjectives to grace, love and fellowship.  Even my additions are not original.  I don’t remember where I heard this blessing with “amazing grace” and “extravagant love” and “intimate fellowship,” but it had such an impact on me that I decided to use it. 

Although last Sunday was Trinity Sunday, because of my illness upon returning from Europe, you are hearing the Trinity Sermon today.  In one sense, this seems appropriate in light of our calling God, our heavenly Father.  But, why the idea of the Trinity?  It is not a Biblical term.  Last week’s Scripture, Jesus repeated over and over how he was in the Father and the Father was in him and claimed to be one with the Father.  Yet how does that translate into Trinity?

Kevin DeYoung explains “The doctrine of the Trinity can be summarized in seven statements. (1) There is only one God. (2) The Father is God. (3) The Son is God. (4) The Holy Spirit is God. (5) The Father is not the Son. (6) The Son is the not the Holy Spirit. (7) The Holy Spirit is not the Father. … The Athanasian Creed puts it this way: ‘Now this is the catholic faith: That we worship one God in trinity and the trinity in unity, neither blending their persons, nor dividing their essence. For the person of the Father is a distinct person, the person of the Son is another, and that of the Holy Spirit, still another. But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal.’

“… We want to be true to the biblical witness that there is an indivisibility and unity of God, even though Father, Son, and Holy Spirit can all be rightly called God. The Persons are not three gods; rather, they dwell in communion with each other as they subsist in the divine nature without being compounded or confused.

“…Although the word ‘Trinity’ is famously absent from Scripture, the theology behind the word can be found in a surprising number of verses. For starters there are verses that speak of God’s oneness (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 44:6; 1 Tim. 1:17). Then there are the myriad of passages which demonstrate that God is Father (e.g., John 6:27, Titus 1:4). Next, we have the scores of texts which prove the deity of Jesus Christ, the Son—passages like John 1 (‘the word was God’), John 8:58 (‘before Abraham was born, I am’), Col. 2:9 (‘in Christ all the fullness of Deity lives in bodily form’), Heb. 1:3 (‘The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact imprint of his being’), Tit. 2:13 (‘our great God and Savior Jesus Christ’)-not to mention the explicit worship Christ willingly received from his disciples (Luke 24:52; John 20:28) and the charges of blasphemy leveled against him for making himself equal with God (Mark 2:7). Then we have similar texts which assume the deity of the Holy Spirit, calling Him an ‘eternal Spirit’ (Heb. 9:14) and using ‘God’ interchangeably with the ‘Holy Spirit’ (1 Cor. 3:16 and 1 Cor. 6:19; Acts 5:3-4) without a second thought.


“The doctrine of the Trinity, as summarized in the seven statements earlier, is not a philosophical concoction by some over-zealous and over-intelligent early theologians, but one of the central planks of orthodoxy which can shown, explicitly or implicitly, from a multitude of biblical texts.”[i]

The Trinity is important for understanding ourselves as God’s creation.  “God, unlike the gods in other ancient creation stories, did not need to go outside himself to create the universe. Instead, the Word and the Spirit were like his own two hands (to use Irenaeus’ famous phrase) in fashioning the cosmos. God created by speaking (the Word) as the Spirit hovered over the chaos. Creation, like regeneration, is a Trinitarian act, with God working by the agency of the Word spoken and the mysterious movement of the Holy Spirit.”[ii]  Whether you believe this creation story as a metaphor or literally, this revelation of God’s nature is still true.

Secondly, “Christianity, with its understanding of God as three in one, allows for diversity and unity. If God exists in three distinct Persons who all share the same essence, then it is possible to hope that God’s creation may exhibit stunning variety and individuality while still holding together in a genuine oneness.”[iii]

And finally, We worship a God who is in constant and eternal relationship with himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Community is a buzz word in American culture, but it is only in a Christian framework that communion and interpersonal community are seen as expressions of the eternal nature of God. Likewise, it is only with a Trinitarian God that love can be an eternal attribute of God. Without a plurality of persons in the Godhead, we would be forced to think that God created humans so that he might show love and know love, thereby making love a created thing (and God a needy deity). But with a biblical understanding of the Trinity we can say that God did not create in order to be loved, but rather, created out of the overflow of the perfect love that had always existed among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who ever live in perfect and mutual relationship and delight.”[iv]

What does this mean for us?  Very few of us fail to embrace the work of Jesus Christ.  Accepting his overflow of love in his sacrifice so that we might wear his righteous robes, once we believe comes very easily.  We can almost live the stories of Jesus here on earth and the kindness he showed to needy persons.  Sometimes, his teachings appear difficult, but we struggle through and relate as best as we can.  We have little vision of his heavenly person.  As we picture him or hear his name, do we not conjure up some image from his life here on earth?  It is in Jesus where our most comfortable relationship with the Trinity usually resides.

Our struggle may begin with the Holy Spirit.  Her responsibility is to guide us into truth and convict us when we are wrong.  We like the idea of Jesus forgiving our mistakes, but we don’t like to be told what to do once we have been forgiven.  Should our relationship with the Holy Spirit suffer because of our own self-will, we may try to distance ourselves from this person of the Trinity.  Learning to become sensitive to the workings of the Spirit in our lives must be part of our Spiritual life.  That sensitivity should be followed by obedience.

God the Father’s love is different for each person.  Because God has chosen to use a Father as his metaphor, some will truly appreciate this image while others suffer.  If you read the Pastor’s letter in the newsletter, you can see that I have little trouble referring to God as Father.  But my mother, whose Father was jailed when she was only 12 because of abuse, never prayed to God the Father.  She couldn’t bring herself to do it.  She always prayed to Jesus.  She had memories that needed healing. 

Jesus told a story about the love of God the Father, the story of the Prodigal Son.  Today, on Father’s Day, I pray that you will allow this song to heal any wounds you might have from your earthly father, great or small, in the presence of the Jesus we worship and in the power of God’s Holy Spirit.

Let’s pray.