11/10/2019 = Matthew 25:1-13 = “Be Ready”

There is no text for this week’s message from guest preacher Kathy Sandusky. But you will be blessed and encouraged by clicking HERE and listening.

11/03/2019 = I John 4:8 = “What’s Love Got to Do with It?”

(Click HERE to listen to this message.)

Mark Wheeler

I John 4:8

“What’s Love Got to Do with It?”

11/03/2019

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Through the Written Word,           

And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,          

Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Back in 1984, the year before Jennifer married me, Tina Turner sang:

What’s love got to do, got to do with it?
What’s love but a second-hand emotion?
What’s love got to do, got to do with it?
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?

 

If the Queen of Rock and Roll is right, then “love” holds nothing over on us. But if love is more thana sweet, old-fashioned notion”, than maybe we have something to talk about.

 

In this sermon series we are looking at Bible verses that are often quoted so out of context that their meaning is lost or changed when we use them.

Today’s verse is mis-applied because it is almost always only “partly quoted”. When we leave more than half the verse off, we lose the context of what we’ve quoted.

Here’s today’s Bible verse: I John 4:8 —- ….

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because – God is love.

 

Any guesses which part of this verse we use without the rest? [God is love.]

 

The author of this epistle is the same as the disciple who wrote John 3:16For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. That verse is about God’s love, right? And God’s love is all that, becauseGod is love”.

 

The Apostle John never tires of exhorting Christians to love one anotherthat is, ultimately, what this verse is about. And, he grounds his argument not simply in the commands of Jesus Himself but in the very nature of God. Love belongs to the very essence of Godwithout God, love does not exist, either as a second-hand emotion or as the altruistic perfect, selfless Agapelove from God to you.

Mark Ross, professor of systematic theology at Erskine Seminary in Columbus, SC, says that “[God] is the original fountain from which every other instance of love flows.

 

But, to say “God is love” is not the same as “love is God” or that “God is nothing more than love”. What I mean is love is one attribute of God, but not the only attribute. It’s like saying Pastor Mark is chubby. That is truetotally true – but it is not everything that Mark is – he’s also short and kind of dumpy…. Is “chubby” the over-riding character trait to describe me? What aboutwhat? Name some ways you might describe me: [caring, kind, thoughtful, educated, well-spoken, intelligent, Brad Pitt look alike, super-humble….] (What?)

 

With God, theologians talk about how God’s various attributes do not dwell in Him as separate, distinct parts, but as co-relative parts, that cannot be separated from each other, or from God Himself.

It is not like the pieces of this microphone stand that can be disassembled, and only become a mic-stand when fully put together. With God, He cannot be taken apart. Even the three persons of the Trinity are not three distinct pieces that become God when properly compiled. No, each “person” (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) each person is fully God, with all of them sharing a single essenceGod. Same with His descriptive character traitsGod is love! And, God is almighty, and God is just, and God is sovereign, and morecompletely and fully.

 

If these are things we believe, and stick with, we will not be led down the wrong path that holds one attribute of God above the rest. If we were to allow an understanding of one attribute of God to outweigh or overpower the others, we would also learn to reject the passages of Scripture that emphasize one instead of our favorite.

When we think God is most-importantly a God of justice – we lose the His aspects of grace and mercy. When we only emphasize God’s predestinal fore-knowledge – we drop His creative free-will.

When we accentuate God is love above every other true attribute – we ignore that fact that God is, in fact, also the righteous Judge and ultimate Decider of our destiny. The Bible teaches both!

God is love, I John 4:8 says so straight out. What other verses or Bible stories describe God as loving? [John 3:16; God saved the Israelites from Egyptian cruelty; Jonah’s anger at God for forgiving the Ninevites; the nativity narratives we are going to read in a month, the healings, the forgiveness, the death of God’s Son for us; etc, etc, etc, all point to God’s love!]

God is also justice and everlasting “punisher” of those who reject Him and His Way. Can anyone think of a Bible verse or passage that describes this aspect of God’s character? [It’s more difficult, isn’t it – we like the “love stories” far more than the other stories. – Next week we sing about how “we gotta have faith”, in that song (and the Old Testament book of Exodus) who knows what happened to the Egyptians who were following after the Israelites through the Red Sea? – “God closed the sea and Pharaoh’s men were in over their ears”.]

 

Listen to how beautifully the Bible brings together a variety of God’s attributes in one passage. When God revealed His glory to Moses toward the end of the Exodus story (34:6-7), God proclaimed His name saying: “The Lord, the Lord [remember that “the Lord” is really God’s name, YHWH, an attribute of God’s eternal presence, “I am that I am”] , a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on their children and their children’s children, to the third and fourth generations.

Did you hear “conflictingcharacter traits attributed to God in those two verses? The God of steadfast love and faithfulness is also the God of judgment who delivers wrath upon the guilty. The glory of God includes them all! This harmony of who God is runs throughout the Scriptures (see Isaiah 30:18, Hosea 2:19, Psalm 1, John 3:16-17).

 

The cross itself dramatically demonstrates the perfect unity of God’s varied attributes. The Apostle John points to the cross as the supreme expression of God’s love: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” (I John 4:9)

And the Apostle Paul (Romans 3:25-26) describes the cross as the supreme expression of God’s righteousness and justice: “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

 

The larger context of today’s verse which definesGod is love” contains a whole section urging Christians to be nice to one another: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.”

(One of my first songs I learned on my guitar was this passage –

Beloved, let us love one another,

For love is of God      And everyone who loveth

Is born of God and knoweth God.

He that loveth not, knoweth not God,

For God is love!

Beloved let us love one another

First John Four Seven and Eight!    ”)

The truth that “God is love” is certainly a truth that should be shouted from the rooftops and to be treasured in our hearts. But it is the same with all of God’s attributes. One is not more true or more wonderful than the others. And, while they may seem to be in tension with each other – that is only because God does not fit neatly into our preconceived boxes, He is far more and bigger than what we can comprehend. And all of Him is equally glorious.

 

So, dear friends, “What’s love got to do with it?Everything, of course – just like justice, righteousness, strength, knowledge, sovereignty, supremacy, and all the rest. Amen.

 

Resources:

Ross, Mark E.; TableTalk; August 2019; Pp. 26-27.

 

Ryder, Dennis; “1 John 4:7&8”; Maranatha! Music; 1974.

 

Turner, Tina; “What’s Love Got to Do with It?”; 1984.

November 2019 Lead Newsletter Article

Reflections After a Quarter Century

This month marks the 25th anniversary of my first Sunday at Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church. Twenty-five years! That means my nearly 35-year marriage was still in its tween years; and my 30-year old double-degreed, Thailand-traveling daughter was in kindergarten; my 28-year old, double-degreed, Alaska-bush-living daughter was less than 4; and my 26-year old, triple-degreed, multi-lingual, Kyrgyzstanian son was still deep in diapers.

Personally, I was fully-haired, 50 pounds smaller, and much more beautifully voiced. But I have become better at communicating my faith (and faith struggles), chording guitar strings, and working with technology.

My-oh-my, how much have we grown?! Right?

In these 25 years, we have gained over 130 new members (over 40 of those were believer baptisms!)! And we have officiated at 250 funerals (not all were LPC members, but many were, and others were deeply connected to this church or to people in this church). I have performed over 40 weddings, and blessed the births of nearly a dozen babies (for a church of mostly “seniors”, that’s pretty good!).

I was told, by leaders in our presbytery, that I should expect this “ministry call” to be a “five-year chaplaincy” because Lidgerwood is a congregation that “is on a steady decline, and probably will not make it to the turn of the century”.

Apparently the Holy Spirit wasn’t done with us yet. It is true that over half of those new members and baptisms happened in the first five years, and growth has slowed way down these last 20 years; it is also true that we have had to cut budget and paid positions, several times, due to lack of funds (see our current finance report inside this Ledger).

But it is far from true that God is finished with us!

In a few weeks we will hold our Annual Congregational Meeting where we will receive our 2020 budget and decide on pastors’ salary packages (see the article below). At that meeting, we will also hear stories of what God is doing in our midst, with our stewardship – time, abilities, finances, and more. There will be stories of worship – here and with others; stories of fellowship – organized and organic; stories of involvement with our neighbors – in Northeast Spokane and across the globe in East Africa; and stories of encounters with our living and loving God through personal tragedies and victories.

I came to Spokane, and to LPC, as a bright-eyed 33-year old kid who loved Jesus and was pretty sure heard the voice of God call me to this congregation. I am now about to attend my 40th high school reunion, as a fatter, older, gray-haired, sore-jointed, “senior-discount”, almost-grampa (Brianna’s fiancée has a daughter) who still loves Jesus and who is still pretty sure God calls to serve with this beautiful collection of Christ-following, serving children of God.

Twelve years ago LPC celebrated our 100th anniversary of ministry in Northeast Spokane. I won’t make it to the 125th (and neither will most of you), but it will not surprise me to learn God is still growing His people at LPC! So, while we struggle to pay all the bills, in the struggle we experience God’s perfect grace and mercy.

Thank you – all of you – for allowing me to serve with you, and to grow with you.

              Mark

 

Annual Congregational Meeting

Sunday, November 17, immediately following worship, join us for a Potluck Lunch and our Annual Meeting wherein we will receive the 2020 Budget expectations and hopes, and we will officially approve our pastors’ salary packages. Everyone, LPC members and friends alike, are encouraged to stay for this meeting.

10/27/2019 = Philippians 4:13 = “All the Things?”

(Click HERE for the audio of this…)

Mark Wheeler

Philippians 4:13

“All the Things?”

10/27/2019

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Through the Written Word,           

And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,          

Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

A hundred years ago, nearly everyone had a horse, only the wealthy could afford a car; today, nearly everyone owns a car and only the wealthy can afford a horse. Right. The stables have turned. But either way, “I can do all things through Him [^] who gives me strength.

 

After Game 2 of this year’s World Series, when the Washington Nationals had beat the Houston Astros 12-3, the Nats were sitting pretty high. (Game 4, yesterday, set everyone back on even ground after the Astros beat the Nats 8-1….) I expected to hear one of those pitchers proclaim a little,We can do all things through Him [^] who strengthens us.I was glad I did not hear that.

In American sports, it’s not terribly uncommon to hear one of the victors proclaim that Bible verse from Philippians 4:13 – but when’s the last time we heard a loser say that?!

I’ve also heard construction workers say that after completing a complicated job, or a speech-writer after winning debate presentation, or a Miss America pageant winner…. But, think with me for a minute,,, why do we not hear this from those who have been defeated? Why is it only from the victors?

I read one scholar who believes it is because we tend to associate the word “do” with accomplishing something, with success. “I can DO all things” seems to imply triumphant achievement. But … doesn’t “do ALL things” imply … you know … all thingswinning AND losing, victory AND defeat, success AND failure?

 

In this sermon series we are looking at Bible verses that are often quoted so out of context that their meaning is lost or changed when we use them.

Today’s verse mis-use makes us think that if we struggle, we must be wrong; if we are hurting, God must not approve; [here’s where pastors often struggle] if our church is behind budget, smaller rather than larger, older rather than full of youth ministries, then God must not be with us, blessing us, or even care we exist.

Here’s today’s Bible verse: Philippians 4:13 —- ….

I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.

 

No one should ever feel that whenever we are not a success story it is because Jesus is not with us or that we are further from God’s favor. Context tells us that that is not what Paul means in this verse.

Paul wrote this letter to the Church he planted in Philippi about 10 and 12 years earlier, from his prison cell in Rome.

Who here thinks of Paul as a “loser”? Right? I mean, I know that not everyone loves Paul (not everyone even loves Raymond!), but the most important church-planter in world history is hardly considered a “loser”!

Did you hear from where he wrote this letter? Prison is seldom considered a place for winners!

 

Obviously, Paul is not saying that the “do” that Paul says “I can” is “win”. And the “all things” was far different from what gets memorialized in our trophy cases.

The circumstances of Paul’s imprisonment were devastating. Boris knows this kind of sentenceimprisoned for his faith, behind bars because of what we believe. Boris spent some 13 years in prison because of his Christian faith in a communist country. Several of those years were spent in solitary confinement because even in prison he continued to boldly profess his faith. That was Paul, as welll.

And not only was he in prison but according to this letter, insincere preachers were adding further affliction (1:17, kinda like Job’s friends who visited him), he didn’t receive enough provision (4:14) and death seemed as likely as another day of difficulty (1:20).

But Paul did not grumble or complain about his pain or hunger, he did not go on strike against God, he learned and proclaimed his contentmentin plenty and in want”, richer and poorer, in sickness and in healthPaul was content in all things. And, those are the “all thingswe can do through Christ who strengthens us.

The secret source of this super-power to “do all things” is “faith in Christ”. Listen to the whole paragraph:

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this, all these things through him [^] who gives me strength.

Did you notice what Paul included in this packet that leads to “doing all things”? It wasn’t just having plenty or being well fed or living in riches! He included being in need, hungry and in want!

Even when “losing” in this lifePaul is content because he knows God is still with him! And being with God made everything else relatively unimportant.

This is exactly why every athlete who just lost their game or match or tournament should also own Philippians 4:13 – as should every Christian who just got the bad diagnosis, whose child just called with hard news, whose church is smaller and financially struggling and agingclaim Philippians 4:13 as our own. Say it with me, “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength!”

Jesus loves and strengthens His people, you and me, in the middle of every loss, every struggle, every heartache that we endure as much as in our successes and victories and prosperities.

 

Seven hundred years earlier, the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk, which I was reading last week in my personal devotional reading, says toward the end of his little book (3:17-19), “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,     yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.  The Sovereign Lord is my strength ….

I love how Habakkukdidjoy in the Lord, not because of what God did for him, or could do for him, but simply because he loved God; and he knew God loved him.

 

Paul demonstrates that same kind of love for God and knowledge of God’s love for him. Both Habakkuk and Paul talk about remembering God’s blessing in times of hardship – but Paul also makes mention of those good times.

In hard times we tend to either draw closer to God – praying in the foxhole…. Or we blame God for the hardship and move away from Him.

In good times what do we do? At first we say, “Praise the Lord!” And after awhile, for some of us it’s a very short while, we forget that God even exists, we take the good times for granted, and we ignore, neglect and, maybe not move away from God but we wander away. Sometimes we even idolize the good gifts of prosperity and success over the Good Giver of God’s gifts!

 

Paul reminds us that we need God and that God is right there, in good times and in bad. (“God is good all the time; all the time God is good.”) Matt Redman wrote a song we sometimes sing (Blessed Be the Name of the Lord):

Blessed be Your name
When the sun’s shining down on me
When the world’s ‘all as it should be’
Blessed be Your name

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

 

Philippians 4:13 teaches us that through faith in Christ, our Lord Jesus enables us to endure with contentment whatever circumstances He places us in, from pressure of poverty to refining fire of prosperity.

I can do all things through Him who gives me strength” is the continual claim of every follower of Jesus. Whether we’re in the sunshine of mountaintop experiences or mucking through the shadows of the deep valleys, we have the ability to be content in the Lord because He is with us, all the time; all the time, He is with us.

 

So, dear friends, when it’s easy and when it’s not, praise the name of the Lord. We can do all the thingswin and losewe can do all the things through Christ who gives us His strength, by His grace through our faith in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Resources:

Kenney, Tyler; TableTalk; August 2019; Pp. 20-21.

 

Redman, Matt; “Blessed Be the Name of the Lord”.

10/20/2019 = Galatians 3:28 = “E. Pluribus Unum”

(Click HERE for the audio.)

Mark Wheeler

Galatians 3:28

“E. Pluribus Unum”

10/20/2019

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Through the Written Word,           

And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,          

Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Last Wednesday’s local news reported a really scary hate-crime-threat. Did you see the article about the Neo-Nazi threats of “subhuman genocide” posted at The Morning Star Baptist Church, a Black congregation at Rowan and Driscoll? I actually saw it first on Facebook, friends with a friend of Pastor Walter Kendricks. I drove to their church later that afternoon, to see Pastor Kendricks and give him my hand of friendship and prayers for his church’s safety and continued bold Gospel proclamation.

Photos of Adolf Hitler, and Nazi-like propaganda, in 2019, in Spokane, WA, USA! Unbelievably horrible.

 

And then I remembered this Sunday’s Bible verse.

In this sermon series we are looking at Bible verses that are often quoted so out of context that their meaning is lost or changed when we use them.

Today’s Bible verse is typically mis-interpreted in one of two ways: 1) when we apply this verse to mean that there are no, nor should there be any, human distinctives at all (we’ll come back to that); 2) when we apply this verse to mean only specifically what it says (we’ll get back to that, as well).

Here’s today’s Bible verse: Galatians 3:28 —- ….

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

 

First, the context of this verse is obviously not to simply eliminate any and all human differences. The paragraph begins with, “You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for you were all baptized into Christ and clothed yourselves with Christ. [You see,] there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. [And it closes with:] If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed [in the family of God’s chosen people], and heirs according to the promise.

Paul is not saying that there are no differences between some people and others, or that we don’t have different roles in life. I mean, who thinks this verse means that it doesn’t matter whom you call to fix a leaky pipe in your bathroom? If there were no other options, I might grab a wrench and some duct tape, and get to work – but you really don’t want me repairing your plumbing…, or doing brain-surgery…, or planning a mayoral campaign.

Plumbers and surgeons and campaign managers are not the same – but they are all one in Christ; they are all saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ; they are all equally deserving of condemnation, and are all equally offered God’s perfect love!

 

Jews and Greeks have different cultures, different life-priorities, different skin colors – but are one in Christ Jesus. No one chooses their own ethnicity or race, but every race and culture can choose to live in faith in Jesus Christ.

While in seminary I was privileged to have a six-month internship pastoring in a very mixed-race congregation in a completely African-American town in the Bay Area. When my six months were up, the church hired me to stay on for another two-years as their “pastor’s assistant” (their regular pastor took another call very early in my internship, and their interim pastors weren’t “connecting” with the congregation). During those 27-months I learned that God is not really “color-blind” – God appreciates that He created us with differences – more vocal versus more reserved; brighter versus more subdued; more active versus more contemplative. God is not “color-blind”, He loves our colorful differences. And He absolutely saves us all the same – through faith in Christ.

 

Slaves and free – while this has wrongly been used to defend the institution of slavery, is really about social and civic status. Some are the bosses and others are the workers. In Paul’s letter to Philemon, he writes to this slave-owner that he should welcome his former slave, Onesimus, back – and Paul does not suggest that their respective statuses need to change, but that even in that relationship, they should treat each other as equals in Christ, as brothers.

 

Males and females are not the same. Our bodies are different and have different social functions – no one wants to see me having a baby (especially me!) …. Our current culture argues with this, there are some “58 genders” members of Facebook can choose. But Paul is simply saying that in Christ Jesus we are all saved the same!

 

The other way this verse is sometimes mis-used is to limit its application to only what it says – meaning, there’s a principle at stake that gets missed or ignored. For instance, it says “Jews and Greeks”, it does not say “Europeans and Africans” … therefore we come to the ridiculously horrific understanding that that local Neo-Nazi group came up with last Tuesday when they threatened a Black Church with genocide! This is, in part, how Hitler came to his philosophy of Arians being more valuable than Jews (Paul didn’t say “neither Jews nor Germans”, right? He said, “neither Jew nor Greek”!

You see how that is wrong, right? The principle is that “in Christ, we are all saved the same wayall people, every race, every culture, every background, every train of sin and fallennesswe are all the same in Christ Jesus!

 

It is true that there is a shift here. The Old Testament, which has always been open to the nations, gentiles, Greeks and Germans and Syrians and South Americans (see Rahab and Ruth as examples), also has several difficult passages of death and annihilation of those other peoples. But the New Testament throws those doors wide open. The book of Acts tells story after story about how all people are invited into the Kingdom of GodPaul, after all was an Apostle to the Gentiles! There was a whole church counsel, like a General Assembly, where they decided that circumcision (the rite of inclusion in the household of God, for males at least) was not necessary to receive Christ as Lord and SaviorBaptism was the new circumcision!

This confusing circumcision debate was a part of the Galatian churches’ new member classes! But Paul, Galatians 3:27, tells us that Baptism is the sign and seal of union with Christ!

Faith alone unites us to Abraham’s seed and makes us children of God’s covenant! By faith alone we are partakers of Christ’s benefitsno distinction, no superiority, no advantage over another. If one, if any one, believes in Christ, regardless of race or sex or class or social standing or age or musical preference or language or style of dresstogether with all other saints – in Christ Jesus we each are brought into His grace and mercy!

 

We may hardly share anything in common, from an external perspective – Spokanites and Kimininians, Americans and Africans, Presbyterians and Pentecostals (that’s us and our orphan ministry in Kenya) – but in Christ we enjoy a unity that infinitely surpasses anything else!

 

Distinctions in church, so long as they are not divisive, are necessary – some of us sing classical, some more contemporary rock, some are handy with tools, others in the kitchen, some with words and writings, others with paints and pencils (even denominational differences can be a blessing). But when we allow these distinctions to disrupt fellowship and drive division amongst us, we allow the devil to rebuild the barrier that Christ has already torn down.

 

So, dear friends, as we grow in the “faith, hope, and love” of I Corinthians 13, may we also grow in our ability to tear down the walls that divide us and celebrate the gift of fellowship with God and eternal salvation we each are offered through faith in God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Resources:

Garriott, Aaron L.; TableTalk; August 2019; Pp. 18-19.

10/13/2019 = I Corinthians 13:13 = “What’s So Great About Love?!”

(Click HERE to listen to this message.)

Mark Wheeler

I Corinthians 13:13

“What’s So Great about Love?”

10/13/2019

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Through the Written Word,           

And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,          

Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Let’s start this with an open-group survey: which of these three ingredients is the most important ingredient? Ready? I am making Jalapeño Poppers, which requires three things: jalapeños (obviously), cream cheese to stuff them with, and bacon to wrap them in.

Which one is most important? (I know that not everyone likes Jalapeño Poppers, but play along for a minute)

  • Obviously we need jalapeños (there’s no “popper” without the pepper)
  • Cream cheese (we can’t eat the pepper without the creamy cheesy coolant)
  • Bacon (obviously the best flavor in the Popper – can you imagine bacon-wrapped bacon? That would be like a bacon apocalypse!)

We could argue that it would not be a Jalapeño Popper without the pepper – so the jalapeño is most important.

We might argue that the cream cheese is most importantwithout that we couldn’t enjoy the pepper.

And most of us could argue that without the baconwhy bother eatinganything?

 

Let me start there. In order to make Jalapeño Poppers, we equally need all three ingredients – but some of them have a longer lasting flavor.

 

In this sermon series we are looking at Bible verses that are often quoted so out of context that their meaning is lost or changed when we use them.

Today’s Bible verse becomes really dangerous to understand differently from its actual contextdangerous because when we forget, or never understand what it’s actually saying, we apply it in ways that dishonor the God of love!

Here’s today’s Bible verse: I Corinthians 13:13 —- ….

And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.

 

Other than Psalm 23, I Corinthians 13 is probably the most read chapter of the Bible – there are verses more often read, but not entire chapters. And what name do we give to this chapter?The Love Chapter”. Right? “If I speak in tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal…. Love is patient and kind….  Love never fails…. And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.

One of the ways I hear this mis-quoted, mis-used, is when Christians, Bible-believing, Bible-reading, Church-going, Christians read this and say that “therefore, we must love others beyond our own thoughts and ideas, without any conditions or objections, we must love and accept and approve others, without any boundaries”.

 

Now, before anyone objects or walks out, let me say that I totally think we need to love our neighbors as we love ourselves – and that our “neighbors” includes Kenyans, Kurds, Kuwaitis, Kyrgs, LGBTQs, street people, street-walkers, children, teens, seniors, jalapeño-eaters, cheese-eaters, bacon-eaters!

I’m not talking about whom we love. What I’m talking about is how we define the word “love”!

 

Like how Jalapeño Poppers require a balance of pepper, cheese, and baconlove that is not balanced by faith and hope undermines the very definition of biblical love.

Love, without that counterbalance of faith and hope, becomes unloving.

 

Here’s what I mean:

The Bible uses the word “faith” in three ways: 1) faith can be the means of salvation (Ephesians 2:8, “we are saved by grace through faith”); 2) faith can be that which describes orthodox doctrine (Jude 3, “contend for the faith”); and 3) the word faith can express trust in God and God’s faithful works.

Paul, especially in this letter to the Church in Corinth, and especially especially in this chapter supports that third understandingtrust in God and God’s faithful works. Biblical faith, in this passage, balances love by defining the object of the Christian’s loveGod Himself! Jesus quoted Deuteronomy and Leviticus when He said to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength”, and “love your neighbor as yourself” – in that order! We cannot love our neighbor properly if we do not first love our God properly!

So, when love is prioritized over, or to the exclusion of, faith, love loses its object and its purpose!

 

It’s the same problem when we lift love above hope. Hope is the perseverance of faith; it is the firm expectation that all things work toward God’s glory and our good (Romans 8:28). When Boris tells me, “The end will be good” – that is a word of faith and hope, based on his love for God!

If there were nothing to hope for, nothing to look forward to, love becomes what Joe Holland, a theologian and pastor in the Presbyterian Church  in America, calls, “a fickle and momentary thing, a mere subjective emotion, detached from commitment and covenant, devolving into shallow well-wishes and general niceness.

Without hope, love becomes polite tolerance and acceptance, but with no truth of actual right and wrong. Without hope for tomorrow, we well-manneredly might let our children play in the street, because they want to, and we love them; but with hope, we get them out of the street and into the yard so they can grow into tomorrow! (i.e., there are reasons God’s Word tells us what is right and wrong!)

 

Do you see what happens here? If we read this verse, “these three remain: faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love”, with the understanding that love supersedes faith and hope, we lose biblical love. Real love, true love, requires faith and hope to survive.

I Corinthians 13, the “love chapter”, moves from calling love the necessary ingredient of Christian living (not just wedded bliss, which is when we usually read this chapter, but all Christian living; verses 1-3) to considering the definition of biblical love (verses 4-7) to thinking about faith, hope, and love on a time-line spanning from right now (whenever “right now” is) all the way to the ultimate culmination of, and all eternity following, the end of time, the return of Jesus, and/or our physical death in this life and entrance into everlasting glory.

Did you catch that? In terms of importance, faith, hope, and love are equal, each totally relying on the others.

But, when considered in terms of longevity, “the greatest of these is love”!

 

Here’s what I mean. In eternity, in heaven, neither faith nor hope will exist. These are good things to have in life on earth, but are totally unnecessary in heaven!

If we believe faith is the trust we have in God and God’s works, especially when we live in this fallen world which does everything possible to deny God’s Word and God’s existence. But in heaven, we will not need to trust God – we’ll be with God. There will be no “fallen nature” trying to convince us of anything else. Faith will not be necessary because we will clearly see God as He really is.

In the same way, why would we need hope, when everything we hope for in this life is ultimately attained?! When you hope the sermon will only last for 22 minutes, and the pastor says “amen” at 21 minutes and 34 seconds – you no longer need to hope for a timely sermon conclusion. It’s been done! In heaven we will be in full possession of everything we hoped for on earth. What God has promised, God has fulfilled.

So … no more faith or hope – neither will any longer be necessary.

 

But love will continue throughout eternity. This is agape love, not the erotic love of marriage, or the brotherly love of family – but agape love of God.   Love will grow ever stronger in heaven – as Christians in heaven grow to know God better and better we will love Him more and more! “Love never fails,” remember?

That’s what I Corinthians 13:13 love is about. It starts with our love for God, and then goes out to our neighbors. Love is not more important than faith and hopenot greater in that way. But in terms of an eternal time-line, loveoutstrips faith and hope in a way that honors the purposes of all three”.

 

So, dear friends in this life, in Spokane, or Spain, or Singapore, or Syria, we need faith to trust God, to secure salvation, to believe correctly; we need hope for how God will work in our lives tomorrow; and we need to grow in love for God, and for our neighbors.

And we really need to appreciate faith, hope, and love, with biblical understandings, allowing them to balance each other.

 

And, in the end, “it will be good”, where love will continue to be the greatest. Amen.

 

Resources:

Holland, Joe; TableTalk; August 2019; Pp. 16-17.

10/06/2019 = Matthew 18:20 = “Where’s Yahweh?”

(Click HERE for today’s audio message.)

Mark Wheeler

Matthew 18:20

“Where’s Yahweh?”

10/06/2019

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Through the Written Word,           

And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,           

Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Who here remembers when everyone was looking for Waldo? Do you remember the Where’s Waldo craze? It was wild, wasn’t it?

[For those who have no idea what I’m talking about: Here’s Waldo. (https://www.standingstills.com/wheres-waldo-cardboard-cutout-standup-standee-cac044)

Starting in 1987, a dozen books with dozens of pictures filled with bright colors, and lots of red and white, and stripes., were published, first in England (Where’s Wally?), then America. The objective is simply to find Waldo in the picture.

Here’s one of the simpler pictures for finding Waldo. (https://www.pixel-creation.com/64205/10-best-wheres-waldo-wallpaper-1920×1080-full-hd-1080p-for-pc-background/)%5D

Why do we start this message with a Where’s Waldo picture? Because knowing Waldo is in the picture is not the same thing as discovering where Waldo is in the picture.

And the same thing is true in real life for people like us who claim we believe in a God who is right here with us, but who don’t always live like we believe that is true…. You know what I mean, right? God, where were you whenthis diagnosis came, … when my child was hurt or killed, … when my spouse left me, … when my partner lost all our money, … … … ?

Right? When we worry about how bad it might be; when we can’t see the possibilities through the hardships; when we only talk about the bleak difficulties our lives are in the middle of. God, where are you?I believe. Help Thou my un-belief!

 

In this sermon series we are looking at Bible verses that are often quoted so out of context that their meaning is lost or changed when we use them.

The Lord watch between me and thee, while we are absent one from the other.Who here has seen that verse on two halves heart necklaces (where two lovers each where half the heart as a sign of their loving devotion one for the other)? Or, recited at the close of a women’s group as words of love for one another. Well, guess what. That verse comes from Genesis 31, where Jacob and his uncle Laban are swearing vengeance against each other if either does anything the other doesn’t like. Nothing to do with love and devotion!

 

Today we explore a less dangerous mis-quote, but none-the-less, a verse that is often quoted outside its own context. One scholar has called this misapplied verse “benign”, because how it’s used holds true through several other Bible verses and contexts.

Here’s today’s Bible verse: Matthew 18:20 —- ….

For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.

 

Where’s YHWH? We know, He’s here, right? We know God is omnipresenteverywhere! But … is this what this verse means?

 

Some of you were here last week, remember, when we talked about Matthew 7:1, “Judge not, or you too will be judged.” And we discovered that this verse is really about how we are to care for one another, and help each other to grow closer to God, to grow deeper in faith, to become closer followers of Jesus. Matthew 18 is a whole chapter about giving a process for one sinner restoring another sinner back into right relationship with God and with the Church.

This particular context is that a believer is caught in sin, and Jesus gives a four-step process for restoration:

  • Speak directly with the “offender” privately, pointing out their sin (maybe they weren’t aware, right?). Last week I used the example of you sitting in my car and watching me drive 45 mph along this part of Nevada Street. And you tell me I am speeding.
  • If this fails to slow me down, or to cause repentance in the sinner, Jesus tells us to bring another believer, or two, with us to lovingly confront the one caught in sin – me in my speeding. (And we brought Galatians 6:1 to this discussion –so here again.)
  • If this still fails, still with the goal of restoring our brother or sister to right relationship with God, Jesus says to bring the person before the Church – or before the Church Elders. James says that when we are sick, we are to call for the elders to pray and anoint with oil. He says that the prayers of faith will save the sick, the Lord will raise us up, and if we have sinned we will be forgiven (James 5:14-15).
  • The final step in this process is to “treat the sinner as a gentile or a tax collector”. This is code-word for church disciplinekeep away from the Communion Table and certain other worship rituals – with the hopes of instigating repentance and complete restoration, redemption, and reconciliation.

 

That’s when Jesus says, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them!” The context is the process of church discipline! And it’s not just a promise, it’s a statement of fact. In the course of this four-step process of restoring a lost Israelite, God is present! That is comforting and reassuring!

But it is not the simple glad-tidings of whenever people gather in His name – I mean, that’s still true but that’s not what this verse is about.

 

This verse, actually, is a blessing pronounced to a church that practices Church discipline properly. Again, do not think of Church “discipline” as Church “punishment”. Discipline is not punitive, it is meant to grow maturity and depth.

 

In my personal devotional Bible reading, last Thursday, I read from Ezekiel 48:35 the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel is describing what the soon-to-be rebuilt city of Jerusalem and rebuilt Temple will be called. The last words of the book of Ezekiel are: “The name of the city from that day shall be: YHWH is there!

That was certainly part of the belief – the Temple was built, and about to be rebuilt, to represent God’s presence. God did not actually live in the Temple – He told Solomon as much when he built the first Temple (“Can a building house the God of the universe?”) – but it represented His presence.

Where’s YHWH? There He is, in Jerusalem!

 

But Jesus says, when the Church acts like the Churchworships the one and only God of the universe; believes and receives God’s one and only Son, Jesus Christ; loves the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and might; and loves our neighbors as ourselves; feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, visits the shut-in; takes care of widows and orphans; in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, the ends of the earth

When the Church acts like the Churchrestores lost sinners to the household of GodWhere’s YHWH? Here He is! He is right here with us!

 

Dear friends, yes, it is true that God is with us, alongside us, guiding us, protecting us, suffering with us, always and no matter what – but this verse in particular is Jesus’ way of assuring His blessings when we act like we believe what we say we believe all the timeespecially when we are discipling each other to deeper faith. Amen.

 

Resources:

Handford, Martin; Where’s Waldo?; Little Brown & Co; 1987.

 

Reeder III, Harry L.; TableTalk; August 2019; Pp. 12-13.