08/12/2018 = Genesis 15-21 = Everything I Need to Know I Learned in VBS: “Abraham, Sarah & Hagar – Family Trees Have Deep Roots and Broad Branches”

(Click HERE for an audio version of this message.)

Mark Wheeler

Genesis 15-21

Everything I Need to Know I Learned in VBS:

Abraham, Sarah & Hagar – Family Trees Have Deep Roots and Broad Branches


Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church


Through the Written Word,

          And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,

          Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


A month ago, Jennifer and Brianna and I were on a trip to Florida and Virginia, bunking with some of Jennifer’s extended family – her mom and a brother and his wife and a sister and her husband and an aunt and uncle, and others – our trip’s mission, our stated purpose, besides having a giant family reunion, included spreading some of Jennifer’s father’s ashes at various cemetery sites, burial spots, of some of his ancestors, dating to before the Civil War.

Just before we left on this trip my own mother passed away, nearly 4 years after my dad had died.

All of this got me to thinking about my family tree – so I joined a free version of Ancestry.com and was immediately hooked by the fascination of discovering family background (I have followed my mom’s family back to Germany and Poland, back to the late 1600s so far).

One of the things I discovered is how deep our Family Trees go, but also how wide across and intertangled our Branches become when we look at the different side of each family, and the in-laws (and outlaws) we find. (Jennifer’s Mom and my Dad both have Irish roots with the last name of Moore – does that make us likely “kissin’ cousins”?) (And Jennifer’s Dad’s family line includes Pocahontas! – so, there’s that!)


In our current Sermon Series we are looking at some of our favorite VBS and Sunday School lessonsfavorite Bible lessons, or stories that we’ve always wondered about or had questions about. Today we read about Father Abraham, and his wife Sarah, and her servant woman Hagar, and their sons Isaac and Ishmael.


On Father’s Day we started this series, reading from Genesis 12 where God calls Abram to become, in his senior years (he was 75 years old), the Founding Father of a nation, a race, and a faith.

Your bulletins say that we are reading Genesis 15-21 today – so hold on to your seats …. —-


Back in Genesis 12 God had promised a man from the eastern country of Ur that he would receive a whole nation worth of land, and the offspring to fill it, and that one of those offspring would be the salvation for humankind.

But by chapter 15 a number of years have passed, and while Abram and Sarai, whose names change to Abraham and Sarah, now live in this Promised Land, they still have no children. They were old 3 chapters ago – they are now starting to lose confidence in God’s promise about children.

Well, Abraham complains to God – “I’m getting old, God, and Sarah – is it even possible at her age?!”

So God takes Abe out to the desert and tells him to look up into the clear, starry sky, “How many stars do you see up there Abe? Can you count them?

“No, Lord! There are far too many to count.”

Your children will outnumber those stars, Abe. Do you trust me?

Yes, Lord, I trust You. I believe You.”

But after a little while longer, and still no children, Sarah finally decides to follow the custom of the people whose land they were living in, for Abe to take her servant woman Hagar, to start a family with her, and maybe they could adopt her son and count him as their own. … …

So … Hagar becomes pregnant, and Abe is both proud of himself and afraid that maybe this wasn’t the right way to go. Hagar starts getting a little “showy” – “look at meI’m more important than the lady who I work for I’m carrying her husband’s babyGod loves me more than He loves Sarah!”

… … Well, Sarah had had all she could take! “Look what you did to me Abraham! – You gave your seed to Hagar, my slave girl, instead of to me, your wife!”

Abraham, being the head of his household, tells Sarah, “So, do whatever you want to with Hagar – she’s YOUR slave girl!”

Well, Sarah treats Hagar so miserably that now Hagar could stand it no longer and she takes off for the hot desert, she runs away, with no one to look after her.

God finds Hagar out in the desert, and even though she is not His plan for Abraham’s Family Tree, He consoles her, comforts her, promises her that He, God, would take care of her and her son, and that she would name him Ishmael (God hears).

So, Hagar returns to Abraham and Sarah, and when Abraham is 86 years old he becomes the father of Ishmael – but Ishmael was not the one God promised to Abraham in Genesis 12 or Genesis 15. … …

One day Abe is sitting at the opening of his tent while Sarah sits inside enjoying the A/C. It’s hot and dry, so Abe is surprised when he looks up and sees three men walking toward him.

He runs out to them, gives them a shady place under a tree, and then runs back to Sarah to get her to bake some bread, BBQ some steaks, get the jello salad started, and pour the Sweet Tea….

When the picnic is prepared and Abe brings the spread out to them, they ask where Sarah is – “Oh, she’s in the tent, getting the cherry pies ready” (or whatever).

The leader of the three men then said, “Nine months from now Sarah will give birth to a son.”

But, when Sarah hears this ridiculous prophecy, she bursts out in laughter!

“Why are you laughing, Sarah?” “I didn’t laugh!”

“But you did! Do you think this is impossible for God?! What I promise will happen!”

… … and Abraham realizes these are not just ordinary men – they spoke the Word of God Himself! Angels!

… … Then there’s like a 2-chapter interlude story about Abe’s nephew Lot and his life in and with Sodom and Gomorrah (this is where Lot’s wife looks back and turns into a pillar of salt – we’re not going into that story today).

The next chapter in Abraham’s life is when his son Isaac (Laughter – reminder of Sarah’s laughter, and of the joy and happiness that this son means to Abraham and Sarah in their old age, and as the beginning of the promise to Abraham about how many offspring he would have) is born. 

One day as Isaac grows into a toddler his big half-brother Ishmael is playing with him, but there’s some cruel teasing involved. Sarah catches the boys, and she burns with anger about Hagar’s son picking on her own son – so she tells Abraham that Hagar and Ishmael needed to leave.

Father Abraham was saddened by this, but God reassured him that He would look after Ishmael, and that he should do as Sarah wanted.

So Hagar does leave this time, and Genesis 21 tells the stories about how God takes care Hagar and Ishmael even as they go their own way.


That is not the end of the stories of Ishmael – he grows up and becomes the father of his own people – the people of Moab are his offspring, and the people of Edom, enemies of the Jews for generations; 600 years after Christ this Family Tree branched out into the Muslim people. Deeply rooted with the Jews and us Christians – and so very far spread abroad.


Isaac was the chosen son of Abraham, the one chosen to bear a son named Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel – does that sound familiar?) – and when we look at Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels where they give us the Family Tree of Jesus we discover the deep, deep roots of Jesus.


These stories are in our Scriptures so that we can see how God had a plan from the very Beginning of Genesis, fulfilled in Jesus, and offered to you for your salvation, for your invitation into this Family Tree, by faith we are saved by God’s grace.


Do you get the power of these stories? They tell us that it’s not really about simply being a church-goer, even a church leader. It is really about being a real member of the Spiritual Family Tree, which means knowing God our Father, trusting Him even when it seems impossible, and as His children, His sons and daughters, co-heirs with Christ of the unshakeable Kingdom of God living like we believe all that we say we believe.

How might we live into those Roots of faith today? How might we branch out with God’s perfect redeeming love to the world around us this afternoon? … …


Thank You, YHWH God, for the invitation into Your Family Tree, as undeserving as I am, Your love calls me as Your child.  Lord, help me, help us all, to branch out with Your true love, and bear the fruit of Your Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.



A Reflection after Whitworth Institute of Ministry’s Bible Hours on Colossians 3:12-17

Wearing Virtue

I am writing this article from the middle of my week at the Whitworth University Institute of Ministry, therefore my brain is already  overflowing and my thoughts may come out a bit jumbled. My apologies to you for that, and my thanks for the opportunity to meet with colleagues, to listen to experts, to share with friends, and to discover God in the midst of our chaotic and sometimes-disturbing world.

Each day this week begins with a 15-30 minute worship and prayer time, followed by a 75-90 minute Bible lesson. All week long we are looking at Colossians 3:12-17. Listen:

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Whitworth Bible professors, Josh Leim and Haley Jacob, talked about this list of virtues, and how we, as humans throughout history evaluate and judge one another based on our virtuous or vicious (vice-driven) we view each other to be. Paul says that, as God’s chosen ones, people who are called by God and loved by God, we become virtuous when we wear these items of virtue – compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience. But notice how different these “virtues” are from those that the dog-eat-dog world around us counts as virtue: strength, fortitude, skill, boldness. Almost like opposites. Professor Leim also pointed out how these biblical qualities of “goodness” might easily be used to describe the person and work of Jesus. (Jesus was also strong, formidable, skilled, and bold – but always with a sense of compassion, kindness, humility, and patience). These five “virtues” are also among the nine fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5. We cannot be these things on our own. We “put them on”, we “wear them”, as we crawl into Jesus’ likeness – created in the image of God.

As we move through the rest of this Summer, let’s live into our “imago Dei” (“image of God”) in such a way that the world around us will see and want the virtues we wear!

Since God has been so gracious to us, ought not we share that grace, His overflowing grace, with the world around us? Above all else, put on love which binds everyone together in perfect harmony! Let’s love each other as a means to share God’s love with the world around us. (Worship in the Park is one way to demonstrate this.)

May God bless you.



07/29/2018 = Genesis 6-9 = Everything I Need to Know I Learned in VBS: “Noah & the Flood – Why?”

(Click HERE to listen to this message.)

Mark Wheeler

Genesis 6-10

Everything I Need to Know I Learned in VBS: “Noah & the Flood – Why?


Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church


Through the Written Word,

          And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,

          Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


In our current Sermon Series, we are looking at some of our favorite VBS and Sunday School lessonsif you have a favorite Bible lesson, or a story that you’ve always wondered about or had questions about, bring them to me and we’ll eventually get at it, today we read about Noah’s Ark & the Flood.


A quip recap to remind us what’s happened so far tells us that God created everything and everyone – because God really wants our company!

But it took virtually no time at all for sin, disobedience, lack of respect, self-centered attention-seeking and self-driven motivational egos to get in the way – and Adam and Eve sin and are removed from God’s presence; and then their elder son, Cain, kills the younger son, Abel, and is removed even further from God’s presence. So far we have also seen that the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are involved in the creation work, and then in the saving work of these early humans – God promises a Savior who would defeat Satan, and God marks His people to protect them from dangers.

And then we read that another son is born, and that these sons find wives, and that Adam and Eve have more children, and that the face of the earth fills with people.


Your bulletins say that we are reading Genesis 6-9 today – that’s four chapters! And that’s right … – but most of that from this Children’s Bible – you’ll see, it’ll be alright.

But before we get started with that, let me read the first 6 verses of Genesis 6 from the ESV (page 4 in your NIV pew Bibles). Hear the Word of God …. —-

 1 When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. [So, I’m confessing straight up front that there’s a lot of confusion over what the heck this means, and I’m not spending time on it this morning….]   Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” [120 years is still a pretty good lifespan, right? But apparently, maybe because of sin, humans are not living forever.]   The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. [Again, we’re not spending time on it this morning, except to say how it somehow leads into the next sentence…. Pay attention:]

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  [Evil and sin is getting worse and worse, so that every intention, all the thoughts, each idea and action, was only evil, with no good in it, all the time! And listen to how God’s heart is described:] And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.

[The NKJV says, God was grieved in His heart. Our sin breaks God’s heart – it is an offense to God’s love for us. Imagine, for a second, that you or someone important in your life, had invested every ounce of energy, every nickel, every moment, in creating something beautiful – and it is amazingly so beautiful – but one morning it is found shattered into a gazillion broken pieces – what emotion fills your heart? Sadness doesn’t even begin to describe it – “heart-broken” might begin to get at it, but it’s too small. That’s how God is described here.]


The scene is set. Listen to the Word of God from The Children’s Bible in 365 Stories, Genesis 6-10 …. —-


In one-sentence, what is this story about?

God saves Noah – and His people, and His creation!

Yes, we can all see that there is lots of loss, way more losses than rescues, in these chapters – but the key-note of the story remains that God saves His people and creation.


It is at moments like this that I really wish we could still say we liked Bill Cosby – his Noah and God routine was hilarious! But Mr. Cosby, it seems, like all the people in the world in Genesis 5 and 6, had fallen to sin. The Bible calls it wicked, evil, so far gone it is irredeemable!

But God makes a way for redemption!


How does God redeem humanity? An Ark!

I love the image of the Ark – a container, built to safeguard against all the storms of life, against every tempest and every temper, against every violent windstorm and every violent attack, against every unexpected wave of terror and every unexpected wave of terror….


What are you facing today? What storms and tempests and waves are coming your way? God still redeems; He still saves; God still rescues His people – climb aboard His ark where He holds you safe in His arms.


And, did you notice, it rained for 40 days and 40 nights – that’s a long storm, but God kept His people and His creation inside that Ark for far more than 40 days! My math says it was much more like 12 months!

Does your struggle seem to go on and on? Are you wondering how much longer you will have to hang on? Friends, God loves youstay in His Ark of protection for as long as He needs you there.


How does this story end? The rainbow, right? The promise of salvation by way of the rainbow in the sky. The actual Hebrew word used here simple says “bow”. “God put a bow in the sky.” Frankly, I believe the context of the rainstorm and the promise for dry land implies that “rainbow” is what is meant. However, just to put it out there, some scholars believe that there’s another way to read “bow” (and, no, a ribbon with a pretty bow tied on it is not what they have in mind); some read this as a weapon for protection against evil (or the Evil one) – God put a bow (and arrow) in the sky.

Maybe, but I’m still happy with the rainbow. But, what shape is a rainbow – at least that part which we usually see from the ground – what does it look like? An Arc? And Arc in the sky? Indeed.

God rescues Noah and his family and creation with an Ark, and He promises salvation, and reminds us of that promise, with an Arc in the sky.


And, as with every good story, there is a story-arc that leads unswervingly to, that points directly to Jesus, the ultimate means of salvation, of rescue, of safetynot just from the troubles of this life, but beyond that, to the presence of God’s grace and mercy.


In just a few minutes we will gather around the Lord’s Table here, we will be reminded of a means of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ – we will be lifted into the Ark of God’s grace as we partake of the simple elements of Communion that contain that grace.


Have YOU stepped inside God’s salvation-Ark today? Jesus died to conquer evil – the evil of our sin and the evil that sins of others have brought on us! And He offers forgiveness by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross!


Thank You, YHWH God, for the invitation into Your Ark of salvation, even while, as Paul says, we are still sinning. In Your perfect grace, today, we step inside and accept Your love, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.



Batchelor, Mary; The Children’s Bible in 365 Stories; Lion Pub.; Oxford; 1985; Pp. 17-21.

07/22/2018 = Genesis 4 = everything I Need to Know I Learned in VBS: “Cain and Abel: What makes It ‘Right’?”

Mark Wheeler

Genesis 4:1-26

Everything I Need to Know I Learned in VBS: “Cain & Abel – What Makes It ‘Right’?


Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church


Through the Written Word,

          And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,

          Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


What was the first thing that Adam and Eve did after they were banished from the Garden of Eden?

          They really raised Cain.

How long did Cain hate his brother?

          As long as he was Abel.

And … the question we’re are honestly going to look at today: Why couldn’t Cain please God with his offering?

          He just wasn’t Abel.


In our current Sermon Series, we are looking at some of our favorite VBS and Sunday School lessonsif you have a favorite Bible lesson, or a story that you’ve always wondered about or had questions about, bring them to me and we’ll eventually get at it, today we meet Adam & Eve’s children.


Let’s listen together to the Word of God: Genesis 4:1-26 (pages 3-4 in the pew Bibles) …. —-

4 1  Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain.  She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.” 2 Later she gave birth to his brother Abel. [There, we’ve met the characters of this story. Adam and Eve were banished from Eden, and, following the Lord God’s command to be fruitful and multiply, they started having babies.]

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. [Abel is a rancher, and Cain is a farmer – both are good, important, jobs.]

 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord.  And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flockThe Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering,  5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. [THAT’s the question! Why was Abel’s offering approved and Cain’s offering NOT approved? What Makes Abel’s offering Right?]

So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry?  Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” [We’ll get back to this in a minute – those first 7 verses set the whole scene, so now let’s just sit back and listen see what happens next….]


Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. [That’s pre-meditated murder.]

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

10 The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.  11 Now you are under a curse  and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.” [Remember Adam & Eve’s consequence of their sin? Banishment from the Garden, from God’s perfect presence. Cain is banished even further!]

13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. 14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”

15 But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. 16 So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden. [Remember this part of the story – it is super important!]

17 Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. [This is not the same Enoch that read about in the next chapter, who never died but who “walked with God” – that was another Enoch.] Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son  Enoch. 18 To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael was the father of Methushael, and Methushael was the father of Lamech.

19 Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. 20 Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. 21 His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. 22 Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of  bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah.

23 Lamech said to his wives,       Adah and Zillah, listen to me;    wives of Lamech, hear my words.
I have killed a man for wounding me,    a young man for injuring me.
24 If Cain is avenged seven times,    then Lamech seventy-seven times.” [This simply reminds us that humanity is growing further and further away from God’s ways.]

25 Adam made love to his wife again, and she gave birth to a son and named him Seth, saying, “God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him.”  26 Seth also had a son, and he named him Enosh.

At that time people began to call on  the name of the Lord.


Now, there’s a lot to be said about what we just read – but I want us to hearken back to the verses of Cain’s unacceptable offering to the Lord God, and to what happened to Cain after he killed Abel.

Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord.  And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flockThe Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering,  but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.

Why, do you think, Cain’s offering was not looked on with favor, and Abel’s was?

  • Some people think it is because Abel offered a blood sacrificedeath as an atonement for sin. And while there is something to be said about that as a reasonable theory, where it falls flat is in the available resources that Abel had versus the resources Cain
    • Abel was a rancher, he took care of livestockanimals are what he had in his wallet to offer!
    • Cain was a farmer, he tended the fields of wheat and corn and alfalfafruits are what he had in his wallet!
    • It’s not in what they brought, it is, rather, in where what they brought came from.
    • Cain brought “some of the fruits of the soil”.
    • Abel brought “fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock”.
    • Did you catch the difference? It’s like me saying, “Here God, I’ve got a few things in my pocket, I guess you can have ‘em.” And my brother saying, “Here Lord, the best part of my paycheck, the first 10%, off the top, Yours!
      • The fact that it’s a livestock offering ends up playing into the blood sacrifice necessity to cover our sin-betrayal of God to begin with – but in this story that is not the main feature, it is simply a foreshadow of Christ’s death for our sin all those generations of sinfulness later. (Christ was also the “firstborn” of God’s.)


So, in verse 6 God counsels with Cain and says, ““Why are you angry?  Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Do what is right and all’s good! Or, succumb to sin, bow down to putrescence, submit to betrayal.Then God says, “It desires to have you.God personifies sinful temptation as a personality with power. “But,” He says, “You must rule over it!

Self-centered natures are what we all have in common – but God gives us the ability, we are “Abel” to rule over our self-centeredness and do what is right!

This is not a lesson about tithing, although I believe one could easily learn that lesson from this story – give the top 10% and God will bless you – and frankly, I have never met anyone who honestly gave a faithful 10% tithe a real try to have ever regretted it! I know that when we started writing our first check after payday as a 10% check to our church God has always met our needs – that’s just a personal anecdotal testimony.

This is a lesson about prioritizing our relationship with God – above all else, seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you. (Matthew 6:33)


And then, 13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. 14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”

15 But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. 16 So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

Did you catch the SALVATION message of this paragraph?! Cain confesses his guilt, his justified punishment, and his fear that being out of God’s sight will doom him to death. “Whoever finds me will kill me!” (… Who’s going to find him? Who else is there, right? The Bible doesn’t answer that question, or the questions about whom Cain or Seth married and had babies with – those are questions the Bible doesn’t think are worth the time it takes to discuss them – apparently there are other people on planet Earth….)

But the Lord said to him ‘Not so – if anyone kills Cain they’ll get it seven times worse!’ And then the Lord put a mark on Cain so no one would kill him.”

We are not told what that “mark of Cainis – and speculating will probably only get us in trouble, so don’t. But, essentially, God says to Cainyou still have a chance to do what is right, and be welcomed back in My presencerule over your sin-driven temptations – and even though you have been cast even farther outside of Paradise than your parents were, I’ll be watching you! (Every breath you take, every move you make, every bond you break, every step you take, I’ll be watching you. [1983, The Police, Sting])


None of us may have ever killed our brother – or neighbor, or enemy – but Jesus says that to even hold a grudge against someone is committing murder in our hearts. What is your body-count?

Do we give to our Lord and Savior off the top? Or do we give what’s left over? Or somewhere in between?

Do YOU know God’s salvation today? Jesus died to conquer sin – your sin and mine has been forgiven by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross! God has marked us for our salvation, with the blood His first-born Son! All we need do, is live into that mark!


Thank You, YHWH God, for the offer of eternal life, even when what we deserve is absolute banishment. In Your perfect grace, we sing of Your greatness, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.



07/15/2018 = Genesis 3:1-24 = Everything I Need to Know I Learned in VBS: “Adam & Eve: ‘My Name Is “Mud”‘”

(Please click HEAH for an audio vuhsion of this heah message.)

Mark Wheeler

Genesis 3:1-24

Everything I Need to Know I Learned in VBS: “Adam & Eve – ‘Hello, My name is Mud’


Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church


Through the Written Word,

          And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,

          Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


I want to start today by giving a BIG Thank You to Pastor Kathy, Rev. Brad Buff, and a whole team of Deacons and Sunday leaders who simply made things happen so well while Jennifer and I were away for 15 days. We had an amazing, exhausting, wonderful trip to the Florida Keys up to the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia. As Jennifer’s Uncle Larry might say, “That was some kind o’ vacation!”  It was hotter than a June Bug in your grits on the fryin’ pan. But really we had more fun than a Tick at a Flea Party.


In our Summer sermon series, we are looking at some of our favorite VBS and Sunday School lessonsif you have a favorite Bible lesson, or a story that you’ve always wondered about or had questions about, bring them to me and we’ll get at it sometime this Summer, today we get to visit the Garden of Eden.


Let’s listen together to the Word of God: Genesis 3:1-24 (page 3 in the pew Bibles) …. —-

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” [Before we get too far into this story, let me interrupt and ask  couple of real questions: Chapter 2 is the Creation Story that has the man, Adam (which is the same word as the word used to describe the dirt from which he was made), needing some company so the Lord God (YHWH) creates all kinds of animals which Adam names, and then YHWH takes a rib from Adam and creates a female, a woman. The first words in Chapter 3 are about the craftiest of all the wild animals, the serpent, and what does this crafty serpent do? It TALKS!… to the WOMAN!]

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” [Whu? Did you catch that? The woman just caught the serpent in a lie! “No! The Lord God did NOT say we couldn’t eat ANY fruit, only the fruit in the middle of the Garden!” And, if you look at Chapter 2 what we discover is that the Lord God said this to Adambefore the woman was even made! – she wasn’t there! And the instruction to not eat THAT fruit came with a warning – “You will die!”]

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  [Another lie from the serpent – in John 8:44 Jesus says that the devil, and almost every Bible scholar says that this serpent represents the devil here, Jesus says that “the devil is a liar and the father of lies”.]

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husbandwho was with her, and he ate it. [This is the story of the Fall of Man, the original sin that every human inherits – but notice the details – yes it is the woman who first eats the forbidden fruit, and she offers it to the man (her husband), who was WITH HER, and apparently had been with her since the beginning of this chapter, and who had not said a word, had not intervenedhe was the one that the Lord God had spoken to, but he said NOTHING when the serpent tempted the woman – and then he also ate the forbidden fruit! — Oh, and what was the fruit? Was it an APPLE? NO! Enjoy your apples, guilt-free!]

 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.  [This is a throw-back to the end of Chapter 2, “they were naked, and were not ashamed”– now, after the sin, they felt shame and tried to hide their guilt with fig leaves.]


Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. [the fig leaves were like camouflage] But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” [Did the Lord God not know where they were? Of course He did! But He wanted them to know that He knew!]

10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” [“You sinned – and I know it,” God says …]

12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” [Whom does Adam blame here? Not Eve – he blames God! “the woman YOU put here with me …”.]

13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” [The woman blames the serpent! – but who’s really to blame? – Isn’t that always the case? Yes, someone else may have tempted me, but isn’t it always my responsibility to choose? ]

14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,

“Cursed are you above all livestock    and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
    and you will eat dust    all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
    and you will strike his heel.” [Some of you saw the 2004 Mel Gibson movie, The Passion of the Christ. Do you remember the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane – that’s a completely different Garden than this Genesis 3 Garden, in that scene of that movie, Christ, while praying that He might not have to face this crucifixion (that was His temptation), faces  the serpent and crushes its head with His heel. (Nowhere in the Gospel stories does this actually happen, but almost every Bible scholar sees this Genesis 3 passage as a Messianic prophecy/picture of Christ’s victory over Satan, symbolically if not literally! – this is the first foreshadow of Christ in the Old Testament!]

16 To the woman he said,

“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;    with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
   and he will rule over you.”

17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you;    through painful toil you will eat food from it    all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,    and you will eat the plants of the field.  [We ain’t in Paradise anymore! Don’t we know it! … but before we’re done, we’re almost to the part where we see why today’s Sermon has the title it has – you ready?]

19 By the sweat of your brow    you will eat your food                  until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;           for dust you are         and to dust you will return.” [The name Adam comes from the same root word as the word for “dirt” (adamah). And because we all sin, every one of us – men and women, young and old, Black and white, all of us deserve to be banished from Paradisenone of us deserve to be allowed in the presence of the Lord Godevery one of us could wear a name tag that says, “Hello, My name is MUD!Turn to your neighbor, and introduce yourself – “Hello, my name is Mud!”]


20 Adam named his wife Eve, [She finally gets a name!] because she would become the mother of all the living. [We honestly, don’t really know, but we think the word “Eve” means something like “living”.]


[This last paragraph tells the Good News of this whole story – it’s a story about temptation, falling to temptation, choosing badly, betraying God, denying Him, and the consequences of those actionsdeath – they did not die physically, but they are banished from Paradise, separated from God’s presencedead in that relationship … but listen …]

21 The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. 22 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.”  23 So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. 24 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.

[Did you catch the SALVATION message of this paragraph?!  The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife! How does one make garments of skin? What’s the process? A death has to occur! An animal has to be SACRIFICED! A minute ago we saw the FIRST foreshadow of Christ, this is the SECOND – with this first sacrifice comes forgiveness, no more shame, guilt is forgiven – oh, there are still consequences – If I eat the last morsel of deliciousness, that maybe Jennifer had already promised to Andrew – I will be forgiven my trespass, but that doesn’t mean there might not be new rules relegating me away from the refrigerator! – and the SALVATION is bigger than just that sacrifice – the angel sent to guard the Tree of Life also protects us, saves us, from further doom and destruction.]



Do YOU know God’s salvation today? Jesus died to conquer sin – your sin and mine has been forgiven by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross! He crushed the serpent’s head! Yes, My name is MUD, but Jesus makes us clean as SNOW (ooh, doesn’t a little snow sound good right now!)


As we move into a time of prayer together, Pastor Kathy, come on up, remember that God washes the mud completely away.

Thank You, YHWH God, for the offer of eternal life, even when what we deserve is banishment. In Your perfect grace, we Gather at the River where we find Your perfect welcome, through Christ our Lord. Amen.


06/24/2018 = Genesis 1-2 = Everything I Need to Know I Learned in VBS: “Why Did He Do it?”

(Click HERE to listen to this message – the sound quality foes way downhill at about the 9-minute mark.)

Mark Wheeler

Genesis 1-2

Everything I Need to Know I Learned in VBS: “Creation – Why Did He Do It?


Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church


Through the Written Word,

          And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,

          Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


When I was in High School my lunch was the talk of my class, especially when I was a Senior and my classmates demanded to see my lunch bag each day. Why? Because, sometime during my Freshman year my mom, who had packed my lunch for me from 1st Grade on, started writing messages on the inside of my lunch bag – they were mommy-to-son “love notes” and “good wishes”.

As a Freshman, I was really embarrassed by them, and I wondered (but never said anything to her), Why did she do it?

But by the time I was a Senior, and people anxiously awaited lunch period so they could see what my mom wrote that day, I was kind of proud of my “celebrity status” (and other kids were jealous that their mom didn’t do this for them!

Why did she do it? – because this was one way she could express her love for me without embarrassing me (she never knew how much this meant to everyone in the Senior Quad!).


Today in our Summer sermon series, where we are looking at our favorite VBS and Sunday School lessonsif you have a favorite Bible lesson, or a story that you’ve always wondered about or had questions about, bring them to me and we’ll get at it sometime this Summer, we start at the Beginning.


Genesis 1-2 (page 1 in the pew Bibles), hear the Word of God …. —-

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.

11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” 23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,            in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

There is so much controversy about this opening chapter of the Bible! Really! What does it all mean? What do you think some of the debates are about with these verses?

  • What does “day” mean? – 24-hour days? Eons of thousands or even millions of years?
  • Intelligent Design or some kind of Big Bang natural accident?

Let me stop you there, because this sermon is not about proving one theory or interpretation correct and all the others wrong. I mean, I think I know all the answers here, but we’ll save that for discussion in the Social Hall after worship.

What I hope we get an understanding of today, admittedly this will touch on subjects of Evolution v. Creation, and maybe a few other interpretive inspirations, addresses the reasons for this story as the starting place for the rest of Scripture.

So, together, let’s notice a few key elements:

  • Who is responsible for Creation happening? What caused the universe (or, as scientists now speculate, the multiverse) to exist? [God! – Elohim!]
  • Let us make …” is a plural pronoun – even Elohim, the Hebrew word for God, is plural, but it is always connected to a singular verb (not as clear in English, but crystal clear in Hebrew); does this imply, perhaps, a Tri-Une God (three-in-One)?
  • What is the order of Creation here? [Our Bulletin cover has the “Check-list” in order, starts with the outer-space universe, moves toward our planet Earth, from lower forms of life (plants) to higher forms of life (animals), and ends with the Creation of Humankind, male and female, in the image of God, and it was very good!]
  • And the closing verse tells us it was the seventh day, which was holy, because God rested.
  • (There is so much more than that, but that’s a good start)

Now, we might ask, Why do you think Did He Do It?[Don’t answer yet, but keep that question in mind – we are going to keep reading – a second Creation narrative – listen for differences, and for similarities]:


This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.

Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

10 A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.)13 The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush.  14 The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

23 The man said,          “This is now bone of my bones        and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’       
    for she was taken out of man.”

24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

25 Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.



So, again, let’s look at this chapter and notice a few key elements:

  • Who is responsible for Creation happening? What caused the heavens and the earth to exist? [the Lord God! – YHWH Elohim!]
  • Most Bible scholars agree that the language used and the words chosen in chapter 2 sound like a different author, a different human composer, than chapter 1 – again, we can talk in more detail downstairs, but that’s just a real fact.
  • What is the order of Creation here? [Compare this with the Bulletin covers: earth and heavens are first, then water to wet the land, then the Lord God formed Adam from the dust of the ground, breathing life into his nostrils, next came plants, and after that animals, and way last came the woman (the female human)]


So, again, because this is a worship service and not an in-depth Bible study, I’m going to stop there, but remind us of the question we really want answers to: Why Did He Do It?

What do you think?

Because, while these Scriptures tend to be proven as historically accurate over and over again, I don’t think this was written as a science text; I do not think this was ever meant to be understood as a “How to” book.

(btw, have you heard about the scientist who came to the Christian theologian and said he was ready to prove that there is no God, or at least if there is a God, He’s not responsible for everything that exists as Christians claim.

The Christian theologian seemed skeptical, so he asked him to demonstrate his proof.

The scientist stated that if he could create life from nothing but the dust of the earth, that would prove that God is not necessary for that to have happened. And after a week of experiments and chemical reactions and physics events, sure enough, from a pile of dirt a life-form was created.

The Christian theologian was impressed, but then he asked the scientist where he got the pile of dirt.

The scientist pointed to is own backyard, and the Christian theologian said that that wasn’t a fair experiment – the scientist can’t prove anything until he can first create his own pile of dirt!)


What does the rest of the Bible, the whole Gospel, the entirety of the counsel of God teach us? God is love! And His Creation is a way to demonstrate that love – from the opening words of Genesis to the closing words of Revelation we hear God’s Word, which never returns void, which is God-breathed for all time, tell us that He Created everything out of His love – and then that He so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son – the second person of that Tri-Une Godso that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life!

Adam and Eve were told to go forth and multiply, so that God’s love could be even more powerful. The greatest Commandment, we are told several times, is to love the Lord your God with your heart, your soul, your strength, your mind – and then to love your neighbor as yourself!

Why Did God Do It? So that love could aboundprotection for immigrants, food and shelter for poor, care for the ill and the injured and the orphaned and the aged.

Why Did God Do It? – because, we are created in His image so that we might reflect His love for everyone around us, even as He gave Himself fully because He loves us!


Do YOU feel God’s love today? Jesus died because God loves you!

Will you SHARE God’s love today? Make a planshare that plan with a trusted friendDO your plan. Love someone with the love of God … today.


Thank You, Creator God, for the gift of life – not just our bodily living, but the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ Your Son! May we come to know Your love more deeply every day; and may we share Your love more faithfully with every breath. Amen.