We Ought Always to Thank God for You

Mark Wheeler

Thanksgiving, November 28, 2013

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

II Thessalonians 2:13-17

“We Ought Always to Thank God for You”

We used this same Thanksgiving format about 8 years ago – a worship service done in the order of something from the 17th Century, almost 400 years old, and almost 150 years before the USA was even considering the possibility of being a nation.

One main difference between this service and those of the days of the Pilgrims seeking religious liberty in the mid-1600s is that their sermons lasted well over an hour, and mine will be under 15 minutes.

Now some of you are wishing we could do those Prayers of Thanksgiving over again, aren’t you?

We already read today’s Scripture passage, but if you look at the back of your bulletin, you can see it again while I go over some fine points I think we dare not miss.

This is the Apostle Paul writing his second epistle to the Church in Thessalonica, and he’s talking about people who have been influenced by false teachers, preachers who have taught them a bushel of lies, works righteousness, the evil of anything material, the false doctrine of a loving God who does not care about justice, or the hot-headed God who does not love His creation, the stand-offish God, etc, etc.  And then he comes to verse 13:

But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters – loved by the Lord,  – because God chose you as firstfruitsto be saved through the sanctifying work of the [Holy] Spirit and through belief in the truth.   He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In the middle of all the false teaching that is all over our TV sets, filling the internet, broadcast through Twitter accounts and shared across lattes and espressosyou have heard and believed the truth – that God chose you, and saves you through the work of the Holy Spirit and your action of believing Him – so that you might share in the glory of God!

Wow!  I would take that letter of endorsement any day!  And friends, when we see each other being winners over the falseness of the American dream or the prosperity gospel or any scheme of religion that takes us away from Jesus Christwe out to give thanksI thank God for you – every week!  You are awesomeYou are winners!

But, and every winning team knows this – the Seattle Seahawks better know this, even this year when they have the winningest record in the NFL – you’re only as good as your current game.  So Paul encourages the Church in Thessalonicastand firm and hold fast to the Gospel truth teachings.

And then Paul adds a blessing.  He says:

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope,  encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

He’s already said that our sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit – we are made holy not by our own good efforts, but by the work done on our behalf.

Now he adds his hopes that “our Lord Jesus Christ” (the Son) and “God our Father” (there’s the whole Trinity) will encourage and strengthen – that means, May He embolden (not just lift up and make happy, but may He make you brave and strong in every way you demonstrate God’s glory this Thanksgiving and Advent and Christmas season

This afternoon, as you gather around your table with family and friends, or if you’re alone, as you sit in front of the TV and watch a football game or whatever, find a way to be thankful for those around you who have successfully demonstrated their Christian faith in your life, and pray to be able to do the same – in the name of Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Loving and faithful God, we thank You  that in Jesus Christ You have revealed the height and width, the depth and breadth of Your love.  With You is the fountain of life, and in Your light we see light.  May our lives reflect Your goodness and by Your Holy Spirit bring healing and salvation to others, until all creation makes its home under Your wings.  Amen.

 

Resources:

Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute for Christian Worship; 2012; P. 231.

Three Commands, Two Prohibitions, and a Royal Wish

Mark Wheeler

Christ the King Sunday, November 24, 2013

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

I Thessalonians 5:16-24

Three Commands, Two Prohibitions, and a Royal Wish

O God, our King and our Glory, set Your seal upon our hearts.  Fashion our lives into a song of Your justice and goodness, so that the world might know of Your righteous reign. And when our earthly songs are spent, bring us to the throne of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.”

Today holds the special honor of being the last Sunday on the Christian liturgical calendar.  Today is called “Christ the King Sunday”.  Next Sunday is the beginning of the Christian Church Calendar with the 1st Sunday of Advent, the season that helps us prepare for the coming of Jesus – as a baby in Bethlehem some 2000+ years ago, and His return as the King of kings and Lord of lords at His 2nd coming.

So the Church year begins with Church people commemorating and celebrating Christ’s life – preparation for His 1st and 2nd comings, a time of remembering His life and ministry, the season of Lent helping the Church repent and receive God’s gift of eternal life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (the Easter weekend), celebrating Christ’s ascension, followed by several weeks of being the Church under His Lordship, culminating in recognizing Christ’s ultimate reign as King of the universe (today), and then we start all over again.

But today is also the Sunday before Thanksgiving, an American holiday to stop and give thanks to our Creator for the ways He has provided our freedoms and liberties.

For Jews, and Jewish Christians, this week also is the beginning of Hanukkah, an 8-day celebration of God’s providential care to His people.

It’s a full week!  I hope you are able to slow down enough this week to take advantage of celebrating who you are as a child of God and what God has done and continues to do for you every day (and I suggest that that means do not going Christmas shopping on Thanksgiving Day!).

If you look at today’s Sermon title, you might be able to guess that I tried to come up with a poker hand title, like: 3-of-a-kind, a pair, and a royal flush; or a full house and a royal flush – but I’m just not a poker player, and so I couldn’t figure out how to make that make sense.  Instead, I simply described what today’s Bible passage contains: 3 commandments, 2 prohibitions, and a royal wish.  Today, as we continue in our series on the Bible’s teachings about prayer we read these words from Paul to the Church in Thessalonica, I Thessalonians 5:16-24…. —-

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.

23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

Some of you, way back when you were children, had to memorize a Bible verse in order to win a VBS contest, or to finish your confirmation class, or just to impress a Sunday School teacher – and so you memorized John 11:35, which says … “Jesus wept.”  Why was that the verse you memorized? Because it’s the shortest verse in the whole Bible!

But, for those who opened your Bibles and followed along, what did you notice about I Thessalonians 5: 16 and/or 17Also only two words long – and much happier words than “Jesus wept”!

Verses 16, 17 and 18 contain our three commandments.  I want you to hear that these are biblical commandments!  When we do not obey a commandment, what do we call that?  A sin!  Right.  So let’s take a quick look at these commandments, and learn how to obey them better.  If you are a note taker, write down Commandments 1, 2, and 3.

Next to #1 write down: Rejoice always

Next to #2 write down: Pray continually (this is our “prayer verse” for the day)

Next to #3 write down: give thanks in all circumstances (this is a typical Thanksgiving verse).

And then notice that, for the careful exegete, and the grammarian who reads well, these commands have a rationale statement attached.  The end of verse 18 applies to all three verses.

16 Rejoice always (WHY?) – for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

17 Pray continually (WHY?) – for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

18 Give thanks in all circumstances (WHY?) – for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

A couple of weeks ago when we read Philippians 4, we had some of these same commands:

Command #1 is REJOICE alwaysSometimes, rejoicing is the easiest, most natural thing we can do.  When healthy babies are born!  When difficult exams are passed!  When chronic or terminal diagnoses are declared clear!  When we marry the perfect mate!  When we put a down-payment on our first house; or make our last payment on our mortgage!

Sometimes we do not rejoice at all.  We find it nearly impossible to rejoice.

Sometimes we rejoice only because we try to be obedient to the Scriptures – we don’t really feel any joy at all, but the Bible says to rejoice, so we just fake it.

Sometimes we are able to rejoice even in the midst of the most difficult circumstances – because of something much deeper in our souls than the mere happy or dreadful situation we find ourselves in.  This might be easy, but it is definitely the most super-natural, God-gifted, response our spirits can make.

Do we rejoice always?  We need to find our strength and our comfort in God through Jesus Christ under the influence of the Holy Spirit for this to even be possiblethat’s why this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Because He loves us.

Command #2 is PRAY continually.  Did you hear?  This is God’s Word telling us that nothing is too insignificant or too big a problem for us to bring to God in prayer.  In every situationevery situation, from new cancer diagnosis to a hole in the sole of your shoePray continuallyAgain, in Philippians 4 it said to pray continually with THANKSGIVINGwhy would we pray with thanksgiving? Not because of the doctor’s diagnosis or the pink slip or the final warning; but because we trust God to be God Almighty, All-Knowing, and All-loving, which means, even when we don’t like what the answer is, it’s the right answer, so keep on praying with thanksgiving!

This is the “Sermon Series on Prayerverse of this passage.  We are all reminded to pray with thanksgivingDo we bring every concern to God – with thanksgiving already on our lips?  Or do we hesitate to bring some things to God, because they’re just too small for God to care about, or too big for God to handleStart today; pray continually with thanksgiving in your hearts – that’s why this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Because He loves us.

Command #3 is Give thanks in all circumstances because God loves you so much, He wants you to trust Him even in the hard circumstancesthat’s why this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Because He loves us.

The next four verses contain our two prohibitions.  What’s the difference between a commandment and a prohibition?  There really is no difference, except the prohibitions are negative commands, like “Thou shalt not”.  To disobey this is just as sinful as disobeying the “Thou shalt” commands.

If you are a note taker, write down Prohibitions 1, and 2.

Next to #1 write down: Do not quench the Spirit.

Next to #2 write down: Do not treat prophecies with contempt.

For many people, these prohibitions require a little explanation or description.  What does it mean to “quench the Spirit”?  Who here knows who Debbie Downer is?  She’s a sketch character on Saturday Night Live, and everywhere Debbie Downer goes, she’s a wet blanket.  She always sees the pessimistic possibilities of every situation; and she always has a story to bring everyone else in the room down with her.  She “quenches the spirit” of any party she goes to.  That’s sort of what Paul is talking about in this passage, but notice that in our English translations the word “Spirit” is spelled with a capital “S.  He is talking about “quenching the Holy Spirit”, not just the over-all feeling or atmosphere in a room.  Warren Wiersbe describes this as “an admonition to Christians not to resist and reject the ministry of the Holy Spirit.”  He says, “The image is that of fire.  Just as fire brings light, heat, and cleansing, so the [Holy] Spirit enlightens, enables, and purifies His people.  Paul reminded Timothy to ‘stir up the gift of God’ (II Tim. 1:6), which means ‘get the fire burning again’.

And, “Do not treat prophecies with contempt” is Paul’s way of reminding the Church to listen to God’s voice, in Scripture and through mature and gifted Christians.

How do you know if you are “quenching the Spirit” or “treating prophecies with contempt”?  Paul tells us in verses 21 and 22: Test the Spirit and test the words of prophecy, and in your testing against what the Word of God says in Scripture and the what the character of God calls us to be like, hold on to those things which line up well, and reject everything else as if it were evil – because it is!

About 15 months ago, I sensed the Holy Spirit guiding me into an extended sermon series on prayer, with a once-monthly extended prayer-time, and this guidance was confirmed by some prophetic words from a mentor – and so we have been exploring different aspects of prayer and prayer-life for over a year.  I held on to what seemed good and rejected that which seemed wrong.  And I have heard from many of you that your personal prayers have become more powerful and that our corporate prayer-times have been more meaningful.  For that, I have been rejoicing always, praying continually, and giving thanks every week.  I trust you have found deeper meaning in your prayers as well.

Finally, on this Christ the King Sunday, there is one Royal Wish in verses 23-24: 23 May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

If you’re a note taker, write down One Royal Wish: May your whole being, spirit, soul, and body, be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord King Jesus!

Next Sunday we start the new liturgical year with the first Sunday of Advent celebrating the coming of the new-born King of the Jews in that Bethlehem stable, and we commemorate His coming again as King of all kings and Lord of all lords.

How do we be “blameless”?  Not by trying harder.  We’ll never make itNo one ever has.  We become “blameless” in spirit, soul and body, simply by receiving Jesus as Lord and SaviorIf we confess with our lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead, we shall be savedfor God so loved the world that any and all who believe in him shall not perish but have everlasting life!

And remember, the one who calls you, God Himself, is faithful, and He will do it.

Do you believe that Good News?

If not, do you want to?  Let’s pray:  Lord God, we gather here today, rejoicing that You have called us into fellowship with You, praying from the depths of our beings, and giving thanks for today’s Word from Your Bible, that we just need to confess our own sin and sin-fulness, and we ask You to enter into our lives and take over as Lord.  As we officially enter into the season leading to Christmas this week, open us, open me, to the real reason for this season.  I love You, Lord; and I want to live in Your Kingdom.  In Christ the King’s name we pray, Amen.

Resources:

Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Faith Alive Resources; 2012; P. 278.

Wiersbe, Warren; With the Word; Oliver Nelson; Nashville, TN; 1991; P. 792.

Keep Your Eyes and Hearts Open

Mark Wheeler

November 17, 2013

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Colossians 4:2-6         

Ever-present God, like the disciples on the storm-tossed sea, we sometimes ask if You still care about us.  In those times when we need You most, help us to remember that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from Your love that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.”

I have only ever met a very few number of people in my life who really, truly do not care about doing what is right.  I also, must admit, I don’t think I have ever met anyone who never failed, even in their own standard, at acting appropriately all the time in every circumstance.

In other words – we all really do have standards we want to live up to; and nobody is able to do so perfectly.

That puts me in some pretty good company; it also, however, means that it puts me in some pretty lousy company, tooStriving to improve, without complaining about the losers all round us!

And, I believe, it describes what the gathering of God’s people ought to look like.  Anybody here have as your personal goal to become worse and worse in your obedience to following Jesus Christ well?  And, is there anyone in the room who can claim that you’ve got it nailed down?  You see?  We’re a bunch of hopeful, idealistic losers.  And that’s OK.

A couple of thousand years ago there was an important town in what is now southern Turkey (about 125 miles east of Ephesus), where a church had been planted, but the people were all struggling with not living up to the standards they believed they should live up to as a churchThe Apostle Paul did not start this church, but while he was in prison in Rome he got a letter from them asking for his help and instruction. 

Paul’s reply is what we have in the Bible as his Epistle to the Colossians.

Last week we read a few verses from chapter 3, which was then followed by some instruction for how Christian households should treat each other, and how Christian servants and Christianmasters” should treat each other.

In Colossians 4:2-6, we read as Paul then gives his counsel to the church in general.  Do you want to grow toward the goal of better godliness, better submission to Jesus as Lord and Savior, becoming better ambassadors of Christ to the world around youPaul’s advice is to keep your eyes and your hearts open.

Listen to these words from Colossians 4:2-6…. —-

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Step 1 – for those who like to take notes here, there is only ONE step in this sermon!  Devote yourselves to prayer.

For those who have been here with us the last few months, you know we’ve been concentrating on the Bible’s teachings about prayer.  Here it is: Devote yourselves to prayer.

That means way more than simply remember to give thanks before you eat (or after you eat when really thought the food was super-good).  It means more than remembering to pray for your loved ones as you drift off to sleep at the end of the day.  It means more than changing your first words when you wake up from “Good Lord, it’s morning” to “Good morning, Lord”.

Devote yourselves to prayer does mean all of those things, but way more than even all of those things combined.  Devote yourselves to prayer has something to do with living in constant prayer, continual communication with our Lord and Savior.  It like what Brother Lawrence describes as “There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God.”

Yeah, but … how do you pray continuallyPaul says, be watchful and thankful.  With our eyes open, we will see what to pray for, whom to pray for, why to pray.  We may still not know exactly WHAT to pray – there’s an injustice or an accident or a war; do I pray for a conviction or for forgiveness, do I pray for safety and good health or for the Lord to take him Home, do I pray for peace or for victory.  It’s OK that we won’t always know what to say, so long as we keep our eyes open and give our concerns to God.

And be thankful.  We’ve been down this path before – be thankful in all circumstances, live with an attitude of gratitude – and let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts!

The next two verses, 40% of this 5 verse paragraph, is Paul asking for prayers for himself.  When you don’t know what else to pray for, pray for me!  Here’s a couple of specific prayer requests:

1)   That God may open a door – pray for opportunities

2)   That I may proclaim the mystery of Christ with clarity – pray for my obedience

If you want to know how to pray for your pastor, these are great suggestions.  Kathy and I would love to know that we are held to God for just these things, and whatever else, but at least these things.

Paul then goes back to being watchful in verse 5: Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.

Wait – what?  Yes, pray that I see my opportunities to faithfully share the Gospel, but you, too, keep your eyes open so that you don’t miss any opportunities to share your faith either!

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.  By holding the door for others, by saying please and thank you, by smiling instead of scowling, and by telling someone who Jesus is in your life.

If you do not have a answer to that question, then you’ve got some thinking to doKathy and I, and any of our Elders, and a number of others, would be happy to talk that through with youStep 1 is devote yourselves to prayer, so you can be better at knowing what you believe and then sharing your faith.

The last thing Paul gives us in this short paragraph is the summation of step 1: devote yourselves to prayer so that you can (verse 6) Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

We saw him tell us to keep our eyes openthis is where he says to keep our hearts open.

What does it mean to let your conversation be always full of grace?  It does not take a theological degree, or any special training in biblical exegesis to understand that Paul says here to talk nice!  Elsewhere he says to speak the truth with loveJesus says in Luke 6, that at a minimum we do unto others as we would hope they would do unto us – but as followers of Christ, we ought to do much more!

And, by the way – this is impossibleAlways full of grace?  C’mon Paul!  It is impossible, but the more we allow Jesus and the peace of Christ to rule in our hearts, the more possible it becomes to live in continual conversation with God and to therefore be more and more filled with God’s grace.

Why is it important to let our conversation be always full of graceSo that you may know how to answer everyone.

Answer what?  At least to answer the questions of faith.

Did you notice I skipped a line?  Listen again: Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Some people need a little salty seasoning to get through.  Still, full of grace, but perhaps seasoned with salt.  The truth is not always easy to hear, because it might tell me I’ve been wrong – so speak the truth in loveBe full of grace, but be ready to season that grace with a little salt, so the truth can be heard.

But first, and foremost, Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

As we move in this service of worship into our time of prayer, let us approach with prayers and petitions, filled with thanksgiving, and receive from God His gift of peace and protection for the week ahead.

Let’s agree to pray together….

                                                 

Resources:

Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Faith Alive Resources; 2012; P. 275.