Becoming All We Can Be: “What to do next?”

Mark Wheeler

February 23, 2014

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Genesis 22:1-18

“Becoming All We Can Be: What to Do Next?

 Holy God, Your love is both fierce and tender.  Nourish and prune us through Your Word and Spirit, so that we may grow in truth, in peace, and in joy, bearing fruit in this world, which You dearly love.   Amen.

 I am almost halfway through a class called Perspectives on the World Christian Movement.  It is a class on missions that meets for three hours a week for 15 weeks, with homework assignments each week, about 150 pages of reading each week, five one-page “reflections” papers, and one project that is due before the class is over.  It’s kind of like a real class – I’m back in school and it’s exhausting, and fun.  For my “project” I am interviewing an international college student from Saudi Arabia, an 18-year old boy named Musa. Musa’s a business major at Gonzaga.

During our interview we got to talking about how difficult it is to live in a country where no one speaks your native language.  And if by chance you should find someone who does, quite often she will speak a different dialect, or with an accent that still makes it hard to communicateBritish English, Australian English, Louisiana English, Boston English, Chicago English – they’re all different.  Not only do we pronounce the same words differently, sometimes we use different words for the same things! [Hush puppy, icy, freezy, slurpy, slushy, etc.]

That’s where today’s Sermon Title comes from.  Brianna invested her January in a remote Eskimo village 30 miles north of the Arctic Circle, where some of the elders still speak their native Inupiaq, and everyone speaks their Inupiaq dialect of English.  So, Brianna told us, when the kids finished a school assignment, their way of asking for further instructions was, “What to do next?” 

 This month we are looking at four Scripture passages, four stories, from Genesis, in a series called “Becoming All We Can Be”.  Being all we can be is a great motivational goal , ­ but it really is impossible. 

But we should be on the road to becoming all we can be. My taking this Perspectives class has put me on that road.   The Bible calls this the “sanctifyingwork of the Holy Spirit – a work which we have the right and the ability to quench.  Or, alternatively, a work we have the right and responsibility to encourage!

 Three weeks ago we read from Genesis 1 and saw that in Creation God created mankind in His own image – full of freedom and love and goodness, and He said, “This is very good”.  Two weeks ago, we read from Genesis 3 and saw why the hope for living in that perfect image of God doesn’t pan out, but we also saw how God provides new and even better hope for the whole world.  Last week we went to Genesis 12 and we discovered something new about who God is and how He redeems our Hope for eternal life.  Today I invite you to join me in Genesis 22, where we get a glimpse of what to do nextGenesis 22:1-18 …. —-

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

 Quick review: 1: God created you and said, “That is very good!”  Perfect relationship!

3: We have said, “I know better than God, let me do it my way.” And God calls us from our despair into a new approach to relationship.

12: God has “saved” humanity multiple times (Adam and Eve, Cain, Noah, Babel, Abram). Promising relationship!

What’s next Jack?  What up?  What comes after this?  What to do next?

 Look again at Genesis 22:2Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

 Let’s start with the first command here: “Take your son.” Are there any parents out there for whom this seems like a super good plan? 

And just in case Abraham doesn’t get it – or maybe so that the readers, you and I, get it – God gets real specific: “Take your son, your only son, whom you love – I mean Isaac (the promised offspring through whom all the promises of Genesis 12 will be fulfilledland, children, nation, Savior for the whole world … take that boy of yours and sacrifice him on Mt. Moriah!

 Does that not make you stop in awful wonderWhat the faith?  If Abraham does what God is commanding him, it will be impossible for any of those promises to be fulfilled

And … it looks like Abraham does what he’s asked to do – and that Isaac, who is probably well old enough to overcome or run away from his (literally) old man, also faithfully obeysIsaac even asks about Abraham’s plans.  “Wait a minute Dad – w-w-w-where’s the sacrifice?  W-w-w-w-what’d you say? You want m-m-m-me to climb up on the altar?”  Isaac may have been thinking all those things, but what he did was obey.

 My guess is that Abraham’s faith, not just that he obeyed this ridiculous command, but that he actually believed so much in his God’s power and love, gave him the strength to obey.  Abraham told Isaac, “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.”  Did he believe God would allow him to kill his only hope in the promised fulfillment of God’s covenant with him because he also believed God could/would raise his son back to life?  He told the servants: “We will go up the mountain; and we will come back to you!

Listen to this extreme: Abraham heard this awful command to sacrifice his son – and he responded not just obediently, but worshipfully! This is a worship service for Abraham! That’s how much he trusted and loved God!

 What to do next?  Friends, after we hear the Good News of God’s perfect love for us in the Creation stories; after we experience that love again through His voice calling our names in our struggles; after we experience the beginnings of God’s promises of how that love will be expresseddo we trust Him with our very best?  Do we believe He really has our best interest at stake?  Have we faithfully, trustingly obeyed even when we had no way of understanding how this could be a good thing? Do we worship in the very midst of the unbelievably hard times?

 Verses 15 – 18 restate the original set of promises, only this time God swears to God!  Listen again to what God says: “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies (become a nation), 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

 What to do next?  Live like we believe what we say we believe!  Become all we were created to be!

 And, are you ready for the kicker?  It was on this same Mt. Moriah, which became known as Mt. Zion, that God completed the task He had tested Abraham with2,000 years after Abraham offered his son, his only son, whom he loved, on Mt. Moriahthat’s when God offered His Son, His only Son, whom He loved, on Mt. Zionand all nations, every tribe, tongue and people, were blessed through Jesus.

 What to do next?  Let’s be on that road together and become all God calls us to be.  Amen.

 Resources:

Miller, Keith; The Becomers; Word Books; Waco, TX; 1973; Pp. 113-120.

 Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Faith Alive Resources; 2012; P. 347.

 

 

Becoming All We Can Be: “Here Ye! Hear Ye!”

Mark Wheeler

February 16, 2014

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Genesis 12 :1-9

“Becoming All We Can Be: Here Ye! Hear Ye!”     

Merciful God, we cannot stand before You unless our hearts are cleansed and our spirits are made right by Your redeeming.  Thank You for Your merciful forgiveness, and even more for Your transforming love made known to us in Jesus the savior.  Amen.

Three weeks ago was Brianna’s birthday, two weeks ago was my Mom’s birthday, Friday was Valentine’s Day, tomorrow is Caitlin’s 25th birthday, and my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary is in a few of weeks … so … I’ve been looking at greeting cards a lot.  Here’s what I noticed: a good greeting card gets your attention (with a pretty picture or a goofy cartoon), and then tries to smack you with something sentimental or silly.  They capture your attention: Come here, ye!  And then they say something clever or emotional: Listen, hear, ye!

Here are a few examples that Hallmark would never sell (because their slogan is, “When you care enough to send the best.

“Looking back over the years that we’ve been together, I can’t help but wonder…. What was I thinking?!”

“I’ve always wanted to have someone to hold, someone to love….  After having met you, I’ve changed my mind.”

“As you grow older, Mom, I think of all the gifts you’ve given me…..  Like the need for therapy.”

“When we were together, you always said you’d die for me….  Now that we’ve broken up, I think it’s time you kept your promise.”

“I’m so miserable without you….  It’s almost like you’re here.”

“You are such a good friend that if we were on a sinking ship and there was only one life jacket….  I’d miss you heaps and think of you often.”

This month we are looking at four Scripture passages, four stories, from Genesis, in a series called “Becoming All We Can Be”.  The truth is – we can never actually be all we can beIf we ever actually reached the summit of “all we can be” – life would end.  What comes nextBe more than we can be?  That’s a self-defeating goal.

But we should be on the road to becoming all we can be.  The Bible calls this the “sanctifyingwork of the Holy Spirit – a work which we have the right and the ability to quench.  Or, a work we have the right and responsibility to  encourage!

Two weeks ago we read from Genesis 1 and saw that in Creation God created mankind in His own image – full of freedom and love and goodness, and He said, “This is very good”.  Last week, we read from Genesis 3 and saw why the hope for living in that perfect image of God doesn’t pan out, but we also saw how God provides new and even better hope for the whole world.  Today we go to Genesis 12 and we will discover something new about who God is and how He redeems our Hope for eternal life.  Look with me at Genesis 12:1-9 …. —-

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,      and I will bless you;     I will make your name great,        and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,      and whoever curses you I will curse;     and all peoples on earth     will be blessed through you.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran. He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Harran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there.

Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.

Then Abram set out and continued toward the Negev.

Before we dig very deeply into this passage, let’s do some quick background checking.  The main character in this story is a man named Abram, we know him better as Abraham; but for now his name is Abram (God changes it to Abraham in a couple of chapters).  Who is this Abram?

Well, we know that Genesis 2 tells of  the creation of Adam and Eve, and they have some children, and their children have some children, and their children have some children.  In each new generation we are led to believe, by a few examples, and then by declaration, that each succeeding generation sins worse than their parents and turn farther and farther away from God.  Until, by chapter 6 we have the story of Noah and the ark wherein Noah saves humanity and every living creature from the flood.

And then Noah’s children have children, and they have children.  In chapter 10 we are given the “Table of Nations” through the family tree of Noah.  Then in chapter 11 the generations start their sinning all over again, culminating in the story of the Tower of Babel where the people try to reach the heavens and be like gods – the discipline that lands on them is that the unified people are scattered and now speak different languages in every nation.  Then, just before we come to today’s reading there’s a long list of those pesky who-begot-whoms, bringing us to a man named Abram from Ur (southern modern Iraq – remember, there are no Jews yet).

Who was this Abram?  It turns out he was a direct descendent of Noah – like everybody else! – through Noah’s oldest son, Shem.  Abram was Noah’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson (that’s 8 greats).  A little piece of interesting trivia for you, because Abram was a descendent of Shem, and Abram became Abraham, the Father of the Israelite people, we get our word “Semite” (anti-semite) from Shem’s name. Jews are SEMITIC people because they are children of Shem.

Now, when God approaches Abram in chapter 12, Abram is already well into retirement.  He’s some 75 years oldMarried to his wife Sarai for probably 40 or 50 years – but they are childlessThe name Abram means “Honored Father” – but he is no father at all.

Now let’s look at today’s reading.  First, The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.  Leave everything you know and go to an unknown destination that I will one-day show you!  Seriously, God?  That’s a bold demand to make on someone who might not even know who you are9 generations removed from the man of God who saved the world – but Abram never met his great-times-eight grandpa.  There was no picture in the newspaper of 9 generations huddled together.

But God’s command on Abram also carried with it several promises.  Count them with me: “I will make you into a great nation, ONE     and I will bless you; TWO     I will make your name great, THREE        and you will be a blessing. FOUR    I will bless those who bless you, FIVE     and whoever curses you I will curse; SIX     and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. SEVEN

God says to Abram, “Here ye!”  And then He says, “Hear ye!”  First is the command, then comes the blessing.

And guess what?  God calls us in very similar waysHey, get over here, you.  And listen to the promised blessings I have in store for you.

So Abram comes, and Abram listens.  And Abram doesThree steps.  And Abram’s story challenges us, doesn’t it?  Let’s be open to God’s presence.  Let’s actually hear what God tells us, pay attention, listen.  And, let’s go into the world doing what we have heardAbram was credited as righteous and faithfulThat’s what we wantBy God’s grace, let’s give it a go.

How many of these promises did Abram actually get to see fulfilled in his lifetimeMaybe he was fortunate enough to experience two of those promises kept: I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse.  He did not see even those two fulfilled in their greatest sense, but he may have witnessed some blessings and curses.  The rest?  Oh, they were kept – but not in Abram’s lifetime.  In fact it took so long for Abraham to truly even experience one piece of an answered promise that he and Sarah devised alternative ways to help God keep His promise – and that, of course, meant trouble for Abraham and his descendents ever since.

One of our US Presidents one time said this (see if you can guess which president said it): “We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.”  [1863, Abraham Lincoln]

With many of the same blessings, we have forgotten God, 150 years ago.  How much more in the generations since?

Those of you who use your Sermon Notes page, to gauge how much longer the sermon will be, might be wondering if we’re even close yet….   So let’s move forward.

Earlier I mentioned that Abram’s name gets changed to AbrahamAbram meant “honored father” even though Abram was not a fatherGod changed his name to Abraham which means FATHER of a MULTITUDE.

How many children did Abraham have?  Two sons – at least it was only two of any significance.  The first son was Ishmael through Abraham’s unfaithful impatient attempt to help God keep His promise – so Abraham slept with his wife’s servant, Hagar.  The second son was Isaac, when Abraham was 100 years old (and Sarah was 80!).  Hardly a multitude – but it was a start.

How many is a “multitude”?  It is unspecified, but God compares it to the number of stars one can see in the desert sky on a clear night, or the number of grains of sand on the shore.

What are some ways those promises God made to Abraham were kept?

While Abraham never owned any property in the Promised Land, we know that Joshua led the Israelites in some 600 years later – and Israel has been a great nation, conquered, defeated, exiled, scattered abroad a few times, but since 1948, they are again a nation with recognized borders and peoples.

Blessings have poured out on God’s people in uncountable ways.

The name of Abraham, and the name of Abraham’s offspring, are named among the greatest the world has ever seen – “and I am one of them, and so are you, so let’s just praise the Lord….”

And you will be a blessing.”  Abraham and his people were blessed, not just to receive God’s grace – that is seldom, if ever, the way God worksThey were blessedto be a blessingGod’s grace was never a closed-off deal – exclusive for just me and mine.  It has always been about sharing God’s grace with people around us, and with people across the globe!  In Acts 1:8 the resurrected Jesus tells His disciples to spread the Gospel in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and around the worldAll at the same time. This is what makes Abraham a FATHER of a MULTITUDE!

All of these blessings were fulfilled in the Old Testament stories that follow Genesis and the stories of Abraham and his children.  But there’s one more:

And all peoples on earth, every family, every tribe, tongue and nation will be blessed through you.”  How was this fulfilled?  In Jesus ChristMatthew and Luke both give is detailed genealogies of Jesus which lead us to Abraham as the Father of a Multitude, and an ancestor of Jesus – who is the author and finisher of faith.

“Looking back over the years that we’ve been together, I can’t help but wonder…. how blessed I am, we are – have we been the blessing to the world around us that we could have been – or that we might still be?!”

Let’s be on the road together to becoming all God calls us to be.  Amen.

Resources:

Lincoln, Abraham; “Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day” in Collected Works. The Abraham Lincoln Association, Springfield, Illinois, ed. Roy P. Basler (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 6:155-157.  http://www.hti.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/…lincoln6%3A336

 Miller, Keith; The Becomers; Word Books; Waco, TX; 1973; Pp. 121-125.

 Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Faith Alive Resources; 2012; P. 322.

Becoming All We Can Be: “Is that Really You, God?”

Mark Wheeler

February 9, 2014

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Genesis 3:1-15

“Becoming All We Can Be: Is That Really You, God?

Just and holy God, You need nothing from us, but You delight in our humble trust and thankful obedience.  We repent of our shallow rituals and empty sacrifices.  Enable us to do justice, love kindness, and humbly walk with You, our God.  Amen.

We’re not quite at tax season, but we’re getting close – so I am on the lookout for every piece of tax-related deduction-making evidence I can find.  I always do my own taxes, because when I was first ordained I discovered that we owed a few thousand dollars from the previous few years of doing it wrong; and as the tax consultant I used (a friend and member of the church I was ordained in) tried to help me, she learned that no one in her office, including herself, had ever done a clergy tax return, and she uncovered all kinds of tricky niches and traps to fall into or to use to my advantage.  So, she taught me how to do my taxes; and I do.

My goal, with claiming dependents and paying quarterly dues, is that at the end of the year I will not owe anything, and the IRS will owe me less than $100.  Why should I give them more than they deserve, just to hold it for me interest-free until after I fill out my 1040?

Well, a few years ago, I actually owed the IRS somewhere around $1,200.  So I withdrew from savings and made my payment with my return.

Has this ever happened to you?  In October, I received a check from the IRS for almost $1,400, because I had figured something wrong!  That was my first awareness that the federal government isn’t necessarily the “bad guy”!  I was in awe!  They paid me back enough to cover my 4th quarter estimate, and then some!

And I kinda thought, “Is that You, God?  Is that Really You?

This month we are looking at four Scripture passages, four stories, from Genesis, in a series called “Becoming All We Can Be”.  The truth is – we can never actually be all we can beIf we ever actually reached the summit of “all we can be” – life would end.  What comes nextBe more than we can be?  That’s a self-defeating goal.

But we can be on the road to becoming all we can be.  That’s a road-trip everyone should probably always be on.  The Bible calls this the “sanctifyingwork of the Holy Spirit – a work which we have the right and the ability to quench.  Or, a work we have the right and responsibility to  encourage!

Last week we read from Genesis 1 and saw that in Creation God created mankind in His own image – full of freedom and love and goodness, and He said, “This is very good”; and I believe that each time a baby is born – between 350,000 and 380,000 per day (134 million per year) world-wide – that baby is born in the image of Godinnocent, with all the potential to be a perfect reflection of God.

Today, we read from Genesis 3 and see why that hope doesn’t pan out, but we’ll also see how God provides new and even better hope for the whole world.  Genesis 3:1-15 …. —-

3 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’?”

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.’”

“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.”

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 husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 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.

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. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

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?”

12 The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

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.”

14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, … 15 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.…”

 What was the first recorded time that God spoke to His human creation? [in the command to not eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil]

Adam, we have every reason to believe, heard God give that command.  In today’s story, Satan, in the form of a serpent, talked to Eve and convinced her that Adam misunderstood God, or that God had ulterior motives for that command (I have a cartoon on my wall of Eve sitting in front of an Apple computer and a serpent telling her that God forbade her from touching it because then she would have the same access to all the information that God has).

Where was Adam in that encounter?  [Right next to Eve! Why didn’t he stop her?!]

So, when was the first time Adam actually heard God speak – I mean, when did Adam decide that listening to God was important? [When he got into troubleUh-oh, we’re naked!  Let’s hide from God. Uh-oh, He knows where we are! ]  —  This scene in Genesis 3 always reminds me of that 1968 sci-fi classic, 2001: A Space Odyssey, where the astronaut Dave is trying to disconnect the computer HAL from its spaceship mainframe operative program.  While this is a stretch, I wonder of Arthur C. Clarke or Stanley Kubrick was thinking about how mankind tries to disconnect from God.  After all, the computer’s name was HAL, and the Lord’s Prayer includes “HALlowed by Thy name”.

Research suggests that it is a nearly universal truth that when humans find themselves so far over their heads, so deep in trouble, so lost or confused or scared or defeated, that we don’t know what to do next, we reach out to Something beyond us – whether we have ever previously really believed in the existence of God or not; we cry out to some Unknown source of power (and, we hope, love) for help.  World-wide, in every culture, universally.

Keith Miller quotes John Knox as asking, “What is the ‘obsession’ which Gamaliel Bradford describes as a ‘keen, enormous, haunting, never-sated thirst for God’?  When Francis Thompson tells of his flight from the ‘hound of heaven,’ what is pursuing him? When Bertrand Russell cries out that the ‘center of (him) is always and eternally a terrible pain,’ a ‘searching for something beyond what the world contains,’ what is this something?  When Augustine said, ‘Thou hast made us for thyself and we are restless until we rest in thee,’ of whom, or to whom, was he speaking?

We are, it would seem, looking to be in some kind of relationship with God – even if we don’t know it and maybe would deny it with all our energy.

And even when we do start to draw nearer to Something beyond ourselves, we encounter a resistance within ourselves.  We have this innate need to be “in charge”; to be “god”, if you will.  We want to be helped and loved by God, but it’s like we are so afraid of losing control we won’t allow Him to get too close!

Unless – or until – we find ourselves so desperate we cry to Him for helpCS Lewis talked about these amplified times of fear-filled anxiety as “God’s megaphone”.  God sometimes uses these seasons of distress to get our attention – because now we’re ready to listen.

Think back to a time when you were “trapped” in such a hole of despair.  What was the situation, the condition, of your fear and worry?  For some of you, you don’t have to think back very far, do you?  Maybe some of you feel trapped in such a snare right now.

Is there a way to discover God’s presence, His power, even His love, in the midst of that nooseWhy would He allow that?  How has He used that to draw you closer to Him?

I see Bob right here in front of me – many of us have heard his testimony of how God used a tragic auto-accident as His “megaphone” to get Bob’s attention and call him home.

Is there a way to discover God’s saving voice in the middle of your struggle?

Look back at Genesis 3.  We can see that this whole encounter happens because Adam and Eve choose to sin; they decide to deny God’s authority; they worship their own freedom more than God’s majesty.  So now they are scared to death – literally – and they do not know how to escape from the judgment about to fall on them.  So they hide, and then they blame each other, and they blame Satan, and they blame God!

Where is God’s saving voice? 14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, … 15 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.…”

How, and when, does God fulfill this promise?  It starts immediately!  Then there are dozens, maybe hundreds of ways God fulfills this promise throughout the Old TestamentAbraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, the Judges, King David; and ultimately in Jesus.

Who here has seen the Mel Gibson movie, The Passion? Remember the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane, just before the crucifixionWhat does Jesus encounter in that Garden?  It is the serpent of Genesis 3.  That is just a cinema-graphic way to illustrate the fulfillment of this promise – but they did it well.

Have you heard Jesus’ voice in your struggles?  Have you listened for His Word of salvation and hope?  It is time to respond to His megaphone.  Respond today, and hear Him call your name.

Here’s the really good news: when we do that, God will demonstrate His grace and peace to others in our circles of influence – through our livesSomeone we know will receive a diagnosis of cancer, or divorce papers after 20 years of marriage, or a call from the police or hospital about their child – and this friend of yours will remember how you not only survived your trauma, but how you came out victorious!  Even if you still have cancer.  Even if your husband or wife still left you.  Even if your child never made it back homeYou had victory in Jesus.

I heard an old, old story,    How a Savior came from glory,     How He gave His life on Calvary     To save a wretch like me;     I heard about His groaning,     Of His precious blood’s atoning,     Then I repented of my sins     And won the victory.

O victory in Jesus,     My Savior, forever.     He sought me and bought me     With His redeeming blood;     He loved me ere I knew Him     And all my love is due Him,     He plunged me to victory,     Beneath the cleansing flood.

No, we’re not perfectPaul carefully reminds us of that, when he quotes Psalms 14 & 53 and Ecclesiastes 7, “10 … ‘There is no one righteous, not even one;  11there is no one who understands;   there is no one who seeks God.     12All have turned away,    they have together become worthless;    there is no one who does good,    not even one….’ 24 and all are justified freely by (God’s) grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3)

Wow God!  Is that really You?”  If you’re feeling convicted, confess it to Him, and repentdecide to turn your life toward Him.  And you will know it has been God’s voice, really.  And you will be thankful – even in the struggle.  Amen.

Resources:

Miller, Keith; The Becomers; Word Books; Waco, TX; 1973; Pp. 121-125.

Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Faith Alive Resources; 2012; P. 315.

 

 

Becoming All We Can Be: “A Pretty Good Start”

Mark Wheeler

February 2, 2014

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Genesis 1

“Becoming All We Can Be: A Pretty Good Start

God of creation and of wisdom, we do not know when our life will end, but we absolutely know when it began.  Help us to set our hearts on things above and not on the wealth and power of this world.  We pray this, trusting in Jesus Christ, our highest joy.  Amen.”

Hello, my name is MUD”.  Has that ever been what your nametag should have said?

I don’t know what story comes to your mind when you hear those words, but it probably has to do with some big error in judgment you made – maybe you blamed someone for something that went wrong, and you later learned that it was all your fault!  “Mud!”

I have a new, upgraded insulin pump, that came with a new blood glucose meter (for those who don’t know, I have Type I Diabetes).  So I went to a required training class a couple of weeks ago and programmed my pump to wirelessly connect to my meter so when I do have to test my blood sugar the info goes straight to my pump.

Well, a week later after I never got my meter to talk to my pump, I called the 1-800-help-line and talked with a technician after being on hold for 45 minutes.  The tech asked if there was anything in the room that might cause interference with the wireless transmission.  I asked, “Like what?”  “Well, like a cell phone, or a cordless phone, or a computer, or a TV set, or another person, or a glass of water.”  I said, “Seriously? I need to dig a lead-lined bunker in order to test my blood?” and I got sorta frustrated with her.

When I went home and re-checked all my settings, I realized I had put the wrong info into my pump, so my pump was looking for a meter that doesn’t exist.  It couldn’t find the meter with the “numbers” I told it to look for.  My name was “Mud”!  And I didn’t know how to call the 1-800-number and get the same tech to apologize.  So my name was “Deep Mud”!

Being “Mud” is a defeating sense of worthlessness – or at least of unworthiness.

This month we will be looking at four Scripture passages, four stories, from Genesis, in a series called “Becoming All We Can Be”.  The US Army used to have great recruiting ads on TV, with the tag-line “Be all that you can be! – in the Army!” (Who here just sang that tag-line in your head?)

The truth is – we can never actually be all we can beIf we ever actually reached the pinnacle of “all we can be” – life would end.  What comes nextBe more than we can be?  That’s a self-defeating goal.

But we can be on the road to becoming all we can be.  That’s a road-trip everyone should probably always be on.  The Bible calls this the “sanctifyingwork of the Holy Spirit – a work which we have the right and the ability to quench.  Or, a work we have the right and responsibility to  encourage!

Today, we begin this short series by reading from Genesis 1 (please note that I am not reading the whole chapter, but that doesn’t mean that the parts I am skipping are not important – only that I am hitting a few high-points particular to today’s message) …. —-

1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. …

26 Then God said, “Let us make man [Adam] in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

27 So God created man [Adam] in his own image,     in the image of God he created him;     male and female he created them.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” …

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

… 2:When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man [Adam] to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed the man [Adam] of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man [Adam] became a living creature. …

Those of you listening noticed that I inserted the man’s name, Adam, into the story?  Actually, that was not his name – that is the Hebrew word used that our English translations have translated as “man”.  The name “Adam” actually just means man – or more accurately, humanity, or mankind, or what we used to just call “man”. There is no gender attached to that word.  “Male and female He created them.

You may have also noticed that I also read a few verses from Genesis 2.  Look again at Genesis 2:7From what resource did God create the first human?  “Dust from the ground” – dirt, soil, mud!  My name really isMud”!  And, so is yours!

But being named “Mud” is not a bad thingWhat does God say after creation?  At the end of each day God looks at His work and says, “It is good.”  But after the day He created “Adam”, mankind, from the “mud”, God says, “It is very good!”

After all, Genesis 1 says that Adam is created in the image of God!  We are created good, happy, loving!  We are created to be connected, related, to God!  We are created for the purpose of worshiping, glorifying, honoring God!

Genesis 2 says that Godbreathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life”.  No other animal got “breathed into”.  The word used for “breathed into” is “inspired” – God’s Holy Spirit entered Adam.  We are created in the very image of the perfectness of God!

That’s a pretty good start!

But, in every case ever since then, this pretty good start, this “perfect image of God”, this imago Dei, has been blurred.

Designed/created to be free and loving (image of God), each of us chooses instead to BE god!  We want to be important – maybe the “most important!”  That was the sin Adam and Eve did in Genesis 3.

And because we have stepped outside our original purpose/design (to know God, “to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever” (Q & A 1 of the Westminster Catechism), we are on a never-ending striving goal to becomeworthsomething!  We wonder if life really has any meaning, any purpose.  Or is it, as Shakespeare wrote in MacBeth, “a meaningless tale told by an idiot”?

Regardless of the size of our achievements/accomplishments, we are left with a strange, lonely incompleteness, or a sense that there has to be “more to life than this”.

We read the paper or watch the news, even this afternoon when we watch the Super Bowl and our own Seahawks play – you know, with all the bad calls and jabberwocky talk afterwards – and we wonder, is this life evil and pushing toward death, or is it really good and pressing toward hope?

Does this life really have any meaning and purpose?

Will everything come out all right for me in the end?  Will the sun still rise tomorrow regardless of who wins the game this afternoon?

Will life triumph over death somehow?  Or will death wear the grim (and only) smile at the end of the game?

Our “sensing”, however vague, that perhaps life can be more than it is sets up a tension inside us as we deal with the real world we live in – cancer, surgery, loss, fear, unemployment, divorce, Bronco victory.  And this tension will not allow us to stop when our achievements have secured us enough stuff to eat and drink and be merry.  We are driven to get/do more!

We are, it seems, on a never-ending, unconscious search for freedom and wholeness, peace and hope – what the Old Testament calls Shalom.  And we keep searching in all the wrong places.

We don’t easily or naturally recognize that all of this dis-ease, this lack of approval and meaning, is the result of our being separated from God!

Our own efforts and good will and good intentions and virtues can not banish the dis-ease!

Somehow we bet all our happiness and fulfillment capital on the wrong “horse” (and I am not necessarily referring to the Broncos this time)! (Go Seahawks!)

Hear the Word of God one more time:  Then God said, “Let us make people in our image, after our likeness….” So God created people in his own image,        in the image of God he created them;        male and female he created them….  (then the Lord God formed the human of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the human became a living creature. …) …  And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.

That’s a pretty durn good start!  Friend, that means that for youyou are a child of God, a daughter or a son of the King; we are co-heirs with Christ.

Let’s recognize that good start, repent, and receive from our Maker the salvation He offers through Jesus Christ.  Which is why we come to the Lord’s Table in a few minutes.  As we pray, and bring our offerings to the Lord, and approach the Communion Table, let’s recognize the good start, and ask God’s permission to start over – in full relation to our Maker as our heavenly Father.  “Hello, my name is Mud”, and that’s a pretty good start. Amen.

Resources:

Miller, Keith; The Becomers; Word Books; Waco, TX; 1973; Pp. 113-120.

Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Faith Alive Resources; 2012; P. 310.