05/31/2015 – Hebrews 12:15 – “Being Shaped by God’s Grace”

Mark Wheeler

Hebrews 12:15

“Being Shaped by God’s Grace”

May 31, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Remove, O Lord, any tension or anxiety, and stress or worry, which may keep us from fulfilling Your wishes of who we could be. Fill us with the grace of the Father, the strength of Christ, and the hope of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today is Trinity Sunday – liturgically, this is the Sunday we pay special attention to the Christian claim that the God we worship is … Three-in-OneFather, Son, and Holy Spirit, but all one God-head.

Comprehendible? Not in the least. It’s what we call “mystery”. Truth, but beyond perfect explanation.

But, the thought of Trinitarian Theology always makes me want to ask more about who God is.

And since God can be known, but not fully explained, how can we, how do we know Him?

The same question can be asked about the people in our lives. I can say, “I know Jennifer”, by the ways I have experienced Jennifer. Can I explain her to you? Not in the least; but I do know her.

I could say that, in a lesser way, about most of you. “I know you, by the ways that I have experienced you” – in distress, in celebration, in quiet study, in excited game-times. Can I explain you? A little, probably; but not perfectly. Can you explain me to someone else? A little probably; some of you more than others; but not completely.

So, how do we know the triune God? Maybe by the ways we have experienced Him – in reading His Word, in prayers, in miraculous events, in sensations and dreams and through friends and situations.

I’ll bet we could invest the next 90-minutes listening to stories of how people have experienced God. Maybe that should be our Fellowship Time assignment, or our Lunch-time assignment.

Have you ever actually “experienced” God?

If you can say “yes”, how do you explain that to someone who’s not sure God is even real?  [By simply sharing it as your experience – beyond explanation as a coincidence – this was God. Of course it’s not provable – but neither is it provable that it wasn’t a God-experience.]

How do those experiences “shape” us as human beings?

Interestingly, they don’t even have to be our own experiencesother people’s experiences have a formative nature on us, testimonies, stories, of someone’s God-experience can have life-changing effects on us!   [Corrie ten Boom, the Apostle Paul, Billy Graham, Simon Peter, who else …?]

Last week Brianna invited a friend from college over for a visit, and so “Eric” stopped by for dinner, and we got to talking. Jennifer masterfully asked him about any “experiences with God” he may have had. Here’s my version of what he said: “I believe God is out there, watching, maybe occasionally nudging – but not actually involving himself in our existence. Is there a God? I believe there is a ‘something’. I’m just not sure he’s benevolent. The quote: ‘God created man in his image, & we have returned the favor’ is probably way more true than we’d like to admit.

This opened all kinds of doors for further, deeper conversations and opportunities to talk about who this Triune God we say we believe in is. It helps define for us the meaning of life. We talk about having a faith that is seeking understanding; but sometimes maybe we simply have an understanding that seeks a faith to support it.

This brings us to this week’s lesson from the Bible. We are starting a new series which will explore the depth and the height of God’s Grace – how it is more than we deserve and how it is greater than we can imagine. So before we talk more of how we experience Grace – here’s a command from God’s Word about what we do with God’s Grace. Hebrews 12:14-17…. —-

14 Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. 16 See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. 17 Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.

May God bless the reading, hearing, receiving of His Word which never fails.

 So, let’s start today defining what we might mean by the word “Grace”:

What are some of the ways we use this word?

The bank, maybe the library, perhaps our doctor’s office gives us a “grace period” on when the next payment or book is due. Why is that called “grace”? Because it’s more than we deserve by the letter of the contract we agreed to.

We say “grace” before a meal. Why is that called “grace”? Because we are grateful for the gift of abundance, or simply for the sustenance to keep living. “Grace” deals with gratitude for a gift.

I have recently heard musicians speak of a “grace note”. What is a “grace note”? From what I understand a grace note is a kind of music notation used to denote several kinds of musical ornaments that is melodically and harmonically nonessential, but that adds a special musical gift to the number. (Is that about right?) Why is it called a “grace note”? Because it is more than is required, but adds a little something special to the song.

We might say that Kay or Joanna or Sandy or Kathy are “gracious” hostesses. Why are they called “gracious”? Because they do far more than merely open the door and let us in – they serve us in ways far beyond what should be expected.

We say that a dancer is “graceful”. Why is Fred Astairegraceful”? Because he moves across the floor with flair and an ease in ways that somehow make us feel loved and taken care of.

When we talk about “God’s Grace”, that’s what we mean – only far, far more!

My experience with how we understand “Grace” is that we really don’t – or at most, we barely understand it. We sing about “Amazing Grace”; we offer the “grace of Christ” to each other at funerals; when asked if we believe in grace, of course we say YES – who wouldn’t?

But I wonder if we think of God’s Grace as a politeness God offers us, something with no demands or expectations attached to it. God’s Grace is so much richer and deeper than that.

Your Sermon Notes page has a line on it that says: “‘God’s Grace’ is a STRONG, powerful grace.”

During these next several weeks we will discover ways we have been changed by God’s Grace; emboldened by His Grace; Strengthened by Grace; Softened by Grace; Shaped, and maybe RE-shaped, by God’s perfect Grace.

Some of us in this church have a dear friend, Cindy, who has endured many organ transplants – including a heart transplant. Someone had to die in order for Cindy to receive that healthy heart. When the doctor listens to Cindy’s heart-beat, it’s actually the still-beating-heart of someone else – someone who has given Cindy new life.

In his letter to the Galatian church (2:20), Paul says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me!That makes me wonder whose heart God hears beating in my chest? Is it, perhaps, the heart of His Son who died, and now lives in me? And you?

In Colossians 1:27 Paul writes, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.

That, my friends, is STRONG, powerful grace! Jesus, the Son of God, lives in us!

No other religion makes such a claim! No Buddhist believes that Buddha lives in him; no Hindu believes that their religious founder lives in her; no Muslim thinks that Mohammed lives in themselves. But Jesus, we are told, died for our sins, and in His resurrection, as we receive this truth in our hearts and minds, moves right in, and indwells His people and His Church!

Paul says this some 216 times! John tells us this 26 times! “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God!” (I John 4:15) 

Did you hear that Good News? Followers of Jesusbelong to Jesus! And as we “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (II Peter 3:16)”, we are increasingly His and become increasingly more like Him!

When we actually experience God’s Grace, it RESHAPES us – it TRANSFORMS us, more and more into the image of God!

I would LOVE to hear some stories about how you have experienced God’s Gracehow God’s grace has SHAPED you into the follower of Christ you currently are – and where you are growing in His grace! Maybe during the Fellowship Time downstairs we can tell each other some of our stories.

In just a minute we will hear from our Moving Back into the Neighborhood Guiding Team; some stories might be told in that report.

To close this message today, let’s hear the author of the Message to the Hebrews as he commands us to: “SEE to it that NO ONE falls short of the GRACE of God….” See to it that … who falls short? NO ONE! See to it that our children, our grandchildren, our neighbors, our co-workers, our classmates, come into contact with the GRACE of God!

The last line on your Sermon Notes page says to name one concrete way you might keep this command this weekone actual thing you can do to share the Grace of God with someone.

More than just being nice – of course do that – but even unbelievers can be very nice! Actually reveal to them the Grace of God! If we believe it is real – we have no choice but to show it to someone who doesn’t!

“Dear God, by Your transforming grace, help Your church point beyond itself through word and work to the Good News of Jesus Christ our Lord. Fill this room again, with Holy Spirit power take hold of each person that is open to Your spiritual gifts and anoint us in ways everyone will know is from You. Fill this place, ignite our faith, fan the flame, and burn brightly through Your people into our neighborhoods, by Your Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Let’s hear from the MBiN Guiding Team….

Resources:

Lucado, Max; Grace: More than We Deserve, Greater than We Imagine; Thomas Nelson; Nashville, TN; 2012; Pp. 1-11.

http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2009/11/17/how-much-do-you-have-to-hate-somebody-to-not-proselytize/

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05/24/2015 – Matthew 16:23-25; Romans 12:1-2 – Following Jesus Today: “The Transforming Power of Love”

Mark Wheeler

Matthew 16:23-25; Romans 12:1-2

“Following Jesus Today: The Transforming Power of Love”

May 24, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

You are our refuge and our strength, O Lord. We pour our lives into Your hands that we may discover all the benefits of Your grace and all the power of Your presence. Amen.

Let’s see a show of hands of anybody here who remembers having prayers said in school. Did any of you have class field-trips to a local church? Who remembers when students could lead prayer at a baccalaureate ceremony?

All of that has changed, hasn’t it?

Six weeks ago we started a sermon series right after Easter called “Following Jesus Today”. We started this series recognizing that the America some of us grew up in seems to have changed. There was a time, not too many decades ago, when “going to church” was sort of the normal, expected Sunday experience. Our culture and society sort of revolved around church schedules: no youth sports of Sundays, no after school activities on Wednesdays (that was church youth group day), Spring Break coincided with Holy Week, etc.

60 years ago when Spokane’s population was half what it is today, church attendance was three-times what it is today. But something shifted – for better or for worse, that’s not the way it is anymore. The Church has become irrelevant to the felt-needs of the people around us; and as a result our pews are emptier and our resources are fewer. Our influence has waned, our authority has dissipated, and our presence is ignored. So, during these weeks between Easter and Pentecost, we have been looking at how to Follow Jesus Today. We have examined how our words and actions impact the world around us, how we experience both the absence of God and the embrace of God in our daily walk with Him (and how to invite others to experience God’s perfect grace), what it means to love God and to love our neighbors, how to know Truth from falsehood, and the importance of displaying our faith in forms our neighbors can recognize as ways we actually are following Jesus. 

Today we look at two different Scripture passages that appear to be completely unrelated; but I invite you to listen to the Word of God and discover the direct connection. Let’s hear God’s Word from Matthew 16:23-25…. and then from Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 12:1-2 ….—-

Matthew 16: 23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (This happened immediately after Peter had made his out-loud faith declaration that Jesus is the one and only Messiah, the Son of the living God – and then Jesus told His disciples that He would go to Jerusalem where He would suffer and be killed, and Peter rebuked Jesus and said that that could never happen!)

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.

And from Romans 12: Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

May God bless the reading, hearing, receiving of His Word which never fails. So, realizing that we live in one of the least-churched states of our nation, where fewer than 15% (the last poll I read [from 2002] said 17%, but church stats across our city indicate that it is lower today) fewer than 15% of Spokane is in a Christian worship service on any given weekend, what are we supposed to do?One model, and this has been in place for most of the 20th Century and continues into this 21st Century, is to try our very best to make our church more attractive than the church down the street and even more attractive than some of the other options our culture and society offers. So we build church buildings and develop programs that compete with society around us.

An “Attractional” Church tries to ATTRACT people to its building and programs, and to Christ. This model has worked for many churches – the churches with the resources to do it well – Life Center, Real Life, ONE, and in its day Calvary Chapel – have reached people for Jesus and grown! But even these churches confess to only reaching certain segments of society, and while they go out a mile wide, they often only go an inch deep.

There is nothing wrong with being attractional; being attractive is almost everyone’s goal. Admittedly, there are days when I look in the mirror and say, “Sorry world, this is as good as this is gonna get today”; but most days I at least brush my teeth and comb my hair. My resources can only make me SO attractive, but I usually try to be less unattractive than when my feet first hit the floor in the morning.

But I often wonder if this is just the worldly way of reaching people for Christ. Let’s look better, and see if we can win them to our side.God’s ways are different than our ways. Is this “suffering” that we encounter – this lower attendance in worship – because we have been lax in our efforts? Or is this part of God’s work to strengthen our faith and our fellowship? Or is there some third way to see this? 

Since the mid-1980s, this “attractional” mode of church growth has started to fail. It still works at one level – something like 75% of all American Church-goers attend Mega-churches, but something like 80% of those people have little more to their Christian faith than attending church services. The divorce rate, cheat-on-your-taxes rate, and relative-morality rate is the same as those who do not go to church at all.

And churches like ours try to be attractive – but we just do not have the resources to compete with the world around us – we can’t do better childcare, we can’t bring in big-name speakers or performers, we can’t even afford building upgrades so that we look like we’re leading the 21st Century.

Fortunately, God wants our best, and He gives us everything we need to offer it. One of the main American Church dilemmas is that we have tried to attract new people without making lasting connections with the people around us. In the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s – all you had to do was build a church and people would flock to it. That is no longer true!

“Attraction” without “connection” will not bear the fruit we hope to grow.

In this 21st Century, because we are no longer the center of all civic activities, we need to put more emphasis in being a “Connectional” Church – one that tries to CONNECT to the people in our neighborhoods, and CONNECT them to Christ.

Why is it so difficult for followers of Jesus, you and I, to focus on the things of God as compared to earthly things? It is part of our fallen nature. Adultery, murder, theft, lying, envy are all in the Big Ten Commandments because, by nature, we want what makes us look better to others and feel more worthy to ourselves – sparkly, jingly, shiny, loud stuff draws attention to us. The world seems to have drawn us into its deceptive stories of false values.

I want the bigger, badder, louder, motorbike. I also want the bigger truck, without dents and rust and leaks, and that I know will start every time I turn the ignition. But, is that the right thing to want?

Paul says to not be conformed to the world, butbe TRANSFORMED by the renewing of your mind”.

Today is Pentecost Sunday – this is the day we celebrate God’s Holy Spirit filling each of Jesus’ followers – the first time was 50 days after the Passover celebration in the year that Jesus was crucified, killed and buried – but that Pentecost was not a one-time event. Pentecost (the name merely refers to those 50 days, on the Jewish calendar it was 50 days after Moses led the Israelites across the Red Sea that God gave him the 10 Commandments), reminds us that the Holy Spirit of God fills each and every one of God’s children when we receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, when we are baptized – but it also reminds us that God always desires a deeper connection with His people. He wants to live in us, and empower us with His Gospel Truth.

To be TRANSFORMED by the renewing of our minds means to repent from whatever drags us away from our connection to God and to allow the Holy Spirit to take command.

What that looks like in your personal life will probably be different from what it looks like in my personal life – my sins may not be your sins.But before we’re done today, we will ask for a refilling of Holy SpiritI wonder what being “TRANSFORMED by the renewing of our collective minds” might look like in the life of LPC. Would we figure out new experiments to CONNECT with our neighbors? Would we be more deeply CONNECTED to each other? What would the world around us see and how would that ATTRACT them to the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

In just a few minutes we are going to pray and then receive the offering for God’s Kingdom connections. Let me invite you to rip off a piece of your bulletin – I expect to hear a holy tear – and write down one concrete way LPC might demonstrate the Kingdom of God in northeast Spokane this year – you can then put your ripped-off ideas in the offering plates along with your tithes to God’s purposes.

Let’s pray:“O God, by Your transforming grace, help Your church point beyond itself through word and work to the Good News of Jesus Christ our Lord. Fill this room, again, with Holy Spirit power take hold of each person that is open to Your spiritual gifts and anoint us in ways everyone will know is from You. Fill this place, ignite our faith, fan the flame, and burn brightly through Your people into our neighborhoods, by Your Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Resources:

Detterman, Paul; Following Jesus Today: Challenges and Opportunities (Participant’s Book); Presbyterian Mission Agency; Louisville, KY; 2014; Pp. 36-43.

05/17/2015 – I Peter 3:15 – “Following Jesus Today: Show and Tell”

Mark Wheeler

I Peter 3:15

“Following Jesus Today: Show and Tell”

May 17, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

You are our refuge and our strength, O Lord. We pour our lives into Your hands that we may discover all the benefits of Your grace and all the power of Your presence. Amen.

Does everybody here remember grade school “Show and Tell” time? When I was in kindergarten this happened every Wednesday. Every kid in the class had the chance of bringing something from home that we could show our classmates and tell about. One time I “borrowed” my brother’s favorite rock, and hid it in the coatroom so I could surprise my class with how cool I was. When “Show and Tell” time came all the kids who brought something went to get their items – but “my” rock wasn’t there. I was devastated – and scared, because my brother didn’t know I had “borrowed” it…. (I later learned that the custodian thought it was “just a rock” [which, in reality, it was], and threw it out into the yard somewhere. Oh, and my brother, never missed it; it wasn’t really his favorite, or anything special at all.)

Our three graduates just finished (or are about to finish) their grown-up versions of “Show and Tell”. Final Projects, theses, term papers, Final Exams, etc – those are just “college-ageShow and Tell’” items.

During these weeks between Easter and Pentecost (that’s next week), we are learning how to Follow Jesus Today. We have examined how our words and actions impact the world around us, how we experience both the absence of God and the embrace of God in our daily walk with Him (and how to invite others to experience God’s perfect grace), what it means to love God and to love our neighbors, and how to know Truth from falsehood.

Today we go to the general epistle of the APOSTLE Peter, in fact this Apostle Peter was one of Jesus’ three key LEADERS (James, John and Peter got to spend a lot of “alone time” with Jesus), and listen for what he says about Following Jesus Today. Obviously, he wrote this letter almost 2,000 years ago – but his original recipients were groups of people who lived under constant THREAT because of their faith in JESUS; the minor threats we might live under here in America make this letter very apropos for us 21st century followers of Jesus, too, especially when we see followers of Jesus in Africa and the Middle East being killed nearly every week. Listen to the Word of God, from I Peter 3:15…. —-

15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect….”

May God bless the reading, hearing, receiving of His Word which never fails. Did you hear Peter? He just gave us “Show and Tellinstructions! He said, “Your chance to share this most valuable item with the rest of us is coming – here’s how you show us and tell us about that valued thing.” The first thing Peter tells us is what this “favorite rock” we are bringing for Show and Tell is. He writes, “In your hearts revere Christ as Lord.That is what this “favorite rock” is really all about. Remember when Jesus took His disciples away to a private place so He could talk with them about who He really was? He asked them to tell Him who people, both His critics and His cronies, His foes and His friends, those who wanted to behead Him and those who wanted to BFF Him, who do these people think He is? And these Apostles started spouting off all the stuff they had heard from all the gossip columns and talk shows. Then Jesus turned straight to them and asked, “OK, so who do you think I am?” And Peter, this same Peter said, “You are the Christ, the promised Messiah. You’re the Son of the living God!Jesus told Peter, “That’s my favorite rock! I’m going to build my Church on that rock! And this Church will knock down every stronghold of Satan that exists!

Now, in this letter, Peter says, “Revere this Christ as Lord! This is that rock we’re bringing to Show and Tell!”  There are four key words in this verse – four words of instruction for every follower of Jesus – four words about how and when it is our turn for Show and Tell.

1)   ALWAYS be prepared…. When is my turn? ALWAYS! When should I be ready to Show someone the reason for my hope? ALWAYS! But really, do I have a specific time and place? Yes,,, ALWAYS! This means that it is never just a projectevangelism isn’t something I go out and do; ALWAYS be prepared is just the way we live – at work, at play, at the desk, in the field, on the lot, in the gym, behind the wheel, in front of the TV. ALWAYS be prepared!

So does that mean I never get to have fun? Of course that’s not what it means – what it does mean, however, is that our fun always glorifies God! Question and Answer #1 of the Westminster Catechism: What is the chief end of man (what are we here for)? The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever!This week I heard a message on KMBI radio about how obedience to God means complete obedience to God. We can’t obey Him part way and wonder why things worked out the way they did. The illustration used was the Joshua and the battle of Jericho story. The plan to defeat Jericho by marching around it several times seemed silly, but that’s what God said to do. After marching around once on the first day, nothing happenedno cracks in the wall, no evidence of victory or surrender at all. The same on day 2, and day 3, and so on. I imagine Joshua thinking, “C’mon God? Isn’t this what you said to do?” Not until 7 days of marching, and finally blowing those horns and shouting, did they see anything. And then – the whole city came a tumblin’ down, down, down, down.

ALWAYS be prepared … means to always obey and be ready. ALWAYS.

2)   Give the reason for the HOPE you have …. This is not an order to go to seminary and earn a degree in theology and biblical apologetics. It simply says, Always be prepared to give a reason for the HOPE you have…. If you cannot explain why you have any HOPE in God through Jesus, if the Holy Spirit does not inspire a word of explanation for your HOPE … maybe you need to examine if you really have any HOPE. Is Jesus in your life? Do you trust Him in this life?

3)   Do this with GENTLENESS …. Have ever heard someone share their faith in such a way that totally embarrassed the other person, and maybe even the one sharing his faith? There probably is a proper time and place for the “Turn or Burn” signs on the street corners – but those signs win few converts unless the person reading it is literally headed straight into a fire!

Gentle loving kindness wins people into the Christian faith with more real authenticity and truer longevity than Bible thumping or haranguing.

4)   Do this with RESPECT! Respecting the place the other person is coming from; respecting cultural differences; respecting possible life-difficulties; respecting different ideologies, political perspectives, backgrounds; does not mean agreeing with them – or even regarding them as equally valid or true. It does mean holding the other person in a place of honor. She’s probably really trying her best in this life! He’s probably dealing with a whole set of life circumstances we can’t understand.

But always being ready to give the reason for the hope you have, and doing that with gentleness and respect will win your respect. Listening with ears that love will win the accessibility to share why we have hope!

Today I am giving you a little homework assignment. We are just about to honor our graduates, but these grads need to know that just because you wear a cap and gown does not mean homework is done – in fact, in some ways, it is just beginning.

Your Sermon Notes page lists, at the bottom, two… Spiritual Practices for all who are serious about your faith: These are by no means meant to be exclusive. There are countless spiritual practices one might do to continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ – but here are two things that apply to today’s Scripture reading:

  • Talk to a youth/young adult, asking about any time they may have experienced God outside a church setting (and listen to their answer); and ask if they could send a photo of such an experience.
  • Pray the following prayer each day for the next week: “O God, by Your transforming grace, help Your church point beyond itself through word and work to the Good News of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Alright. It’s time to invite our grads to come forward for a little commissioning ceremony, and to honor them for their hard work. And to pray for them as they continue to venture forthalways being prepared to share the reason for their hope, revering Christ as Lord, with gentleness and respectNikolay Bulakh – was the first person who said TODAY was the best day for this to happen – and then he called me Friday to say he had just entered into a Chess Tournament and would not be able to be here. Anyway, Nikolay’s mom, Vera, is here. Vera, please come forward.

Nikolay graduated from Gonzaga University last Sunday, with a Bachelor of Science, Mechanical Engineering.

Andrew Wheeler – and mom and Brianna, come on up with him. Andrew graduates this afternoon, from Whitworth University, with three degrees, Bachelor of Arts, Cross-cultural Studies, International Studies, and Peace Studies.

Caitlin Wheeler – whose whole family is already up here. Caitlin will earn her Masters degree in Fine Arts from Eastern Washington University.

Vera please give our love and deepest respect to Nikolay; Andrew and Caitlin – your Church could not be more proud of your accomplishments, and we pray for how you continue to grow in your fields, and make this world a better place! These gifts are for you.

Let’s pray:Our heavenly Father, as we stand with these graduates and their families, we stand in awe of their fidelity and hard work and integrity of spirit and heart and mind. Today, we stand together, and peer into their future with them, wondering how You will use their passions and skills to help build Your Kingdom purposes. Today, dear Lord, we commission Nikolay and Andrew and Caitlin into Your service, in the fields they have studied and prepared themselves, to represent your purposes of peace and love and justice, in all the ways You have crafted their hearts and minds into Yours. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Resources:

Detterman, Paul; Following Jesus Today: Challenges and Opportunities (Participant’s Book); Presbyterian Mission Agency; Louisville, KY; 2014; Pp. 31-36.

05/03/2015 – John 18:37-38 – Following Jesus Today: “What Is Truth?”

Mark Wheeler

John 18:37-38; I Timothy 3:15

“Following Jesus Today: What Is Truth?”

May 3, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

You are our refuge and our strength, O Lord. We pour our lives into Your hands that we may discover all the benefits of Your grace and all the power of Your presence. Amen.

I spent some significant time this week chatting with a group of “millennials”, people born sometime between the mid-1980s and the late 1990s – basically people that are now in their 20s. We talked about what it means to be a Christian in this 21st century, and why so many in their generation do not go to church. Of course there is no single answer to that question but among those who grew up in church-going homes and attended church as children the common thread of answers seems to lie in the field of understanding what is “real”, what is “authentic”, what is “truth”.

(In part, this is why it is so important for us to use those yellow inserts in today’s bulletin as guides for every one of us to ask a simple question of this same generation – “where have you experienced God in your lives, outside of a church setting?”) Listen to their stories, and ask if they could send a photo of something that represents such an experience.

If something smacks of phoniness, or feels fake or put on, millennials go the other way. And in my humble opinion, they are right to do so! Who wants to invest their lives, their money, their time, in something that purports to be one thing but feels like something very different?

Not me! If I’m giving 10% of my family income to an organization, I want to trust that that organization uses my resources for the things it says it will (and which I, too, support!).

Now, hear this: that was not an introduction to a lecture on how good this church is with our finances. I think we are good – but that is not the topic of today’s message. Today’s topic is much deeper: “What is truth?

During these weeks between Easter and Pentecost we are learning how to Follow Jesus Today. We have examined how our words and actions impact the world around us, how we experience both the absence of God and the embrace of God in our daily walk with Him (and how to invite others to experience God’s perfect grace), and what it means to love God and to love our neighbors.Today we will listen to the Bible address the issue of Truth – and we’ll examine whether we live authentically with/in that Truth. Listen to the Word of God, from John 18:37-38, this takes place after Jesus’ arrest and as He stands trial before Pontius Pilate…. —-

37 ‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate.

Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’

38 ‘What is truth?’ retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, ‘I find no basis for a charge against him.’

May God bless the reading, hearing, receiving of His Word which never fails. “What is truth?” What a great question! And, in fact, one which people continue to ask every day every where.Have you ever sat on a jury? That’s the whole jobdetermine what is truth. Baltimore, MD, is on lockdown because of the difference of opinion about what is truth. Last night, who won the fight? Did Mayweather knock Pacquaio out? Did he even knock him down? No. Three judges, none of whom felt the blow of a single punch, decided that Mayweather won. In baseball, whichever team has the most runs won the game. In boxing, sometimes, it’s whoever looked better…. What is truth?

And we people are prone to argue over what is truth. Sometimes it is truly a matter of opinion – is cherry cheese cake better or is blood pudding better?

Sometimes it is black and white – is 6 greater than 1? But even that can be gray – is 6 African elephants greater than 1 cherry cheese cake?

And sometimes two people can look at the exact same evidence, and because of personal experience and perspective, come to two very different conclusions – when Jesus says, in John 14:6, just before His arrest, “I-am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”, did He really mean that belief in Him is the only link to a truly real relationship with God?

What is truth?” I looked it up in my Funk & Wagnall’s. After 26 lines of arbitration my Funk & Wagnall’s finally defines “Truth” as that which holds “stedfast [sic] fidelity to order and law.”

Steadfast fidelity to order and law. If it doesn’t make sense – it is not “truth”; if it doesn’t hold true in every circumstance – it is not “truth”.

This is, in part, why we live in a world where “Truth” is in the eye of the BEHOLDER. It’s all very subjective. “What may be true for you – fine, and happy for you – may not be true for me.” That is how modern culture has defined “truth. One cannot talk about “absolute Truth” without offending someone – we therefore have collectively decided there is no such thing.

But here’s the truly real thing: part of what it means to be a Follower of Jesus is to believe that God truly is real – and that this truly real God has chosen to reveal Himself to us through His written Word, the Bible.

And if the Bible is this truly real God’s Word to His creation, we must decide to either believe it is truly real or not. Paul told his young protégé Timothy to remember that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.” “God-breathed” or “God-inspired” is supposed to suggest “trustworthy, believable”. The Bible is True!

This truly trustworthy, believable Word of God tells us that Jesus came as truly God and truly human in order to right our relationship with God, by dying on the cross and being resurrected on the third dayThis is Truth! Always, every where, all the time.  And it doesn’t matter whether we believe it or not, it is still true! Always, every where, all the time.

Being the Church means we do believe that! Peter is well known, among other things, for being the first to declare to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” And Jesus quickly responded by declaring that that Truth is the foundation stone upon which His Church would be built – and that even the gates of hell would not be able to stand against it!

That’s the Church I want to be a part of! LPC is not a perfect example of such a Church – we fail and falter and fight and finagle with the best of them – but LPC is truly on the right track!

Paul, again advising his youthful disciple Timothy in I Timothy 3:15, reminded him that “the church of the living God [is] the pillar and the foundation of the Truth.

In what ways is the Church of Jesus Christ as a whole called to preserve the Truth while engaging with non-believers? In what ways is the Church to be “the pillar and foundation of Truth”? We need to, at least, hold on to God’s Word as authoritative over faith and life. We could let culture determine what is true, ignoring Scripture; but to do that would be to turn our backs on the truly real God who so loved the world He sent His one and only Son so that anyone who believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life!

We need to pray – to give our concerns to God and to trust Him for His powerful, loving presence to see us through.

We need to love the Lord our God, with everything we’ve got; and we need to love our neighbors by pointing them to His perfect love, at every chance we can.

And we need to do this togethernot as lone rangers or rock star soloists – but as branches of the same Church of Jesus Christ, regardless of the name on the sign out front.

What is one thing LPC can do to be preservers of this Truth? One thing? Preach with authenticity. One thing? Live in ways that demonstrate our faith. One thing? Ask our young adult and teen-aged neighbors about their God-experiences. One thing? Be present in our neighborhoods, loving and serving with God’s love and presence and purpose.

Imagine the impact on Spokane if the 65 of us and the other 30,000 Followers of Jesus in Spokane, actually told the Truth to just four other people this year.

This is the foundation of our Vision Statement: We are a people who:

Know the power and love of God, and

Grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, compelling us to

Go in the footsteps of the Holy Spirit, loving and serving others who do not yet

Know the power and love of God….*

Let’s answer this question loud and clear. What is Truth? Jesus is the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Him!

Resources:

Detterman, Paul; Following Jesus Today: Challenges and Opportunities (Participant’s Book); Presbyterian Mission Agency; Louisville, KY; 2014; Pp. 19-24.

*Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church Vision Statement, 2006.