08/30/2015 – Romans 3:21-26; 8:35-39 – “God’s Perfect Grace”

Mark Wheeler

Romans 3:21-26; 8:35-39

“God’s Perfect Grace”

August 30, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

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

Three weeks ago Jennifer and I got to go to my old PPC Youth Group Reunion – over 30 years, for some nearly 40 years, shared life-stories, prayed with each other, laughed, cried … and we all knew we were friends for life. Separated by 3,000+ miles and more than 3 decades – and Christian brothers and sisters for eternity!

Two weeks ago Jennifer and I got to go to The Fellowship Community gathering in San Diego, on CA freeways – one wrong turn and miles of separation from our planned destination. Maybe you’ve seen the TV commercialyour driveway connects to the roads that lead to the ends of the earth”, true, but a few wrong turns and we’re lost for a good long time – separated from peace of mind and joyful car-ride.

Right out of college Caitlin moved to Thailand for 1.5 years – separated from mom and dad by thousands of dollars and thousands miles, and two days of flying.

Straight out of grad school Brianna moved to Shishmaref for at least 2 years – separated from mom & dad by thousands of dollars and thousands miles and 28 hours of flying.

Directly out of university Andrew is moving to Italy for 3 months – separated from mom & dad by thousands of dollars and thousands miles and a boatload of jealousy/envy!

Last week Adam taught us from the first part of Romans 8 – and we were faced with the guilt and shame and missed opportunities that seem to separate us from the love of God. Has anyone here ever wondered if God could possibly ever want to have anything to do with you again? After a choice made, after an act of vengeance or stupidity or selfishness ….If you’re thinking, “Not me! I’m fine. I have never done anything that really deserves the wrath of God.” Let me remind you of Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That “all” includes yours truly, and you (truly). And 3 chapters later Paul reminds us that the wages of those sins is deatheternal separation from God Almighty. But let’s look at the entire Romans 3 pericope and see what Paul is saying …. —-

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

Earlier in the same chapter Paul quotes Psalm 14, 53 and Ecclesiastes 7 when he says, “There is no one righteous, not even one; … All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”

All have sinned (earning the wages of death), but (verse 24) all (the same all) are also justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

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

I heard recently about a young man who used to cry himself to sleep most every night because he was afraid that he might have forgotten, or was ignorant of, some sin he may have committed that day. He was afraid that he was doomed to hell for not confessing that sin.

Are you like this young man?

I know others who carry such extreme guilt because, even though they have confessed their sin, confessed it to God and to the victim of their offense, they believe they are unforgiveable – and therefore doomed to hell.

Does this guilt describe your own conscience?

Maybe you know someone who lives under such a giant shadow of shame – they know they have sinned, they have confessed and repented of that sin, but they feel so much shame over their actions that they cannot forgive themselves and they believe their shame weighs their eternity against them. The Microsoft Word dictionary lists “disgraced” as a synonym for “shame”.

Has shame disgraced (removed grace) from your soul?

I look back on almost every day with regret for having missed almost uncountable numbers of opportunities to be more faithful to my calling as a Christian believer, as a follower of Jesus. I shoulda/coulda said/done something more deliberate to share the love of God to that person behind me in line/in that situation at the corner of Chance and Obedience. But I didn’t. And I go to sleep wondering if that missed opportunity will cost someone else their relationship with Almighty God.

Do you ever worry that your own fears might remove God’s Perfect Grace from your life?

Let me take you to another word from Paul in his letter to the First Century Church in Rome: Chapter 8:35-39 says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” (Psalm 44:22)

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, [nothing], will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Did you see that list? Trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword. And this is not an exhaustive list. It’s just the beginning. After quoting again from the Psalms Paul adds to the list: death or life (what else is there?), angels or demons (any kind of spirit-being your mind might conjure – gremlins included), present or future (past is already behind us, so Paul concentrates on today’s and tomorrow’s worries), any kind of power at all (governmental, religious, employment, educational, utility, you-name-it), height or depth (now I think he’s just reaching for another reason someone might wonder about their salvation or about God’s Perfect Grace), nothing at all can ever separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In Romans 8:37 Paul says “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us”. What does that mean? Anyone?

Does it mean we will never lose a battle? Is Paul suggesting that I will never need to prepare for a debate because I am assured victory? Is Paul telling you that cancer or stroke or diabetes or arthritis or divorce or unemployment or a failing grade are all beyond the scope of possibility because we believe in Jesus?

Of course not. That’s why the incomplete lists of tragedy are already so long. Because we will face trouble and hardship, maybe persecution and famine and nakedness, possibly danger and sword (look at what is happening to followers of Jesus in Islamic State controlled regions of Syria right now). But the victory we have is in Jesus.

In 1939, at the age of 54, a very successful businessman named Eugene Monroe Bartlett wrote a Southern Gospel Song that goes like this:

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

When I was in seminary Jennifer and I worshiped, and I was privileged to lead, a very diverse church (diverse in every way imaginable), where a future best-selling author also worshiped (maybe some of you have read some of her books), Anne Lamott. She very wisely once wrote: “I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”

It’s a great re-do on the old bumper-sticker theology that says, “God accepts us just as we are, but loves us too much to leave us there.” That is God’s Perfect Grace.

Confidence in faith, assurance of what we hope for and of what we do not yet see, grows only as we put it into practice – step out, trust God with something new today – your finances, your marriage, your Christian vocation, your afternoon planstrust Him and see what He does. He sought you and bought you with His redeeming blood; He loved you before you ever knew Him, and all your love is due Him; friends, He plunged you to victory beneath the cleansing flood.

And, just like thousands of dollars and days of plane-travel do not really separate children from their parents, that’s even more true of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ – if we have received His gift of salvation through His death and resurrection, we cannot ever be truly separated from our heavenly Father, ever!

If you know this song, let’s close by singing “Victory in Jesus” together:

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

“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.

Resources:

Lamott, Anne; Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith; Anchor Books; NY, NY; 1999.

Lucado, Max; Grace: More than We Deserve, Greater than We Imagine; Thomas Nelson; Nashville, TN; 2012; Pp. 205-208.

Advertisements

08/02/2015 – Ephesians 1:3-14 – “Chozen: Let It Go”

Mark Wheeler

Ephesians 1:3-14

“Chozen: Let It Go”

August 2, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

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

Does anybody here like to read Max Lucado books? If you’ve never read him before, I’m going to give you a taste today. Straight up, I am confessing a little plagiarism (except that I’m crediting him, so it’s not really plagiarism at all).

Between 1854 and 1929 about 200,000 orphans and abandoned children in eastern cities were placed on westbound trains and shipped across the US in search of homes and families. Many of the children had lost their parents in epidemics. Others were children of down-on-their-luck immigrants. Some were orphaned by the Civil War, others by alcohol.

But they all needed homes. Loaded on trains in groups of 30-40, they stopped in rural areas for viewings. The children were lined up on the platform like livestock at an auction. Potential parents asked questions, evaluated health, and even examined teeth. If selected, the children went to their homes. If not, they got back on the train.

The Orphan Train.

Lee Nailling remembers the experience. He had been living at the Jefferson County Orphan Home for 2 years when he, as an 8-year-old, was taken with his two younger brothers to a train in NYC. The day before, his biological father had handed him a pink envelope that bore his father’s name and address. He told the boy to write him as soon as he reached his destination. The boy placed the envelope within a coat pocket so no one would take it. The train embarked for TX. Lee and his brothers fell asleep. When he awoke, the pink envelope was gone. …

What I’d like to tell you is that Lee’s father found him. That the man, unwilling to pass another second without his sons, sold every possession so he could reunite his family. I’d love to describe the moment when Lee heard his father say, “Son, it’s me! I came for you!” Lee Nailling’s biography, however, contains no such event.

But yours does.

We have been investing this Summer in an extended sermon series on God’s amazing Grace – how it is so far more than we deserve, and so far greater what we imagine. Listen with me to God’s Word, from the New Testament epistle from Paul to the Church in Ephesus, 1:3-13. This follows immediately after the intro, and jumps straight into a word on God’s perfect sustaining Grace. Hear the Word of the Lord: Ephesians 1:3-14 …. —-

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

May God bless the reading, hearing, receiving of His Word which never fails. In his chapter called Chosen Children, from his book on Grace, Lucado reminds us: “There is something in you that God loves. You cause His eyes to widen, His heart to beat faster. He loves you. And He accepts you.”

Did you hear God’s Word to you in this Ephesian letter? Turn to your Sermon Notes page and read verses 3-5 out loud with me: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.

First, let’s recognize that this letter is from the Apostle Paul! This is no Joe Schmuck from the “Happy Acres Preschool”. This is the Apostle Paul! He says, Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us. We give praise to God because He has already blessed us – not just a word of encouragement to “you”, but Paul includes himself! “Our Lord … has blessed us!”

How did He bless us? Verse 4: He chose us in Him before the creation of the world …. Now, let me ask you a question: in what year were you born? (You don’t have to say it out loud – but imagine that number in big bold numerals.) I was born in 1961! Some of you were born in the 1990s, some of you in the 1910s. that’s getting to be a long time ago, right? When did God choose you? Before the creation of the world!

Verse 5 says, He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ. You heard your own voice read that out loud a minute ago!

God chose us before Genesis 1He predestined us for adoption to sonship. What did we have to do to earn that choice? What did we have to accomplish for God to adopt us? Thousands of earth-years before we were born – we were already chosen, already ear-marked for adoption!

When does an orphan become not-an-orphan? When that orphan is adopted, chosen, received into the family inheritance!

Max Lucado says, “All of grace, I believe, is God’s definitive reply: ‘Be blessed, my child. I accept you. I have adopted you into my family’.” Adopted children are chosen children.

That is not the case with biological children. When the doctor handed Mark Wheeler to Russell Wheeler, my dad had no exit option. No loophole. No choice. He couldn’t give me back to the doctor and ask for a better-looking or smarter son. The hospital made him take me home. (That’s my spin on Lucado’s illustration. – but even with biological children, parents choose to either love their children or leave their children in someone else’s hands – sometimes the way one loves best is to leave them to be cared for by another.)

But if you were adopted, your parents chose you. Surprise pregnancies happen. But surprise adoptions? Never heard of one. [Your parents] selected you. They wanted you in their family.

You object: ‘Oh, but if they could have seen the rest of my life, they might have changed their minds.’ Max Lucado says, “My point exactly.

God saw our entire lives from beginning to end, birth to hearse, and in spite of what He saw, He was still convincedto adopt us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ. And this gave Him great pleasure.” (Eph 1:5 NLT)

Verse 11 says it again, “In [Christ] we were CHOSENSecurenever to be lost again. God chose us. God chooses you! All we need to do is accept that offer of adoption. Do you want to know God’s adoptive grace in your life? It is right there waiting for you!

Remember that 8-year-old orphan who lost his father’s letter? Things got worse before they got better. He and his two brothers were taken to several towns. On the 6th day someone in a small TX town adopted one brother. Then a family selected Lee and his other brother. But soon Lee was sent to another home, the home of a farming family, but he had never been on a farm. The city boy didn’t know not to open the doors of the chick’s cages. When Lee did, the angry farmer sent him away.

In a succession of sad events, Lee had lost his father, had ridden a train from NY to TX, had been separated from his two brothers, and had been kicked out of two homes. His little heart was about to break. Finally he was taken to the home of a tall man and a short, plump woman. During the 1st supper Lee said nothing. He went to bed making plans to run away. The next morning they seated him at a breakfast of biscuits and gravy. When he reached for one, well, Lucado says, I’ll let him tell you what happened.

 

Mrs. Nailling stopped me. ‘Not until we’ve said grace,’ she explained. I watched as they bowed their heads. Mrs. Nailling began speaking softly to ‘our Father,’ thanking Him for the food and the beautiful day. I knew enough about God to know that the woman’s ‘our Father’ was the same one who was in the ‘our Father who art in heaven’ prayer that visiting preachers had recited over us at the orphanage. But I couldn’t understand why she was talking to Him as though He were sitting here with us waiting for His share of the biscuits. I began to squirm in my chair.

Then Mrs. Nailing thanked God ‘for the privilege of raising a son.’ I stared as she began to smile. She was calling me a privilege. And Mr. Nailling must have agreed with her, because he was beginning to smile too. For the 1st time since I’d boarded the train I began to relax. A strange warm feeling began to fill my aloneness and I looked at the empty chair next to me. Maybe, in some mysterious way, ‘our Father’ was seated there, and was listening to the next softly spoken words. ‘Help us make the right choices as we guide him, and help him make the right choices too.’ …

After breakfast, as they walked me to the barbershop for a haircut, we stopped at each of the 6 houses on the way. Each time, the Naillings introduced me as ‘our new son.’ …

 

Our identity is not in our possessions, our talents, our tattoos, our kudos, or our accomplishments. Nor are we defined by our divorce, our deficiencies, our debt, or our dumb choices.

You are God’s child. You get to call Himour Father”.

Lucado writes, “Rather than conjure up reasons to feel good about yourself, trust God’s verdict. If God loves you, you must be worth loving. If He wants to have you in His Kingdom, then you must be worth having. God’s grace invites you–no, requires you–to change your attitude about yourself and take sides with God….”

How many of you have seen the 2013 instant Disney classic movie, “Frozen” (inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Snow Queen”, the film tells the story of a fearless Princess Anna who sets off on an epic journey alongside a rugged iceman, his loyal pet reindeer, and a naïve snowman to find her estranged sister Elsa, the Snow Queen, whose icy powers have inadvertently trapped the kingdom in eternal winter)?

The theme song, “Let It Go” closes with these words:

one thought crystallizes like an icy blast        I’m never going back,          The past is in the past!

Let it go, let it go                   And I’ll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go                   That perfect girl is gone!

Here I stand       In the light of day       Let the storm rage on, The cold never bothered me anyway!

 

Like Elsa, we can sing those words – the past is in the pastlet it go, let it go – and I’ll rise like the break of dawnlet it go, let it go – that perfect girl is gone!

We do not need to be that perfect girl – or boy. God has Chozen you. His Grace is sufficient! Yes, our response ought to be to accept His love and live according to His standards – but His love cannot be earned by our good behavior.

We have been Chosen! He adopts us into His inheritance. We are His, and nothing can/will ever change that.

To live as God’s chosen child is to know, at this very instant, that we are loved by our Maker not because we try to please Him and succeed, or fail to please Him and apologize, but simply because He wants to be our Father.

The adoption is irreversible. You have a place at His Table of perfect Grace.

 

“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.

Resources:

Disney Movies; Frozen; 2013.

Lucado, Max; Grace: More than We Deserve, Greater than We Imagine; Thomas Nelson; Nashville, TN; 2012; Pp. 117-125.