11/29/2015 – Advent 1 – Luke 1 – “Look for What God Is Doing”

This link takes you to an audio version of this message:   https://pogoplug.com/s/xWz3AUWZiOg/

 

Mark Wheeler

Luke 1

“Advent 1: God’s Grace Revealed: Look for What God Is Doing”

November 29, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Lord, help me to be what You want me to be, so You can use me to accomplish Your purposes. Amen. 

Every year the neighbors surrounding our house have a friendly competition – which house will be the first to get their Christmas decorations up?

It’s really not a competition, because the neighbor to our immediate south is always the first! This year he’s already had some of the lights up for two weeks before Thanksgiving!

So, in the spirit of the “fun competition” Jim and David and Tim and Darren and I will harass Chris for weeks for making the rest of us look bad to our wives.

 

Jim and David and I are all active in our churches, but Chris and Darren and Tim are not. Chris has a strong Roman Catholic background, but not a weekly devotion. And as far as I know, neither Tim nor Darren ever participate in a faith community! We all are pretty friendly and helpful, I would even say loving, toward one another, but with very different life philosophies.

 

But Christmas decorations is the beginning of the secular worldview concerning Christmas. Right? This is a non-religious, end-of-the-year, holiday season which makes or breaks the economy. It’s not the celebration of the birth of the Savior, the incarnation of the Son of God. It’s barely even Christmas – it’s Happy Holidays!

And this is not even all that new. I once read where CS Lewis, in England, in the 1950s, was riding on a bus past a Nativity Scene when another passenger said, “Look at that! Now they’re even trying to make Christmas a religious holiday!

As we officially enter into the season which prepares us for Christmas, may we take the time to see God working in the hailstorm of holiday hoopla.

In the biblical worldview, God is always at work in the world to complete His redemptive work in Jesus the Savior. God works in and through His people to prepare the hearts of others to believe in Jesus.

 

In The Gospel according to Luke we discover this story of preparing for the birthday of our Savior. Luke starts off his version of the Good News of Jesus by mentioning his thorough investigation of the events Matthew and Mark tell. And then Luke gives us some historical markers so we can know exactly when these things happened. Imagine if you were alive 30 years after the very first Christmas, you could argue about who was governor, who was king, what they did and said. Luke tells us these things so we can trust his account. It was not rejected by those 1st century contemporaries. And Luke is the only Gospel writer to tell us about the birth of John the Baptist!

Your bulletin says we are reading Luke 1fear not! We are not reading all 80 verses of Luke 1. But we will read through this fascinating chapter and come away with four important encouragements for celebrating this season with integrity and hope and joy.

 

The first word of encouragement here is Luke cheering us on to Keep GROWING in faith. Listen to how Luke describes Zechariah: In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. (Luke 1:5-6)

This paragraph tells us when these events took place (“in the reign of Herod”, so, from 40BC to 4BC), and where these events happened (“Judea”, included from Galilee in the north to Beersheba in the south). And then he introduces Zechariah. Who was this man?

  • He was a priest – there were about 20,000 priests back then, divided into 24 different groups.
  • Luke tells us Zechariah was of the 8th of those 24 groups, “the division of Abijah”. Not a high-end, prestigious priest, more of a country-parson priest.
  • But Luke also tells us that Zeke’s wife is also from a priestly family.
  • But their family lineage is not the most important thing about this couple: they were “righteous in the sight of God …
  • they “observed all the Lord’s Commands and decrees …
  • and they did so “blamelessly.”
  • These people, whom we next learn were the parents of John the Baptist (not the parents of Jesus, but the parents of Jesusfore-runner) kept growing in the relationship with God. They never said, “we’ve done our work, now it’s someone else’s turn.” They never hinted that they had reached their pinnacle of faith development, so they could stop. They never stopped reciting that “the Lord our God, the Lord is one Love the Lord your God with – everything you’ve got!
  • They encourage us to Keep GROWING in our faith, as well.

 

The second word of encouragement here is Luke cheering us on to PRAY persistently. Listen to what happens to Zechariah: 11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. (Luke 1:11-15)

Zechariah and Elizabeth were past retirement age, and childless, but they never stopped praying that God might bring them a baby.

  • Your prayer has been heard.”
  • Your wife will bear you a son.”
  • These people never stopped praying
  • They encourage us to PRAY persistently, for those things we think will fulfill our calling, as well.

 

The Third word of encouragement here is Luke cheering us on to Be READY to Believe. Even this couple who prays without ceasing, and who keeps growing in faith, can experience a set-back: 18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” (Luke 1:18)

Zechariah heard and saw an angel of the Lord tell him that God was answering his prayers – and Zeke has the gall to question him! Even as a priest, serving in the Temple in Jerusalem, a man known for his faith and righteousness, was not ready to actually believe God when put to task! I find comfort in this detail. It means that even I, and I’m no Zechariah, might still be used by God to fulfill God’s purposes.

  • God took away Zechariah’s ability to speak! He was a priest! His job was to speak! That’s like God taking away the singing voice of Adele!
  • And God promised to return Zeke’s voice back to him when is son would be born and Zeke announced that his name would be John.
  • We’re not told about Elizabeth’s readiness to believe (she probably was), but Zeke was not ready to believe, and that cost him his job for 9 months!
  • Luke is cheering us on to Be READY to Believe, regardless of our circumstances. Trust that with God all things are possible – and just maybe our prayers will be answered in the ways we hope.
  • What are your prayers? Do you pray them believing that God could answer them? He can. Believe on!

 

The fourth word of encouragement here is Luke cheering us on to Look for what God is DOING. As we come near the end of this chapter, we listen in on Zechariah singing praises because God answers prayer: 68 “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come to his people and redeemed them.
69 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David….

76 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
79 to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death,                                    

to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:68-69, 76-79)

Luke tells us in verse 67 that good ol’ Zeke is filled with the Holy Spirit and prophecies. When Mary learns of her Virgin Pregnancy in the middle of this chapter and comes to visit with Elizabeth, Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit. And their son, as he goes about preaching and preparing the way for Jesus, Luke tells us, John the Baptist is also filled with the Holy Spirit. Luke uses these stories to report that this family was dedicated to Looking for what God was DOING in their lives.

  • Zeke sings this praise song to God because of what he experiences as God’s work in their lives.
  • The praise song that Zeke sings is about the coming Messiah, the baby not even due to be born for another three months! But whom Zeke knows his own son will prepare the way for. God is already at work!
  • And then the last few verses of this song are about John the Baptist’s experience of God already at work.
    • prophet of the Most High” – who is the “Most High”? God Almighty!
    • Announcing the “knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins” – this is what God is doing!
    • because the tender mercy of our God … shines on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” What is God doing? He is providing the One whom the Apostle John calls, “the Way the truth and the life”.
  • Luke is cheering us on to Look for what God is already DOING so that we might simply join Him and experience His presence and power all the time!

 

Why does Luke begin his Gospel of Jesus with a story about the birth of Jesus2nd cousin? I think it’s because Luke is introducing us to Jesus, and showing us how this 2nd cousin also introduced people to Jesus, thus inviting us to the opportunity of also introducing people to Jesus. At the end of his Gospel Luke gives his version of Matthew’s Great Commission, which is simply, “repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised…

 

Do you remember who it was who first introduced you to Jesus? My parents were good and faithful church-going Christians, and they were the first to help me realize the truth of God and His Son Jesus (they prepared the way, and then Bud Cook, and then George Demspter, and then John Winterling, and a whole host of people, introduced me to Jesus at new and deeper levels.

I invite you to take some time today, on this 1st Sunday of Advent, to remember who introduced you to Jesus, who invited you to believe the Good News, who helped you GROW in faith and PRAY without ceasing, and to be READY to believe – and thank God for them!

And then seek God’s activity in your life today, so you might introduce someone new to our Savior! Whom will you tell this week?

 

Maybe even our Christmas decorations can be invitations to talk about faith.

 

Let’s pray together the prayer on the bottom of your Sermon Notes page – and watch for God to guide you into paths of peace this week:

Gracious Father, thank You for sending those who helped me to believe. Use me to help others to believe. Amen.

 

Resources:

Family Bible Study; “Advanced Bible Study Commentary”; Winter 2002-03; Pp. 9-16.

Family Bible Study; “The Herschel Hobbs Commentary”; Winter 2002-03; Pp. 7-16.

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11/26/2015 – I Thessalonians 5:17-19 – “Now Thank We All Our God”

Thanksgiving 2015

 

Now Thank We All Our God

 

We all know what we’re supposed to today – thank we all our God!  Even un-believers and non-church-goers, even the most base and crass TV families stop for Thanksgiving and offer a word of gratitude to some oft-times-unnamed Higher Power.

Really we don’t believe there’s anyone to thank for most of what we have – we earned it, we deserve it, and we deserve more!

But, we’ll stop one day a year and say Thank You to God.

 

This year, perhaps more than many, we say Thank you to God and to neighbors and to our effervescent electric company. Right? Thank we all our God!

 

Some of you have heard the story behind the song, “Now Thank We All Our God.”  Listen again:

 

This is from Catherine Winkworth’s “Christian Singers of Germany.” She is the one who translated the 17th century hymn into English in the 19th century. “This classic hymn was written by a pastor (Martin Rinkart) who suffered greatly through the 30 Years War in Germany during which (through war and famine) 4/5 of the population of Germany died. He himself was in extreme poverty and when the pastors of his 2 neighboring towns died he ended up having to do the work of 3 pastors, burying 4,000 people in 1637 (50 per day!) – including his wife – when the plague hit. This was followed by a famine so severe that 30-40 people could be seen in streets fighting to the death over the corpse of a dead cat. And then right after this the Swedes invaded and demanded a ridiculous amount of money in tribute. The story goes that he went to intercede with the Swedish commander to reduce the tribute and the commander refused. At this point Rinkart turned to the crowd that was with him and said “Come my children, we can find no hearing, no mercy with men. Let us take refuge with God.” he then fell to his knees and prayed with such pathos that the commander reduced the tribute from $30,000 to $2,000. He wrote this hymn in 1644, 4 years before the Peace of Westphalia that ended the War in 1648.”

“Now, thank, we all, our God!”

Paul writes to the Church in Thessalonika,

1 Thessalonians 5:17-19 (NIV)

17 Pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not quench the Spirit.

Paul tells us to be thankful in all circumstances – not for all circumstances, that might just be silly; but in all circumstances – for God’s power and presence, His grace and might, can be found in every situation.

 

So, today, we look at “HOW” thank we all our God.  If EVERYBODY says some sort of grace on Thanksgiving, if EVERYONE goes around their Thanksgiving dinner table and recites something they’re thankful for, then HOW ARE WE who claim to believe something with substance any DIFFERENT?

 

Among our Sunday studies on the Ten Commandments, we have heard, and today we are reminded, of two things that can make us different:

 

First,

Remember the Lord your God; for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” Deuteronomy 8:18

In good and in bad, remember the Lord your God; always give credit to the One who deserves it.  Anything we have, everything we have, is because God has entrusted it to us.

 

Second,

Each person should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” II Corinthians 9:7

When God entrusts us, He hopes we will trust Him back.  We all know the “God loves a cheerful giver” verse, but it begins with an imperative to be honest and to have integrity.  To respond to God’s love with our STUFF.

 

We will be different from our neighbors this Thanksgiving by being generous and faithful.  And when life is hard, we will find refuge with God.  Now, thank we all our God, together.  Amen.

 

11/22/2015 – Ephesians 4 – “Christ the King Sunday”

[There will be no audio attached this week – no power at the church, everything was very acoustic this morning.]

Mark Wheeler

Mark 12:28-30; Matthew 28:20; John 14:15-24; Romans 13:8-10; Ephesians 4

“10 Rules for Faithful Living: Is He King? Or Not?”

November 22, 2015 – Christ the King Sunday

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

We bow before You as our ultimate Ruler and Authority, dear Jesus. Thank You for the gift of the Ten Commandments, and Your simple and profound summary of them. Today, we listen again; and we promise again, to obey. Bend our ears to Your Word, and our wills to Your Commands, we pray in the name of our Lord and Savior. Amen. 

Ma and Pa made their annual visit to church for the Christmas Eve service.
As they were leaving, the minister said, “Pa, it sure would be nice to see you and ma here more than once a year!”
“I know,” replied Pa, “but at least we keep the Ten Commandments.”
“That’s great,” the minister said. “I’m glad to hear that you keep the Ten Commandments.”
“Yup,” Pa said proudly, “Ma keeps six of ’em and I keep the other four.”

 

Last week we finished our final lesson on the Ten Commandments, and today, Christ the King Sunday, we recommit ourselves to obedience.

 

The historical/social context of the 10 commandmentsescape from Pharaoh and unjust system of power and poverty

That’s not too different from our world – it is, but there are similarities. While we are not under the thumb of a dictator tyrant we do live in a culture that demands we give up some fundamental Christian life-choices, all in the name of more tolerance. We live in a world where the 1% rule over the 99%, without even realizing it. We live in a time where prejudice surrounds us, and even dwells inside us. We, too, need escape from the injustice of dishonor and death and infidelity and greed and slander and even the heart disease of being pained by dissatisfaction.

So God rescues us, as He rescued the Israelites, and He gives us what we have come to know as the Ten Commandments, what James called the Law of Liberty (James 1:25, KJV) and what Paul describes as living a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called (Ephesians 4:1, NIV).

The three reasons for the Law – 1) to show us we need a Savior,

2) to keep us from killing each other (restrain evil-doing),

3) to tell us what God’s character is (and therefore what our character ought to beguide for living the Christian life as we grow to resemble our Lord Jesus Christ)

 

The 10 Commandments, brief enough to be memorized by Sunday School children and comprehensive enough to guide our every thought and action. These Commandments are a far more than just a list of “thou shalt nots”, but it is a list of promises from God and they each contain the secret power to have the ability to obey them.

 

We all know that Jesus was asked, by people who perhaps hoped to trip Him up, which of the 10 Commandments was the greatest, most important one. Both Matthew and Mark record this story. What is Jesus’ answer? (Mark 12) “29 ‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”’Jesus is merely quoting from Deuteronomy.

And in the very next sentence Jesus says, “31 The second is this (in Matthew He says, “the second is just like it:”): ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

 

This first Commandment sets the tone and the pace for all the Commandments which follow. If we can remember that the Lord our God, Yahweh, the eternal, self-existent, uncreated One, Himself the Source and Sustainer of all that is – if we can remember that He alone is entitled to supreme reverence and worship – and that anything else that we might cherish lessens, weakens, our trust and relationship with Him – if we can remember that, then the next 9 Commandments become easy.

 

Because this week has been a hard week, for some of us a lonely, cold, dark, week. Let me just walk you through some Bible verses, then I will briefly share a quick discovery I had this week; then we’ll open the floor as we gather in prayer for anyone to share your insights, wonderings, etc. Then we’ll move into our Congregational Meeting.

While we do not have heat here, we do have each other. Some of you might need to get back home, and others might need to linger together. All of that will be possible.

 

Let’s do this together. What are the Ten Commandments?

  1. You shall have No OTHER godsanything other than God that we allow to take first place in our lives is out of order!
  2. You shall Make no IMAGESany image of God we make, any statue, any idea, any philosophy, will fall short
  3. Because the 3rd Commandment says to not use the Lord’s name in vain, we say: HOLY be Thy nameGod’s name assures us of His perfect presence and power, do not misuse that
  4. And we’ve interpreted the 4th Commandment about remembering the Sabbath Day and keeping it holy by saying: Take a Sabbath REST – the Hebrew people had lived under the iron fist of Pharaoh, God says that under His authority we are meant to find peace, rest, in His presence

Toward the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God (love God above/before anything else), and our cares and concerns will be taken care of.” We are re-stating this every week because without our remembering it, even the next six commandments can be wrongly emphasized. If we do not love God first, we misunderstand how to love our neighbors rightly.

 

After we learn how to love God first, He says to love our neighbors. How do we love our neighbors?

  1. We Give HONOR until it’s deserved – starting with our parents
  2. We Respect LIFE – to the best of our ability – do not commit murder
  3. We are to be FAITHFUL in our marriages – and in every relationship – do not commit adultery
  4. We are to be GENEROUS so that “stealing” isn’t even a temptation for the poorest among us – no stealing
  5. We are to Speak HELPFULLY so that whatever we say has the chance of bringing blessingno giving false testimony
  6. And, we are to find CONTENTMENT whether we are empty-pocketed or overflowing with stuffno coveting

 

The very close of Matthew’s Gospel, after the resurrection, just before Jesus rises into the sky, into the heavens with His Father to sit on His throne as King of kings, in Matthew 28:20 Jesus tells us who follow Him, “18  ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me [as King of kings]. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to OBEY everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’

 

In John’s Gospel, in the scene just before the Lord’s Supper is instituted, Jesus gives this command to His followers: “If you love me, KEEP my commands.” (John 14:15) Whether or not we decide to obey reveals our decision to put no other gods before Him! If Christ truly is “King of all kings and Lord of all lords”, how do we tell Him that that is true? We keep His commands!

 

How do we tell that to the world around us? Paul says in Romans 13, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to LOVE one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law…. 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the LAW.

 

Here’s what I discovered this week – on Friday while at a cross-denominational prayer gathering, we read from Ephesians 4, just the opening verses, but then I read the whole chapter. This is Paul’s instructions to a Church in a very hostile environment and the whole chapter is about keeping the Ten Commandments, although he never uses those words. Listen to Ephesians 4:

I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. …

 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live … separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.

20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

We might argue and debate over whether or not these Commandments belong in our Court Houses or classrooms – but there should be no argument that they belong right here, in our hearts and lives. Is Christ King of our lives? Or is He not?

If the Church ever turns our backs on the authority of these Commandments, may God have mercy on our souls. Let us worship the Lord our God, above and before all else, today and forever. Amen.

As we move into our time of prayerwhat do you want to share with us about what you have learned in this study of God’s Word in these Ten Commandments?

Resources:

The Law of Liberty; “The Law and the Gospel in Perfect Harmony”; Project Restore, Inc; Locust Dale, VA; 2006; Pp. 29-31.

11/15/2015 – Exodus 20:17 – “#10: Find Contentment”

Click on this link to get the audio version of this message: http://ppl.ug/B1EsAFAYgw0/

Mark Wheeler

Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21

“10 Rules for Faithful Living: #10 Find Contentment”

November 15, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

We come to worship today, O Lord, some of us filled with discontent, some with fear, some with anger, some with hurt feelings. But, dear Lord, we all came here today. Empty our hearts and minds of malice and bitterness right now. Help us instead, to seek Your perfect power and presence, Your righteousness and redemption, Your Law and Your love in front of all other possible priorities, through Your Son Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Two friends meet in the street. One looks sad and almost on the verge of tears. The other man says, “Hey my friend, how come you look like the whole world has caved in?

The sad fellow says, “Let me tell you. Three weeks ago, an uncle died and left me $50,000.”

“Well, I’m sorry for your loss, but that’s a nice unexpected income!”

“Hold on, I’m just getting started. Two weeks ago, a cousin I never knew kicked-the-bucket and left me $95,000.” 

“Wow, that’s great for you! I wouldn’t mind that.” 

“Last week, my grandfather I never met passed away. I inherited almost a million.”

“So why are so glum?” 

“This week – nothing!”

 

Have you ever noticed how hard it is to just be satisfied?

I recently read that, according to Rolling Stone magazine, the all-time number one song is Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”. Now, the fact that the song and the Rock ’n’ Roll magazine have the same name puts a little suspicion on the recognition – still, who’s qualified to argue? The all-time number two song? Are you ready? The 1965 classic by the group called The Rolling Stones – “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”.

It does seem like that has been our cultural anthem for the last 50 years. USA Today reports that the majority of Americans in every age group feel like they have not really reached their fulfillment – we are not satisfied. And no satisfaction means no contentment!

In The Gospel according to Mark we read where Jesus said (Look at your Sermon Notes page…): (Mark 12) “29 ‘The most important Commandment is this: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”’

And in the very next sentence Jesus says, “31 The second is this (in Matthew He says, “the second is just like it:”): ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

We have been in the 10 Commandments since early September….

Here’s a quick summary of the first four of the Big Ten, the ones about “loving God”:

  1. You shall have No OTHER godsanything other than God that we allow to take first place in our lives is out of order!
  2. You shall Make no IMAGESany image of God we make, any statue, any idea, any philosophy, will fall short
  3. Because the 3rd Commandment says to not use the Lord’s name in vain, we say: HOLY be Thy nameGod’s name assures us of His perfect presence and power, do not misuse that
  4. And we’ve interpreted the 4th Commandment about remembering the Sabbath Day and keeping it holy by saying: Take a Sabbath REST – the Hebrew people had lived under the iron fist of Pharaoh, God says that under His authority we are meant to find peace, rest, in His presence

Toward the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God (love God above/before anything else), and our cares and concerns will be taken care of.” We are re-stating this every week because without our remembering it, even the next six commandments can be wrongly emphasized. If we do not love God first, we misunderstand how to love our neighbors rightly.

After we learn how to love God first, He says to love our neighbors. How do we love our neighbors?

  1. We Give HONOR until it’s deserved – starting with our parents
  2. We Respect LIFE – to the best of our ability
  3. We are to be FAITHFUL in our marriages – and in every relationship
  4. We are to be GENEROUS so that “stealing” isn’t even a temptation for the poorest among us
  5. We are to Speak HELPFULLY so that whatever we say has the chance of bringing blessing
  6. And …

Today we look at Commandment No. Ten. The NIV writes it like this: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” That’s the Exodus version of this 10th Commandment. Look at the second way it was stated, in Deuteronomy 5: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbor’s house or land, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” It makes me wonder what was going on among these wandering Israelites that made Moses change the order and apparent more-common-object-of-desire the second time around. But either way, how do we love our neighbors? Do not covet what they have over what you have.

This 10th Commandment is truly about a “heart sin” and not just a behavior sin. “Do not covet” implies our dissatisfaction with our own lot in life and wishing we had it as good as that other guy. The sin really is about our unsatisfying hope for contentment. If only I had another $10,000 (or $100,000, or $1,000,000); if only I did not have this chronic disease (or that addiction, or those bad habits); if only I was married to him (or if my wife would do that, or my parents had given me this).

I am convinced that this is the easiest Commandment to see Jesus as the answer to – because, in fact, growing in Christ gives us what the world cannot give us – contentment, no matter our circumstance.

The Apostle Paul discovered this truth the hard way, but in Philippians 4:11-13 he wrote to those suffering Christians, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content I know how to be brought low and I know how to abound … I can do ALL THINGS through Christ who strengthens me.”

It’s all about that relationshiprelationship with God, through His Son, by means of the Holy Spirit. Even the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah knew that contentment, peace of mind, spirit-filled rest, happens in that relationship. Jeremiah, referring to King David’s words in Psalm 1 (about 400 years earlier), wrote in Jeremiah 17:7-8 “Blessed is the one who TRUSTS in the Lord … and is not anxious ….” Anxiety is the result of non-contentment.

Remember that Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, talked about murder and adultery and loving our neighbors – but Jesus made these Commandments about the deeper desires of our hearts and not just about our behaviors: “if you even hold a grudge against, if you even lust, you have committed murder and adultery in your heart; and I say love not only your neighbors but even your enemies.” Yes, the actions of sin are obviously wrong; but it all begins in the HEART! (Matthew 5:22, 28, 44)

In John’s Gospel Jesus made this image of being related to Him even deeper in John 15:5, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides, resides, dwells, lives in me, and I in him he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

It is impossible to have biblical contentment separated from God. “Apart from God we can do nothing”, but “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

Abide in Christ and we discover contentment. We abide in Christ by living in His Word, by seeking Him in prayer, and by walking in obedience to His Commandments.

The Rolling Stones were correct: we are going to be discontent until we admit, “I can’t get no satisfaction!Exhausted we yield to Christ and say, “It is well with my soul – whatever my lot; it is well, it is well, with my soul.”

How do we love our neighbors? When we find Contentment, we discover the ability to love without prejudice.

Yes, we are still sinners, and we will still covet and envy what those around us seem to have; but we do not have to live in that pain. We can, as we remember how much we need a Savior, as we realize our depraved desire for that which is not ours to desire, as we recognize God’s character growing in us, ever so slowly, as people created in His image and who have been redeemed by His grace, we can find contentment and peace, even in the pain and suffering.

Do you need to believe this Good News today? Are you at a place where you are understanding this truth for the first time? Or even for the 100th time? It’s as simple as saying, “Thank You Jesus, I do believe. Help me, today, with where I don’t believe enough.

Love the Lord your God with everything you’ve got;

and love your neighbor as yourselfgive honor until it’s deserved! Respect life! Be faithful! Give generously! Speak helpfully! Find contentment by abiding in Christ!

We can do this by acknowledging that God is with us, and nothing is impossible for God!

We have heard plenty of debates over whether these Commandments belong in our Court Houses or classrooms – but there should be no argument that they belong right here, in our hearts and lives and church.

If our Church ever turns our backs on the authority of these Commandments, may God have mercy on our souls. Let us worship the Lord our God, above and before all else, and let us love our neighbor as ourselves, today and forever.

Psalm 119:176 speaks our prayer: I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek Your servant, for I have not forgotten Your Commands. Amen.

Resources:

Table Talk; “Finding Contentment”; Melissa Kruger; Ligonier Ministries; Sanford, FL; December 2015; Pp. 16-19.

Table Talk; “Our New Affection”; Sinclair B. Ferguson; Ligonier Ministries; Sanford, FL; December 2015; Pp. 20-25.

The Law of Liberty; “Unfolding God’s Glorious Law”; Project Restore, Inc; Locust Dale, VA; 2006; Pp. 7-8.

11/08/2015 – Deuteronomy 5:20 – “#9: Speak Helpfully”

Click on this link to find an audio version of this message: http://ppl.ug/QT8cbXSlubA/

Mark Wheeler

Exodus 20:16; Deuteronomy 5:20

“10 Rules for Faithful Living: #9 Speak Helpfully”

November 8, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

We come to worship today, O Lord, some of us filled with discontent, some with fear, some with anger, some with hurt feelings. But, dear Lord, we all came here today. Empty our hearts and minds of malice and bitterness right now. Help us instead, to seek Your perfect power and presence, Your righteousness and redemption, Your Law and Your love in front of all other possible priorities, through Your Son Jesus Christ. Amen. 

The Ten Commandments display was recently removed from the Alabama Supreme Court building.

There was a good reason for the move. You can’t post

Thou Shalt Not Steal,
Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery,
and Thou Shall Not Lie
in a building full of lawyers and politicians without creating a hostile work environment.

 

We have invested two-months looking at the Ten Commandments. In The Gospel according to Mark we read where Jesus said (Look at your Sermon Notes page…): (Mark 12) “29 ‘The most important Commandment is this: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”’

And in the very next sentence Jesus says, “31 The second is this (in Matthew He says, “the second is just like it:”): ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

We have a tendency to really concentrate on the “secondGreat Commandment, and even ignore the “first”. We emphasizeloving our neighbor” (which is a very good thing), but when we do that to the exclusion of firstloving God with everything we are” we run the risk of misinterpreting what “loving our neighborreally means.

So, a quick recap of the first four of the Big Ten, about “loving God”, are:

  1. You shall have No OTHER godsanything other than God that we allow to take first place in our lives is out of order!
  2. You shall Make no IMAGESany image of God we make, any statue, any idea, any philosophy, will fall short
  3. HOLY be Thy nameGod’s name assures us of His perfect presence and power, do not misuse that
  4. Take a Sabbath REST – the Hebrew people had lived under the iron fist of Pharaoh, God says that under His authority we are meant to find peace, rest, in His presence

Toward the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God (love God above/before anything else), and our cares and concerns will be taken care of.” We are re-stating this every week because without our remembering it, even the next six commandments can be wrongly emphasized.

After we learn how to love God first, He says to love our neighbors. How do we love our neighbors?

  1. We Give HONOR until it’s deserved – starting with our parents
  2. We Respect LIFE – to the best of our ability
  3. We are to be FAITHFUL in our marriages – and in every relationship
  4. We are to be GENEROUS so that “stealing” isn’t even a temptation for the poorest among us.
  5. And …

Today we look at Commandment No. Nine. The NIV writes it like this: “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” Probably better memorized as “No lying!” How do we love our neighbors? Do not give false testimony about them!

I looked in my old Nave’s Compact Topical Biblenot just a Concordance where you look up a word and find where that word is located in the Scriptures, but this book groups ideas together and tells you where you might find that “topic”, or idea, discussed in Scripture. This version is not even exhaustive – it just gives some sample places. An exhaustive Topical Bible would be several volumes long.

So I looked up “lying/false testimony” and it also led me to “gossip” and “slander” and “grumble”.

The Women’s Lighthouse Circle, a couple of months ago, was asked by their President, what command in the Bible was the most often repeated. The answer? “Fear not.” But I would guess that this topic, “false testimony”, lines up as a close second place.

And, “False testimony” is MORE than simply lying, right? Name some other ways we might give “false testimony”:

  • Half-truth
  • One-sided truth
  • Any comment that is meant to deceive
  • When we talk behind someone’s back
  • When we share a “prayer request” in the form of gossip

When we were children, I’ll bet every one of us heard our parents tell us something like: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” And probably most of us have passed that along to our children as well.

It is good advice – but sometimes really hard to follow – because we’re also told to always tell the truth. And sometimes the truth is not nice. “Does this dress make me look fat?Husbands, how do you obey both of those rules at the same time?

I have learned that a better grown-up version of that rule is: “If you can’t say something HELPFUL, don’t say anything at all!

The “truth” might be that the dress does indeed make her look fat – but if admitting that will only hurt her feelings, or start a fight, it’s probably not HELPFUL. If she’s about to go to a photo-shoot, and she wants to look thin, maybe an “honest” response is the best! You see?

So, if I have a complaint about the way my boss is treating me, or a friend, or a fellow church member, I can just complain about the person to others in the group – or I can find a way to make the situation more healthy.

  • Should I just be quiet – because talking/gossiping/grumbling/slandering is not HELPFUL?
  • Should I bring this complaint/concern to the Lord in prayer? Because honest praying is HELPFUL.
  • Should I bring this complaint/concern to the proper person (maybe the person we have a complaint about), so we can find a HELPFUL solution together?

I think we all know the damage that is caused when we are around people who are always critical. We know because we have all been the victim of that. Right? Take a moment and remember when you were the one being talked about, but not being helped by that talk.

Now, just for a moment, remember the person you felt was responsible for that back-biting conversation (do not look at him right now!). Do you recall what you, and maybe several others in your group, thought of that person? Do you remember thinking how miserable she must be to always be that critical? Do you recall wondering how bad his childhood must have been to become such a pain in everyone’s backside? Do you recall wanting to shut that person out of your secrets and your personal dreams for fear that she might just break them apart with her harsh words? Do you recall wanting to return his meanness with some of your own?

How does a habit of “giving false testimony” hurt the one doing it? For starters, even if this is someone we really do like, we become more closed off and people, especially those on the “outside”, distance themselves. Relationships are fragile enough without putting this strain on them.

How do we love our neighbors? I believe this “no false testimonyCommandment is really all about how helpful we could be. When we speak, speak helpfully!

Steps to becoming more “helpful”:

  1. PRAY for God’s involvementLord, please intervene. Lord, please show me my role in this. Lord, please step into this with me, I need Your patience, Your grace, Your strength, Your wisdom.
  2. Look for POSITIVES I believe it was Gerri who once shared that a former pastor or friend of hers thinks of others as “trying to do their best, given their life skills and circumstances”.
  3. Speak only that which moves toward being HELPFUL Lord, if this will not be helpful to the situation keep my mouth closed – if it will be helpful, help me to say it well, lovingly, with grace.

Yes, we are still sinners, and we will still speak hurtfully from time to time – I am among the biggest of these sinners. That’s why God has given us the gift of apologies and forgiveness. And God offers the grace of forgiveness to all of us. But He also holds us to the standard set forth in Scripture. And every time we do not give in to any temptation of “slander”, we give glory to God, we honor our neighbor, we respect the life that we encounter, we act generously to those around us, and we speak words of helpfulness and health.

Remember why God gives us these commandments:

  • To talk about how much we need a Savior
  • To topple down our selfish desires to speak against each other
  • To tell us what God’s character is – and therefore, as people created in the image of God, who claim to be followers of Jesus, what our character ought to be as we grow more and more into His likeness

And God’s perfect grace and offer of complete forgiveness is waiting for all who acknowledge our need, confess our failure, and repent toward loving God better. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life”, because it was “while we were still sinning that Christ died for us.” (John 3:16, Romans 5:8)

Do you need to believe this Good News today? Are you at a place where you are understanding this truth for the first time? Or even for the 100th time? It’s as simple as saying, “Thank You Jesus, I do believe. Help me, today, with where I don’t believe enough.

Love the Lord your God with everything you’ve got;

and love your neighbor as yourselfgive honor until it’s deserved! Respect life! Be faithful! Give generously! Speak helpfully!

We can do this by acknowledging that God is with us, and nothing is impossible for God!

We have heard plenty of debates over whether these Commandments belong in our Court Houses or classrooms – but there should be no argument that they belong right here, in our hearts and lives and church. If our Church ever turns our backs on the authority of these Commandments, may God have mercy on our souls.

Let us worship the Lord our God, above and before all else, and let us love our neighbor as ourselves, today and forever.

Psalm 119:175 speaks our prayer: Let me live that I may praise you, and may your laws sustain me. Amen.

Resources:

The Law of Liberty; “Unfolding God’s Glorious Law”; Project Restore, Inc; Locust Dale, VA; 2006; Pp. 7.

11/01/2015 – Deuteronomy 5:19 – Commandment #8: “Be Generous!”

To get an audio version of this message, click here: http://ppl.ug/jDjJbHYxGpc/

Mark Wheeler

Exodus 20:15; Deuteronomy 5:19; Mark 12:28-31

“10 Rules for Faithful Living: #8 Be Generous”

November 1, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

We come to worship today, O Lord, some of us filled with discontent, some with fear, some with anger, some with hurt feelings. But, dear Lord, we all came here today. Empty our hearts and minds of malice and bitterness right now. Help us instead, to seek Your perfect power and presence, Your righteousness and redemption, Your Law and Your love in front of all other possible priorities, through Your Son Jesus Christ. Amen. 

You’ve probably all heard about the burglar who walked into a quiet little house at the end of a road.
He was stealing diamonds when he hears, “Jesus is watching you.”

The guy freaks and turns around, seeing nothing he goes back to stealing diamonds. And again he hears,
“Jesus is watching you.”

He turns around again and this time sees a parrot in a corner cage saying, “Jesus is watching you.” The guy gets all embarrassed about freaking out over a little parrot and says, “Who do you think you are?”

The bird replies, “Moses.”

“What kind of idiot names their bird Moses?”

“The same kind of idiot who named their Pitbull Jesus.”

Sorry about that. But there just aren’t a lot of good jokes out there about “stealing”. In fact, when I GoogledJokes about stealing”, what came up was a ton of articles about professional stand-up comics stealing jokes from other comedians.

That, all by itself, says something significant about our culture’s understanding of what’s OK and what’s not.

We have invested almost-two-months looking at the Ten Commandments. In The Gospel according to Mark we read where Jesus said (Look at your Sermon Notes page…): (Mark 12) “29 ‘The most important Commandment is this: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”’” And we saw that the first four of the Big Ten are about that. Let’s just take a second and name those first four:

  1. You shall have No OTHER godsanything other than God that we allow to take first place in our lives is out of order!
  2. You shall Make no IMAGESany image of God we make, any statue, any idea, any philosophy, will fall short
  3. HOLY be Thy nameGod’s name assures us of His perfect presence and power, do not misuse that
  4. Take a Sabbath REST – the Hebrew people had lived under the iron fist of Pharaoh, God says that under His authority we are meant to find peace, rest, in His presence

These first four Commandments are all about that most important one! Love the Lord your God with everything you’ve got, always, never-ending, without failhave no other gods! Make no false images! Do not misuse God’s holy name! Rest in God’s presence! We are re-stating this every week because without our remembering it, even the next six commandments can be wrongly emphasized.

And then Jesus goes a little deeper: In the very next sentence Jesus says, “31 The second is this (in Matthew He says, “the second is just like it:”): ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

That’s what the next six Commandments are about. How do we love our neighbors?

  1. We Give HONOR until it’s deserved – starting with our parents
  2. We Respect LIFE – to the best of our ability
  3. We are to be FAITHFUL in our marriages – and in every relationship
  4. And …

Today we look at Commandment No. Eight. The NIV writes it like this: “You shall not steal.” How do we love our neighbors? Do not steal from them!

I considered two ways to go about this Commandment:

  • Talk about all the ways we steal without even recognizing that we are, in fact, stealing:
    1. Eating a grape in the produce section of Rosauers
    2. Not declaring our “tips on our Income Tax forms
    3. Not leaving a healthy tip on the table at a restaurant
    4. We steal every time we take from someone without paying a fair price/wage
    5. So, we also steal by not giving our best effort
      1. We rob our neighbors of dignity by not paying respect, giving honor
      2. We rob our neighbors of value by not offering polite hospitality
  • We rob our neighbors of health by not providing out of our abundance to care for their absence
  • Or we could talk about ways to NOT steal, lifestyles and life-choices of generosity:
    1. In the Old Testament we find God’s expectations that farmers would leave some good grain or produce in the field or vineyard so that the poor might come and glean some food for their families (look at the book of Ruth as a prime example)
    2. Honesty is the best policy” may not be a Bible verse, but it is certainly a biblical ethic so that we ought to be open and not hide anything from those around us (look at the story of Ananias and Saphira in Acts 5)
    3. Generosity in all things makes us the opposite of stealing thieves.
      1. Remember what I said at the beginning of this message about what popped up when I Googledjokes about stealing”? This is why we pay a little extra for the license to print words to songs, or to show movies; this is why, in print at least, I try to give credit to sermon pieces.
      2. It is wrong to steal material property, intellectual property, software property, dignity, personal value, or human rights.

In Deuteronomy 11-25 (that’s 15 chapters) we are given laws and regulations and rules after laws and regulations and rules, about how to love our neighbors. And in a section about how to live with those who are in poverty (15:10) we hear the Lord say, “Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.”

Most of II Corinthians 8 & 9 are Paul’s instructions to the Church about generosity. You will recognize this verse: “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (9:6-7)

Generosity quenches the desire to steal. When we go out to eat, ready to put a 25% tip on the table, we will look for ways to compliment our wait-person. When we go to a garage sale, hoping for a chance to bless someone, we’ll give a little more than the asking price for that thing we don’t really need anyway. When we come to a family reunion, wanting to offer forgiveness, we’ll be ready to give grace and kindness before we grump and criticize.

Being a generous person requires having a generous spirit. That means being filled with God’s Holy Spirit, being submissive to Christ as Lord, following Jesus as God’s only means of salvation from the tyranny of ego and self-centered service.

Yes, we are still sinners. And God offers the grace of forgiveness to all of us. But He also holds us to the standard set forth in Scripture. And every time we do not give in to any temptation of “stealing”, we give glory to God, we honor our neighbor, we respect the life that we encounter, and act generously to those around us.

Remember why God give us these commandments:

  • To shine a light on how much we need a Savior
  • To slow down our selfish desires to cheat each other
  • To show us what God’s character is – and therefore, as people created in the image of God, who claim to be followers of Jesus, what our character ought to be as we grow more and more into His likeness

And God’s perfect grace and offer of complete forgiveness is waiting for all who acknowledge our need, confess our failure, and repent toward loving God better. “For God so loved the world that He so-super-generously-gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life”, because it was “while we were still sinning that Christ so-super-generously died for us.”

Do you need to believe this Good News today? Are you at a place where you are understanding this truth for the first time? Or even for the 100th time? It’s as simple as saying, “Thank You Jesus, I do believe. Help me, today, with where I don’t believe enough.

Love the Lord your God with everything you’ve got; in Malachi 3:10 – this Old Testament prophet tells us that we steal from God by not giving His church a full 10% tithe of our income – God even dares us to test His faithfulness to us by trusting our faithfulness to Him.

and love your neighbor as yourselfgive honor until it’s deserved! Respect life! Be faithful! Give generously!

We can do this by acknowledging that God is with us, and nothing is impossible for God!

We have heard plenty of debates over whether these Commandments belong in our Court Houses or classrooms – but there should be no argument that they belong right here, in our hearts and lives and church. If our Church ever turns our backs on the authority of these Commandments, may God have mercy on our souls.

Let us worship the Lord our God, above and before all else, and let us love our neighbor as ourselves, today and forever.

Psalm 119:174 speaks our prayer: I long for your salvation, Lord, and your law gives me delight. Amen.

Resources:

The Law of Liberty; “Unfolding God’s Glorious Law”; Project Restore, Inc; Locust Dale, VA; 2006; Pp. 6.