02/28/2016 – I Timothy 3:1-10 – “Praying hopefully”

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Mark Wheeler

I Timothy 3:1-10

Who Are We as a Church? “Praying Hopefully”

3rd Sunday in Lent, 02/28/2016

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Heavenly Father, on this 3rd Sunday in the season leading up to Resurrection Sunday – the day we celebrate Christ’s victory over death – we confess our own self-centered agendas. As we enter into this season of special attention to our own wanderings from Your Word, our wayward walk-aways from Your path, our seemingly perpetual propensity for sin and self-centered decisions – help us, as Your Church, Your people, to move closer to what You want for us. Draw us closer to our Lord and Savior, in His name we pray, Amen.

 

5 or 6 weeks ago we had a training day for our new church officers, our new deacons and elders. We should probably invite all deacons and elders, not just the new ones, and even any church members who might wish to come and learn something deeper about how God’s Church gets things done. But we didn’t do that, we only invited our brand new deacons and elders

One of the reasons we offer this training session is simply to remove some of the shock that comes with being called into positions of leadership. Even with this one-time session I always warn our new church officers that most of their training will be “on-the-job”.

That was certainly true for me. I went to four years of undergrad school and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies, and then I invested three more academic years in full-time study to become “qualified”, declared “ready”, to “receive a call into ordained ministry”.

But there really is no way to prepare someone for the sometimes 60- or 80-hour work weeks, the occasional month with no days off, the middle-of-the-night phone calls, or all-night vigils in the hospital, or the 24-hour period that includes joy-filled new babies being born, graduations, wedding announcements, and fatal car accidents, terminal diagnoses and news of marital infidelity. I have had just such a day!

This is why, at least in part, Paul counsels Christ-following disciples to pray for their leaders. “It’s me, it’s me, it’s me, O lord, standing in the need of prayer!

 

This Lent Season we have talked about how we honor our differencesI Corinthians 12 illustrates this with the “Body of Christ” image; about what the Bible says about the Church being in unityJohn 17 gives us Jesus’ prayer for His Church being in unity; and about how we are called into humble service togetherPhilippians 2:5-11 tells us to be of the same mind of Christ who humbly gave up His place in heaven to die on the cross for us. That’s the question we are dealing with over this Season of Lent. Who Are We as the Church? Today we look at our role as people of prayer – for our church leaders. This week’s lesson is about praying hopefullynot just hopefully praying, but praying filled with hope, hopefully!

 

Let’s listen to the Word of God written from the Apostle Paul to his more youthful church leader Timothy in the Turkish city of Ephesus, from I Timothy 3:1-10…. —-

Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.

 

Before we get off to a wrong start, let me share why we are reading this together. If you are thinking, “I’m not an overseer (a bishop [episkopas] or a pastor; I’m not an elder or a deacon, or at least not serving as one right now, so why do I care what this says?” Here’s your answer: this applies to every one of us because in the chapter immediately preceding this one, Paul tells Timothy, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

This is why we need to pray for our leaders!

Two Sundays ago we ordained and installed four new officers. On Sunday immediately after worship one of these new elders asked me about the process of getting a key and a secret code for the security systemMark is the new Buildings and Grounds Elder; I told him that we’d get that taken care sometime in the next week or so. That very afternoon a window got broken in the kitchen, and we learned about that on Monday morning, a national holiday, when Vern came in to clean up. So I called Mark; he came in that afternoon, got a key and password, and by the next day he had that window secured.

Ordained one day, called in for an emergency the next day – a holiday, and made things secure the next day. Welcome to ordained leadership, Mark.

My first year as a solo-pastor, there were some weeks when we had three funerals! I started toward the end of November and by Christmas I had already officiated at 3 funerals! There had been NO funerals or deaths in the previous three years combined! Welcome to ordained ministry!

 

In our training day we looked at this passage in I Timothy. And we asked “exactly how ‘pure’, how ‘above reproach’” must a church leader be? Because Paul also says that “all of sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. So, ifall fall short of God’s standard of glory”, then who is worthy enough to be called into leadership?

 

Pray for our church leaders. Pray for my preaching, And not just, “O Lord, how much longer?”-kind-of-prayers – pray for my time of preparation, for my ability to properly interpret, for my time of study and devotion to be undisturbed, for my articulation of Gospel truths – and for each other’s and our own abilities to receive what God may me saying through me into this church’s lives.

Pray for our families. Notice how much time Paul spends talking about our married lives, our children, our stability and our safety and our devotion. Join Paul in praying for our deacons and elders and pastors.

Pray for our protection – protection from temptation, from cruelty (attacks from both outside the church and from within), from self-doubt and from small faith and small vision.

Pray for our physical and mental health – for good nights’ sleep, for a chance to play and exercise, for joy and hope and encouragement. Pray for our deacons to have attitudes of sincere service and hospitality, for our elders to be focused on following Jesus, for our pastors to devote ourselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the Word.

 

Two weeks ago, at the monthly LPC Breakfast Club gathering, one of our new deacons led our morning devotions and included this page of advice/counsel. Listen carefully. It’s entitled Four Ways to Get Rid of Your Pastor:

  1. Say “Amen” once in a while, and he’ll preach himself to death.
  2. Encourage him and speak well of his work, and he’ll probably work himself to death.
  3. Offer to help out with the ministry and ask for the name of someone with whom you might share the Gospel – your pastor just might die of heart failure.
  4. Get the church to unite in prayer for the preacher, and he’ll soon become so effective that a larger church will take him off your hands.

 

Each week during this Lenten Season our Sermon Notes Page has included a pledge for us to read, sign, and tear out, and use to remind us of our responsibilities as members of a church that wants to live like we believe what we say we believe.

Last week someone told me that she has been using the pledges, but she confessed that they are harder than she anticipated. Jennifer and I went to an event with stand-up comedians and one said something about why we make vows when we get married. It’s because staying married can be hard work. That’s the point of a vow or a pledge. No one has to make a vow about eating sugar. We might make one about avoiding sugar.

 

Our fourth Church Member Pledge – this is not just for those who are actually on the roles of this particular church, but this is for any who claim to be followers of Jesus and saved by grace through faith – our fourth Church Member Pledge that we invite you to read, sign and tear from your bulletins so you can use it as a Bible bookmark, hang it on your prayer-closet wall, or attach it to your desk calendar, reads as follows:

“Paul instructed his younger disciple, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” (I Tim 2:1-2)

I will pray for my church leaders (Deacons, Elders, staff, Pastors) every day. I understand that their work is never truly done; their days are filled with numerous demands that bring emotional highs and lows. They deal with critics. They have families. I will pray for God’s power and presence to guide them daily.”

 

Read – sign – tear from your bulletins.

Let’s be the Church of Jesus Christ – may we start praying hopefullywell – to the glory of God. Amen.

 

Resources:

deHaan, Richard W.; Your Pastor and You; http://www.rayfowler.org/2007/06/08/four-ways-to-get-rid-of-your-pastor/.

 

Nyquist, J. Paul & Carson Nyquist; The Post-Church Christian; Moody; Chicago, IL; 2013.

 

Rainer, Thom S.; I Am a Church Member; B&H Pub. Grp.; Nashville, TN; 2013; Pp. 33-42.

02/21/2016 – Philippians 2:5-11 – “Offering Generosity”

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Mark Wheeler

Philippians 2:5-11

Who Are We as a Church? “Offering Generosity”

2nd Sunday in Lent, 02/21/2016

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Heavenly Father, on this 2nd Sunday in the season leading up to Resurrection Sunday – the day we celebrate Christ’s victory over death – we confess our own self-centered agendas. As we enter into this season of special attention to our own wanderings from Your Word, our wayward walk-aways from Your path, our seemingly perpetual propensity for sin and self-centered decisions – help us, as Your Church, Your people, to move closer to what You want for us. Draw us closer to our Lord and Savior, in His name we pray, Amen.

 

Most preachers are tempted to use stories about their family-members to illustrate a sermon point, because they’re usually a little humorous, and they’re so easy to tell. That almost never goes well for the preacher after s/he gets home that afternoon.

For instance, my own kids each have their own hopes and dreams for things like – dinner. And if asked they might have strong opinions about whose wishes should be fulfilled.

While that’s a truth, my kids are each pretty amenable, too. They may not be easy to please, but they are very forgiving when we don’t please them perfectly.

In my own growing up days, however, that was not the case. My Mom had to have a rule that everyone must at least try some of everything that’s on the table. And if you serve yourself, you eat what you took! There were some days when I was left at the dinner table for seemingly hours, because I would not taste the asparagus or the Brussels sprouts or the spinach. I could be a selfish little brat.

It’s good that we grow out of that phase after we become adults. Right? Or after we become a church-going Christ-follower. Right?

Wrong!

Christians can sometimes act just like those demanding children who want things their own way! We seldom fall to the ground kicking and screaming – but sometimes it’s close!

 

But one of the strange things about church membership is that we actually choose to give up our own personal preferences when we join. During this Season of Lent, maybe this is something we can be reminded of: Lent 2016, I will give up my own self-centered references.

This does not mean that we don’t still have likes and dislikes. Right? One person might still like the style and musicality of the first song we sang, and really dislike the second song. We might still agree that we like the general feeling of this particular church more than the general ambiance of the church down the street – or vice versa. But we are here so that, together, we can meet the needs of others! We are here to serve! We are here to give away! We are here to sacrifice!

Do you remember that story in the Gospels where Jesus’ disciples were arguing about who was more important? His closest followers were having a first” fight! Can you imagine? The Bible says that Jesus stopped and sat down called these twelve grown men together. “Sitting down, He called the Twelve and said to them, ‘If anyone wants to be first he must be last of all and servant of all.’” (Mark 9:35).

I love the attitudes displayed in that story. It makes me snicker at those dumb disciples. And then it makes me realize that Jesus was talking to me! As a church member, I should be last of all, servant of all!

 

This Lent Season we have talked about how we honor our differencesI Corinthians 12 illustrates this with the “Body of Christ” image; and about what the Bible says about the Church being in unityJohn 17 gives us Jesus’ prayer for His Church being in unity. That’s the question we are dealing with over these this Season of Lent. Who Are We as the Church? So, if part of church membership means servanthood, let’s explore what it means to be a Servant-Christ-follower.

 

Today, let’s listen in on what may be one of the very first Christian Praise songs ever written. Paul includes the lyrics to this song in his letter to the Christians living in the persecuted city of Philippi. Listen to the Word of God, from Philippians 2:5-11…. —-

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his

own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.”

 

Jesus said something about being His follower means being “last of all, and servant of all”. Is that something we are willing to say accurately describes us?

After Paul became a Christian, he declared (Ephesians 3:7), “I was made a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the working of His power.”

Something I have observed in others, and discovered in myself, is that we will never find real joy in church membership when we are constantly seeking things to be done our way! The irony is that we do find that joy when we choose to be last of all, servant of all!

 

There was a survey done among churches whose leaders admitted that they were somewhat self-serving churches – more focused on pleasing each other than on doing the ministry of the Gospel, more worried about surviving the next month than on thriving with the gift given to them by the working of God’s power, more about being first than about being last. In this survey, ten dominant behavior patterns emerged. Listen to these, and see if you recognize any of them in our church fellowship here (keep count of how many of these ten might describe us):

  • Worship Wars – church members either actively or passively fought about what songs should be sung on Sunday mornings.
  • Prolonged Minutia Meetings – they spent an inordinate amount of time in meetings.
  • Facility Focus – the church building might take on an iconic status of pride and prestige.
  • Program Driven – the church programs become the main thing, rather than a means to the main thing.
  • Inwardly Focused Budget – a disproportionate share of the budget is used to meet the needs and comforts of the members, with way too little on serving the needs of the community or Church-at-large.
  • Inordinate Demands for Pastoral Care – the pastors’ schedule becomes fitted to nothing more than pleasing the demands of church members.
  • Attitudes of Entitlement – where church members have an attitude that they deserve more.
  • Greater Energy Resisting ‘Change’ than in Reaching Others – change represents a feeling of “others are more important than me” among the members.
  • Anger and Hostility – members demonstrate anger toward church staff and leaders.
  • Evangelistic Apathy – very few members actually ever share their faith.

 

As I was reading this survey, I started off feeling pretty good about us. But before this list of ten finished, I counted SIX that might describe LPC! Yikes! Now, if you are visiting here today, please note that I may see things more critically than they deserve – and I am counting my own personal involvement in these behavior patterns. This really is a good church, with a vibrant 109-year history, filled with a lot of people who truly love Jesus; but there’s always room for improvement.

These behavior patterns reveal a church that overly emphasizes its own comfort and desire to be pleased. But church membership from a Biblical perspective is about servanthood. It’s about giving. It’s about putting others first. It’s about offering generosity in every encounter!

 

The song we read from Philippians 2 is introduced by Paul with an urgent and cogent plea: “In your relationship with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus – make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus.

So what did Jesus do?

  • He did not consider equality with Godsomething to be used to his own advantage
  • He made himself nothingby taking the very nature of a servant
  • He humbled Himself
  • He became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross!

Paul says we are to have the same mindset as Christ Jesus – make our own attitude that of Christ Jesus.

 

Last Sunday we turned to our pew-neighbors and told each other, “Even when we disagree, I will still love you.” That’s a great beginning. Today, just real quickly, turn to each other that tell the person sitting near you, “I will put your hopes and dreams ahead of my own”.

 

Your Sermon Notes Page asks three questionshomework for you, or discussion topics over lunch this afternoon:

  • What is one thing that really bothers me about this church? – don’t dwell there, just name it.
  • Is that thing (which bothers me) central to the Gospel? – a YES answer deserves more weight than a NO answer.
  • Why should I give in to others’ opinions about this? – be honest, and then pray for God’s mercy in your effort.

 

Our third Church Member Pledge – this is not just for those who are actually on the roles of this particular church, but this is for any who claim to be followers of Jesus and saved by grace through faith – our third Church Member Pledge that we invite you to read, sign and tear from your bulletins so you can use it as a Bible bookmark, hang it from your vanity mirror, or pin it to your bulletin board, reads as follows:

“After Paul became a Christian, he declared, ‘I was made a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the working of His power.’ (Eph. 3:7)

I will not let my church be about my own personal preferences and desires. That is self-serving. I am a member in this church to serve others, and to serve Christ. My Savior went to the cross for me. I can deal with any inconveniences and matters that just aren’t to my personal liking, for the sake of others in this church, and to the glory of God.”

 

Read – sign – tear from your bulletins.

Let’s be the Church of Jesus Christ – may we offering generositywell – to the glory of God. I’ll even eat your Brussels Sprout casserole at the next potluck! Amen.

 

Resources:

Nyquist, J. Paul & Carson Nyquist; The Post-Church Christian; Moody; Chicago, IL; 2013.

 

Rainer, Thom S.; I Am a Church Member; B&H Pub. Grp.; Nashville, TN; 2013; Pp. 33-42.

02/14/2016 – John 17 – Bringing Unity

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Mark Wheeler

John 17

Who Are We as the Church? “Bringing Unity”

1st Sunday in Lent, 02/14/2016

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Heavenly Father, on this 1st Sunday in the season leading up to Resurrection Sunday – the day we celebrate Christ’s victory over death, we are faced with admitting that we do not deserve the grace only You can offer. As we enter into this season of special attention to our own wanderings from Your Word, our wayward walk-aways from Your path, our seemingly perpetual propensity for sin and self-centered decisions – help us, as Your Church, Your people, to move closer to what You want for us. Draw us closer to our Lord and Savior, in His name we pray, Amen.

 

Last Sunday contained the biggest TV event of the yearSuper Bowl 50, where 30-second commercials might cost as much as $5 million! And my favorite NFL team, after the Seahawks of course, won the game. Afterwards, during the interviews, winning quarterback Peyton Manning was asked about how it felt to win his second Super Bowl ring, as the oldest quarterback to ever play in this championship game? And do you know how Manning answered that question? He gave all the credit to the Denver Bronco Defense! “We’ve had a bunch of tough, unselfish, resilient guys, but our defense has led the way, and I’ve just been very grateful to be part of the journey with those guys,” Manning said. My respect for this team-leader shot through the roof when he said that.

In football, the Team must be in unity to win the game – obviously that doesn’t mean every player does the same thing – but every player must have the same goal and put forward their best effort. Even the losing team would agree that that’s how the game is played.

By the way, did you see yesterday’s front page, above the fold, article?Pope, Russian Cleric Unite”. After 960 years, the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church recognize each other as a part of the Church of Jesus Christ. Unity! Hallelujah!

Last week we talked about how we honor our differencesI Corinthians 12 illustrates this with the “Body of Christ” image. Today we look at what the Bible says about the Church being in unity! That’s the question we are dealing with over these next several weeks of Lent. Who Are We as the Church?

 

I invite you to join me in the Garden of Gethsemane, as we eavesdrop on Jesus as He prays on the night before He is crucified. This prayer is directly after the Lord’s Supper. Jesus and His disciples walk across the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives and go to this Olive Garden. Judas is about to join them with the arresting officers, just before the all-night illegal trial, false conviction, and next-day crucifixion. Listen to the Word of God, from The Gospel According to John 17:1-26 …. —-

1Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He shall give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.

“I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.

“I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. 10 And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. 11 Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. 12 While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 15 I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. 18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.19 And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.

20 “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21 that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. 22 And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: 23 I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.

24 “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.25 O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. 26 And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”

 

In Jesuslast few moments of quiet on earth, He prays for you and me! I don’t know that He had any of us in mind personally, but I am convinced that He was praying for us, in general terms, directly. He knew the opposition His Church would face – and He knew that we would even find reasons to oppose one another.

But one of His greatest desires is that His Followers would get along! Just a few chapters earlier, John 13:35, Jesus says, “By this all people will know you are my disciples: if you have love for one another.” One of the ways the world will know we are followers of Jesus, and through this they might discover God’s love for them, is how we love one another! That is so huge!

On our last trip to Israel, back in 2009 (maybe it’s getting to be time to go again??), our tour guide, Shimon Zemer, told me he was not a believer in Yeshua, and when I asked him why not (he knew all the Bible stories, and even believed them to be true), this is what he said: “I see how different kinds of Christians fight and argue with each other, and I think if that is the way believers live, I don’t want to be a believer.”

 

Turn to your neighbors, maybe groups of two or three, look each other straight in the eye and tell each other, “Even when we disagree – we will love each other!” – Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

Church membership means everything we say and do is based on a Biblical foundation of love! There lots of organizations we could be “members” of that couldn’t care less about what the Bible says – but as the Church we must care more about what Scripture says than what society at large announces; we must put God’s Word above all other words. If we don’t do that, we are just another good (or even great) organization, but we are not the Church. Jesus’ prayer is for our unity! For when we seek unity, we demonstrate love. In Colossians 3:14 Paul writes, “Above all, put on love –  the perfect bond of unity.”

 

I want to be straight up about this – this is not simply a platitude that sounds good, and that, of course, everyone follows. We don’t. We do not love each other in perfect ways.

What is the number one way we demonstrate a lack of love (and I am not pointing any fingers at anyone, I am just as guilty of this as the worst offender; neither am I saying that this is a particular problem in this particular church – this is a problem is every gathering of Christians. That is why Shimon Zemer could feel the way he does)? The number one way we demonstrate a lack of love? Gossip! We start rumors; we spread rumors; we attack people behind their backs; we share unflattering stories…. And we need to stop!

Peter and Paul, accused of being at odds with each other on several fronts, agree here perfectly. In Romans 1:29-31 Paul writes to these Corinthian Christians and calls them, “filled with all unrighteousness, evil, greed, and wickedness, … full of envy, murder, quarrels, deceit, and malice. … gossips, slanderers, God-haters, arrogant, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful.” An exhausting list! And right in the middle is gossip!

Peter writes (I Pet 3:10), “For one who wants to love life and see good days, must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit.”

Rather than those things, bring unity by speaking words of truth, in love! Seek after what is real! Ask the person involved in the story if it is true. Discover what she/he wants shared with others. Honestly pray for each other. And when we hear something that might be gossipy, find a loving way to stop it. I have heard of this technique – it is beautiful. When we hear someone bad-mouthing someone, interject with a “Bless her heart” and then change the subject! It works almost every time.

 

Forgiveness plays a giant part in loving each other, in bringing unity. When we’ve been hurt, forgive the offender – even before they ask for forgiveness! We pray, in unity, each week: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Let’s do that!

 

Bringing Unity does not mean we have to agree with everyone on every subject. It is more than OK for us to like different colors of paint on the walls, or to choose different restaurants to eat at after worship, or even to have different understandings of the exact meaning of what constitutes true baptism and what holy communion is. But even with those disagreements, hopefully backed by our understandings of Scripture (and not just the traditions we grew up in), we ought to be able to love one another.

 

Jesus prays that we will be one, just as He and the Father are one. He does not pray for uniformity – we can look different and like different music and choose different styles of dress; He prays for unity. He doesn’t even pray for unanimity; we can disagree on things of lesser importance; He prays for unity in those things of essential import.

In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.

There are some essentials about which all followers of Jesus should bring unity: the triune God, the dual nature of the Second Person of the Triune God, salvation comes through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, by the grace of God who so loves the world that gave His only begotten Son, the authoritative witness of the written Word of God.

But we should find liberty in some non-essential doctrines of our churches: baptism by full immersion, necessity of speaking in tongues, the use of any particular translation of the Bible into English.

And in all things we have been enabled to offer charity, love, grace, forgiveness.

 

Our second Church Member Pledge – this is not just for those who are actually on the roles of this particular church, but this is for any who claim to be followers of Jesus and saved by grace through faith – our second Church Member Pledge that we invite you to read, sign and tear from your bulletins so you can use it as a Bible bookmark, tape it to your computer monitor, or attach it to your dash board, reads as follows:

“Paul urged the people in Ephesus ‘to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love, diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us.’ (Eph. 4:1-3)

I will seek to be a source of unity in my church. I know there are no perfect pastors, staff, or other church members. But neither am I. I will not be a source of gossip or dissension. One of the greatest contributions I can make is to do all I can in God’s power to help keep the church in unity for the sake of the Gospel.

 

Read – sign – tear from your bulletins.

Let’s be the Church of Jesus Christ – may we bring unitywell – to the glory of God. Amen.

 

Resources:

Nyquist, J. Paul & Carson Nyquist; The Post-Church Christian; Moody; Chicago, IL; 2013.

 

Rainer, Thom S.; I Am a Church Member; B&H Pub. Grp.; Nashville, TN; 2013; Pp. 21-29.

02/07/2016 – I Corinthhins 12 – Working Together

Audio link: click here

Mark Wheeler

I Corinthians 12

Who Are We as a Church? “Working Together”

02/07/2016

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Heavenly Father, on this 50th Super Bowl Sunday we are also exactly 50 days away from Resurrection Sunday – the day we celebrate Christ’s victory over death. As we enter into this season of special attention to our own wanderings from Your Word, our wayward walk-aways from Your path, our seemingly perpetual propensity for sin and self-centered decisions – help us, as Your Church, Your people, to move closer to what You want for us. Draw us closer to our Lord and Savior, in His name we pray, Amen.

 

I have had several conversations over the last several months about how our Christian faith is perceived by both people outside the Church and even those who are inside. Here’s one version of one of those stories – written by a well-respected Church-leader named Thom Rainer. I don’t know if this is an actual true story, or just a based-on-true story. Listen to this and see if you relate:  

Michael and Liam began meeting for Monday morning breakfast at 6:00 over 5 months ago. They originally thought it would be a one-time event. They met in a couples’ Bible study group in their church. For many different reasons they hit it off and were becoming good friends. When Michael originally invited Liam to meet him for breakfast on a Monday morning several months ago, Liam readily agreed.

The two men enjoyed their time together so much that the one-time event became a weekly event. It was now rare for the two friends not to meet on Monday morning.

Early in their friendship the conversations focused on sports, family and politics. They had much in common. Michael was 41 and Liam was 39. They each had 3 kids and they both were college football fanatics. Each of their teams were in the same football conference, but they were pretty fierce rivals as well. The guys thoroughly enjoyed trash-talking the other’s team in a friendly spirit.

But on this particular Monday morning, the conversation turned serious. Michael and his wife noticed some changes in the demeanor of Liam in their Bible study group. He no longer seemed as interested in studying and discussing the Bible as he did talking about their church. And his comments were often critical about the congregation where the two families had their memberships.

Still, Michael was caught off guard on that particular Monday morning. Liam loved the poached eggs in the little restaurant; it was his regular order. But on this Monday morning, he had not touched them. He was barely sipping his coffee.

Liam didn’t take long to get to the point. “Michael,” he began, “Lana and I have decided to leave the church.” The pause seemed to last for minutes. Neither of the men seemed to know who should speak next. Michael took the initiative and spoke softly and deliberately.

“You want to tell me about it?” Michael inquired. He honestly didn’t know if Liam wanted to say anymore about it. His friend seemed resolute. Nevertheless, Liam began to explain his feelings and decision.

“Lana and I went to church to learn deep truths about the Bible,” Liam offered. “But Pastor Robert is not feeding us. We’re not getting anything out of his messages. Sitting in the service on Sunday mornings is just a waste of our time.”

Michael didn’t respond. He could tell Liam had more to say.

“There are several great people in the church,” Liam continued. “You and Karen are the best, and there are a few more like you.” He paused and his facial expression became even more serious. “But honestly, Michael, our church is full of hypocrites. Did you hear Jim at the kids’ basketball game? He embarrassed me the way he was screaming at the refs. What kind of testimony is that for a Christian? And of course, everyone knows about Neal. He was supposedly this pillar of the church, and we find out he’s been cheating on his wife for over a year. What kind of church is this with these kinds of people?”

Liam was angry but controlled as he continued to vent. “Look, Pastor Robert acts like he cares for us, but I’m not so sure he does. I told him that Lana’s dad was in the hospital for hernia surgery, and he never visited him.”

Michael knew that Lana’s father was not a church member, and he lived 50 miles away. He also knew that Pastor Robert called him and had prayer with him. But he also knew that any rebuttal would not be appreciated at the moment. Michael held his tongue.

Now it seemed that Liam’s mild rant was winding down. Liam seemed exhausted, and ready to bring the conversation to a close. He did, however, offer a few pointed comments and two insightful questions.

“Michael,” Liam began softly. “I really like you and Karen and the kids. All of you are a class act.” He paused briefly. “But you seem enthused about the church. You keep serving and contributing. Don’t take me wrong, but I wonder at times if you are blind to all the problems in the church.”

Then Liam offered a closing that really spoke more than he realized.

“We are really two different types of church members,” he stated. “Why is that? Why do we have such different perspectives?” 

 

That’s the question we will be dealing with over the next several weeks of Lent. Who Are We as a Church?

 

That was a long intro to our first sermon series’ message addressing that question. Listen to the Word of God, from I Corinthians 12:12-27 …. —-

12 For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. 14 For in fact the body is not one member but many.

15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? 18 But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. 19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be?

20 But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. 23 And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, 24 but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, 25 that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.

Part of the difference between Michael and Liam? Michael was a member willing to work with the others, and Liam was a member just wanting to be served. Church membership means, in part, recognizing that we are all necessary parts of the whole thing!

Turn to your neighbor, look him/her straight in the eye and tell her/him, “You are necessary here! Thank you for doing your part!

 

Church membership means we are all different – and we work together! Some are thoughtful, others are action oriented; some are prayers, others are Bible scholars; some are caregivers, others are detailed organizers; and the list goes on and on. We absolutely need each other to work together!

 

Church membership means everything we say and do is based on a Biblical foundation of love! There lots of organizations we could be “members” of that couldn’t care less about what the Bible says – but as the Church we must care more about what Scripture says than what society at large announces; we must put God’s Word above all other words. If we don’t do that, we are just another good (or even great) organization, but we are not the Church.

 

I Corinthians 12 uses the image of a human body to describe how the Church of Jesus Christ functions best. Yes, there are human bodies which have non-functioning body partsblind eyes, deaf ears, non-working kidneys, deletable pancreases, missing arms, artificial hips, etc – and they are still as valuable a human being as any other; that would certainly be true of churches, as well. We might be a church with missing organs or limbs – but Paul’s point is that whatever parts we do have need to be functioning at their best. Right? They say that a person who goes blind often gains ground in other senses.

But Paul’s point is even more poignant than that. The Church of Jesus Christ is never limited to just THIS expression of Christianity. Each particular church, each local congregation, is also connected to the larger Church (capital C). LPC is part of the PC(USA), which is part of the Reformed Body of Believers, which has its roots in the Church Global. LPC is also in coalition with other Hillyard area churches – so we take part in an annual joint worship service at Harmon Park every August during Jim Hill Days; and this year we venture into joint mission work with the Fellowship Church of God over on Crestline, as they have invited us to participate in sponsoring the Shim Children’s Center orphanage in Kiminini, Kenya!

 

These examples describe, at least in part, what it means to be the Body of Christ.

 

In the coming Sundays, each week’s Sermon Notes page will include a personal pledge for each person to sign and date – and maybe rip from your bulletin and put in your Bible or on your bathroom mirror or your refrigerator door as a reminder. If you want to be a real member, a Biblical member, of the Church Jesus Christ institutedsign, date and rip from your bulletin.

Pledge #1:

Because I am a member of the Body of Christ, I must be a functioning member, whether I am an “eye”, an “ear”, or a “hand”. As a functioning member, I will give. I will serve. I will minister. I will evangelize. I will study. I will seek to be a blessing to others. I will remember that “if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.”

 

Let’s be the Church of Jesus Christ – may we work togetherwell – to the glory of God. Amen.

 

Resources:

Nyquist, J. Paul & Carson Nyquist; The Post-Church Christian; Moody; Chicago, IL; 2013.

 

Rainer, Thom S.; I Am a Church Member; B&H Pub. Grp.; Nashville, TN; 2013; Pp. 1-20.

01/31/2016 – Revelation 22:1-5 – “The Promise of Heaven”

 

Audio version

Mark Wheeler

Revelation 22:1-5                                                                                                                          “The Promise of Heaven”

01/31/2016

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Mighty God who never breaks a promise; who promised Adam and Eve that there would one day be an offspring who would defeat the wiles of Satan; who promised Noah a rescue from the flood; who promised Abram and Sarai, in their old, childless life, that their offspring would number as many as the stars in the sky, and that one of their descendants would be a Savior for the world; who promised a young virgin that she would give birth to the very Son of God. We need to hear Your promises again; and we need to believe them fully. Thank You for the Promise of Heaven, through Jesus Christ Your Son, our Lord and Savior. Amen.

 

18 months ago, when my father was on his death-bed, I asked him if he was afraid. His lung cancer had spread into his brain and he was unable to make a whole lot of sense anymore, but he looked over at me and started to sing,I know whom I have believed; and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him until (sic) that day.”

I cannot tell you how blessed I was to hear those words.

 

I have a friend whose own father died just before Christmas. This man was not just my friend’s father, he was also his best friend; he stood alongside him as his best man at his wedding. Through tears, my friend shared how hard this has been for him; and his wife said something about how it’s not that her husband has lost his faith, he knows that his dad was a believer and was bound for heaven, but he is afraid, and therefore very sad, that he might never see his dad again.

It does beg the question what heaven will be like.

 

Caitlin, my newly Masters-degreed daughter, recommended a book to me about a pastor and his reflections on life and ministry. Let me share one brief passage:

This morning I’ve been trying to think about heaven, but without much success. I don’t know why I should expect to have any idea of heaven. I could never have imagined this world if I hadn’t spent almost eight decades walking around in it. People talk about how wonderful the world seems to children, and that’s true enough. But children think they will grow into it and understand it, and I know very well that I will not, and would not if I had a dozen lives. That’s clearer to me every day. Each morning I’m like Adam waking up in Eden, amazed at the cleverness of my hands and at the brilliance pouring into my mind through my eyes—old hands, old eyes, old mind, a very diminished Adam altogether and still it is just remarkable. What of me will I still have? Well, this old body has been a pretty good companion. Like Balaam’s ass, it’s seen the angel I haven’t seen yet, and it’s lying down in the path.

God has promised believers a future place in heaven. But what will that be like? How do we live today in anticipation for that eternity? What does the Bible Promise about Heaven?

 

Listen to the Word of God, from John 14:1-4 …. —-

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

I know for a fact that many of us in this room have heard, read, these verses almost a countless number of times. When do we read these words? [At funerals.] Why do we read them at funerals? [Because they speak of JesusPromise about Heaven being a place PREPARED for us by Jesus.]

Jesus says, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled.” He’s about to die. These words were spoken on His last day on earth before He was crucified. “It’s OK,Jesus says. “I’m leaving this earth to prepare a place for you – and then I’ll come back and to pick you up when it’s your time. I promise.

We read in John 1 that “in the beginning the Word was with God and the Word was God … and that through Him all things were made”. Genesis 1 tells a story of “all things [being] madein 6 days. And look how amazingly beautiful this Creation is. The Word, Jesus, then spends the rest of eternity creating Heaven. “I can only imagine,   What my eyes would see,   When your face, is before me?   I can only imagine, I can only imagine

To be surrounded by your glory   What will my heart feel?   Will I dance for you Jesus?   Or In awe of you be still?   Will I stand in your presence?   To my knees will I fall?   Will I sing hallelujah?   Will I be able to speak at all?   I can only imagine, yeah, I can only imagine

We’ll come back to this passage in a minute, but let’s look at the next thing we see Promised about Heaven.

 

Not only is Heaven a place PREPARED for us by Jesus. Heaven is a place where everything is made NEW!

Also written by the Apostle John, the Book of Revelation is John’s record of the vision he received from God while imprisoned, for being a follower of Jesus, on a small island off the coast of Turkey. Listen to these words from Revelation 21:1-5 …. —-

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Nothing will be like it is here on earth? New heaven, new earth, new Jerusalemprepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. Remember that passage we just read from John 14? Those, too, are wedding promises. The groom leaves his bride to prepare a home for his new bride, attached to his father’s property; and when it is ready the groom comes back to take her with him to their new home.

The Church is described as the Bride of ChristHe is preparing everything new for His Bride, us, you and me, followers of Jesus in every age and from every tribe, tongue and nation.

Everything new? No more tears; no more death; nor more mourning or crying or pain. Is this something we can believe? Jesus tells John that “these words are trustworthy and true.”

 

What will Heaven be like? I don’t know about you but I often hear people describe Heaven in words like, “It will be an endless day of golf” – (that seems more like hell to me); or “Heaven will be sitting in a fishing boat, reeling in giant rainbow trout like nobody’s business”; or “… sitting at the beach” or “… being with my best friends in a sewing circle”….

Scripture never describes Heaven anything like that! I don’t know exactly what it will look/feel/smell like – or exactly what we’ll be doing – but according to what we just read in Revelation 21 we can know that we will be in the very visible presence of Jesus … and according to Revelation 22:1-5, everything we do will be in response to that gift.

Look with me at these words, Revelation 22:1-5 …. —-

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lambdown the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

Heaven is a place PREPARED by Jesus, where everything is made NEW. And, Heaven is a place of SEEING and SERVING God.

We think of the whole Good News of Jesus thing as exemplified in Immanuel, God with us, the incarnation, Jesus’ birth and life and death and resurrection – all because “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that all who believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life”! And that is incredible news of Amazing Grace!

But it gets even better! Not only is God present with us in this life – but we are invited to His House in the next, for all eternity.

Look at verse 3, “… and His servants will serve Him.” I assume that this word describes His Church. Yes, we are the Bride of Christ, and the Body of Christ, and the Children of God. But we are also the Servants of God – and we are privileged to occupy that role for eternityimmediately under the Creator of the universe!

Look at verse 4, “They will see His face…” We will see Him face-to-face! This is so-much-better than front row seats at a concert, or center court seats at a Gonzaga game, or 50-yard-line seats at the Super Bowl. This is face-to-face with Jesus!

Verse 4 continues, “… and His name will be on their foreheads.” Two points here: 1) in Heaven, when we look at others also in Heaven, what will we see? His name! We will even see Him when looking at each other. We will be unable to escape the presence of God – and we won’t want to! And, 2) His name on our foreheads mean we belong to Him! What an amazing grace! We will not be able to avoid knowing we are His – and so is everyone else there with Him!

 

My Dad recognized these truths when I asked him if he was afraid of what lay before him. My friend who just lost his father needs a present reminder of God’s promises about Heaven. And the author of Caitlin’s recommended book reminds us that we really have no idea how much better than our best guess Heaven will really be!

 

The future always looks bright when viewed through the windows of God’s perfect Promises. He has Promised His believers a PREPARED place, where everything is made NEW and His people will be busy SERVING Him as we have the pleasure of SEEING His radiant face!

What a glorious day that will be!

 

Dear Lord, help me today to help someone else be ready for Heaven.

 

Today, as we move into our time of prayer, we get to practice a piece of Heaven. If you know this song, please sing louder than me – if you don’t know it, learn it and sing it to God.

Heaven is a wonderful place

          Filled with glory and grace.

          I wanna see my Savior’s face.

          Heaven is a wonderful place.

          I wanna go there!

 

Resources:

Family Bible Study; “Advanced Bible Study Commentary”; Winter 2002-03; Pp. 74-81.

Mann, Tamela; “I Can Only Imagine”

Robinson, Marilynne; Gilead; Picador; NY, NY; 2004; Pp. 66-67