06/26/2016 – Revelation 1 – Awaiting the Bridegroom: “A Love Letter”

For an audio version, please click here.

Mark Wheeler

Revelation 1

Awaiting the Bridegroom: “A Love Letter”

06/26/2016

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Lord Jesus, open our minds and hearts to Your truth, through the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God. Amen.

 

My best friend in high school and college, Bruce – we were Best Man in each other’s weddings – spent one summer in El Salvador on a mission trip. While on that mission trip he met Karen, a college student from Detroit, MI; and they fell in love. They were both poor college students, so they spent the next year – remember this was before email or Facebook or Skype or any of today’s potential electronic ways to communicate – dating through the US Postal Service. Several letters a week, and a minimum of 6 days(!) before a reply to a question! 10 months of love letters.

I had to confess how in-awe I was of this relationship. I never met my best friend’s fiancée until I drove from SoCal to Davisburg, MI, for their wedding rehearsal! They celebrated their 34th anniversary this month. An entire life-together built on love letters!

 

This same deep longing and truth is conveyed to all of us in the multi-sensory vision given to the Apostle John, and then given to us as the last book of the New Testament, the Book of Revelation. It is the communication that we, the Church, have received from our Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.

 

This Summer, in a very broken sequence of messages, because of guest preachers and mission trips, we will be taking an overview look at the Book of Revelation – to see what it promises and how those promises effect our lives and faith today.

 

The Apostle John was the youngest of Jesus’ 12 Disciples, and the longest lived. Toward the end of his life he was imprisoned on the Greek Island called Patmos, in the Aegean Sea. Our group who traveled in the footsteps of St. Paul 3 years ago took a side trip to Patmos one day. We saw a beautiful small island with a resort site in the harbor and tall beautiful rocky hills – but 2,000 years ago this was a barren, desolate island that the Roman government used as a place of banishment for criminals. Why was John there? His crime was that he was a Christian. He was probably in his late 70s or 80s, and God chose this time and this place to reveal Himself to John and to us.

 

I invite you to hear the Word of God from Revelation 1, and to identify why I am calling this a “love letter”…. —-

The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.

John,        To the seven churches in the province of Asia:

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

“Look, he is coming with the clouds,”         and “every eye will see him,     even those who pierced him”;
and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”         So shall it be! Amen.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”

12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

19 “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”

 

Remember that I said this series was going to be an “overview” of the book of Revelation. Because it is an “apocalyptic” book it is filled with creative images and signs. We are not going to spend a lot of time describing or defining those things. That’s not because they are un-important, it’s just because this series is looking for over-arching themes and general teachings instead of detailed minutiae.

However, if we run across something that really piques your curiosity, please write it down – we can have a discussion downstairs during the Fellowship Time and talk about some of those particular specific intricacies.

 

First, to address a major predominant premise, look at the opening phrase: “The revelation from Jesus Christ”. You know how the English language grows as our culture changes? Not only do we get new words in our dictionaries every year, but old words change meanings based on popular usagesometimes they come to mean the exact opposite of what they used to mean. For example: what does the word “literally” mean? My dictionary says it means “factually, accurately, exactly” and its antonym would be “figuratively”. But because “literally everyone” has used it wrong, it now means bothfactually and figuratively”!  The word “bad” now also could mean “good”.  Aggghhh!

Irregardless”, my point here is that the name of this book might someday change because of people’s mis-calling it “Revelations”! What is the second word of this book? Revelation! Singular. It is ONE revelation! (If we learn nothing else, this message just became worth it to me.)

 

The third word? In the NIV it says, “The revelation FROM Jesus Christ.” And the rest of the sentence implies that God, Jesus’ Father, gave this to Jesus who now gives it to John and to the Church.

One thing that I learned in seminary, and while studying all kinds of languages (from Latin based, to Germanic, to Semitic, to Swahilic) is that trying to translate prepositions may be the most difficult grammar piece to translate. So, the KJV, and probably most other English language New Testaments say, “The revelation OF Jesus Christ.”

How does that prepositional shift effect the way we read this book? Is it a revelation FROM Jesus? Or a revelation ABOUT Him? Or one that BELONGS to Him? Or what?

The Greek version (this book’s first version) says apokaluyis Ihsou ([the] apocalypse Jesus [in the genitive case] which could be “FROMorOF”)!

I wanted to say that because some of you read the KJV, or the NASB, or a Ukrainian translation with English interlinear and you’ll come to me afterward and tell me why the NIV is wrong. It’s not. It’s just different.

 

Either way, “The revelation FROM or OF Jesus Christ”: who is the book of Revelation about? [Jesus Christthe Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the Lion and the Lamb, the Bridegroom coming for His Bride!

 

Last week we read from I Peter, and I asked if I believe that all the earthquakes and fires and global climate change and violence and worldwide political hoopla are signs that today is THE day when the end is coming? My answer is that I have no idea if today seems more like THE day than December 7, 1942, felt like THE day; or than September 11, 2001, felt like THE day; or than Passover in the 34th Year of our Lord felt like THE day…. But that we’d best heed Peter’s words and Be ALERT so that we may PRAY.

Today we are in Revelation, what is Wheeler getting off about? I just want us to be aware of what the Bible says about how we are to live lives of faith, how do we live like we believe what we say we believe, in Spokane, WA, or Kiminini, Kenya, in the 21st Century ad?

How is the Book of Revelation about LPC in 2016? What are we to do with this New Testament book of prophecy? Why do we care what these hard-to-understand words say?

To answer that, look at your Sermon Notes Page and follow along as I highlight some of those phrases. Hear, again, the Word of God to us:

The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw—that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.”

 

  • This is God’s WordGod reveals Himself through His Son Jesus Christ
  • Blessed are those who read, hear, receive these words, if we take these words to heart
  • Because what He is revealing will soon take place, the time is near

 

I am a lousy letter-writer. I tried to do an annual Christmas Letter a few times – and I failed. Jennifer has received very fewlove letters” from me in these last 33 years.

But those bullet points from those opening 3 verses sound like “love letter” language to me.

  • The Bridegroom transparently opens Himself up for His Bride – He uncovers what was hidden – that is what “apocalypse” means, to unveil what has until now been behind a curtain.
  • If the Bride is available to believe these words of love, she will be blessed by the heart that is revealed.
  • And it is important because time is running out. II Peter 3:8 reminds us that God’s eternal clock doesn’t always run on our schedule – “a day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as a day” – so be ready!

 

The close of this chapter in Revelation reminds us that Jesus tells John the Apostle to write about both “NOW” and about “LATER2,000 years ago, and about, perhaps, 2,000 years later?

 

What do we do in the mean time? How does the Bride wait? How did Karen wait so long for Bruce to fly to Detroit and pop the question?

Karen believed the love letters! And she’d read James 5, “Be PATIENT until the Lord’s coming…. Be patient and stand firm, because His coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another… the Judge (the Lord?), He’s standing at the door (that is really near).”

 

Do you trust God’s Word is trustworthy? Do you believe this is God’s Word?

Do we believe what this “love letterreveals to us about our Savior?

Can we put our lives into His waiting arms for one more day? One more hour? One minute at a time?

 

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

 

Resources:

Currie, Susan Porterfield; Revelation: Awaiting the Bridegroom; Presbyterians for Renewal; Louisville, KY; 2010; Pp. 3-13.

06/19/2016 – I Peter 4:7-11 – Living Stones: “Seeing Ourselves thru God’s Eyes

For audio, please click here. The microphone went out, so the audio goes in and out and isn’t great quality, but thanks to our sound guy and our IT guy, we got something…

Mark Wheeler

I Peter 4:7-11

Living Stones: “Seeing Ourselves thru God’s Eyes”

06/19/2016

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

This woman pays a visit to her psychiatrist. She’s attractive, well paid in her profession, and generally well liked by friends and colleagues. She says, “Here’s the thing, Doctor. I think everyone in the world is staring at me. And I think the only reason they’re staring is because I’m a big fat ugly pig with fat on my …”

The psychiatrist stops her and says, “I’m going to interrupt you there. I can tell you right now, quite objectively, that none of that is true. To be blunt, you’re smart and attractive and a very likable person. If anything, I was going to comment that you seem a bit thin and tired: maybe even a bit frail and underweight. Sometimes we have a lot of ill-informed feelings, and in here the goal is to get to the root of those feelings, so we can see why it is we’re doing what we’re doing.”

He’s evidently struck a chord, because the woman instantly breaks down in gentle sobs, repeatedly nodding in agreement. She wipes her eyes, blows her nose, looks at him, and says, “You’re right, you’re right …  I need a nose job, and I never look good in jeans. I think that’s why I pack on the lard like this.”

 

Last Sunday’s message included some discussion of hearing/receiving/understanding God’s call on our lives – which prompted a number of people to tell me, in any number of different ways, that they really do not think God has “calledthem into any specific ministry or Christ-centered life choice.

Of course, I disagreed with that perception. And it’s seldom (probably never) because we deserve His calling based on our preparedness and abilities. Like this poor woman at her psychiatrist, we are unable to see ourselves except thru our own eyes. There’s an old Bumper Sticker theology that says: “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called”.

 

Today marks the close of a 9-week study through the Epistles of Peter to 1st Century churches in Asia Minor, to Christian believers who risked death every day simply for their faith. And today we will hear this Apostle’s teachings about how God calls us into ministry based, not on what we think of as useful qualities, but on what God sees in us.

Listen to these words from the Apostle Peter. Listen to how he says we find faith-filled integrity when we trust His vision of us more than our own.  I Peter 4:7-11….—-

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  10 Each of you should use whatever gifts you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.  11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.”

 

This paragraph begins with “The end of all things is near.” Have you listened to any news over the past two weeks? Have you paid any attention to this year’s presidential campaign efforts? Yeah I know that Peter wrote this letter almost 2,000 years ago – and I also know that for nearly two millennia people have thought that “the end was near”.

And I am not generally an alarmist. Do I believe that all the earthquakes and fires and global climate change and violence and worldwide political hoopla are signs that today is THE day? My answer is that I have no idea if today seems more like THE day than December 7, 1942, felt like THE day; or than September 11, 2001, felt like THE day; or than Passover in the 34th Year of our Lord felt like THE day….

It is a Foundation Stone of the Christian faithJesus Christ will return in glory to fully establish His Kingdom and to judge all humankind. I don’t know when. The Bible leaves those kinds of details a mystery.

But I say we’d best heed Peter’s words and Be ALERT so that we may PRAY. KJV says, “be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer”. The Greek grammar here means, Be watchful and clear-headed for the purpose, toward the goal, of praying.

Jesus told His followers, back in the Sermon on the Mount, to “seek ye first the Kingdom of God”. Be alert! Watch. Keep your eyes focusedon God and God’s things!

The Ten Commandments are summarized with: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.

 

We do not know, we cannot know, when Jesus will return, when the end is coming. But we do know who wins in the end. And since we live in the liminal space between “Christ is risen” and “Jesus is returned!”, Peter tells us how to live our lives.

And since most of us do not see ourselves as worthy of God’s love and His call on our lives into His service, today we listen to Peter tell us something different!

 

Not worthy of God’s love? Not good enough to be called into God’s Kingdom service?

Listen to these three stories from the Bible – stories most of us are very familiar with – I share them today as some of my most needed reminders of who I am and how God sees me. And because these are biblically held principles describing human nature through particular human lives and God’s character through specific divine actions, we can trust them to remind all of us who we are and how God sees each of us!

  • The story of Moses’ calling into God-following deliverance: Exodus 2 and 3 tells the story of Moses in the wilderness tending his father-in-law’s sheep when he sees a burning bush – burning, but not burning up! God invites him to come close to Him and then sends him to meet with the Pharaoh. What does Moses say? “Not me, Lord! Why me? I’m no good! Just a sheepherder (and a murderer, on the lam). I’m not good enough to represent God!” And God says, “Do not worry. I’ll be with you. Now go….
  • The story of the Old Testament Judge named Gideon being called into leadership: In Judges 6 we see that the Israelites are sinning, doing what is right in their own eyes, and paying no attention to God’s Word or their neighbors. And then it says, “Now the Angel of theLord came … while Gideon threshed wheat in the winepress, in order to hide it from the Midianites. And the Angel of the Lord appeared to him, and said to him, ‘The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!’Gideon was threshing wheat in the winepressscared, hiding, almost cowardice; but what does God see? A “mighty man of valor”! And, God told him, “The Lord is with you!
  • The story of Jesus’ baptism: I know how unfair it is to use Jesus as an example of God seeing something good in a human; but this is still one of my favorite Father-God moments. In Matthew 3, Mark 1, and Luke 3, John the Baptist is in the Jordan River baptizing people with a baptism of repentance, and Jesus walks into the water, John recognizes Him as the Messiah, Jesus goes in for His baptism and a voice from Heaven sounds out: “This is my Son with whom I am well pleased!Jesus had not yet even started His ministry – no leprosy had been cleansed, no blind or lame had been healed, no dead had yet been raise to life, no Gospel words had yet been spoken – and God said, “This is my Son. I love Him!

And at the Transfiguration, with Peter and James and John, and then Moses and Elijah, God said the same thing: “This is my beloved Son. Y’all should listen to Him well.”

 

What we might take from those stories, and there are nearly countless more, is that like Moses and Gideon, we truly are unworthy of being called – but God sees in us the potential to be His servants and His children.

 

So Peter tells us how to live like we believe what we say we believe – how to live in these days between Christ’s resurrection and Christ’s return. He says to:

  • “Be ALERT”, in order to PRAY. This means to be watchful, to keep our faith awake, to “seek ye first the Kingdom of God”, to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength”. By doing this, our prayers will be heard and answered because our hearts will be right.

 

The Ten Commandments’ summary concludes with: “Love your neighbor as yourself”.

Peter says to:

  • LOVE each other”, in order to cover a multitude of SINS. How does that work? How does your love for me cover my sins? Within the bounds of true love is forgiveness. If I have sinned against you, your love will forgive my sins. And why would any of us participate in such a feat as that? Simply because God so loved the world, God so loved you, that He gave His one and only Son that whoever simply believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. Since God forgave me, my only reasonable response is to forgive you.
  • OFFER hospitality”, Peter says, out of love for our neighbor, offer hospitality without grumbling.
  • And USE whatever gift you have received to serve others” Peter says, in order to share God’s LOVE.

In Luke’s Gospel Jesus calls four fishermen, Simon and Andrew, and James and John, and He sees something more; He tells them to use their gifts of fishing to be “fishers of men”. No one is “off the hook” here. If you are a nurse, or a teacher, or a barista, or a retired linemanuse your gifts to save people, to teach about God’s Word, to serve grace to your customers, to connect people to God’s terminalto share God’s love!

  • How do we be alert? How do we live in this in-between time? How do we live during this “already” and the “not yet” that we find ourselves in? The last piece Peter proposes is that we SPEAK the Word of God”, and that we SERVE with God’s strength”, in order to bring PRAISE to God through Jesus Christ!

Last Sunday morning we had just heard the news of the mass shooting in Orlando, FL, and we barely mentioned the victims and their families in our prayers here. It was all too fresh and new. On Tuesday night, however, after a couple days of reflection we opened our doors and invited all our neighbors to come in for prayer and quiet meditation. Our hearts break for victims of senseless violence. And our hearts break for the system that allows/encourages such violence. And our hearts break for even the offenders because their anger and hatred and fear represent some deep brokenness in their soul.

How do we speak God’s Word, God’s truth, God’s judgment and God’s grace? Not under our own strength, but by the strength that God provides. Why? Because even in tragedy we discover God’s presence and by our faithful actions God might be praised through His Son Jesus Christ.

 

Hear this “short story” by David Cronin, and see if you are inspired:

The other day I was reflecting on life’s journey. In my youth I had looked at life as a straight path. My goal was always clear in my mind as to my spiritual direction. Then, as the saying goes, “life happened”.

Now, in my forties, I sense that life is more like a maze than a straight path. Certain turns do lead to dead ends. At first I looked at these missteps as time lost. Today, however, I see them as valuable, even sacred, steps in what constitutes “my path”.

These days my path is quite challenging. In my personal life, events are transpiring that require all my available spiritual, emotional, and physical strength. To be honest, at certain moments, I have felt unequal to the challenge. So, to reflect on what was and perhaps even to regain the strength and fortitude of youth, it occurred to me to visit my childhood home and stomping grounds. This visit was to become an awakening lesson in perspectives.

First, I first drove by my childhood home. I had to stop along the side of the road and marvel at the sight of it. It looked so small, obviously having shrunk in thirty-five years. I saw the windows to my and my older brother’s rooms and reflected on all the good times we shared growing up. Playing Toss up and Tackle; sneaking into his room in the middle of the night to read juicy love letters from his girlfriends (Mission Impossible was a big TV hit at the time and I saw myself as a secret agent sneaking into enemy territory while they slept to read secret documents, which in fact they were); my brother almost burning down the kitchen trying to cook pizza for us when our parents were out.

Pulling away from my childhood home, I decided to make the long drive to the park where I used to play. Only it wasn’t a “long drive” but just a few blocks away–not even a quarter of a mile! I had to laugh as I parked my car, remembering how long the walk seemed to me when I was a child.

Of course, the park had drastically altered in my absence. Gone was the main attraction, THE SLIDE: That simple structure of metal that became the barometer of courage for generations of little boys and girls trying to become masters of their own confusing, ever-changing worlds.

Now, it’s hard to estimate how tall the slide actually was. No doubt it wasn’t the hundred-foot image I had of it as a child. Whatever its actual size, at that time, it was daunting to my friends and me. Access to this particular slide was gained by climbing up a ladder to a platform. This platform provided a path to two slides at right angles to each other. Conquering the slide was accomplished in stages that were well followed by your playground peers. It was a process that took many years and each stage was a rite of passage.

Stage one consisted of being able to climb the ladder without mommy or daddy being directly behind you. Stage two was accomplished by climbing back up to the platform by scampering up the slide instead of using the ladder. Stage three meant sitting on wax paper as you slid down the slide–a truly scary experience the first few times (Indeed, warp speed had yet to enter our vocabulary, but if it had we certainly would have used it).

Next came the courage to climb over the railing on the platform and slide down the center support pole like a fireman. The fifth and final test was reversing that process by climbing back up the pole and maneuvering yourself onto the platform. Not something for the faint of heart, as at one point you are dangling off the edge of the platform as you prepare to swing a leg up to secure a hold.

As I sat on the park bench I marveled at the intensity of my struggles to master THE SLIDE. It consumed me and I must admit a lot of my self-image at the time hinged on my success or failure at the various stages. I wished I could somehow go back in time and tell my ‘little boy self” that he is something greater than his perceived successes and failures. To not waste life by judging his worth by whether he is keeping up with his peers or not.

Then it occurred to me that perhaps in thirty-five years I would look back at my current struggles in the same light. My self-image is certainly being affected now by my current successes and failures. Perhaps, now too, I am something more.

I left the park much lighter in spirit and with a smile upon my face. Life is indeed a beautiful journey. 

 

Dear friends, to quote Peter, “The end is ‘near’” (please note the air-quotes). Do we have the right perspective? Do we judge ourselves and each other based on what we see? Can we get just a glimpse of the Deliverer, the Person of Valor, the “Fishers of Men” that God sees in us?

 

This Easter Season, this Resurrection Season, this Pentecost Season, let’s always See Our Lives thru God’s Eyes! Not perfect – but perfectly loved. Not perfect – but called to perfection.

If you heard God calling your name today, if you sense that Christ’s death and resurrection was meant for you today, if you want your life to withstand life’s storms today – drop a note in the Offering Plate, and I’ll get with you later this week. Let’s dedicate, rededicate, our rocky past into service as living stones today!

 

Happy Father’s Day. You His beloved children! Happy Pentecost Season! Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!

 

Resources:

Bettridge, Becce; Living Stones: The Making of an Eternal Fellowship; Presbyterians for Renewal; Louisville, KY; 2012; Pp. 73-80.

 

Cronin, David; The Park – a short story about self-image; http://www.selfgrowth.com.

06/12/2016 – II Peter 1:10-15 – Living Stones: “Be Prepared”

Click here  for the audio version.

Mark Wheeler

II Peter 1:10-15; 3:17-18

Living Stones: “Be Prepared”

06/12/2016

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

“A load of stone isn’t as hard to get going as it is to get stopped.”

“Another handy vehicle is the farm cart or two wheeled trailer pulled by tractor or mule. I advise against moving it by hand when loaded, because it will always run over you.”

“When lifting heavy objects, you must keep your back straight and give your knees and legs the work out …. Nothing is as unyielding as stone and you don’t want to have to enjoy your finished structure from a wheelchair.”

Those are quotes from Charles McRaven’s book on “Building with Stone”, and I’m guessing there is a story behind each warning, and probably a few scrapes, bruises and booboos. Good advice almost always comes from bad planning.

What’s the Boy Scout motto? “Always Be prepared.”

Last Wednesday, after having been told that Andrew would NOT leave for his Peace Corps trip the next morning but not until Friday at the earliest and most likely Saturday (because his Visa was not in hand yet); therefore he was told late Wednesday to cancel his flight for Thursday morning; then he got a wake-up phone call on Thursday, at 8:45, telling him to catch his 9:30 flight out of Spokane. After explaining how impossible that was, he rescheduled for 1:30pm.

So on the way to the airport at 11:45 we were joking about what the Peace Corps’ motto must be:

  • Don’t plan on anything being what we told you
  • If you might call tonight, wait until tomorrow morning anyway
  • It’s better to start rumors and let them fester before actually contacting your volunteers and telling them what’s up

 

As we read in the Apostle Peter’s letters to those 1st Century churches in Asia Minor, to those Christian believers who risked death every day simply for their faith, we see Peter (and the Apostle John and Jude) give urgent warnings against false teachers (we talked about that last week), and about moral compromise and about theological error.

Listen to these words from the Apostle Peter. Listen to how he says we find faith-filled integrity when we guard against false teachers and bad teachings.  II Peter 1:10-15….—-

10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

12 So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have. 13 I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, 14 because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.”

 

And on the next page:

17 Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen. (3:17-18)

 

Peter is writing these warnings almost as a last will and testament, almost like his dying wish is to make sure his church friends know these warnings; he’s writing these “warnings” because he is about to DIE, and he wants his readers to carry the GOOD NEWS to the next generation.

Peter knows that when believers, you and I, attentively practice living, learning, and loving God, following His teachings, obeying His commands, the Holy Spirit equips us with a strong and resilient faith. When trials come, we know on Whom we can depend. When doubts are raised, we remember on Whom we can trust; when we are turned against or even just misunderstood, we rely on the One Who has given His everything for our sake.

When our strong and resilient faith is combined with the faith of others, when my faith is combined with your faith, we become the very Living Stones Christ uses to build His Church!

So Peter warns his readers to “Keep ALERT”. He said, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

What’s happening in our lives that requires us to be alert? Does the devil attack us with new and chronic health diagnoses? Does he prowl after us with job insecurities? Is the devil roaring with fears and family fights?

 

Peter warns his readers to “Stand FAST”. He wrote, “The God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.  To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. … I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.

What’s happening in our lives that requires us to stand fast? Are we allured with the idea that everybody goes to heaven, so what difference does faith make? Do we get bombarded with ideologies that teach we have to be good enough, we have to earn our acceptance by God? Are we inundated with conceptions of “God would never call on me”?

Listen again to I Peter 5:12: “The God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast… this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.

Peter cautions his readers to “Be on your GUARD”. He tells us, “Our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16 He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

17 Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

It is so easy to become lax in our relationship to God through Jesus Christ. We take Him for granted; we know He loves us, so we forget to put any effort into our relationship. But, dear friends, we all know that any relationship requires effort. As much as Jennifer loves me, she has to put effort into forgiving me when I continue to fail to meet expectations …. And I need to try harder to please her!

Yes, God forgives us, but that does not give us permission to ignore Him! Be on your guard!

In a word, Peter warns us to “Be Preparedfor the ways we might be tripped up.

But Peter also reminds us of the promises of the Gospel: If we are prepared against getting tripped up, Peter promises “You will never STUMBLE”. His exact promise is: “Make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

How do we confirm our calling and election? As Bible believing followers of Jesus Christ – simply live like we believe what we say we believe. We receive a “rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

Peter also reminds us of this promise of the Gospel: “God will RESCUE you”. In context, he writes: “If he rescued Lot (see Genesis 19), a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)—  if this is so, then the Lord will rescue the godly from trials.

Being “godly”, and therefore claiming this promise, does not mean being perfect or sinless, but it totally means submitting to God as Lord, and totally trusting Him as Savior.

And add to this Peter’s biblical promise of a “new HEAVEN and a new EARTH”. This promise is wrapped up in Peter’s benediction: “in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.  Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation …. since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position.  But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

I was never a Boy Scout. My big brother was for a while, some of you were. I’m not sure of all the dynamics of Scout-hood Preparedness, but it has something to do with always being in a state of readiness in mind and body to do your duty.

As a Christian, it means at least that much. A state of readiness in mind, body, spirit, and soul – to be the Church, to be a Living Stone in God’s Cathedral, to break down the Gates of Hades, to stand against the forces of darkness, to be the Light of the World and the Salt of the Earth.

 

This Easter Season, this Resurrection Season, this Pentecost Season, let’s always Be Prepared!

If you heard God calling your name today, if you sense that Christ’s death and resurrection was meant for you today, if you want your life to withstand life’s storms today – drop a note in the Offering Plate, and I’ll get with you later this week. Let’s dedicate, rededicate, our rocky past into service as living stones today!

 

Happy Pentecost Season! Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!

Resources:

Bettridge, Becce; Living Stones: The Making of an Eternal Fellowship; Presbyterians for Renewal; Louisville, KY; 2012; Pp. 65-72.

McRaven, Chasrles; Building with Stone; Storey Pub.; North Adams, MA; 1989; Pp. 19-20.

The Boy Scout Manual.

06/05/2016 – II Peter 2:1-3 – Living Stones: “Teachers: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”

For the audio version, click here.

Mark Wheeler

II Peter 2:1-3; 3:17-18

Living Stones: “Teachers – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”

06/05/2016

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

When I think back over my childhood school experiences, I mostly have very positive memories. From Kindergarten thru High School, that’s a total of nearly 60 different teachers (I moved a lot between 7th and 9th grade), I can really only count 2 or 3 that I thought weren’t very good. (And those 2 or 3 may have been excellent teachers, just ones that I didn’t personally connect with.)

I’ll bet most of you had similar experiences in your schools. 95% that were really very good at their jobs, and maybe 5% that didn’t connect with you.

 

As we read in the Apostle Peter’s letters to those 1st Century churches in Asia Minor, to those Christian believers who risked death every day simply for their faith, we discover that it was of first importance that believers learn to demonstrate God’s love to others; but an immediate second in importance was his warning about false teachers and their polluted perversion of the Gospel’s Good News.

This is different from a warning about a teacher who wasn’t very good at his job, but about a teacher who taught false understandings as if they were philosophical and biblical truths.

The main heresy of Peter’s day was Gnosticism, a religion that splits the physical world from the spiritual world – thus teaching that there are two gods, a good god of all things spiritual and a bad god of all things physical. One way that this philosophy lived itself out was that Gnosticism taught that it does not matter what we do with our bodies (our bodies are physical and inherently evil, so enjoy whatever carousing and devilry you want, it has no bearing on the spiritual); but it also taught that since bodies are physical/evil, Jesus could not possibly be the Son of God in a way that incarnates (becomes a baby born in Bethlehem, or dies on a cross in Jerusalem) the spiritual deity of God!

Our heresies may be different from that, but the principle truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the same truth that must be “protected”. The six Great Ends of the Church are:

  1. The proclamation of the Gospel for the salvation of humankind
  2. The shelter, nurture and spiritual fellowship of the children of God
  3. The maintenance of divine worship
  4. The preservation of the Truth
  5. The promotion of social righteousness, and
  6. The exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world

All of those deal with being Teachers that are neither Bad nor Ugly.

 

Listen to these words from the Apostle Peter. Listen to how he says we find faith-filled integrity when we discover the cracks in our faith where sins have been making their homes.  II Peter 2:1-3….—-

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping. …

13 They will be paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they feast with you. 14 With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they are experts in greed—an accursed brood! 15 They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Bezer, who loved the wages of wickedness. 16 But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey—an animal without speech—who spoke with a human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.

17 These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. 18 For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. 19 They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.”

 

And on the next page:

Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking. I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.

Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water.By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. …

17 Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

 

This morning, our Sunday School class was the first of a few that is comparing world religions, and a few local religions, from a relatively conservative Christian perspective. We are trying to be careful to ask what these religions say about themselves (as opposed to what conservative Christians say about them), but it is really hard to be objective.

Peter warns his readers to read between the lines carefully. One of the traits of false teachers is that they hide their heresies, sometimes deliberately and sometimes very unwittingly, with half-TRUTHS and DECEPTION.

Peter reminds his readers that false teachers reject the truth found in SCRIPTURE. From a Christian point of view, this is all it takes. Reject Scripture, the authority of the Old and New Testaments as God’s Word for humanity, and one automatically becomes a “false teacher”.

And Peter says that false teachers act out of their own GREED and self-interest. I would suggest that we need to be careful with this descriptionsometimes people teach falsehood out of ignorance or even willful disobedience, but greed and self-advancement may not be players in their game.

 

But one thing that history has truly taught us is that when sin is not named as sin, its life-destroying power gains ground.

Barbara Brown Taylor, in her book Speaking of Sin: The Lost Language of Salvation, claims that honestly recognizing sin in our lives for what it is (i.e. “deadly alienation from God”) is not the bad news of condemnation we so easily assume. Rather, by recognizing our sin, we give space for God’s Good News to restore hope into our tumbled-down lives. (This is what we talked about last week, so I will not spend much time here today, but please note how closely sin in our lives and believing what false teachers tell us are to one another.)

 

This is an old illustration, but it aptly fits this topic. Do you know how U.S. Treasury Agents learn to detect counterfeit money? It is not by studying what counterfeit $20-bills look like. They learn to detect false money by studying true money.

How might we learn to detect counterfeit faith systems? Try studying God’s Word thoroughly, a little every day. We discover God’s character by reading the Bible. We unearth God’s expectations by listening to Jesus speak. We realize God’s will, at least in general terms, by knowing who God is in the Scriptures.

 

Can you name someone who influenced your faith? Who taught you about God? I think of John Winterling, an entrepreneur businessman who taught Jr. High Sunday School; Bud Cook, a 55-year old engineer who led High School Youth Group; Chuck Wakamoto, a church member who volunteered to direct a youth choir; Roy Ketring, a railroad man whom God called into mission work with a Mexican orphanage. These men all taught me from Scripture how to hear God’s truth in life. And I thank God for them every time I remember their impact on my soul.

 

Today is Communion Sunday, so in just a few minutes we will experience, through the Lord’s Table, in the breaking of the bread and the pouring from the cup, the truth of God’s grace and mercy for you and me. But before I shut up, let me ask you one task. Is there any part of this message that blessed you today? Can you name it, specifically? Is there anything in this message that challenged your faith, or your intellect, or your idea of compassion and right and wrong? Name that. And before you leave this building today, share your answer(s) with someone – or over lunch, or at your next meeting.

 

This Easter Season, this Resurrection Season, this Pentecost Season, let’s know the truth well enough to recognize the false teachings when they come!

If you heard God calling your name today, if you sense that Christ’s death and resurrection was meant for you today, if you want your life to withstand life’s storms today – drop a note in the Offering Plate, and I’ll get with you later this week. Let’s dedicate, rededicate, our rocky past into service as living stones today!

 

Rock of ages, cleft for me – let me hide myself in Thee – let the water and the blood – from Thy wounded side which flowed – be of sin the double cure – cleanse me from its guilt and power.

Happy Pentecost Season! Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!

 

Resources:

Bettridge, Becce; Living Stones: The Making of an Eternal Fellowship; Presbyterians for Renewal; Louisville, KY; 2012; Pp. 57-64.

 

Taylor, Barbara Brown; Speaking of Sin: The Lost Language of Salvation; Cowley Pub.; Cambridge, MA; 2000.

 

The Constitution of the PC(USA), Part II, The Book of Order, F-1.0304.

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