04/15/2018 = Philippians 1:1-11 = “Caring and Prayer-ing”

Mark Wheeler

Philippians 1:1-11

“Caring and Prayer-ing”


Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church


Through the Written Word,

          And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,

          Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


A pastor one time said to a parishioner: “You need to join the Army of the Lord!

This man replied, “I’m already in the Army of the Lord, Pastor.”

The Pastor questioned, “Well, how come I don’t see you except at Christmas and Easter?

The man whispered back, “I’m in the Secret Service.”
Today we begin a new series working our way through the very-non-Secret-Service New Testament book of Philippians. Last week we introduced this series by reading the historical event of Paul and Silas’ visit to the Roman County Seat of Macedonia, Philippi, about 10 years before this letter was written. And in Acts 16 we see a few things happen that impact the writing of this letter. Does anyone remember any of the events we read from Acts 16:

  • Paul and Silas got to Philippi because that’s where God directed them
  • The first recorded European baptism takes place in PhilippiLydia, that’s the photo on the bulletin cover, the Strymon River on the western edge of the city
  • Paul and Silas are arrested and imprisoned for their Christian faith
  • While in prison, they pray and sing, and God opens the doors and loosens the shackles
  • The jailer gets baptized
  • Paul and Silas create an opportunity to share the Gospel with the Magistrates as well
  • One more thing, not from the book of Acts, but from Paul’s First letter to the Christian Church in Thessalonica, chapter 2, Paul himself says, “We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition.”

That’s not all we read, but that’s a good start. Philippi gave Paul some success stories, but it was not a fun place for him to be.


With that, let’s turn to Philippians 1:1-11 (Page 830 in the pew Bibles) …. —-

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,

To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

The greeting salutation identifies the author as Paul, and Paul’s spiritual son who by this time had been the pastor of the Church in the Asia Minor (Turkey) city of Ephesus. And he does not identify himself as their superiornot Paul and Timothy, Bishops, or your Church Founder, or Apostle, but as “servants of Christ Jesus”.

And then he writes, “To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus…”. Who are these “holy people”? They are the ChurchLydia, and her household; the unnamed jailer, and his household; and all those whom these two had gathered in their homes to worship God in the name of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spiritall of them.

Together with the overseers (episcopoi, elders, bishops, church leaders, not unlike our Council of Elders) and deacons (ordained servants, not unlike our Board of Deacons).

In typical letter fashion from one Christian to another, “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

What does this say to us? We are all equal under the eyes of God – “priesthood of all believers” is the way Luther and Calvin said it. You are just as valuable and important as the person in front of you or behind you. Lydia is just as important as the jailer (she’s got a name, and he does not!). You are just as valuable as Pastor Kathy or Pastor Mark! Do not ever doubt that!


So, after the Greeting, what does Paul say to these Christians who live in Philippi?

Remember how difficult Philippi was for Paul. But, we also saw Lydia invite Paul and Silas to her house while they were visiting her city; and we saw the jailer take Paul and Silas to his house to clean their wounds and feed them; and we can imagine all the ways the other Christians in this city of conflict may have cared for Paul and his crew of Christian evangelists, so Paul writes:

I thank my God every time I remember you. 

And the relationship does not end with care – one of my Facebook friends just posted on Friday that she thinks that praying for someone may be the most loving thing we can do for another person – so Paul writes:

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy (I love that Paul connects “joy” with this town of torturejoy is the sense of light and hope we have in our hearts, despite the desperate circumstances we find ourselves in because we have a confident faith in our Savior Jesus Christ! Does that describe you right now?)  because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus(Is Jesus dependable? He who began a good work in you will complete itthat is a reason for joy) It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

And this is where Paul gets specific. The Rev. Dr. Earl Palmer, a retired Presbyterian Pastor, says that this prayer is like the prayer your mom says at dinner when her baby comes home from college for Spring Break – she prays for all the things she’s about to askI pray he’s studying hard (how are your classes going?), that she gets good sleep every night (are you going to bed at a reasonable hour?), that the work study program is paying enough to cover basic expenses (do you need your father to give you some money?). Listen:

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, (are you growing in how you love your neighbor?) 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, (how’s your ability to defend against temptation going?) 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God (do you think God is pleased with what He sees?).


In summary, I see three things that stand out in this opening textthree questions we might ask ourselvesthree truths which define for us what it means to live as followers of Jesus in stressful, turbulent, dangerous times:

  • The Great Apostle Paul counts himself as a servant of Christ among others who are overseers and deacons and God’s people in Christ Jesus – do you know how valuable YOU are to our Lord and Savior? – this is why Jesus died on that cross, why God gave His one and only Son, and why He calls you His child if you believe in Him!
  • Joy in the midst of strife is available to all who have received Jesus as God’s gift – do YOU HAVE this JOY today? In the midst of your struggle, your fear, your chaos, your loss, do you experience joy in Christ Jesus your Lord? – God offers that grace to you, right now; take a moment and reflect on how deeply you need Him, and ask Him to step in and shine His light of hope and peace right now.
  • Paul offers his prayers for these Philippian followers of Jesus – do you know who is praying for you? Do you know that your Deacons pray for you every month? And when something happens, prayers are shot out from the whole body of believers here? Do you know that prayer carries with it the power of God almighty who hears our every plea, our every cry our every praise?You are prayed for today, so you are never alone!


May we hear God’s grace and receive His care … right now, and for-ever. Amen.





Martin, Ralph P.; Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Philippians; Wm. P. Eerdman’s Pub. Co.; Grand Rapids, MI; 1983; Pp. 1-67.


Palmer, Earl; Building a Robust Faith: A Study in Philippians, Session 1; Essential Media Services; 199?.



04/08/2018 = Acts 16:6-40 = “Full o’ Philippi”

Mark Wheeler

Acts 16:6-40

“Full o’ Philippi”


Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church


Through the Written Word,

          And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,

          Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


I want to start this morning by asking you to turn, in your Bibles, or maybe in the Pew Bibles, to the New Testament history book called Acts, chapter 16 (that’s on page 784 in the Pew Bibles) – that’s actually not the real name of this book, it’s really called (what?) something more like “The Acts of Jesus Christ after His death and resurrection through the work and words of His Apostles”.

The opening line goes like this: “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” (A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens) No, wait: “It was a dark and stormy night.” (A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle) First lines are sometimes unforgettable, right?

Acts starts like this: “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day He was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the Apostles He had chosen.Too long for a NY Times Best Seller, right? But did you hear that?

Luke, the author, makes immediate reference to the Gospel According to Luke, and summarizes that book by saying it is about what “Jesus began to do and teach ….”

The implication, it seems, is that this sequel is aboutall that Jesus continues to do and teach through the Holy Spirit and the works and words of the Apostles He had chosen.” (Although, frankly, anyone who has ever read this book knows that it’s really about what the Apostle Peter does and teaches, and then what the new Apostle of Jesus Christ named Paul does and teaches.)

Chapter 16 is a story about Paul.

Your bulletins say Acts 16:6-40, which gives the whole context, but just so you know, I’m going to concentrate on the verses that tell about Paul and Silas’ imprisonment in the Roman city of Philippi. Listen carefully, follow along, because after the reading I’m going to ask some questions, non-rhetorical questions. Are you ready? Acts 16:6-40 …. —-

Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. 12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.

13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

16 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” 18 She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.

19 When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”

22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.

35 When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: “Release those men.” 36 The jailer told Paul, “The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace.”

37 But Paul said to the officers: “They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.”

38 The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. 39 They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city. 40 After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and sisters and encouraged them. Then they left.


That was a longer reading than we normally do, but I wanted you to hear the whole Philippian encounter – from why/how Paul went to Philippi all the way to the end of their visit there.

So, here’s where we all get to share some insights or ask some questions as a part of our group encounter with the Gospel message. I will ask some specific questions, and then I’ll follow up with some open-ended questions.

  • Where does this story take place, in what city? [Philippi]
  • What else do we know about this city, Philippi? [Paul wrote an Epistle to the Church here – long after his visit, while he was a prisoner in Rome.]
  • Why does Paul and Silas and their team go to Philippi? [The Holy Spirit, the Lord, blocks their path to “Asia” and “Bithynia”, and then by a vision/dream a man pleads for them, they went to Macedonia, where Philippi is located.]
  • Name one key thing that happens in Philippi:
    • [At the river they met a group of women, and the first recorded European convert/baptism happens – Lydia, and her whole family; Lydia is from Thyatira, a city in the province Paul was forbidden by God to go to. That makes me wonder if, in fact, the Asian person he was supposed to meet was Lydia all along, and had he gone to Mysia (right near Thyatira), they would have missed their divine appointment….
    • There seems to be a lot of description about the “place of prayer”.
    • Also, Paul and Silas are arrested and thrown in prison – notice the photo on the front of today’s bulletin (Victor Avery, from Louisiana, and me) – What happens to them in prison?
      • They worshipsing and praywhy? – because even in suffering, even under dire circumstances, even when life might seem unbearable/impossible, they know that they are under God’s watchful eye, and that God is good, all the time (all the time, God is good).
      • What does their worship lead to?
        • Their potential freedom (their chains fall off, the prison doors are opened)
        • The second recorded European conversion/baptism – the jailer and his whole family!
        • Their actual freedom is granted by the officials!
        • Their chance to bear witness of Christ’s presence and power to the highest authorities when they declare their Roman citizenship!
        • Back to Lydia’s house, where they “encouraged them”.]


So, allow me now to ask one (?) last question:

  • What does this Bible story ask us to do?
  • What is the Holy Spirit nudging you to do with this?
  • In the blank spot at the bottom of your bulletin, write down how you apply this faith story to your own faith life.

Who wants to share?


This story from Acts 16 is our intro to the next few weeks of sermons from the New Testament Epistle from Paul to the Christian Community in the Pagan city of Philippi. May God bless us 21st Century Spokanites as we hear God’s Word together. Amen.





Morgan, G. Campbell; The Acts of the Apostles; Fleming H. Revell Co.; Old Tappan, NJ; 1924; Pp. 377-397.

04/01/2018 = John 11:21-27 = Resurrection Sunday: “Is This All There Is?!”

Click HERE to find the audio version of this message.

Mark Wheeler

John 11:21-27

Resurrection Sunday, 04/01/2018

“Is This All There Is?!”

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church


Through the Written Word,

          And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,

          Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.


So far today, in this “hour” or worship, we have re-enacted the events of Maundy Thursday, when Jesus and His twelve disciples celebrated the Passover, and Jesus instituted what has become Holy Communion. We prayed and sang our way into Good Friday and were present at Jesus’ crucifixion – and we prayed and offered our own sacrificial giving with our tithes and offerings. And now we come to the part of the service where we remember what this day is really all about!

So, get your phones ready, I’m gonna give you some super Tweetable quotes:

  • You may still have a son at home in bed – but God’s Son is Risen from the dead!
  • Your Easter Basket is full – but the tomb is empty!
  • He can put your life back together when it is in pieces – but some of you are still focused on the Reeses!
  • Do you love Jesus? – When Jesus is born I get presents; when Jesus dies I get chocolate! Of course, I love Jesus!

Back in the day, we had a church member whose husband only came to worship on Christmas and Easter; and then one year he didn’t show up for Christmas, and then he didn’t come on Easter, so I asked the church member where her husband was; this is what she told me:Nick stopped coming to church because every time he came he heard the same two sermons over and over again!


So … we have now got all the one-liner, same-sermon, topics out of the way … let’s look at a non-Easter Bible passage, with a real-Easter message wrapped inside!


Let’s turn to John, chapter 11 (page 760 in the pew Bibles). This is the story where Jesus’ good friend Lazarus dies, because Jesus takes three days to get to him. When He heard that Lazarus was sick and dying, Jesus said, straight out, “this will not end in death” … but then Lazarus died! And Jesus wept! That’s the story. When Jesus finally shows up, Lazarus has been dead for four days! Listen to this brief excerpt, a conversation between Jesus and Lazarus’ sister Martha: John 11:21-27 …. —-

21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”  (What do you think she was saying here? Did she expect Lazarus to come back to life?)

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”  (Now she’s baiting Him, right? There was a denomination of Jews who believed in an end-times resurrection – that’s what she’s talking about.)

25 Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.  Do you believe this?(Altar call….)

27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”


You see how this is not an Easter storyJesus does not resurrect in this story – no one does! Not even Lazarus! Lazarus does come back to life – like the flesh and sinews that grew back on the bones in Ezekiel’s day (Ezekiel 37, “dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones”) – but it’s not a “resurrected” body, it is merely a revived body, a resuscitated body, a body that will, someday, get sick or old or injured, and die again! You see the difference? One offers life eternal; the other offers life for awhile longer.

But you also saw the real Easter message wrapped inside? Jesus says, “I am the resurrection … and the life. If you believe in me, you will live … and whoever believes in me will have life eternal.”


There are three Greek words which all might be translated “life” in English.

  • Bios” means, literally, bodily-life – biology life, the life we live in our bodies.
  • Psyche” means, literally, soul-life – psychology life, the life we live in our thinking and feeling.
  • Zoe” means, literally, living-life – zoology life, not just animal life, but life beyond what we do and how we think or feel.

Zoe” is the word Jesus uses here.

And when He says, “I am the resurrection and the Zoe-lifeJesus is identifying Himself with God and offering that life which goes beyond our timeline on planet earth. There’s a special way to say “I am” which is the Greek version of the Old Testament Hebrew word “YHWH” = God’s name. That’s what Jesus does in this passage.


I imagine Lazarus coming out of his tomb, alive again, but wondering, “Really? Now what? Is there something more to this than just breathing and moving and reproducing, more than just thinking and feeling?

That’s exactly what Jesus is telling Martha. “Yes!” He says, “There is so much more. I am the Resurrection and the Life. Do you believe this?


As C.S. Lewis observed, our longings run deeper and reach further and aspire to things far higher than anything this world can offer. Are we really ready to settle for only what we can gain in this temporal existence, when so much more is offered through a relationship with God through Jesus Christ in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit? That is Jesus’ question to Martha: Do you believe?


If there is nothing more than our struggles and hurts and disappointments in this life, or even our victories and successes and joys, if there is nothing more, how much trouble do we really want to put into it? But if what Christ is offering has any value, why would we ever put it aside?


Jesus goes to the Cross on Friday, dies for my sins, and yours, and ours, and on Sunday His tomb was empty because He has conquered that separation from God we call death, not by merely resuscitating, but by His resurrectionnew body, new thinking, new Life! And, simply by belief, He offers that eternal treasure to us!

Jesus boldly proclaims that each person’s eternal destiny depends on whether one receives Him by faith as He offers Himself to us in the Gospel or rejects Him to stand before God on the final judgment with only our condemning conscience as counsel.

Jesus comes to the world because “God so loved the world that He gave His one and 0nly Son”, and He offers His gift of life to all, at any age, in every nation, after any life event, to innocent children and to thieves on crosses.

I am the resurrection and the life,” He tells Martha. “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

Then He put the crucial question to Martha, and to each of us: “Do you believe?



Baugus, Bruce B.; “Is This Life All There Is?”; TableTalk; August 2017; Pp. 28-29.

Crist, John B.; “Pastors on Easter Be Like…”; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1XsrJ3687aM .