02/10/2019 = Psalms 1 & 119 = Learning Where to Look: “Loving the Word”

Mark Wheeler

Psalms 1 & 119

Learning Where to Look: “Loving the Word!

02/10/2019

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Through the Written Word,           

And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,          

Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Thursday is Valentine’s Day gentlemen, this is my pastoral duty to remind you to get your flowers and jewelry ordered before the day is over.

Seriously though, while I am not a big fan of the Hallmark industry creating such a fuss over a fake-holiday, I am gushy enough to have very fond memories of the Valentine’s card exchanges in school and those candy hearts with the very politically incorrect “love” messages (still the best way to communicate your deep love for your sweetheart….).

And there are a few movies that still capture my attentionmaybe my favorite, most moving “love” movie is the 2004 James Garner flick, “The Notebook” – and yeah, I know that Ryan Gosling gets most of the credit for this movie, but James Garner’s role as the man in his 80s who reads the notebook, like a diary, to his Alzheimer’s afflicted wife is what makes this movie work. He reads her own love story to her, and occasionally she remembers that it’s her own story.

 

We are in a sermon series wherein we are looking at the Bible – and how we live by the Word of God. James Garner’s reading of The Notebook reminds me of what happens when we properly read “thisNotebook! Sometimes I recognize that it is a story about me – or, really, a story about God and what He does and says because He loves me.

Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong, we are weak but He is strong….”

 

One way to read the Bible is to ask, through every chapter, how does this tell me about God’s love? Some chapters are super easy to see that answer, right?: God so loved the world He gave His only begotten son…. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us…. This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins….

But some chapters require a little more effort, right? – who’s finished with Leviticus yet? I expect some lunch dates this week….

 

Let’s hear some Words of God’s Notebook written for His Bride. Will we recognize that it is us in the stories? Two places today, both from the collection of poetry we know of as the Book of Psalms. First, Psalm 1 …. —-

Blessed is the one         who does not walk in step with the wicked        or stand in the way that sinners take             or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,    and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,    which yields its fruit in season       and whose leaf does not wither—    whatever they do prospers.

Not so the wicked!        They are like chaff that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,       nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,        but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

 

For those of you who are married, or ever have been married, do you remember what should have been the scariest part of your wedding ceremony? What part am I talking about? [the vows!]

I still remember, pretty clearly, my own emotions 34-years ago, when I looked into Jennifer’s eyes and said: “I, Mark Alfred Wheeler, take you, Jennifer Joy Jones, to be my lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge myself to you.”

Now, admittedly, it usually isn’t too difficult to do that, but because of those vows, it is my duty to love Jenniferalways. And it is her duty, a little more difficult(?), to love me.

 

In the same way, our pledge to God, informs our duty to love Him – and, therefore, to love His Word – to “delight in the Law of the Lord” and even to “meditate on it day and night”.

I heard one person tell me this last week that, while she has read the Bible, cover to cover, a few times, this time, this year, it is a delight, it is “alive”! Her duty is proving a blessing!

 

Today we are talking about loving God by loving His Word! And, I believe, we are called to love God’s Word in three ways. (Not too different from how we might love our spouse, or even a friend or a sibling or a child, in these same three ways.)

 

First, we are to love God and His Wordpublicly”. This has always been true. In the Scriptures the public love of God and God’s Word is shown by attending to worship in the Tabernacle or the Temple or in synagogues. Even in the New Testament, that’s the way it starts, and then it goes to house fellowships and then to Christian Church gatherings.

Think of Jesus reading from Isaiah in the synagogue in Luke 4. The Old Testament is filled with “solemn assemblies” wherein the Scriptures are read together from dawn to dusk.

In the early 2nd Century, Justin Martyr writes, “And on the day called Sunday, all who live in the cities or the country gather together in one place, and the memoirs of the Apostles or the writings of the Prophets are read, as long as time permits.

And in the early 3rd Century, Tertullian says, “We assemble to read our sacred writings … with the sacred words we nourish our faith, we animate our hope, we make our confidence more steadfast.”

How else might we love God’s Word in public? [at work, at lunch, in school, in reading and in speaking]

 

Second, we love God’s Word as a family. This is slightly different from public. Just like we demonstrate our love for family members differently at home than we do on the soccer field, we demonstrate God’s love differently, too.

Moses, in Deuteronomy 6:6-7, instructs the Israelites to teach the commandments to their children.

Throughout the book of Acts we read of individualsand their whole householdsbelieving in Christ and being baptized. That implies both a love of God through Jesus and a growth in God’s Word.

And there are several letters of Paul and Peter that describe how “God’s householdobey the Word of God. That can only happen by reading together.

Admittedly, this takes time and effort, it takes a decision and an agreement to do so. And it takes prayer, for diligence, for obedience and for dedicated effort.

Let’s read to our children and our grandchildren. The only way we come to know the Lord is when we hear and understand God’s Word. Ignorance of God’s Word leads to ignorance of Christ.

 

Third, and last for today’s message, we love God’s Word privately! Psalm 1, what we just read, speaks of the singular “one who is blessed simply because his “delight is in the Law of the Lord”, because he “meditates on it day and night.

The result of this is to belike a tree planted by streams of water, fruitful in season, and whose leaf does not wither.

That’s not a command – it simply describes what happens when we are faithful to our vows, when we do our loving duty.

 

The other Psalm we have listed in our bulletin is Psalm 119 – each of the 176 versesdescribes how we might love God’s Word! (We are not reading that this morning – but let me assign that to you for the rest of February – invest two minutes a day and read one section of Psalm 119 every day, for the next 22 days – and fall in love again with God’s Word!) (btw, we did read most of this Psalm together last year, every week we read the next piece of this Psalm as our Call to Worship from Spring until Advent. And – we sang Psalm 119:105 today as our opening Prelude Song.)

 

This Thursday is Valentine’s Day. I know that that’s not a day every one cares about. Gerri has often said, we can all celebrate Valentine’s Day, we don’t have to have a sweetheart, we just need to be a sweetheart! She is absolutely right – but know that YOU ARE God’s SWEETHEART, the apple of God’s eye! He loves you so much He gave everything of Himself for your sake.

 

When we read, and re-read, God’s Notebook, we will do our due diligence in keeping our Baptism vows, and we will grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, every day.

 

We have two more weeks looking at Bible issues and questions. May we continue this adventure of living faithfully, in and through God’s Word revealed to us in Jesus Christ.

 

May we be constantly and consistently blessed by the reading, the receiving, of God’s Word which always transforms and offers us God’s grace and mercy.

 

Thank You, YHWH God, for the gift of Your Word, written and living and ever applicable to our cultures and our lives, and for the ultimate revealing of Your perfect Word though Jesus Christ; and it is in His name we pray, Amen.

 

Resources:

Hyde, Daniel R.; “Loving the Word”; TableTalk; November 2018; Pp. 28-29.

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02/03/2019 = Isaiah 40, I John 2:17 = Learning Where to Look: “Beyond All Measures!”

(Click this link to get the audio.)

Mark Wheeler

Isaiah 40:1-31 (:8); I John 2:17

Learning Where to Look: “Beyond All Measures!

02/03/2019

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Through the Written Word,           

And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,          

Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Six years ago when a small group of us travelled to Greece to follow Paul on one of his missionary journeys, we saw a ton of ruined sites – cities that had been laid waste due to time, ravaged by war and weather. But we also visited a whole region of cliff-dwelling monasteries, literally built on top of rock pillars several hundred feet high, that in their day, 1,000 years ago, the only way in and out was to be raised and lowered in baskets! And these monasteries, while they certainly showed some wear and tear, were in excellent condition, and still functioned as dwellings for the monks who vowed their lives of poverty and relative solitude.

Here on the western side of the USA, if a building is 100 years old we’re pretty impressed, 150 years and it is an anomaly. But in places like Greece, 1,000 years of continual use is unusual but not rare!

The Egyptian Pyramids, the Great Wall of China, the Library of Ephesusamazing ancient architecture goes into constructing these works of beauty and historical significance. Yet, even the most well-constructed structures will not last forever. No matter how hard we try to preserve these artifacts, they will one-day erode and fall apart.

We all get older, life changes things, nothing lasts forever.

 

Or does it?

 

We are not without an eternal anchor for our souls.

 

I invite you to hear these words collected 2,700 years ago from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. This is not his most well-known chapter, but several verses herein are among his most memorized. Your bulletin says we are reading Isaiah 40:8 (see your bulletin cover as well), but I am reading the entire chapter so we can catch the context in which this verse lands. Isaiah 40:1-31 …. —-

Comfort, comfort my people,    says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,    and proclaim to her  that her hard service has been completed,
    that her sin has been paid for,   that she has received from the Lord’s hand   double for all her sins.

A voice of one calling:    “In the wilderness prepare        the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert    a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,     every mountain and hill made low;    the rough ground shall become level,
    the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,    and all people will see it together.    For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry out.”    And I said, “What shall I cry?”   “All people are like grass,    and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,    because the breath of the Lord blows on them.    Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,    but the Word of our God endures forever.”

You who bring good news to Zion,    go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good news to Jerusalem,
    lift up your voice with a shout,    lift it up, do not be afraid;
    say to the towns of Judah,    “Here is your God!”
10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,    and he rules with a mighty arm.
See, his reward is with him,
    and his recompense accompanies him.
11 He tends his flock like a shepherd:    He gathers the lambs in his arms    and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young.

12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,    or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?
Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket,
    or weighed the mountains on the scales    and the hills in a balance?
13 Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord,    or instruct the Lord as his counselor?
14 Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him,    and who taught him the right way?
Who was it that taught him knowledge,
    or showed him the path of understanding?

15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;    they are regarded as dust on the scales;
    he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.
16 Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires,    nor its animals enough for burnt offerings.
17 Before him all the nations are as nothing;    they are regarded by him as worthless    and less than nothing.

18 With whom, then, will you compare God?    To what image will you liken him?
19 As for an idol, a metalworker casts it,    and a goldsmith overlays it with gold    and fashions silver chains for it.
20 A person too poor to present such an offering    selects wood that will not rot;     they look for a skilled worker
    to set up an idol that will not topple.

21 Do you not know?    Have you not heard?     Has it not been told you from the beginning?
    Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,    and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
    and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
23 He brings princes to naught    and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
24 No sooner are they planted,    no sooner are they sown,    no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
    and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

25 “To whom will you compare me?    Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:    Who created all these?    He who brings out the starry host one by one
    and calls forth each of them by name.      Because of his great power and mighty strength,    not one of them is missing.

27 Why do you complain, Jacob?    Why do you say, Israel,    “My way is hidden from the Lord;    my cause is disregarded by my God”?
28 Do you not know?    Have you not heard?    The Lord is the everlasting God,    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary    and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,    and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord    will renew their strength.    They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,    they will walk and not be faint.

 

That’s a longer reading than we usually do here, and we are really only concentrating on one verseverse 8, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God endures forever.That verse is a major reason why we care what the Bible says, why we choose to listen to the words of Scripture – because as God’s authoritative Word on faith and lifeit lasts forever!

And, beyond that one verse, you heard several other verses that you may have read on Greeting Cards or posters, maybe you have pinned to a wall or stuck on your refrigeratorGod’s everlasting Word offers us hope and comfort and promises God’s presence and power – through whatever life-or-death we find ourselves in. Remember that Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

 

Critics might claim that what we read every week, the Words of Scripture we trust our lives with, is nothing more than the reflections of some desert nomads and ancient warlords – and if they’re right then we certainly are just wasting our time. Nothing more than an historical curiosity, maybe a step in our revolutionary development. But, if this is something that really does “last forever”, then its teaching and wisdom will never be outgrown. Its promises and truths will always keep us secure and always pull us forward.

These same critics might claim that we stand on the wrong side of history; but we believe that, because it is God’s Word, and not just the words of people from the past, as Robert Rothwell has so well stated, “this Word is the measure of the right side of history and that this right side has already been chosen.” What this “right sidecalls for us to do is to align ourselves with God, turn from our sin, and trust in Christ Jesus, the Word made flesh.

Despite the difficulties we encounter here and now – health issues, political travesties, financial throwdowns – because the Word of God stands forever, we can look beyond what we experience right now and hope in the fulfillment of God’s promises. We have a confidence that everything in His Word which has not yet come to pass … they will, in God’s perfect timing!

We receive many blessings on this side of glory – but just hold on and wait to see what’s next. The Apostle John, 700 years after Isaiah spoke his words, wrote (I John 2:17) ….—-

The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

 

Doing the will of God” means trusting in Christ alone for salvation and demonstrating that trust by following Him in a life of discipleship. Do not hold on to the things of this world too tightly, none of it lasts forever, but do the will of God and we live for all eternity.

 

Again, Robert Rothwell writes: “Because the Word of God will stand forever, we can commit ourselves fearlessly and unreservedly to the Author of this Word. I don’t know if we’ll have the Scriptures in book form in the new heaven and new earth, but I do know that there is no chance that the One who has given us this Word will fail to keep it. It is impossible for God to lie (Heb. 6:18), and everything that the Word promises will have to come to pass when that final day arrives. That is what it means that the Word of God will stand forever – all that He has said He will do. And if we commit ourselves to His Word all of the disappointments of this present life will not compare to the glory to be revealed in us.

 

I have heard similar things from some of the saints of this church. Last week our own Loreen Birge told me this same thing, almost word for word. And she promised (with a wink and a nod) to send me a Text message when she arrives in glory, just to let me know what and who is there.

 

For the next few weeks we’ll look at a few more Bible issues and questions. May we continue this adventure of living faithfully, in and through God’s Word revealed to us in Jesus Christ.

 

May we be constantly and consistently blessed by the reading, the receiving, of God’s Word which always transforms and offers us God’s grace and mercy.

 

Thank You, YHWH God, for the gift of Your Word, written and living and ever applicable to our cultures and our lives, and for the ultimate revealing of Your perfect Word though Jesus Christ; and it is in His name we pray, Amen.

 

Resources:

Rothwell, Robert; “The Word Stands Forever”; TableTalk; November 2018; Pp. 30-31.

01/27/2019 = II Peter 3:11-18 = Learning Where to Look: “Why Is It So Difficult?”

(Click HERE for an audio…)

Mark Wheeler

II Peter 3:11-18

Learning Where to Look: “Why Is It So Difficult?

01/27/2019

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Through the Written Word,           

And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,          

Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Can any of you smell the deliciousness that is wafting up the stairs from the kitchen? Today we will be doing the important work of reviewing and envisioning, but also of food and fellowship. Therefore, while we are in the middle of a sermon-series talking about the authoritative Word of God preserved for us in Scripture – and today’s topic is one most of us can relate to and therefore one which might extend our preaching-time … I promise it won’t….

 

So, I have heard from close to 25% of you that you have made New Year’s Resolutions to read through the Bible in 2019! For those for whom this is a new thing, good for youhang with it, even through the hard parts. If you are on track at 23 chapters/week you should be nearing the end of Exodus right now, which means you’re about to start Leviticus – when you finish that book, let me know so I can treat you out to lunch and we can talk about whatever impressed, confused, intrigued, inspired us.

 

Speaking of thatthat is what we are talking about todayreading through the difficult sections of Scripture. And that doesn’t begin in Leviticus, does it? I mean, in Genesis, very early on, we have a talking snake, and the sons of Adam and Eve getting married to … whom? and the “sons of God” being with the “daughters of man” … and the list goes on and on. Right?

What do we do when we encounter a Bible passage that we don’t know how to understand appropriately?

Let me start an answer to that simply by reminding us that the Bible is a large, majestic book that was written by over 40 different authors covering a span of several centuries and crossing many cultures. Someone has said that “the Bible is a book wherein a child can wade and an elephant can swim” – it is filled with both simple stories and deep, difficult life lessons.

Even for Christ-believing, church-going, God-honoring disciples of Jesus, we will encounter passages of Scripture we do not understand without deep and devotional studies and continued review and reading. And, this has been true since the beginning.

 

Today we look at a passage written by the Apostle Peter, the Apostle whom Jesus promised primacy over the early-post-resurrection Church. Right? Peter was/is an important key figure in the New Testament, and in today’s reading he writes about the Apostle Paul, the greatest church-planter of the 1st Century, and the most prolific New Testament author. Listen to these words from II Peter 3:11-18 (P. 863). Hear the Word of God …. —-

11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way (Peter is referring to the coming of “the Day of the Lord coming like a thief in the night” – that, by itself, might cause us to pause and wonder ….), what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.15 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as 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.

 

Paul’s letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort … to their own destruction!

 

Today’s lessons should help to fulfill curiosity. When we run into a Bible story or passage that has us confounded – wait, this says to make your plowshares into swords; I thought we were told to make our swords into plowshareswhere do we go for help? Last week we compared using a GPS to hearing God’s voicetoday we compare our GPS to its occasional need to update….

 

Let’s start by exploring where we need to be careful about where we look for help:

  • Google: I don’t mean, never use Google. I use it all the time. But what I mean is – be careful! I know, I use Google to give me directions when I’m geographically lost, why not when I’m lost in God’s Word, too? Here’s a warningGoogle is usable, but we need to remember that the articles are generally listed in order of popularity or of marketing genius – it is less interested in truth and more interested in sharing popular ideas. There are, indeed, great websites in most of the listings, but we have to fight off the temptation to look at the first site – use discretion and research a little further.
  • All forms of Social MediaFacebook, Twitter, Instagram, whatever your Social Media hangouts are: Be careful! They are filled with opinions, but not dependable for truths. I mean, we might follow some more trustworthy people and groups, but be cautious.
  • Not all Study-Bibles are created equal: Again, I am not saying to not use your footnotes and other informational articles in your Study Bibles – there is some great information in them. What I am saying is, the footnotes are not necessarily God-breathed. Hear me carefully here. If you have a Study Bible, absolutely use it to help with confusing Bible passages, but don’t trust it in the same way as you trust the actual Bible. Our Bible translations are already interpretations – that’s always true with every interpretation from one language to another – what’s the best word to translate this word? what’s the best grammar to translate the meaning of this other-language grammar? When Andrew, my son, struggles to interpret for me, he explains how he knows the right words, but he doesn’t always know the right sentence structure to get the same meaning. So, our Bible translations are already interpretations; our Bibleexplanations” are also opinionated interpretations. Read them … with discernment.
  • Commentaries and Bible software programs: same rules for using as the Study Bible rules listed above.

 

So, where do we go? As I just said, those guides for help are not useless, they just need perspective balance; but here are some much more reliable places to go:

  • The Bible itself is the best commentary on the Bible: I don’t mean to use it in a circular reasoning kind of way – but do use it to allow it to explain itself! As is true with all books and movies, even in court cases and witnesses and evidence – they best explain themselves. When we come across a difficult Bible passage, follow the cross-references and see how one place explains another. Often this sheds light on difficult passages.
  • Places like this church are goldmines: Again, I don’t mean that your pastor or church elders are infallible and incapable of error – but that we are very open to the discussions and the research If I say, or we teach something that seems contrary to your understanding of Scripture, talk to us, ask your questions, state your concerns. And definitely use us!
  • Resources that have stood the test of time: Our denomination has relied on an historical collection of creeds and confessions of faith that help interpret the Bible – from the Nicene and Apostles Creeds through the Reformation era Catechisms and Confessions to the 20th Century Declarations and Statements of Faith. These time-tested documents have ecumenical agreement and specific correspondence. They are dependable and useful and helpful

 

Places to be wary of, more faithful resources, may still leave us with questions:

  • That’s OK. Each of them is another opportunity for growth. Remember that where we look for explanations might be as important as the actual explanations we find. It is humbling to admit that we don’t know all the answers yet – but humility is a gift from God, too.
  • Keep reading, and let the Bible show you its own answers. The continuous solidarity from Genesis to Revelation allows us to abide with God’s Word – and even those passages that at first sight appear contradictory we may discover hold complementary and cohesive truth.

 

Sometimes we find the Bible difficult because we don’t know the vocabulary or the culture or the circumstances; sometimes it’s because we don’t want to have to change something about our own life-choices or beliefs. They both offer chances for God to transform us more into His likeness.

 

Peter looked at Paul’s writings and said, “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand.”  Everyone who studies the Bible will find some challenges but when we work through them well they will keep us growing in our faith as we seek God in His Word. After all, there is so much more to know of God and His Word. Peter’s letter closes with our weekly benediction: “But grow in the grace (perfect love and forgiveness) and knowledge (study and experience) of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

 

For the next few weeks we’ll look at a few different Bible issues and questions. May we continue this adventure of living faithfully, in and through God’s Word revealed to us in Jesus Christ.

 

May we be constantly and consistently blessed by the reading, the receiving, of God’s Word which always transforms and offers us God’s grace and mercy.

 

Thank You, YHWH God, for the gift of Your Word, written and living and ever applicable to our cultures and our lives, and for the ultimate revealing of Your perfect Word though Jesus Christ; and it is in His name we pray, Amen.

 

Resources:

Holland, Joe; “Encountering Difficult Passages”; TableTalk; November 2018; Pp. 16-17.

01/20/2019 = II Timothy 3:16-17 = Learning Where to Look: “Listening to/for the Lord”

(Click HERE for an audio…)

Mark Wheeler

II Timothy 3:16-17

Learning Where to Look: “Listening to/for the Lord

01/20/2019

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Through the Written Word,           

And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,           

Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Show of hands this morning – who here in the room uses your GPS – probably on your phone – way too often? Right? The system has gotten so much better over the last year or so – but I use my phone’s GPS so often that when “she” starts to give directions Jennifer will, using the exact same voice, beat her to the punch by a second.

I’ve heard that there are apps that will change the voice settingMorgan Freeman’s majestic voice can tell you how to drive to the local Dairy Queen®, Snoop Dogg can direct you to the nearest police station, Cardi B can guide you to your favorite hang out, Barack Obama can – oh man, I’d miss every turn – “Uuuhhhh, turn uhh left at the uhh next, uhh nevermind, uhh, recalculating –uhh…” ….

I mean, I don’t ask my phone – it’s the standard Google-map voice, btw – how to get to the grocery store or the church or the movie theater – but if I’m going downtown, or out to the valley, or north to Deer Park, or past downtown to almost everywhere on the South HillI ask my phone for navigation directions.

Last week Jennifer and I went up to the 3900 block of South Tekoa, with Google-map’s voice directed-assistance; and then to get back home – to go homeI used her again! As we approached our driveway Jennifer jumped the gun and stated,Your destination is on the right,” just before my phone said … “Welcome home.” Google-maps voice recast my destination with a surprising, unexpected greeting. Nice.

 

 

In this sermon series we are looking at what it means to listen for, and then to listen to, God’s voice in our daily lives. And when I found the photo on the cover of today’s bulletin, I thought – “Oh, this is it! ‘Don’t say you don’t hear God’s voice if your Bible is closed!’” The primary place we come to know, to recognize, God’s voice is in His revealed Word as recorded in His written Word and persevered for us in the pages of His living Word. Open our Bibles and we hear God’s voice.

 

We live in the 21st Century, in Spokane, WA, USA, surrounded by competing truth claims. How do we discern the difference between God’s truth claims and those everywhere around us? I think it’s in knowing God’s voice. My phone will not answer Jennifer’s voice commands, because it has “learned” to know my voice. Jennifer’s phone will not respond to my voice, because her phone knows her voice. If only we could learn God’s voice qualities and know whom we were hearing….

Today we are going to look at one verse, II Timothy 3:16, and then we’re going to list a few pointers in how we best understand what we are hearinghow to actually listen to God’s Word.

 

So, hear these words from the Apostle Paul to his young pastor friend Timothy, II Timothy 3:16-17 (P. 843). Hear the Word of God …. —-

16 All scripture is God-breathed [given by divine inspiration, Holy Spirit inspired] and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness [learning to live in conformity to God’s will, both publicly and privately—behaving honorably with personal integrity and moral courage],  17 so that the man of God [that would be every-one who belongs to God, every person who claims salvation through faith in Jesus Christ] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

 

All Scripture is God-breathed! Every word from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 is inspired by God! But understanding what every word means is a very different task than believing that every word means something! (I know we’re Presbyterian, but can I get an “Amen”?) The challenge to read through the Bible this year, cover to cover, is still out there – several of you have told me that you’re on that journey! The promise to take you to lunch when you’ve completed Leviticus is still a real promise – just let me know when you’ve finished it and where I can treat you….

So, today’s message is about HOW to read God’s Word in order to better understand what He is saying. “How” is as important as “what”, because if we have the wrong “how” we will misunderstand the “what” almost every time.

Street signs provide an example of what I mean. The first time I saw a street sign that said,Men at work”, I thought how odd it was to make that announcement. I mean, it’s easy to see that there’s a work crew out here, and I suppose they are mostly male, but … why is that important? So … why is that sign there? [to warn us to be careful!]

How about “Motorcycles Use Caution”. No they don’t! [Oh … another warning….] “Bridge May Be Icy” – wow! That’s pessimistic. It means the exact same thing as “Bridge May NOT Be Icy”…. [Ah … yet another warning to be careful!]

 

Right? We read poems differently than we read news reports. We read children’s picture books with different expectations than we read advanced Calculus books. We read the funnies with a different set of brain functions than we read the stock market (ok, maybe that one’s the same…).

 

In the same ways, there are different kinds of Words in these divinely-inspired words of Scripture. So, here are a few key reading instructions to get the fullest understanding of what we’re hearing when we listen for/to the Word of our Lord:

  1. Look for the Life Setting and the particular Occasion of each piece of God’s Word.
    1. What need evoked this portion of scripture?
    2. Who is the author and what was this person going through?
    3. Who was the original audience? Why did they need to hear it?
      1. Were they confused over what they could/should eat? Why? (I Corinthians 8-10)
      2. Why were they arguing about the necessity for circumcision? (Galatians)
      3. Were people perplexed by their suffering? (Job)
      4. Were they mired in selfish materialism? (Malachi)
  1. Look for the Purpose of each piece of God’s Word.
    1. How would this passage affect its very first hearers? How would they be different if they followed its council?
      1. By listening to the passage as original hearers we get a feel for God’s goal in giving them, and then giving us, each passage.
        1. Did they need to repent? Do we?
        2. Did they need comfort?
        3. Was pride getting in their way?
        4. Were they looking for answers to their doubts?
        5. Did they need to be reminded that God is worthy of praise all the time? That all the time God is good? Do we need that reminder?

I saw on Facebook today a post where a husband instructed his wife to go to Walmart® and for her own safety to buy a 9 millimeter, a couple clips and a box of shells. And he warned her that it would take a few weeks because she has to pass background checks and what not.

So the wife was surprised to come home the same day with a 9mm (wrench), a couple clips (for paper), and a box of (sea-)shells – but she wondered how this would keep her safe. ….. CONTEXT is EVERYTHING!

  1. Look for the Genre of each passage of God’s Word.
    1. This instruction is looking to discover different types of writings within the One collection of the written Word of God. Dennis Johnson, a retired professor of practical theology at Westminster Seminary California uses CS Lewis to talk about genre.

CS Lewis explained the genesis of the Narnia Chronicles in his essay ‘Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to Be Said.’ The stories began, he insisted, not with a plan to disguise Christian doctrine in children’s allegories, but with images: a faun with an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a lion. Then, living with the images, he saw an opportunity to recast biblical truth in an unexpected form, which could slip past the ‘watchful dragons’ of pious sentiment, enabling readers to experience gospel truth afresh. He chose the fairy story genre in light of his readers’ religious background and the goal he wanted them to reach.

Our all-wise God, who always knows how to say what’s best to be said, has spoken to His people in different genres, varying His approach according to their background and circumstances and according to His purpose for each text in their lives. The Spirit leads the human authors to select the right tool for each task.

All of this is to say that when we read different parts of scripture, we use different reading skills and discover God’s Word in unexpected ways: from historical narrative to parable, from Law to proverb, from the poetic Psalms to the Prophetic oracle and apocalyptic vision, from sermon to epistle. They all read differently because they were all written differently. We are not meant to read a parable the same way we read a piece of actual history, or the Law in the same way as a Psalm.

 

This very frequently quoted verse from Paul to Timothy was meant to encourage Timothy to read and trust the Old Testament Law and Prophets, the Psalms and the history, as God’s Word for us – and that in living by what they tell us we become ready and able to do what God requests of us. All scripture is God-breathed  and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness   so that the person of God  may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

 

By paying attention to a passage’s original occasion, genre and purpose, we honor the God who spoke His Word in history, in human languages, and in a rich and complex set of contexts.

The first hearers’ cultural backgrounds, their place in redemptive history (both Old Testament and New Testament), their spiritual experiences, and the figures of speech and types of literature used all point us to hearing God’s voice in our own contexts, languages, cultures, and experiences. The better we understand God’s voice through His written Words’ contexts, the better we grasp what God is saying and what He intends to do in us through each passage.

 

For the next few weeks we’ll look at a few different Bible issues and questions. May we continue this adventure of living faithfully, in and through God’s Word revealed to us in Jesus Christ.

 

May we be constantly and consistently blessed by the reading, the receiving, of God’s Word which always transforms and offers us God’s grace and mercy.

 

Thank You, YHWH God, for the gift of Your Word, written and living and ever applicable to our cultures and our lives, and for the ultimate revealing of Your perfect Word though Jesus Christ; and it is in His name we pray, Amen.

 

Resources:

Johnson, Dennis E.; “Interpreting the Bible”; TableTalk; November 2018; Pp. 12-15.

01/13/2019 = II Timothy 4:1-5 = Learning Where to Look: “How to Find Focus”

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Mark Wheeler

II Timothy 4:1-5

Learning Where to Look: “How to Find Focus

01/13/2019

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Through the Written Word,           

And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,           

Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Last Summer our two daughters took a vacation together to visit our father-land – Ireland. This story may or may not be one that they told me…:

Some lost tourists in Ireland stops to ask a local farmer for directions. The farmer asks what their destination is, and after listening to their hoped-for destination, he takes off his flat-cap, wipes his brow, looks the tourist in the eye and says, “Well, if I were trying to get there, I wouldn’t start from here.”

 

I stepped into my bank on Friday (Chase®) and they are advertising for retirement plans all over with big posters that say, “It Doesn’t Matter Where You Start”. … I think it kinda does….

 

We live in a world, our country and most of the nations in the “advanced western world”, where we think we know what’s best for everyone around us, but we really don’t know how to get there from where we are.

 

Many of us, professional Christians (pastors, Bible School professors, seminary professors, bishops, etc) and most lay-folks, from behind pulpits and from the pews, start in the wrong place when thinking about life’s challenges, beginning first with self, personal opinion, what seems right, what feels good. What we do is start with our own experiential center rather than a theological center.

If our destination, as a Christian community, as Christian people, is a God-pleasing, Christ-honoring, Scripture-shaped mind and world-view we cannot arrive there by starting with ourselves, our own biases, and our own sin! When we start there, what we do is try to make God fit our own self-centered understanding and beliefs. As 5th Century BC Greek philosopher, Xenophanes, once pointed out: “We create God in our own image,” rather than allow God to recreate us into His own image.

 

I’ve read that in Europe, the idea that Scripture ought to be the lens through which we see and understand the world is mocked out right. And from watching TV shows and movies made right here in the USA, I believe we see the same thing all the time. If a politician says that she uses the Bible as her guide to decision-making, she is derided as silly and out of touch with reality.

We who believe the Bible are told that we are intolerant of others who don’t. And the result is that those who claim more tolerance are intolerant of folks who trust the Bible.

Have any of you ever felt shunned or ridiculed for wanting to read and believe in the Bible?

 

With that as our introduction to today’s Scripture reading, hear these words from the Apostle Paul to his young pastor friend Timothy, II Timothy 4:1-5 (P. 482). Hear the Word of God …. —-

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the wordbe prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

 

What was Paul’s remedy for the problem of people’s not “starting in the right place” when it comes to addressing life’s challenges? How did Paul confront those who had wandered off looking for teachers who suited their own views?

He charged Timothy to “preach the Word!”

This is obviously not a new thing the church faces! Paul wrote about it 2,000 years ago. 500 years ago Martin Luther wrote: “Scripture alone is the lord and master of all writings and doctrines on earth. If that is not granted, what is Scripture good for? The more we reject it, the more we become satisfied with man’s books and human teachers.”

 

Karl Barth, a theologian from the mid-1900s advised living with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the othernot as equal partners in interpreting life, but so that the Bible could be a lens through which we read the news and understand our current-day lives.

We live in the 21st Century, in Spokane, WA, USA, surrounded by competing truth claims. How do we work to bring the Gospel to bear on our quickly changing culture in ways that speak truth in our culture without becoming lost in the culture?

The temptation is to simply agree with philosophies that seem nonjudgy and warm and welcoming, but do that without telling the whole truth of what it means to know God’s love and live under God’s grace. Paul told Timothy, “The time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

 

I read an article this week that quoted Carl F. Henry who said, “No fact of contemporary Western life is more evident than its growing mistrust of final truth and its implacable questioning of any sure word.” This “growing mistrust” is expected in society for the Scriptures tell us as much. But we must not allow it to creep into our hearts and our churches unaware, not as a wedge in our faith dividing us from God’s Word and presence.

When we appear to be godly, loving, caring people, but deny the power of God’s transforming grace, we stopputting up with sound doctrine”. It’s a very slippery slope to simply ignoring God’s Word and “finding teachers that say what our itching ears want to hear.”

 

This means we approach God’s Word with humility and our communities, our neighborhoods, our families, our friends, our co-workers, our classmates, our children with gentleness, love, and kindness. After all, we are all people who have sinned and who continually fall short of the glory of God. Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. None of us is better than anyone else. None of us has the right to be judgy. But the truth is that our holy God offers us, through His perfect love and mercy, opportunities to be changed, to be transformed, from guilty sinner to child of God!

 

We find that truth by looking through the proper set of lenses. We find our focus on our destination by seeing it through the written Word of God. If we don’t get there by starting where our society is; Paul reminds us, let’s start where God calls us Home, His Word, and see where that leads usHis presence and power and perfect love and forgiveness.

 

For the next few weeks we’ll look at a few different Bible issues and questions. Last week I challenged you to start reading in Genesis and tell me when anyone makes it past Leviticus. We’ll get lunch together and talk about what we have each found interesting and/or intriguing.

 

May we be constantly and consistently blessed by the reading, the receiving, of God’s Word which always transforms and offers us God’s grace and mercy.

 

Thank You, YHWH God, for the gift of Your Word, written and living and ever applicable to our cultures and our lives, and for the ultimate revealing of Your perfect Word though Jesus Christ; and it is in His name we pray, Amen.

 

Resources:

Parks, Lucas J.; “The Lens of Scripture”; TableTalk; November 2018; Pp. 10-11.

01/06/2019 = Hebrews 2:1-2 = Learning Where to Look: “Where Do We Find God’s Word?”

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Mark Wheeler

Hebrews 1:1-2

Learning Where to Look: “Where Do We Find God’s Word?

01/06/2019, Epiphany Sunday

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Through the Written Word,           

And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,           

Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Do we have any New Year’s Resolvers in the room this morning? Does anybody still really make New Year’s Resolutions? Today is January 6, show of hands if you’ve already broken your New Year’s Resolution – not to make you feel guilty or bad, but to show you what good company you’re in!

Well, we’re not even a whole week into 2019, so if you haven’t made any Resolutions for this year yet, let me encourage you that it’s not too late. Frankly, it’s NEVER too late! Every morning you wake up is another opportunity to resolve to do better.

I read a stat that 95% of people who Resolve to read the Bible through in a year year fail before they finish Genesis. There’s a BabylonBee article (that’s like a ChristianTheOnion e-zine = that’s like “fake news” that’s meant to be understood as actual “fake news”) that claims “Local Man sets More Realistic Goal of Reading the Bible Until He Gets to Leviticus” (https://babylonbee.com/news/local-man-sets-more-realistic-goal-of-reading-bible-until-he-gets-to-leviticus).

Ima gonna suggest that you can do it. We can all do it. And, if we fall behind, get up the next morning and start back in. You can do it.

 

We start this new year with a look at how we read the Bible, and how the Bible reads us.

Because we live in a world that is filled with competing truth claims, bombarded with tweets and posts about something being true and something else being false, this source being faithful and that source being fake-news, CNN or Fox, we need to re-learn where to look. Where do we find God’s Word?

 

Michael J. Kruger asks, “How do we sift through all the claims? How do people know what to think about relationships, morality, God, the origins of the universe, and many other important questions?

The answer, of course, is that we all either wonder around without a clue, or we rely on some standard off which we bounce all the opposing ideas to see which ones stick. For some that is simply reason and logic. Others appeal to sense experience – what feels right based on personal experience. Others simply say that whatever they say is right, and there is no argument or discussion that can dissuade. And, honestly, there is some level of validity to all of these methods of determining right from wrong – but what if there is some supreme source of standard reliance?

If there is a God – and that is what Christians, what we who are called children of God, claim – and if this God is sovereign, good, all-powerful, all-knowingwould His Word be a reliable, trustworthy standard for weighing other truth claims? If what we say we believe is believable at all, it seems logical and many of us could claim personal experience of this reality, then there really can be no higher authority than God Himself. So, looking for Where we Find God’s Word seems like the appropriate launching place.

 

Of course we, in the 21st century, in the year 2019, are not the first generation to face fighting truth claims. We have, since the beginning of time, had to decipher truth from lies, real news from fake news. Adam and Eve heard some serpentine deceiver say to them: “You will surely not dieimmediately after hearing God tell then the opposite. How could they tell whom to believe? Who was more trustworthy?

Unfortunately, you and I do not live and move and have our being in the midst of the Garden of Eden where we walk with God in anywhere near the same way Adam and Eve’s story claims. So, where do we go to get God’s Word? Where can it be found?

The obvious answer here is …what? The Bible, of course. But this answer has not always been so obvious – and maybe it’s not as obvious even today as we wish it was. This is still one of the biggest points of difference between Roman Catholic Christians and Evangelical (ie, Protestant) Christians. The official RC doctrine teaches a trifold authority structure for finding God’s Word which includes Scripture, and it also includes tradition and (what is called) Magisterium) – the authoritative teaching office of the RC Church, the Papal Ex Cathedra pronouncements.

And while Protestant Churches usually hold to an understanding that God’s Word can be heard and learned through the voices of God’s prophetic choices and preachers and teachers, ultimately their voices must be bounced off the already existent written Word of God – the Bible.

 

Listen to these words from the New Testament book of Hebrews 1:1-2 (P. 486). Hear the Word of God …. —-

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.

 

One of the main mantras of the 16th Century Reformation Movement was “Sola Scriptura” – the Scriptures alone are the Word of God, and therefore, the only infallible rule for faith and life. One of Martin Luther’s more famous answers to his ecclesiastical court hearing contained these words: “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in the councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. … May God help me. Amen.

For Luther, the Scriptures – and the Scriptures alone – were the final arbiter of what we should believe.

 

Now, let me be quick to add that, while the Scriptures, the Bible, is what we believe is the ultimate Word of God, that does not mean that the Church has no authority or that tradition carries no truth-weight. They absolutely do. There is real history in Church history – good and bad. There can be honest truth spoken through traditions. These are not bad places to look for God’s Word, but they sit under the written Word of God as having been displayed by what the Apostle John calls in his Gospel the “living Word of God in Jesus”.

We would say that the Church  and our historical councils and reflections carry some authority. But not without impunity. The Church has been wrong – about slavery, about race relations, about how we know who is worthy of our love and acceptance. The Church has covered up abuse, wrongly; the Church has unwisely and unrighteously spent money given to it (not us, but, you know, other churches…).

But the Bible, when rightly read, leads us to know the Lord our God through the Christmas gift of the incarnation of His only begotten Son and to live like we believe what we say we believe.

 

So, on this first Sunday of the New Year, on this 12th Day of Christmas, I want to encourage everyone here to Resolve to be closer to God in 2019 than we were in 2018. Invest time in prayer – maybe start with a prayer that you can find your Bible! And maybe commit to reading a bit of Bible every day.  3-1/4 chapters a day, 23 chapters a week, gets us through the whole Bible in a year – that’s less than 3 pages a day, maybe 15-minutes a day.

For the next few weeks we’ll look at a few different Bible issues and questions. And I want to hear when anyone makes it past Leviticus. We’ll get lunch together and talk about what we have each found interesting and/or intriguing.

 

May we be constantly and consistently blessed by the reading, the receiving, of God’s Word which always transforms and offers us God’s grace and mercy.

 

Thank You, YHWH God, for speaking to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, and for the ultimate revealing of Your perfect Word though Jesus Christ; and it is in His name we pray, Amen.

 

Resources:

Kruger, Michael J.; “Where Is the Word of God”; TableTalk; November 2018.

12/30/2018 = Genesis 32:22-32 = Jacob Wrestles with God: “I Am vs I Do”

(Click HERE if you want to LISTEN to this message.)

Mark Wheeler

Genesis 32:22-32

Everything I Need to Know I Learned in VBS:

Jacob Wrestles with God – I am vs I Do

12/30/18, Flannel Sunday – 09/02/2018

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Through the Written Word,           

And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,          

Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Anybody here ever order a drink at a Starbuck’s (or, really ANY coffee place), and when they ask your name so they can write it on your order – they get it really wrong? And while there may be several ways to misspell your name correctly (how many ways are there to spell “Caitlin”?), here are a few classics from Starbuck’s:

= Air Inn   =  Erin       

= Angry     =  Ingrid    

= Wong     =  Juan      

= Auntie    =  Andie     

= Fibi        =  Phoebe  

= A-Me      =  Amy       

= Missle     =  Michelle

= Panellipie  =  Penelope

= Mad-ah-Lynn  =  Madeline

Marc (with a C) = Cark

 

Fortunately, our identities are not defined by misspelled names on coffee cupsnor are we defined by what we do – what we do gives shape to our identity, but it does not define it out right.

 

In our this Sermon Series from last Summer and Fall  we looked at some of our favorite VBS and Sunday School lessonsfavorite Bible stories, or stories that we’ve always wondered about or had questions about. Today we read about a man who discovers his identity in a very peculiar way.

 

In this series we have read the stories of Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the flood, and a few Abraham and Isaac and Jacob stories.

I invite you to turn with me today, and to listen to, Genesis 32:22-32. Hear the Word of God …. —-

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”        “Jacob,” he answered.

28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob (Jacob means “one who lies, deceives, cheats, tricks, to get what he wants”), but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome (Israel means “struggles/wrestles with God”).”

29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”    But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

30 So Jacob called the place Peniel (“God’s face”), saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.

 

This is a story about how one who is known for his cheating gets a new identity as one who faces God squarely, even when he struggles to get it right.

It’s not the first time someone in the Bible gets a new name. Abram’s name changed to Abraham, from “high father” to “father of a multitude”; and Sarai became Sarah (“my princess” to “mother of nations”). In the New Testament, Jesus changed Simon’s name (“Hear” or “Listen”) to Peter (“Rock”) and Saul’s name to Paul (“Ask or Inquire” to “Small or Humble”).

None of those names were terrible names to begin with, except maybe Jacobhigh father, princess, listen, ask; but their new identities all define some quality as they relate to Almighty God – as the fulfillment of God’s promises, strength in God, one who find’s God’s strength in his own weakness – and one who wrestles with God! (Last September Johnny helped sing our Special Music and I was so glad when I saw that he was singing that day because he loves wrestling!)

 

What does God do with this good for nuthin, low-down, cheatin, lyin’, birthright thievin’, blessing stealin’, piece of no-good sin-ness? He reminds him that his real identity is found in God!

It’s not that Jacob’s sins don’t have an effect on his future – they do. Life circumstances change the way we live. Joseph, one of Jacob’s 12 sons, is left for dead by his brothers, is sold into slavery, is sexually assaulted, is arrested and convicted when he is innocentall of that carried into his future – but his identity is not in any of his victim statushe is the one who saves the Israelites.

Daniel, Shadrack, Meshack, Abednego are all taken captive, accused of treason, and sentenced to death by lions or by fire – but their identity is as God’s chosen.

 

We all carry some kind of hardship, choices we’ve made, terrible things that have happened to us, or simply the adversities of life.

Jacob had acted in terrible ways. But, God called him His own.

Have you done things that make you think you’re not good enough for God’s love?

Are you a survivor of sexual assault?

Are their drug abuses in your life?

Have chronic or terminal diseases stolen your health and well- being?

Do you feel like a loser because you aren’t as successful as someone else? (I am a little embarrassed to admit here that this is one of my personal feelings of unworthiness – I thought I would pastor a church of several hundred by this time in my life…..)

 

Friends, you are not the loser you feel like; you are more than just the cancer or Diabetes or Chrones that gives you turmoil; you are not just the drugs in your system or the money in your bank; your identity is not in your #MeToo hurts and fears; your bad choices, sad choices, sin choices, while they may lead you down some dark alleys and difficult life places, they do not define your identityyou are a Child of God.

After 60 years of marriage – after 6 days of marriage – becoming a widow, pained, lonely, lost = is not your identity. Being divorced, or never married = is not your identity.

After 40 years of work – reaching retirement = does not define your identity.

Being laid off, unemployed, without a paycheck or an address = is not your identity.

 

On the positive sides, working as a nurse, being in charge of linemen, serving customers, teaching students, overseeing operations, managing an office, handling transportation means … = is not your identity.

 

These are things we do. These are things that happen to us. But, as followers of Jesus Christ, as disciples in the Kingdom of God, as people called by God and filled with the Holy Spirit = we are Children of the Living God! You are a Daughter of the King, a Son of the Almighty!

Because of that, in Christ Jesus, we can endure all things and live in the power of the Almighty!

 

God loves you, and He longs to give that love to you.

 

Whenever I go to a place that asks my name to call when my order is ready, I often do one of two things – give them the name of the person in our group whose name is the hardest to spell (or which might have the most variant spellings), or I give them the same name as the person just ahead of me in line (I guess that’s Identity Theft…). My identity is not defined by how the barista spells my name – And to that end, even our Starbuck’s baristas aren’t identified by their terrible spelling errors. Are you a Child of God? Rest in that everlasting identity, that unstealably secure identity, written in the Book of Life!

 

Thank You, YHWH God, for claiming us with the cross; for inviting us to call You our Heavenly Father; for adopting us as Your very own children. You call us Your own, and we want to anchor our lives into that identity, always. Thank You for Jesus; in His name we pray, Amen.

 

Resources:

https://www.thrillist.com/drink/nation/starbucks-spelling-tumblr-23-hilariously-misspelled-names-on-starbucks-coffee-cups