12/13/2015 – Advent 3 – Matthew 2:26-56 – “Seeking Faithful Obedience”

Click this link for an audio version of this message: http://ppl.ug/f9XMxdizIug/

 

Mark Wheeler

Matthew 2:1-26-56

December 13, 2015

“Advent 3: God’s Grace Revealed: Seeking Faithful Obedience”

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

God of grace, God of glory, how we praise You and thank You for sending us Your gift of eternal life. Glory to God in the highest! Amen. 

About a month ago Paris, France, and a number of French Parisian suburbs were shot-up and bombed. And the world, including America, surrounded France with love and support – and prayers. Ten days ago a very similar thing happened in a Los Angeles suburb and while support and love went their way, at least from American society the social media was filled with criticism and words even of hatred about how worthless it is to pray for these people.

It was a fascinating cultural flip from our response to France and our reaction to San Bernardino.

 

As we move another week closer to our celebration of Immanuel, God with us, divinity in humanity, the birth of Jesus the Messiah, I wonder how our prayers change. We’re told to pray without ceasing, but with all the holiday hoopla it can be hard to obey that command. In fact, it’s hard to obey almost any of the biblical commands for justice and love and peace and joy when we’re fighting traffic to get the last of this year’s special toy, or imbibing at the office “holiday party” with a little too much enthusiasm.

As we recognize the nearness of Christmas (just 11 shopping days away), what does it mean to obey God?

 

I had a doctor appointment last Wednesday, and my doc reminded me that he has told me for several months to join a gym. And then he said, “With January 1 just a few weeks away, maybe this can be one of your New Year’s Resolutions.”

But even as he was talking I remembered that I’ve told him before that I would join a gym; and I also remember my 8th Grade Sunday School teacher, John Winterling, telling me that “delayed obedience is disobedience.” When I find an excuse to delay obeying God, I am merely disobeying God today.

What is it in your life that you “delay obedience” until a more convenient time? Is there an area of faith/life that we tell God, “Maybe tomorrow,” or “I will when <something> happens?

 

We are now on our 3rd Sunday in the season which prepares us for Christmas. We have been invited, along with Zechariah the nearly retired priest and his post-menopausal wife Elizabeth, to keep our eyes and our faith open to see what God is already doing all around us. We watched as another couple, Joseph, a carpenter, and Mary, a barely pubescent girl, from a backwoods village, willingly listened to and believed God.

Today we watch Joseph and Mary from a different angle – we have been using Luke’s Gospel, today we read from Matthew’s Gospel – and see what they teach us about seeking faithful obedience.

 

Listen to how Matthew 1:18-25 enters into the Christmas narrative: 18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

Let me stop there for a second. Pretend this was the first time you ever heard this story. You know it’s about Jesus, because Matthew says so right up front: this is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about. But — what? Before they came together she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit? How many unplanned teenaged pregnancies have been announced like this before?

So, because Joseph was both law-abiding and decent, he planned to divorce her quietly. Yeah, they weren’t even truly married yet, but in their culture by the time the couple got to this point in their wedding plans, they were as good as married, so “divorceis the right word. But Joseph wasn’t gonna make a big fuss, he’d just divorce her “quietly. I don’t know how one does that. The wedding day is planned, the guests are invited, the party is already underway, the DJ is hired, the church is reserved … and somehow he’s gonna make all that disappear without drawing attention to that fact. But let’s give him credit for trying.

Joseph shows us the value of Facing Unexpected Events GRACEFULLY!

Are we able to meet these upsetting, disappointing, expensive surprises with GRACE? I have watched Jack Berry do that time after time. One time, about 10 years ago, our Mariner’s Fellowship group went up to Hwy 16, near Sacheen Lake for a dinner theater production, and Jack missed the driveway entrance to the parking lot and his SUV went into the snow covered ditch. And what did Jack do? He got Jean out of the truck, went into the theater, called AAA, and had a very enjoyable evening. Jack reached Sainthood in my book that evening. And he showed me what it means to Face Unexpected Events GRACEFULLY.

 

Let’s continue this story, starting now in Matthew 1:20: 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” …

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Joseph heard from Mary already, but now an angel of the Lord appeared to him and told him the same thing. He might still say, “No way! I’m outa here!” But he doesn’t. Instead he demonstrates how to Trust God’s Word COURAGEOUSLY! Why do I say “courageously”? Because he and Mary still had all the town talking. The village gossips were still yakking at the supermarket. The men were still speculating at the barber. The school kids were still asking questions on the playground. And they all had their judgmental opinions!

Are we able to trust God with COURAGE? Anyone who has been in this church family for long has seen person after person trust God through scary life circumstances. I’ll bet most of us can think of someone, maybe the person sitting right across from you this morning, who trusted God through financial struggles, through marital difficulties, through health scares. // And, we’ve all not trusted God at all.

Can we put that COURAGEOUS Trust in God’s Word into practice this season?

 

After the baby Jesus was born, Luke tells us, in the manger in Bethlehem, we come to the next Christmas narrative in Matthew’s Gospel. Look with me starting in Matthew 2:13: 13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. …

This story is related to the last in that, once again, Joseph trust’s God’s Word; but this story of trust involves obedient action. Joseph exhibits how he Heeds God’s Warnings IMMEDIATELY!

He might have figured he could buy a gun, or take a Karate class, or just hunker down in a bunker and hide – those are the things I might have done. But Joseph wastes no time in Heeding God’s Warning. This is trusting God’s Word, but it is doing that with active obedience, right now!

 

The last part of this Christmas narrative, which is actually several months, maybe three years later, is told starting in verse 19. Listen to God’s Word: 19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. …

Joseph does the admirable thing – he Follows God’s Word CONSISTENTLY. We are told that after King Herod died an angel of the Lord told Joseph to take his family back home. He left for Egypt IMMEDIATELY; and now he again hears God’s Word and obeys it without any delay leaving from Egypt! But, even better than merely having an IMMEDIATE and COURAGEOUS trust that results in Faithful Obedience, Joseph also listens to God’s Word in Scripture, for Matthew reminds us that the Old Testament prophets allude to the Messiah being from a place like Nazareth (which was the actual home of Joseph and Mary before they went to Bethlehem for the census)!

It is important to Follow God’s Word CONSISTENTLYnot just when it’s convenient, or seems like a good idea, or won’t be too much of a change in my lifestyle, but CONSISTENTLYday in and day out, Monday through Saturday as well as Sunday.

This, of course, means Faithful Obedience, notdelayed obedience”, notpartial obedience” (I’ll go only so far; I’ll trust God with my check book but not my retirement account!), not disobedience in any fashion! Faithful Obedience!

 

How well do you obey God when unexpected events bring disappointment or pain?

 

How well do you obey God when God calls you to do something that is far bigger than you can achieve without His miraculous power?

 

How well do you obey God when God calls you to act with courage in a dangerous situation?

 

How well do you obey God when God calls you to do something urgent?

 

This is why, on this Sunday, we Seek Faithful Obedience above all else. Glory to God in the highest!

 

Pray with me the prayer on the bottom of your Sermon Notes page, and let’s live into this prayer:

“Lord, help me to obey You with grace, trust, courage, urgency, and consistency. Amen.”

 

Resources:

Family Bible Study; “Advanced Bible Study Commentary”; Winter 2002-03; Pp. 15-32.

Family Bible Study; “The Herschel Hobbs Commentary”; Winter 2002-03; Pp. 27-36.

12/06/2015 – Advent 2 – Luke 1:26-56 – “Learn to Express Grateful Praise”

Here’s the link to the audio version of this message: https://pogoplug.com/s/x_BLvwtPA60/

Mark Wheeler

Luke 1:26-56

“Advent 2: God’s Grace Revealed: Learn to Express Grateful Praise”

December 6, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Lord, above all else, I want to be used by You in Your saving work. Show me Your will and help me to do it. Amen. 

Bud Cook worked in a manufacturing plant. George Dempster was a young man trying to discover his vocation. John Winterling owned his own business building and selling campers and boat trailers and racks. Steve Collins was an engineer with a major oil company.

These names mean nothing to you, but to me they each in their own way turned my world upside down. God used them to help me know Jesus personally, and to trust Jesus with my life.

There have been scores of others, some of whom are sitting in this room with us today, but I chose these four men because they represent a variety of levels of education and life skills and career directions. And God used them all in powerfully meaningful ways to introduce me to Jesus. They are/were ordinary individuals who had extraordinary willingness to be used by God in His saving work.

You could all make your own lists, and they would also be filled with ordinary Janes and Joes who were willing to listen to and obey God.

Do you think your name might be on someone’s list? Are you willing to allow the Lord to work through you to bring others into a saving relationship with Him?

 

Last Sunday we officially entered into the season which prepares us for Christmas, and we were invited, along with Zechariah the nearly retired priest and his post-menopausal wife Elizabeth, to keep our eyes and our faith open to see what God is already doing all around us.

Today we watch another couple, Joseph, a carpenter, and Mary, a barely pubescent girl, from a backwoods village, as they willingly listen to and obey God.

 

In The Gospel according to Luke we discover another story of preparing for the birthday of our Savior. In the middle of Luke’s unique story about the birth of John the Baptist, he interrupts himself with the story of the unmarried Virgin Mary’s announcement of her pregnancy!

 

Listen to how Luke 1:26-29 begins this interruption: In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.

Put yourself in Mary’s sandals for just a minute. She’s engaged to be married, but not married yet somewhere between the ages of 12 and 14 years (that was normal marrying age for women in the Middle East 2,000 years ago); from the “dogtown” neighborhood of the Hillyard section of the nation of Israel. We know really nothing about her family background (except that Matthew tells us she comes from the distant lineage of David, a shepherd-boy turned King). And an angel of the Lord presents himself to her and speaks amazing, incredible, unbelievable words of blessing and affirmation!

Her reaction? “Greatly troubled” and “wondered what this means”. The JB Phillips translation says she was “greatly perturbed” and wondered what thiscould possibly mean”.

But notice, Mary did not simply dismiss this. Mary was OPEN to hearing from God. She wasn’t expecting it – but she certainly did not reject it out of hand. Mary was as “ordinary” a young woman as young women get – meaning she did not carry clout, her name did not evoke awe, she had no money or influence. But, Mary was OPEN to hearing from God. And she invites us to Be OPEN to hear from God.

 

Listen as Luke 1:30-33 continues the Zechariah-and-Elizabeth-story interruption: But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

Again, remember who Mary is: engaged to be married, but not married yet, somewhere between the ages of 12 and 14 years; and this “angel” tells her she’s gonna be pregnant! – But even more than being pregnant out of wedlock, she’s gonna be pregnant with Jesus (YeshuaThe Lord saves), the Son of the Most High!, the King of all kings! Whose Kingdom will never end!

Wait! What? Me?! No way!

But, being OPEN to hearing from God leads to being ready to LEARN God’s plan!

In the shock-and-awe of this angelic announcement, Mary LEARNs God’s plan. And as “ordinary” a girl as Mary was (at least from our limited human perspectives), God was going to use her in the most major way imaginable. If we want to understand God’s will in our life choices and directions, we need to be ready to LEARN God’s plan.

 

Luke 1:38 gives us Mary’s well-known response: “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Mary does the most difficult thing I can conceive. She makes a HUMBLE commitment. Why do I say that that is so hard? Two reasons:

  • an unwed, unexpected teenaged pregnancy is always a difficult place – the circumstances are less than ideal, the burdens seem overwhelming, the fear is crippling, and in her day it could have meant being put to death! And still, she made that commitment!
  • She made this commitment with HUMILITY! I do not find it too hard, most of the time, to make the right decision. But to do so showing HUMILITY is super difficult. Especially if there’s the potential for debate about it. I will quote the Bible and Church tradition and God’s ideal – like as if I’m the only one who has a total grasp of God’s righteousness.

Mary shows us that by actually being OPEN to receive a Word from God and really LEARNING His will, we can make a HUMBLE commitment to obey. The angel left her because there was no need for him to stay following Mary’s beautiful HUMILITY (“I am the Lord’s servant”) and devoted commitment (“May your word to me be fulfilled [in me]”).

 

Remember that this whole story of Jesus’ conception is an interruption in the middle of the story describing the birth of John the Baptist, and Luke masterfully concludes this interruption in Luke 1:46-49 with Mary’s EXPRESSION of grateful praise: And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,    for he has been mindful  of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,    for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name….”

Are we able to do that? This might be the proof of faith. In the middle of life’s most difficult moments, can we still lift our voices and our hands in praise to God?

When the power goes out in the bitter cold weather, can we still sing God’s glory?

When the diagnosis is in, and it’s not hopeful news, can we still proclaim perfect hope in Jesus?

When another mass shooting hits the airwaves, or the school or care center just down the street, can we still declare our praise to the sovereign God of the universe?

Let me quote from a Facebook Friend in CA; Joyce was in my youth group at church 40+ years ago when I was still in HS and she was in Jr Hi. She wrote this on Friday:

“The stress of the never ending escrow, the sickness caused by the stress, the inability to live life as usual due to the circumstance, the desire to make changes that are put on hold due to the never ending escrow. Not being able to decorate, shop or celebrate the season in normal ways because we live out of boxes. The sadness/stress/concern about many loved ones mental and physical state. And not to mention the recent events in the world…..the only comfort/strength I rely on is our Father in Heaven. Standing strong in His name. Amen.”

Joyce is an ordinary woman, a wife and mother, with an AA degree, working for a construction company. And God uses her to share His grace and mercy. Joyce has Learned to EXPRESS grateful praise!

 

When Jesus walked this earth, He chose 12 ordinary men to listen to Him, to learn from Him, humbly commit their lives to Himvery ordinary men, rugged fishermen, educated government employees, quiet leaders, anti-government activists, literally people from across every spectrum. And, because they were willing to be used for God’s Kingdom purposes – they did listen and learn and commit – and to the end, they  each learned to EXPRESS grateful praise to their Lord and Savior.

Eleven of these twelve went on and turned the world upside down expressing that grateful praise and telling others about Jesus. The one who didn’t regrets his decision into eternity.

 

Are you OPEN to hear from God? Are we as a church?

Do you know your part in God’s larger plan? As a church, are we LEARNing that?

Are you HUMBLY committed to God’s will? Is LPC?

Are you praising God for using even you in His work? Let’s EXPRESS our praise together!

 

Pray with me the prayer on the bottom of your Sermon Notes page, and let’s live into this prayer:

“Gracious Lord, thank You for choosing ordinary people like me to accomplish Your will. Amen.”

 

Resources:

Family Bible Study; “Advanced Bible Study Commentary”; Winter 2002-03; Pp. 17-24.

Family Bible Study; “The Herschel Hobbs Commentary”; Winter 2002-03; Pp. 17-26.

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

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

 

Mark Wheeler

Luke 1

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

November 29, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Resources:

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

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

Christmas Eve: Luke 2:1-20 – “The Birth of the Savior”

Mark Wheeler
Christmas Eve, December 24, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Luke 2:1-20
“The Birth of the Savior”

We so deeply need what only You can offer, dear God. Fill us with faith and faithfulness. Conquer our fears and heal our hurts. Comfort us with Your Holy Spirit, that we might recognize Your light in our darkest moments. On this eve of the celebration of Your birth, we praise You with the conviction that You were born for us and for our salvation. Amen.

Finally, it is Christmas Eve! As much as I sometimes dread the harried schedules and almost anti-Christian aspects of American holidays – I love Advent and Christmas! Thank You for celebrating this day together with us!

For my first Christmas as a semi-professional pastor I worked with a collection of Presbyterian Christians in a little unincorporated town that was 99% African American. The residents of this town across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco had moved there during WWII to work in the Sausalito Shipyards, and then when the war ended these Black men were not allowed to join any of the unions and had no money to move back home (mostly to Louisiana), so they stayed in Marin City in government subsidized housing, in the wealthiest county in the nation! The church I worked in was called St. Andrew Presbyterian Church; half the congregation were African-Americans from WWII with 3rd grade educations, the other half were highly educated white doctors, lawyers, and university professors – an odd and beautiful mix of people.
I started there in June 1987 as an intern, and the church hired me to stay after my internship ended for another 2-½ years. This church had 40 people on a Sunday morning, and a choir of 7 people – but boy could they sing!
Alma Randolph, one of the senior ladies, whenever she said grace quoted from Acts 10, “Arise Peter, kill and eat. Amen.” One day “sister Alma” told me about the founding pastors of this church, seminary students in the 1950s, who told her how much Jesus loved her – and that’s all it took for her to believe!
That encounter, and several others kind of like it, always made me stop and simply admire who our God is – how powerful and how personal He is. As a white man in a suit and tie walking the streets of Marin City, 99% Black, I learned that many believed I was some sort of police officer walking my beat – then they learned that I was pastoring one of “their” churches and they suddenly warmed up to me – a little. The Gospel sometimes has a way of breaking down all the walls.
But, there was always a “wait-and-see” attitude. Wait and see what this white kid is gonna be like in this town.

Thankfully, waiting for God is over. God did, and does, show up. Jesus did come. For us and for our salvation. This truth changes everything.

Hear the Word of God from the New Testament Gospel according to Luke, 2:1-20 …. —-
1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
May God bless the reading, the hearing, the receiving of His Word which never fails.

After four weeks of anticipation and waiting, Christmas is finally here. The air is so thick with excitement that we can almost taste it. And this passage is probably one of the most familiar of all Christmas accounts. Every time I read it, I’m reminded of Linus Van Pelt explaining the meaning of Christmas to Charlie Brown – not quite as high-class as Handel’s Messiah, but powerful none-the-less.

This passage contains three narratives around the birth of Jesus: The setting of Jesus’ birth itself (2:1-7), the angelic announcement of the birth (2:8-14), and the response of the shepherds to the announcement (2:15-20). In putting Jesus’ birth first in an historic context, Luke not only links Jesus to a real world political setting but also references back to the Old Testament prophecies that Jesus was a descendant of King David (cf. Micah 5:2), a very important link for the early church. As if he wants to contrast the political powers of Rome’s ruling elite — Caesar Augustus and Governor Quirinius — Luke then immediately transitions to a manger near a small inn in the tiny inconsequential village of Bethlehem: by giving a simple, straightforward account of Mary and Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem and, once in Bethlehem, how Jesus was born, wrapped in swaddling cloths, and lying in a manger in the most humble setting possible.

This idyllic setting of Jesus’ birth always reminds me of that small church in Marin City – a simple building in a small township – and Jesus was there!!!

In your own life experience, where do you mostly find Jesus? Do you look for Jesus in all the familiar places and circumstances, or do you look for him in the least likely ones?

Luke then shifts his focus to the countryside where shepherds were tending flocks by underscoring the extraordinary nature of Jesus’ birth, in depicting the angel’s announcement of it to the shepherds, and the glorifying praise by the heavenly host (2:8-14). The announcement of the angel specifically mentions three astounding titles for this humble baby to carry — Savior, Messiah, and Lord — encompassing the highest honorifics known at that time, both human and divine. This is significant because it foretells that Jesus was sent by the Father to become one of us, in order to embody for us this “good news of great joy”— to redeem us from our sins and show us the way to the Father.

In response to this “good news of great joy,” the shepherds then hurry off to see for themselves this newborn babe. They find him just as the angel has described. And after they share with everyone there what they have been told, they return “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” (2:20).

But, of course, the Christmas story is only half of the story: because Jesus, who was sent by God — just as the herald angel was — has also sent us into the world to share this “good news of great joy” with all people. Just as Alma Randolph told me the story of a pastor that changed her life by bringing her to Jesus all those years ago, we’re called to make an impact in other people’s lives with the love of God by telling them who Jesus is: the Son of God, who was not only born to be one of us, but suffered and died to redeem us from our sins, was raised from the dead, now sitting at the right hand of God the Father, and will one day come back to take us to be with Him forever!

As we celebrate Christmas with our loved ones this year, take a moment to reflect who Jesus is to you — Is He Savior, Messiah, and Lord of your life? If He is, are you then willing to be His messenger in sharing this “good news of great joy” with others who have never heard or experienced God’s love and forgiveness?

Resources:
Teng, Bill; “The Birth of the Savior, Glory to God in the Highest”; For Us and For Our Salvation: An Advent, Christmas and Epiphany Experience; Fellowship Community; 2014.

Second Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 40:1-11 – “Comfort! Comfort!”

Mark Wheeler
Advent 2, December 7, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Isaiah 40:1-11
“Comfort! Comfort!”

We are seeking inner-strength, dear God. Fill us with courage and steadiness. Conquer our fears and hurts. Comfort us with Your Holy Spirit, that we might recognize Your strength in our weakness. Amen.

Today is the 2nd Sunday of Advent. Our theme for this season, as followers of Jesus Christ, is recognizing that in the Christmas event we celebrate that Jesus was born, God was made incarnate, for us and for our salvation!
From the time I was very young, I have always looked forward to the days leading up to Christmas – to be honest, what I looked forward to was Christmas morning – but the days leading up to it helped build the suspense and anticipation. When I was a teenager I was introduced to George Frederic Handel’s “The Messiah”, and every time I hear it I wait for the Christmas portion of the oratorio and the sweet tenor voice singing from Isaiah 40: “Comfort ye. Comfort ye my people.”
What I really love is how the music brings Scripture to life and helps us understand that the promises of God, fulfilled in Jesus, ultimately change everything about our world.
Next week’s sing-along Christmas Cantata that our choir is leading will do that for us all!
I think we need to be reminded again and again of God’s unshakable commitments to claim this squirrely, fallen world and, ultimately make it right in ways we can’t possibly anticipate. On the surface, our Spokanite lives in 2014 are vastly different from the Jewish exiles who first heard these words. Contemporary North Americans are the first people in the history of the world to be surprised that we might have to suffer. We think we should be able to make things happen. We get antsy when we have to wait for anything. We want clear plans, quick fixes, and assurances that “somebody” in charge knows what they’re doing.
And yet, when we’re honest, we know that we are as terrified of the future as any generation before us. We are contemporary exiles in our own land—living lives impacted as much by the culture that surrounds us as our counterparts 25 centuries ago. And so, these words find resonance deep within our souls. We too need comfort. We too need assurance that God will make all things right in His time and in His way.

Paul Detterman, a Presbyterian Pastor on the team leading the charge for a movement called The Fellowship Community (Fellowship of Presbyterians) – a movement of Presbyterians who claim the Scriptures as the authoritative Word of God, that faith in Jesus as God’s only begotten Son is our only means to salvation, and that our lives and lifestyle choices should reflect that belief (this is a man I deeply respect and admire) – has written how these words from Isaiah 40 remind him of a memorable scene in The Horse and His Boy, one of the books from the Chronicles of Narnia. C. S. Lewis is telling the story of Shasta, a boy who is experiencing his own form of exile. He finds himself all alone, crying in a dark and terrifying place. He is obsessing about everything that has gone wrong in his world when, suddenly, he realizes he is not alone—some “Thing” is right beside him in the darkness (spoiler alert…):
It was pitch dark and [Shasta] could see nothing. And the Thing (or Person) was going so quietly that he could hardly hear any footfalls. What he could hear was breathing. His invisible companion seemed to breathe on a very large scale, and Shasta got the impression that it was a very large creature. And he had come to notice this breathing so gradually that he had really no idea how long it had been there. It was a horrible shock.
Shasta discovers that the “Thing” beside him knows his story—everything that was causing him terror and grief. Shasta discovers that the “Thing” had been with him all along—orchestrating all the positive outcomes he had thought were simply his own dumb luck.
“Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God…
As the scene reaches its climax, the great “Thing” turns out to be Aslan the lion (the representation of Christ in The Chronicles). The scene closes with these words:
The High King above all kings stooped towards [Shasta]. Its mane, and some strange and
solemn perfume that hung about the mane, was all around him. It touched his forehead
with its tongue. He lifted his face and their eyes met. Then instantly the pale brightness
of the mist and the fiery brightness of the Lion rolled themselves together into a swirling
glory and gathered themselves up and disappeared. [Shasta] was alone with his horse on
a grassy hillside under a blue sky. And there were birds singing.
“Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God…and the glory of the LORD will be revealed.

We take great comfort in the truth that God did, and does, show up. Jesus did come. For us and for our salvation. This truth changes everything.

Hear the Word of God from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, 40:1-11 …. —-
1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 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.
3 A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. 5 And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
6 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. 7 The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”
9 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.

Modern English is not always helpful. When contemporary North American people hear the word “comfort” it usually means what we hope to get when we pay good money for a great pair of shoes or a better mattress or a recliner chair. Comfort can mean the compassion of another person—the consolation of empathy and presence we receive when life is really not going well. But God is promising so much more than a passing “there, there…” or a better night’s sleep. And the enormous cost of this promised hope and comfort is not ours but His.
Comfort can also mean the promise of strength. “You can do this,” God is saying. “I understand your frustration and fear. I know your weaknesses and failings. In fact, everything that is broken within your being has been double-fortified.”
“Look around you,” God continues, “the world you see right now is about to change—you won’t even recognize the landscape. Prepare for God’s arrival! Everyone is going to see the bright glory of God!”

These words were spoken into the bleak reality of political and religious exile. Nothing was the way it was “supposed” to be. Into the dismay of that new normal came the reminder that God was not finished yet. Does that not sound like our world – and what we need to hear from God again? He is not finished yet! And He is coming … again!

Take a moment and think about your personal circumstances. Maybe jot down a word or two on your Sermon Notes page:
Where is your life darkest or most uncertain? Where are you feeling most vulnerable, least secure?

God is walking beside you, and has been for a very long time. Have you felt the “breath” of God around you?

John Calvin once said that the whole Gospel can be seen in this brief text from Isaiah. In a sense that is true, but God expects a response to the Gospel. The reality of God’s comfort (both His caring and His strength) and God’s promise of all that is yet to come is very good news. It can arouse us to live differently in our current circumstances. Where would such a change be most important in your life?

Paul the Apostle reminds us, “9 But [God] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (II Cor. 2)

Let’s take just a few minutes of quiet, listen to George Handel’s “Comfort Ye”, and ask for Christ to enter in where you most need is comfort – strength and understanding. Amen.

Resources:
Detterman, Paul; “Comfort, Comfort”; For Us and For Our Salvation: An Advent, Christmas and Epiphany Experience; Fellowship Community; 2014.
Lewis, C.S.; The Chronicles of Narnia: Book 5: The Horse and His Boy; Bles Publishers; London; 1954.

First Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 64:1-9 – Make Your Name Known … Yet

Mark Wheeler
Advent 1, November 30, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Isaiah 64:1-9
“Make Your Name Known … Yet”

Today is the 4th Sunday before Christmas – the 1st Sunday of Advent. Our theme for this season is, as followers of Jesus Christ, recognizing that in the Christmas event we celebrate that Jesus was born, God was made incarnate, for us and for our salvation!
This time of year is full of all sorts of distractions – from the consumerism that surrounds us, to the relationships that seem more complicated, to the gatherings we feel compelled to either plan or be a part of. It’s noisy. It’s hectic. It’s expensive. Although the it’s “most wonderful time of the year” trying to invoke all the nostalgia of the season, we often find ourselves feeling frantic!
However, we can choose something different. We can choose the quiet places; the meaningful relationships; the times of community; the moments for reflection; the realizing of the present; the value of people over things.
Therefore, I want to invite you to experience the life-giving good news of Christmas rather the then life-sucking news of the holidays.

During this last week – the week of Thanksgiving – the trial against the white police officer who shot and killed the young black man who had attacked him ended with the verdict of “non-indictment”. And then the whole town of Ferguson, MO, seemed to erupt in violent uproarious revolt! And cities all across this country experienced differing levels of peaceful demonstration, including right here in Spokane.
I know that there is a whole variety of opinions about what the verdict should have been, and I am only as smart about this situation as the various news sources, and friends, have explained to me what actually happened – so I’m not here today to defend the policeman’s actions or to condemn them – the whole story is tragic. What I have been asking all week long is – Where are You in this, Lord? Where are You?

When we turn on the television and look around us we can note the thousands of circumstances and places that we long for God to show up (at least in the way we think He should). We pray for Ferguson, MO. Lately Ukraine & Russia and Iraq & Syria and Israel & Palestine could be added to that list. And then there are the personal circumstances like Janie’s, or Marge’s health, or our own families’ futures that are often part of our petitions to the Lord.
Please, God. Intervene. Show up. We need a Savior. We need Jesus.
We take great comfort in the truth that God did, and does, show up. Jesus did come. For us and for our salvation. This truth changes everything.

Hear the Word of God from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, 64:1-9 …. —-
1 Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you!
2 As when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you!
3 For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
4 Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
5 You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved?
6 All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
7 No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us
and have given us over to our sins.
8 Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.
9 Do not be angry beyond measure, LORD; do not remember our sins forever.
Oh, look on us, we pray, for we are all your people.

Isaiah 64 is a lament; a crying out; a pleading for God to show up; a longing for God to make Himself known in a tangible, action-oriented way – to reveal Himself to the world. The people of God, God’s community, are wasting away. They feel as if God has turned His face from them. And they are lamenting this, crying out to God to come and be present with them.
This is a familiar place. Our brothers and sisters around the world live in the midst of captivity or war or persecution, struggling and wondering where and when the promises of God will be fulfilled, this is an hourly lament.
Closer to home, it may be a personal lament because of tragedy – the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, the loss of good health, a deep pit of depression that looks to be endless.
Where are You, Lord? Please, please show up. Give us a sign; come right into our circumstances and be the God we know You to be.

In verse 2 we see Isaiah cry out, “make Your name known.” This is beyond the informal “know” or the factual “know”. This is “know” in the intimate sense, the connected sense, the deepest sense.
“Make Your name known” means far more than just being famous. It entails relationship.
And in order to make Himself known, the people are hoping God’s presence will come in big, demonstrative ways such as earthquakes and fires. Little did they know that the future Messiah would come in the form of a baby whose seemingly insignificant birth would one day shake the earth to its foundations.
In the longing there is a recognition that the people of God have turned away from God. In the tragedy of their circumstances they stopped calling on Him. They feel abandoned and in their abandonment, they confess that they have turned away and sinned.
Where are you at the beginning of this Advent season? Lamenting? Crying out? Longing, hoping, asking for God to show up in your circumstances? Or asking God to show up in the circumstances of those you love and pray for? What are you lamenting, hoping for? Do you feel abandoned?
Have you turned away from God in your grief and struggle?

But even in the midst of their lament – while they struggle with their feelings of abandonment, look at verse 8 – God’s people are still able, even in their sadness, to confirm the character of God. In their crying out, they affirm that God acts on behalf of those who wait for Him, that He comes to the help of those who remember His ways.
Verse 8 reveals that the people of God still trust Him: “Yet You, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, You are the potter; we are all the work of Your hand.”
Even in the midst of the struggle, the despondency and the worry, there is an affirmation of trusting in God. YET… takes us to the place of confirming that we belong to God, we are still in His care. The acknowledgement of God as Father is so important here. The people of God are still His children and in spite of the circumstances we can yet acknowledge that we still belong to Him and that He is still sovereign.
Can you hold on to the word “YET”?
Can you affirm God’s care and sovereignty? Why?

Today, let us prepare ourselves in humble prayer that He make us more lowly for our submission to His sovereign claim on our lives. Let us give to God our faithfulness. Amen.

Lord God, thank You for Your gift of Hope when we feel totally lost. We do hope to reflect the Love of God always, through Jesus our King. Amen.

Resources:
Quan, Rachel; “Make Your Name Known”; For Us and For Our Salvation: An Advent, Christmas and Epiphany Experience; Fellowship Community; 2014.