04/24/2016 – I Peter 2:4-10 – Living Stones: “God, the Right Foundation”

For the audio version of this message, please click here.

Mark Wheeler

I Peter 2:4-10

Living Stones: “God: Our Foundation”

04/24/2016

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Humans make mistakes, after all, no human is perfect. One mistake made in the 12th century resulted in a 14,500 ton leaning tower. This miscalculation would later become a symbol of civic pride, but tell that to the man who designed it!

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is different from most medieval architecture. It is the third oldest building on Pisa’s Piazza del Duomo (cathedral square), the Cathedral and Baptistry were first.

Utilizing many columns and arches, this Tower represents an advanced understanding of weight and load characteristics, showing the Italian architect’s knowledge.

What the architect didn’t account for however, was the base of the tower being built on a dense section of clay.

The construction of the Tower of Pisa began on August 9, 1173. Originally designed to be a bell tower, the tower actually stood upright for over 5 years, but just after the completion of the third floor (1178) it began to lean. The citizens of Italy were shocked as it began to lean ever so slightly.

The foundation of the Tower, only 3 meters deep, was built on a dense clay mixture and impacted the soil. As it turned out, the clay was not nearly strong enough to hold the Tower upright, and so the weight of the Tower began to diffuse downward until it had found the weakest point.

After this, construction halted for 100 years. The government hoped that the soil would settle, giving it enough strength to hold the weight of the Tower.

After the 100 year hiatus, Giovanni di Simone stepped forward in 1272 and began to add four more floors to the tower. He actually managed to cause the Tower to lean even more when he tried to compensate for the original lean by making one side of the upper floors taller than the other.

In 1284 construction was halted again because war.

In 1319 the 7th floor was finished. The bell-chamber was added in 1372, and then the Tower was left alone until the 19th century.

In 1838 Alessandro Della Gherardesca, an established architect, dug a pathway near the base of the Tower so that people could see the intricately crafted base. The Tower began to lean even more as a result, due to the decreased amount of support available within the soil.

Then came WWII. This war was brutal and bloody for the entire world, and its effects were felt everywhere from America to rural Africa. In relation to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, however, it is pure luck.

When the American soldiers invaded, they were ordered to destroy any and all buildings in order to neutralize the threat of enemy snipers. There were no exceptions to this rule, and hundreds of buildings were blown up as the forces steadily advanced over the Italian countryside. The only thing which prevented the Leaning Tower of Pisa from being destroyed was a retreat that took place shortly after the arrival of the Americans, necessitating no need to destroy the national monument.

In 1964, Italy asked help to prevent the Leaning Tower from toppling. They wanted to keep the lean though, because of its importance for Pisa’s tourism. A team of engineers and historians came together on the Azores to discuss the problem. As a temporary measure, a leaden counterweight (882 tons) was installed.

In 1987, the Leaning Tower of Pisa was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site, along with the entire Piazza Del Duomo.

In 1990, the Leaning Tower was closed. The bells were removed and the tower was anchored.

Reopened in 2001 for tourists, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is finally sturdy and safe.

 

That was a super long non-biblical, non-churchy, intro to today’s sermon. From today’s Sermon Title, why do you think I started with that history lesson? [Because “Foundations” matter!]

 

For most of the next several weeks I invite you to join me as we listen to the Apostle Peter, and hear some Biblical instruction that’s been around for nearly 2,000 years, and is based on totally true counsel, about “good masonry”.

 

The foundation upon which our Christian faith is built is this: there is ONE, true, living God! And God is so BIG, strong, faithful, trustworthy, LOVING that he is the foundation of everything, including our very lives. Yet this same (giant-sized) God made possible a very personal relationship through His SON. He expressed Himself with a free outpouring of love in such a way that He remains in a close, vibrant relationship with His creation, and, in particular, with human beings made in His image!

­For this same God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever would believe in Him would not perish but have everlasting life!

The Bible never argues for the existence of God. From Genesis through Revelation, writers describe their conflicts with God, their anger and doubts about God’s purposes in the world, but there is never any doubt that God is fully present!

Deuteronomy 6:4-5 plainly states this foundation: Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength.

 

Listen to these words from the Apostle Peter. This comes from a letter he wrote to the churches in Asia Minor, south Turkey, to people who faced death daily. Listen to how he says we find faith-filled integrity when our Foundation is God Himself.

 

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion,     a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame.”
(Isaiah 28:16)

Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,

“The stone the builders rejected    has become the cornerstone,” (Psalm118:22)

and, “A stone that causes people to stumble     and a rock that makes them fall.” (Isaiah 8:14)

They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

 

Peter is writing to a people who are confused about who God is and what God stands for. The Church in Asia Minor was filled with people who could face death, real death, every day – and they may have wondered where their God is. They may have thought their God had abandoned them. They may have been convinced, by their own backgrounds and former religions, that if their “good” outweighed their “bad then their suffering would be short and their eternity secured.

Hmmm. Are Peter’s people any different than our people? Do you think Peter’s neighbors were more confused than your neighbors? I get the feeling that we live in the same confusion today that they lived in then.

They stumble because they disobey – read don’t believe, maybe believe but aren’t willing to change, say they believe but they don’t really trust this God or this message any more than they trust the weather forecasters on TVthey stumble because they disobey the message.”

What is this message? That we are sinnersWait, what? I’m not a sinner!  – Really? It would be a true privilege to have that person over for dinner because to date there is only one person in all of history who has made that claim with legitimacy!

That God sent His perfectly sinless Son to pay the debt of sin we have accrued (death, resurrection, ascension) and one day He is coming back for those who have believed in Him.

They stumbled because they disobey the message – which is also what they were destined for! But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light!

That’s the message!

 

Peter was present when Jesus told a parable about two houses that were built, one on a rock foundation and one on shifting sand. Right at the end of the 3-chapter Sermon on the Mount Jesus says it’s not good enough to simply say the right things, you have to believe them.  “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

 

You can see that this is more than mere happy platitudes. Christ is calling us to faithful obedience!

Peter reminds us of this truth.

 

Paul, in his 2nd letter of leadership advice to Timothy, the young Pastor in the Turkish city of Ephesus, tells Timothy, “God’s solid foundation is still sturdy with this sign: the Lord knows those who belong to Him, and everyone who confesses the Lord’s name must avoid wickedness” (II Timothy 2:15)

 

What is the Foundation of your Christian faith? Do you believe the Gospel message? Is your trust in God’s reliability as the only means of salvation growing? When the storms come, when the rain comes down, when the streams rise, when the winds blow and beat against our faith, will we fall? Or will we stand firm because of the Foundation of God’s power and love?

 

The foundation upon which our Christian faith is built is this: there is ONE, true, living God! And God is so BIG, strong, faithful, trustworthy, LOVING that he is the foundation of everything, including our very lives. Yet this same (giant-sized) God made possible a very personal relationship through His SON.

 

Let’s not be like the Tower of Pisa – while it still stands, it stands as a leaning curiosity. May we stand straight, with the believable Good News that comes through Jesus Christ.

 

This Easter Season, this Resurrection Season, let’s claim the Right Foundation: the God of the Bible, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God and Father of Jesus, the God who claims you as His own.

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

 

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

 

Resources:

Bettridge, Becce; Living Stones: The Making of an Eternal Fellowship; Presbyterians for Renewal; Louisville, KY; 2012; Pp. 19-24.

11/22/2015 – Ephesians 4 – “Christ the King Sunday”

[There will be no audio attached this week – no power at the church, everything was very acoustic this morning.]

Mark Wheeler

Mark 12:28-30; Matthew 28:20; John 14:15-24; Romans 13:8-10; Ephesians 4

“10 Rules for Faithful Living: Is He King? Or Not?”

November 22, 2015 – Christ the King Sunday

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

We bow before You as our ultimate Ruler and Authority, dear Jesus. Thank You for the gift of the Ten Commandments, and Your simple and profound summary of them. Today, we listen again; and we promise again, to obey. Bend our ears to Your Word, and our wills to Your Commands, we pray in the name of our Lord and Savior. Amen. 

Ma and Pa made their annual visit to church for the Christmas Eve service.
As they were leaving, the minister said, “Pa, it sure would be nice to see you and ma here more than once a year!”
“I know,” replied Pa, “but at least we keep the Ten Commandments.”
“That’s great,” the minister said. “I’m glad to hear that you keep the Ten Commandments.”
“Yup,” Pa said proudly, “Ma keeps six of ’em and I keep the other four.”

 

Last week we finished our final lesson on the Ten Commandments, and today, Christ the King Sunday, we recommit ourselves to obedience.

 

The historical/social context of the 10 commandmentsescape from Pharaoh and unjust system of power and poverty

That’s not too different from our world – it is, but there are similarities. While we are not under the thumb of a dictator tyrant we do live in a culture that demands we give up some fundamental Christian life-choices, all in the name of more tolerance. We live in a world where the 1% rule over the 99%, without even realizing it. We live in a time where prejudice surrounds us, and even dwells inside us. We, too, need escape from the injustice of dishonor and death and infidelity and greed and slander and even the heart disease of being pained by dissatisfaction.

So God rescues us, as He rescued the Israelites, and He gives us what we have come to know as the Ten Commandments, what James called the Law of Liberty (James 1:25, KJV) and what Paul describes as living a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called (Ephesians 4:1, NIV).

The three reasons for the Law – 1) to show us we need a Savior,

2) to keep us from killing each other (restrain evil-doing),

3) to tell us what God’s character is (and therefore what our character ought to beguide for living the Christian life as we grow to resemble our Lord Jesus Christ)

 

The 10 Commandments, brief enough to be memorized by Sunday School children and comprehensive enough to guide our every thought and action. These Commandments are a far more than just a list of “thou shalt nots”, but it is a list of promises from God and they each contain the secret power to have the ability to obey them.

 

We all know that Jesus was asked, by people who perhaps hoped to trip Him up, which of the 10 Commandments was the greatest, most important one. Both Matthew and Mark record this story. What is Jesus’ answer? (Mark 12) “29 ‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”’Jesus is merely quoting from Deuteronomy.

And in the very next sentence Jesus says, “31 The second is this (in Matthew He says, “the second is just like it:”): ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

 

This first Commandment sets the tone and the pace for all the Commandments which follow. If we can remember that the Lord our God, Yahweh, the eternal, self-existent, uncreated One, Himself the Source and Sustainer of all that is – if we can remember that He alone is entitled to supreme reverence and worship – and that anything else that we might cherish lessens, weakens, our trust and relationship with Him – if we can remember that, then the next 9 Commandments become easy.

 

Because this week has been a hard week, for some of us a lonely, cold, dark, week. Let me just walk you through some Bible verses, then I will briefly share a quick discovery I had this week; then we’ll open the floor as we gather in prayer for anyone to share your insights, wonderings, etc. Then we’ll move into our Congregational Meeting.

While we do not have heat here, we do have each other. Some of you might need to get back home, and others might need to linger together. All of that will be possible.

 

Let’s do this together. What are the Ten Commandments?

  1. You shall have No OTHER godsanything other than God that we allow to take first place in our lives is out of order!
  2. You shall Make no IMAGESany image of God we make, any statue, any idea, any philosophy, will fall short
  3. Because the 3rd Commandment says to not use the Lord’s name in vain, we say: HOLY be Thy nameGod’s name assures us of His perfect presence and power, do not misuse that
  4. And we’ve interpreted the 4th Commandment about remembering the Sabbath Day and keeping it holy by saying: Take a Sabbath REST – the Hebrew people had lived under the iron fist of Pharaoh, God says that under His authority we are meant to find peace, rest, in His presence

Toward the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God (love God above/before anything else), and our cares and concerns will be taken care of.” We are re-stating this every week because without our remembering it, even the next six commandments can be wrongly emphasized. If we do not love God first, we misunderstand how to love our neighbors rightly.

 

After we learn how to love God first, He says to love our neighbors. How do we love our neighbors?

  1. We Give HONOR until it’s deserved – starting with our parents
  2. We Respect LIFE – to the best of our ability – do not commit murder
  3. We are to be FAITHFUL in our marriages – and in every relationship – do not commit adultery
  4. We are to be GENEROUS so that “stealing” isn’t even a temptation for the poorest among us – no stealing
  5. We are to Speak HELPFULLY so that whatever we say has the chance of bringing blessingno giving false testimony
  6. And, we are to find CONTENTMENT whether we are empty-pocketed or overflowing with stuffno coveting

 

The very close of Matthew’s Gospel, after the resurrection, just before Jesus rises into the sky, into the heavens with His Father to sit on His throne as King of kings, in Matthew 28:20 Jesus tells us who follow Him, “18  ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me [as King of kings]. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to OBEY everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’

 

In John’s Gospel, in the scene just before the Lord’s Supper is instituted, Jesus gives this command to His followers: “If you love me, KEEP my commands.” (John 14:15) Whether or not we decide to obey reveals our decision to put no other gods before Him! If Christ truly is “King of all kings and Lord of all lords”, how do we tell Him that that is true? We keep His commands!

 

How do we tell that to the world around us? Paul says in Romans 13, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to LOVE one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law…. 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the LAW.

 

Here’s what I discovered this week – on Friday while at a cross-denominational prayer gathering, we read from Ephesians 4, just the opening verses, but then I read the whole chapter. This is Paul’s instructions to a Church in a very hostile environment and the whole chapter is about keeping the Ten Commandments, although he never uses those words. Listen to Ephesians 4:

I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. …

 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live … separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.

20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

We might argue and debate over whether or not these Commandments belong in our Court Houses or classrooms – but there should be no argument that they belong right here, in our hearts and lives. Is Christ King of our lives? Or is He not?

If the Church ever turns our backs on the authority of these Commandments, may God have mercy on our souls. Let us worship the Lord our God, above and before all else, today and forever. Amen.

As we move into our time of prayerwhat do you want to share with us about what you have learned in this study of God’s Word in these Ten Commandments?

Resources:

The Law of Liberty; “The Law and the Gospel in Perfect Harmony”; Project Restore, Inc; Locust Dale, VA; 2006; Pp. 29-31.

11/15/2015 – Exodus 20:17 – “#10: Find Contentment”

Click on this link to get the audio version of this message: http://ppl.ug/B1EsAFAYgw0/

Mark Wheeler

Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21

“10 Rules for Faithful Living: #10 Find Contentment”

November 15, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

We come to worship today, O Lord, some of us filled with discontent, some with fear, some with anger, some with hurt feelings. But, dear Lord, we all came here today. Empty our hearts and minds of malice and bitterness right now. Help us instead, to seek Your perfect power and presence, Your righteousness and redemption, Your Law and Your love in front of all other possible priorities, through Your Son Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Two friends meet in the street. One looks sad and almost on the verge of tears. The other man says, “Hey my friend, how come you look like the whole world has caved in?

The sad fellow says, “Let me tell you. Three weeks ago, an uncle died and left me $50,000.”

“Well, I’m sorry for your loss, but that’s a nice unexpected income!”

“Hold on, I’m just getting started. Two weeks ago, a cousin I never knew kicked-the-bucket and left me $95,000.” 

“Wow, that’s great for you! I wouldn’t mind that.” 

“Last week, my grandfather I never met passed away. I inherited almost a million.”

“So why are so glum?” 

“This week – nothing!”

 

Have you ever noticed how hard it is to just be satisfied?

I recently read that, according to Rolling Stone magazine, the all-time number one song is Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”. Now, the fact that the song and the Rock ’n’ Roll magazine have the same name puts a little suspicion on the recognition – still, who’s qualified to argue? The all-time number two song? Are you ready? The 1965 classic by the group called The Rolling Stones – “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”.

It does seem like that has been our cultural anthem for the last 50 years. USA Today reports that the majority of Americans in every age group feel like they have not really reached their fulfillment – we are not satisfied. And no satisfaction means no contentment!

In The Gospel according to Mark we read where Jesus said (Look at your Sermon Notes page…): (Mark 12) “29 ‘The most important Commandment is this: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”’

And in the very next sentence Jesus says, “31 The second is this (in Matthew He says, “the second is just like it:”): ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

We have been in the 10 Commandments since early September….

Here’s a quick summary of the first four of the Big Ten, the ones about “loving God”:

  1. You shall have No OTHER godsanything other than God that we allow to take first place in our lives is out of order!
  2. You shall Make no IMAGESany image of God we make, any statue, any idea, any philosophy, will fall short
  3. Because the 3rd Commandment says to not use the Lord’s name in vain, we say: HOLY be Thy nameGod’s name assures us of His perfect presence and power, do not misuse that
  4. And we’ve interpreted the 4th Commandment about remembering the Sabbath Day and keeping it holy by saying: Take a Sabbath REST – the Hebrew people had lived under the iron fist of Pharaoh, God says that under His authority we are meant to find peace, rest, in His presence

Toward the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God (love God above/before anything else), and our cares and concerns will be taken care of.” We are re-stating this every week because without our remembering it, even the next six commandments can be wrongly emphasized. If we do not love God first, we misunderstand how to love our neighbors rightly.

After we learn how to love God first, He says to love our neighbors. How do we love our neighbors?

  1. We Give HONOR until it’s deserved – starting with our parents
  2. We Respect LIFE – to the best of our ability
  3. We are to be FAITHFUL in our marriages – and in every relationship
  4. We are to be GENEROUS so that “stealing” isn’t even a temptation for the poorest among us
  5. We are to Speak HELPFULLY so that whatever we say has the chance of bringing blessing
  6. And …

Today we look at Commandment No. Ten. The NIV writes it like this: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” That’s the Exodus version of this 10th Commandment. Look at the second way it was stated, in Deuteronomy 5: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbor’s house or land, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” It makes me wonder what was going on among these wandering Israelites that made Moses change the order and apparent more-common-object-of-desire the second time around. But either way, how do we love our neighbors? Do not covet what they have over what you have.

This 10th Commandment is truly about a “heart sin” and not just a behavior sin. “Do not covet” implies our dissatisfaction with our own lot in life and wishing we had it as good as that other guy. The sin really is about our unsatisfying hope for contentment. If only I had another $10,000 (or $100,000, or $1,000,000); if only I did not have this chronic disease (or that addiction, or those bad habits); if only I was married to him (or if my wife would do that, or my parents had given me this).

I am convinced that this is the easiest Commandment to see Jesus as the answer to – because, in fact, growing in Christ gives us what the world cannot give us – contentment, no matter our circumstance.

The Apostle Paul discovered this truth the hard way, but in Philippians 4:11-13 he wrote to those suffering Christians, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content I know how to be brought low and I know how to abound … I can do ALL THINGS through Christ who strengthens me.”

It’s all about that relationshiprelationship with God, through His Son, by means of the Holy Spirit. Even the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah knew that contentment, peace of mind, spirit-filled rest, happens in that relationship. Jeremiah, referring to King David’s words in Psalm 1 (about 400 years earlier), wrote in Jeremiah 17:7-8 “Blessed is the one who TRUSTS in the Lord … and is not anxious ….” Anxiety is the result of non-contentment.

Remember that Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, talked about murder and adultery and loving our neighbors – but Jesus made these Commandments about the deeper desires of our hearts and not just about our behaviors: “if you even hold a grudge against, if you even lust, you have committed murder and adultery in your heart; and I say love not only your neighbors but even your enemies.” Yes, the actions of sin are obviously wrong; but it all begins in the HEART! (Matthew 5:22, 28, 44)

In John’s Gospel Jesus made this image of being related to Him even deeper in John 15:5, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides, resides, dwells, lives in me, and I in him he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

It is impossible to have biblical contentment separated from God. “Apart from God we can do nothing”, but “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

Abide in Christ and we discover contentment. We abide in Christ by living in His Word, by seeking Him in prayer, and by walking in obedience to His Commandments.

The Rolling Stones were correct: we are going to be discontent until we admit, “I can’t get no satisfaction!Exhausted we yield to Christ and say, “It is well with my soul – whatever my lot; it is well, it is well, with my soul.”

How do we love our neighbors? When we find Contentment, we discover the ability to love without prejudice.

Yes, we are still sinners, and we will still covet and envy what those around us seem to have; but we do not have to live in that pain. We can, as we remember how much we need a Savior, as we realize our depraved desire for that which is not ours to desire, as we recognize God’s character growing in us, ever so slowly, as people created in His image and who have been redeemed by His grace, we can find contentment and peace, even in the pain and suffering.

Do you need to believe this Good News today? Are you at a place where you are understanding this truth for the first time? Or even for the 100th time? It’s as simple as saying, “Thank You Jesus, I do believe. Help me, today, with where I don’t believe enough.

Love the Lord your God with everything you’ve got;

and love your neighbor as yourselfgive honor until it’s deserved! Respect life! Be faithful! Give generously! Speak helpfully! Find contentment by abiding in Christ!

We can do this by acknowledging that God is with us, and nothing is impossible for God!

We have heard plenty of debates over whether these Commandments belong in our Court Houses or classrooms – but there should be no argument that they belong right here, in our hearts and lives and church.

If our Church ever turns our backs on the authority of these Commandments, may God have mercy on our souls. Let us worship the Lord our God, above and before all else, and let us love our neighbor as ourselves, today and forever.

Psalm 119:176 speaks our prayer: I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek Your servant, for I have not forgotten Your Commands. Amen.

Resources:

Table Talk; “Finding Contentment”; Melissa Kruger; Ligonier Ministries; Sanford, FL; December 2015; Pp. 16-19.

Table Talk; “Our New Affection”; Sinclair B. Ferguson; Ligonier Ministries; Sanford, FL; December 2015; Pp. 20-25.

The Law of Liberty; “Unfolding God’s Glorious Law”; Project Restore, Inc; Locust Dale, VA; 2006; Pp. 7-8.

11/01/2015 – Deuteronomy 5:19 – Commandment #8: “Be Generous!”

To get an audio version of this message, click here: http://ppl.ug/jDjJbHYxGpc/

Mark Wheeler

Exodus 20:15; Deuteronomy 5:19; Mark 12:28-31

“10 Rules for Faithful Living: #8 Be Generous”

November 1, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

We come to worship today, O Lord, some of us filled with discontent, some with fear, some with anger, some with hurt feelings. But, dear Lord, we all came here today. Empty our hearts and minds of malice and bitterness right now. Help us instead, to seek Your perfect power and presence, Your righteousness and redemption, Your Law and Your love in front of all other possible priorities, through Your Son Jesus Christ. Amen. 

You’ve probably all heard about the burglar who walked into a quiet little house at the end of a road.
He was stealing diamonds when he hears, “Jesus is watching you.”

The guy freaks and turns around, seeing nothing he goes back to stealing diamonds. And again he hears,
“Jesus is watching you.”

He turns around again and this time sees a parrot in a corner cage saying, “Jesus is watching you.” The guy gets all embarrassed about freaking out over a little parrot and says, “Who do you think you are?”

The bird replies, “Moses.”

“What kind of idiot names their bird Moses?”

“The same kind of idiot who named their Pitbull Jesus.”

Sorry about that. But there just aren’t a lot of good jokes out there about “stealing”. In fact, when I GoogledJokes about stealing”, what came up was a ton of articles about professional stand-up comics stealing jokes from other comedians.

That, all by itself, says something significant about our culture’s understanding of what’s OK and what’s not.

We have invested almost-two-months looking at the Ten Commandments. In The Gospel according to Mark we read where Jesus said (Look at your Sermon Notes page…): (Mark 12) “29 ‘The most important Commandment is this: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”’” And we saw that the first four of the Big Ten are about that. Let’s just take a second and name those first four:

  1. You shall have No OTHER godsanything other than God that we allow to take first place in our lives is out of order!
  2. You shall Make no IMAGESany image of God we make, any statue, any idea, any philosophy, will fall short
  3. HOLY be Thy nameGod’s name assures us of His perfect presence and power, do not misuse that
  4. Take a Sabbath REST – the Hebrew people had lived under the iron fist of Pharaoh, God says that under His authority we are meant to find peace, rest, in His presence

These first four Commandments are all about that most important one! Love the Lord your God with everything you’ve got, always, never-ending, without failhave no other gods! Make no false images! Do not misuse God’s holy name! Rest in God’s presence! We are re-stating this every week because without our remembering it, even the next six commandments can be wrongly emphasized.

And then Jesus goes a little deeper: In the very next sentence Jesus says, “31 The second is this (in Matthew He says, “the second is just like it:”): ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

That’s what the next six Commandments are about. How do we love our neighbors?

  1. We Give HONOR until it’s deserved – starting with our parents
  2. We Respect LIFE – to the best of our ability
  3. We are to be FAITHFUL in our marriages – and in every relationship
  4. And …

Today we look at Commandment No. Eight. The NIV writes it like this: “You shall not steal.” How do we love our neighbors? Do not steal from them!

I considered two ways to go about this Commandment:

  • Talk about all the ways we steal without even recognizing that we are, in fact, stealing:
    1. Eating a grape in the produce section of Rosauers
    2. Not declaring our “tips on our Income Tax forms
    3. Not leaving a healthy tip on the table at a restaurant
    4. We steal every time we take from someone without paying a fair price/wage
    5. So, we also steal by not giving our best effort
      1. We rob our neighbors of dignity by not paying respect, giving honor
      2. We rob our neighbors of value by not offering polite hospitality
  • We rob our neighbors of health by not providing out of our abundance to care for their absence
  • Or we could talk about ways to NOT steal, lifestyles and life-choices of generosity:
    1. In the Old Testament we find God’s expectations that farmers would leave some good grain or produce in the field or vineyard so that the poor might come and glean some food for their families (look at the book of Ruth as a prime example)
    2. Honesty is the best policy” may not be a Bible verse, but it is certainly a biblical ethic so that we ought to be open and not hide anything from those around us (look at the story of Ananias and Saphira in Acts 5)
    3. Generosity in all things makes us the opposite of stealing thieves.
      1. Remember what I said at the beginning of this message about what popped up when I Googledjokes about stealing”? This is why we pay a little extra for the license to print words to songs, or to show movies; this is why, in print at least, I try to give credit to sermon pieces.
      2. It is wrong to steal material property, intellectual property, software property, dignity, personal value, or human rights.

In Deuteronomy 11-25 (that’s 15 chapters) we are given laws and regulations and rules after laws and regulations and rules, about how to love our neighbors. And in a section about how to live with those who are in poverty (15:10) we hear the Lord say, “Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.”

Most of II Corinthians 8 & 9 are Paul’s instructions to the Church about generosity. You will recognize this verse: “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (9:6-7)

Generosity quenches the desire to steal. When we go out to eat, ready to put a 25% tip on the table, we will look for ways to compliment our wait-person. When we go to a garage sale, hoping for a chance to bless someone, we’ll give a little more than the asking price for that thing we don’t really need anyway. When we come to a family reunion, wanting to offer forgiveness, we’ll be ready to give grace and kindness before we grump and criticize.

Being a generous person requires having a generous spirit. That means being filled with God’s Holy Spirit, being submissive to Christ as Lord, following Jesus as God’s only means of salvation from the tyranny of ego and self-centered service.

Yes, we are still sinners. And God offers the grace of forgiveness to all of us. But He also holds us to the standard set forth in Scripture. And every time we do not give in to any temptation of “stealing”, we give glory to God, we honor our neighbor, we respect the life that we encounter, and act generously to those around us.

Remember why God give us these commandments:

  • To shine a light on how much we need a Savior
  • To slow down our selfish desires to cheat each other
  • To show us what God’s character is – and therefore, as people created in the image of God, who claim to be followers of Jesus, what our character ought to be as we grow more and more into His likeness

And God’s perfect grace and offer of complete forgiveness is waiting for all who acknowledge our need, confess our failure, and repent toward loving God better. “For God so loved the world that He so-super-generously-gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life”, because it was “while we were still sinning that Christ so-super-generously died for us.”

Do you need to believe this Good News today? Are you at a place where you are understanding this truth for the first time? Or even for the 100th time? It’s as simple as saying, “Thank You Jesus, I do believe. Help me, today, with where I don’t believe enough.

Love the Lord your God with everything you’ve got; in Malachi 3:10 – this Old Testament prophet tells us that we steal from God by not giving His church a full 10% tithe of our income – God even dares us to test His faithfulness to us by trusting our faithfulness to Him.

and love your neighbor as yourselfgive honor until it’s deserved! Respect life! Be faithful! Give generously!

We can do this by acknowledging that God is with us, and nothing is impossible for God!

We have heard plenty of debates over whether these Commandments belong in our Court Houses or classrooms – but there should be no argument that they belong right here, in our hearts and lives and church. If our Church ever turns our backs on the authority of these Commandments, may God have mercy on our souls.

Let us worship the Lord our God, above and before all else, and let us love our neighbor as ourselves, today and forever.

Psalm 119:174 speaks our prayer: I long for your salvation, Lord, and your law gives me delight. Amen.

Resources:

The Law of Liberty; “Unfolding God’s Glorious Law”; Project Restore, Inc; Locust Dale, VA; 2006; Pp. 6.

08/02/2015 – Ephesians 1:3-14 – “Chozen: Let It Go”

Mark Wheeler

Ephesians 1:3-14

“Chozen: Let It Go”

August 2, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Remove, O Lord, any tension or anxiety, any stress or worry, anything, which may keep us from fulfilling Your wishes of who we could be. Fill us with the grace of the Father, the strength of the Son, and the hope of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Does anybody here like to read Max Lucado books? If you’ve never read him before, I’m going to give you a taste today. Straight up, I am confessing a little plagiarism (except that I’m crediting him, so it’s not really plagiarism at all).

Between 1854 and 1929 about 200,000 orphans and abandoned children in eastern cities were placed on westbound trains and shipped across the US in search of homes and families. Many of the children had lost their parents in epidemics. Others were children of down-on-their-luck immigrants. Some were orphaned by the Civil War, others by alcohol.

But they all needed homes. Loaded on trains in groups of 30-40, they stopped in rural areas for viewings. The children were lined up on the platform like livestock at an auction. Potential parents asked questions, evaluated health, and even examined teeth. If selected, the children went to their homes. If not, they got back on the train.

The Orphan Train.

Lee Nailling remembers the experience. He had been living at the Jefferson County Orphan Home for 2 years when he, as an 8-year-old, was taken with his two younger brothers to a train in NYC. The day before, his biological father had handed him a pink envelope that bore his father’s name and address. He told the boy to write him as soon as he reached his destination. The boy placed the envelope within a coat pocket so no one would take it. The train embarked for TX. Lee and his brothers fell asleep. When he awoke, the pink envelope was gone. …

What I’d like to tell you is that Lee’s father found him. That the man, unwilling to pass another second without his sons, sold every possession so he could reunite his family. I’d love to describe the moment when Lee heard his father say, “Son, it’s me! I came for you!” Lee Nailling’s biography, however, contains no such event.

But yours does.

We have been investing this Summer in an extended sermon series on God’s amazing Grace – how it is so far more than we deserve, and so far greater what we imagine. Listen with me to God’s Word, from the New Testament epistle from Paul to the Church in Ephesus, 1:3-13. This follows immediately after the intro, and jumps straight into a word on God’s perfect sustaining Grace. Hear the Word of the Lord: Ephesians 1:3-14 …. —-

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

May God bless the reading, hearing, receiving of His Word which never fails. In his chapter called Chosen Children, from his book on Grace, Lucado reminds us: “There is something in you that God loves. You cause His eyes to widen, His heart to beat faster. He loves you. And He accepts you.”

Did you hear God’s Word to you in this Ephesian letter? Turn to your Sermon Notes page and read verses 3-5 out loud with me: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.

First, let’s recognize that this letter is from the Apostle Paul! This is no Joe Schmuck from the “Happy Acres Preschool”. This is the Apostle Paul! He says, Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us. We give praise to God because He has already blessed us – not just a word of encouragement to “you”, but Paul includes himself! “Our Lord … has blessed us!”

How did He bless us? Verse 4: He chose us in Him before the creation of the world …. Now, let me ask you a question: in what year were you born? (You don’t have to say it out loud – but imagine that number in big bold numerals.) I was born in 1961! Some of you were born in the 1990s, some of you in the 1910s. that’s getting to be a long time ago, right? When did God choose you? Before the creation of the world!

Verse 5 says, He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ. You heard your own voice read that out loud a minute ago!

God chose us before Genesis 1He predestined us for adoption to sonship. What did we have to do to earn that choice? What did we have to accomplish for God to adopt us? Thousands of earth-years before we were born – we were already chosen, already ear-marked for adoption!

When does an orphan become not-an-orphan? When that orphan is adopted, chosen, received into the family inheritance!

Max Lucado says, “All of grace, I believe, is God’s definitive reply: ‘Be blessed, my child. I accept you. I have adopted you into my family’.” Adopted children are chosen children.

That is not the case with biological children. When the doctor handed Mark Wheeler to Russell Wheeler, my dad had no exit option. No loophole. No choice. He couldn’t give me back to the doctor and ask for a better-looking or smarter son. The hospital made him take me home. (That’s my spin on Lucado’s illustration. – but even with biological children, parents choose to either love their children or leave their children in someone else’s hands – sometimes the way one loves best is to leave them to be cared for by another.)

But if you were adopted, your parents chose you. Surprise pregnancies happen. But surprise adoptions? Never heard of one. [Your parents] selected you. They wanted you in their family.

You object: ‘Oh, but if they could have seen the rest of my life, they might have changed their minds.’ Max Lucado says, “My point exactly.

God saw our entire lives from beginning to end, birth to hearse, and in spite of what He saw, He was still convincedto adopt us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ. And this gave Him great pleasure.” (Eph 1:5 NLT)

Verse 11 says it again, “In [Christ] we were CHOSENSecurenever to be lost again. God chose us. God chooses you! All we need to do is accept that offer of adoption. Do you want to know God’s adoptive grace in your life? It is right there waiting for you!

Remember that 8-year-old orphan who lost his father’s letter? Things got worse before they got better. He and his two brothers were taken to several towns. On the 6th day someone in a small TX town adopted one brother. Then a family selected Lee and his other brother. But soon Lee was sent to another home, the home of a farming family, but he had never been on a farm. The city boy didn’t know not to open the doors of the chick’s cages. When Lee did, the angry farmer sent him away.

In a succession of sad events, Lee had lost his father, had ridden a train from NY to TX, had been separated from his two brothers, and had been kicked out of two homes. His little heart was about to break. Finally he was taken to the home of a tall man and a short, plump woman. During the 1st supper Lee said nothing. He went to bed making plans to run away. The next morning they seated him at a breakfast of biscuits and gravy. When he reached for one, well, Lucado says, I’ll let him tell you what happened.

 

Mrs. Nailling stopped me. ‘Not until we’ve said grace,’ she explained. I watched as they bowed their heads. Mrs. Nailling began speaking softly to ‘our Father,’ thanking Him for the food and the beautiful day. I knew enough about God to know that the woman’s ‘our Father’ was the same one who was in the ‘our Father who art in heaven’ prayer that visiting preachers had recited over us at the orphanage. But I couldn’t understand why she was talking to Him as though He were sitting here with us waiting for His share of the biscuits. I began to squirm in my chair.

Then Mrs. Nailing thanked God ‘for the privilege of raising a son.’ I stared as she began to smile. She was calling me a privilege. And Mr. Nailling must have agreed with her, because he was beginning to smile too. For the 1st time since I’d boarded the train I began to relax. A strange warm feeling began to fill my aloneness and I looked at the empty chair next to me. Maybe, in some mysterious way, ‘our Father’ was seated there, and was listening to the next softly spoken words. ‘Help us make the right choices as we guide him, and help him make the right choices too.’ …

After breakfast, as they walked me to the barbershop for a haircut, we stopped at each of the 6 houses on the way. Each time, the Naillings introduced me as ‘our new son.’ …

 

Our identity is not in our possessions, our talents, our tattoos, our kudos, or our accomplishments. Nor are we defined by our divorce, our deficiencies, our debt, or our dumb choices.

You are God’s child. You get to call Himour Father”.

Lucado writes, “Rather than conjure up reasons to feel good about yourself, trust God’s verdict. If God loves you, you must be worth loving. If He wants to have you in His Kingdom, then you must be worth having. God’s grace invites you–no, requires you–to change your attitude about yourself and take sides with God….”

How many of you have seen the 2013 instant Disney classic movie, “Frozen” (inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Snow Queen”, the film tells the story of a fearless Princess Anna who sets off on an epic journey alongside a rugged iceman, his loyal pet reindeer, and a naïve snowman to find her estranged sister Elsa, the Snow Queen, whose icy powers have inadvertently trapped the kingdom in eternal winter)?

The theme song, “Let It Go” closes with these words:

one thought crystallizes like an icy blast        I’m never going back,          The past is in the past!

Let it go, let it go                   And I’ll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go                   That perfect girl is gone!

Here I stand       In the light of day       Let the storm rage on, The cold never bothered me anyway!

 

Like Elsa, we can sing those words – the past is in the pastlet it go, let it go – and I’ll rise like the break of dawnlet it go, let it go – that perfect girl is gone!

We do not need to be that perfect girl – or boy. God has Chozen you. His Grace is sufficient! Yes, our response ought to be to accept His love and live according to His standards – but His love cannot be earned by our good behavior.

We have been Chosen! He adopts us into His inheritance. We are His, and nothing can/will ever change that.

To live as God’s chosen child is to know, at this very instant, that we are loved by our Maker not because we try to please Him and succeed, or fail to please Him and apologize, but simply because He wants to be our Father.

The adoption is irreversible. You have a place at His Table of perfect Grace.

 

“Dear God, by Your transforming grace, help Your church point beyond itself through word and work to the Good News of Jesus Christ our Lord. Fill this room again, with Holy Spirit power take hold of each person that is open to Your spiritual gifts and anoint us in ways everyone will know is from You. Fill this place, ignite our faith, fan the flame, and burn brightly through Your people into our neighborhoods, by Your Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Resources:

Disney Movies; Frozen; 2013.

Lucado, Max; Grace: More than We Deserve, Greater than We Imagine; Thomas Nelson; Nashville, TN; 2012; Pp. 117-125.

06/14/2015 – Isaiah 52:13-53:12 – “Grace Pays Our Debt”

Mark Wheeler

Isaiah 52:13-53:12

“Grace Pays Our Debt”

June 14, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Remove, O Lord, any tension or anxiety, any stress or worry, which may keep us from fulfilling Your wishes of who we could be. Fill us with the grace of the Father, the strength of the Son, and the hope of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

For those of us who pay quarterly estimated taxes, due date is tomorrow. The June due date is only 2 months after the April due date, so it always sneaks up on me and I occasionally miss it. So when June 16 comes around it always reminds me of how Grace works.

Grace” and “taxes”? Yup. They always go together for me. Here’s why:

In the Spring of 1990, 6 months after my ordination, I was preparing to file my first Clergy Tax Returns – oh my goodness, I could not believe how complicated this is – Clergy file as self-employed employees of the church – yup, you heard right.

So we called a woman in our church who did taxes for a living – and asked for her help. What we learned was that I should have been filing these kinds of tax returns for the previous 3 years (I worked as a “Pastor’s Assistant” while in seminary). So, I owed some $4,000 – and we had $0 in our savings account!

This sweet tax preparer, Tamara, decided to not charge us for her work (she counted it as professional training, she become the firm’s clergy tax expert) – and then she paid our $4,000! Interest free!

Talk about Grace!

Have you ever received an unexpected, undeserved, gift of grace? Maybe not $4,000 worth, but something?More recently, I asked a friend who works in the auto industry for advice on some work on Caitlin’s car – he took the car for a few days and made almost every repair – for FREE! Grace? That’s a picture of grace! This Summer we are looking at different aspects of this theologically loaded word: Grace – more than we deserve, and greater than we imagine. Listen to today’s Old Testament reading from Isaiah 52 & 53…. —-

52 13 See, my servant will act wisely;    he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him    his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
and his form marred beyond human likeness—
15 so he will sprinkle many nations,     and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,    and what they have not heard, they will understand.

53 1 Who has believed our message    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,    and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain    and bore our suffering,

yet we considered him punished by God,  stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,    and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted,    yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,    and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,    so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.    Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;    for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,    and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,    nor was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,    and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,    and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
11 After he has suffered,    he will see the light of life and be satisfied;

by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,    and he will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,    and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,    and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,    and made intercession for the transgressors.

May God bless the reading, hearing, receiving of His Word which never fails.

 

This passage of Isaiah was written some 600 years before Jesus was born in Bethlehem – but is there any confusion among us whom God had in mind when Isaiah wrote this?

God’s plan of having His own Son, Jesus, become a human, and suffer and die on behalf of sinners like you and me, was no after-thought; this was no last-ditch effort to try to save humankind; this had been God’s plan since the beginning. Check out Genesis 3 where God talks about the offspring of Eve crushing the head of Satan, and in Genesis 12 where God promises Abraham that his offspring will be a Savior for all the world. Both Eve’s and Abraham’s salvific offspring is Jesus! Isaiah reminds the Israelites of this truth 600 years before this Savior is born.

On Good Friday, Pontius Pilate reminded the crowd that it was their custom to release one prisoner for the Passover holiday. He offered the crowd a choice: JESUS (against whom Pilate could find no criminal offense) or BARABBAS (who was a convicted murderous rebel).

Most of you know this story. Which of these men died for the other?

Pilate tried some 4 different times to get the crowd to let Jesus off the hook. Pilate said, in so many words, “I see no reason for Jesus to be condemned. He has done nothing deserving crucifixion.” He pled a lesser punishment – “How ‘bout a severe whipping?Nope, not good enough. Finally, Pilatewashed his hands” and sent Jesus back to the local magistrate, Herod.

It seems that Paul later says plainly what Pilate was thinking: “God made Him who had no SIN [Jesus] to be sin for us, so that in Him WE might become the righteousness of God.” (II Corinthians 5:21)

That is Grace! Jesus Christ, who was sinless – not that He was unable to sin, remember the temptations in the wilderness; but that He refused to sin – took on our sin, experienced the painful effects of my sin, extreme separation from His own Father, remember His “Why have You forsaken me?”. Isaiah says, “He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him!

That is Grace!

600 years before Christ, the prophet Isaiah knew who deserved what. Look at verse 6 on your Sermon Notes page: “We ALL, like sheep, have gone ASTRAY.” He goes on and says, “Each of us has turned to our own way.

And friends, we know that our ways are not God’s ways. In John’s Gospel Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth and the life – and no one comes to the Father except through/by me.

“We ALL, like sheep, have gone ASTRAY. Each of us has turned to our own way. … and the Lord has laid on Him (who is the “Him”?), and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all!

That is Grace! Say it with me, “That is Grace!” How have you “gone astray”? Is there a habit that is not God-honoring? Is there a choice you know is wrong? How about an attitude – of superiority, or disgruntledness, or worry, or pride?

How has our church “gone astray”? Are we as faithful in reaching beyond our doors as we should be? Do we feed the hungry like we might? Are there some kinds of people we just “don’t want around here”? Have we ignored God’s clear teaching and done our own thing?

How has our church “gone astray”?  

What does Isaiah 53 say Jesus did for us? Does it not say, The Grace of Jesus paid off our debt of sin?! He paid it all! We are completely free to follow Him well and serve Him wholly!

That is Grace!

Who is someone in your life who does not deserve Grace? Seriously, who deserves retribution? Who deserves their comeuppance? Who deserves to be smacked, or at least shelved? Got that face in mind? (Why is everyone looking at me?)

Now, how will you show that person God’s Grace?

Hebrews 12:15 gives us the clear challenge to “let no one fall short of the GRACE of God.” How will you do this this week?

That, my friend, is Grace! 

“Dear God, by Your transforming grace, help Your church point beyond itself through word and work to the Good News of Jesus Christ our Lord. Fill this room again, with Holy Spirit power take hold of each person that is open to Your spiritual gifts and anoint us in ways everyone will know is from You. Fill this place, ignite our faith, fan the flame, and burn brightly through Your people into our neighborhoods, by Your Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Resources:

Lucado, Max; Grace: More than We Deserve, Greater than We Imagine; Thomas Nelson; Nashville, TN; 2012; Pp. 31-37.

05/17/2015 – I Peter 3:15 – “Following Jesus Today: Show and Tell”

Mark Wheeler

I Peter 3:15

“Following Jesus Today: Show and Tell”

May 17, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

You are our refuge and our strength, O Lord. We pour our lives into Your hands that we may discover all the benefits of Your grace and all the power of Your presence. Amen.

Does everybody here remember grade school “Show and Tell” time? When I was in kindergarten this happened every Wednesday. Every kid in the class had the chance of bringing something from home that we could show our classmates and tell about. One time I “borrowed” my brother’s favorite rock, and hid it in the coatroom so I could surprise my class with how cool I was. When “Show and Tell” time came all the kids who brought something went to get their items – but “my” rock wasn’t there. I was devastated – and scared, because my brother didn’t know I had “borrowed” it…. (I later learned that the custodian thought it was “just a rock” [which, in reality, it was], and threw it out into the yard somewhere. Oh, and my brother, never missed it; it wasn’t really his favorite, or anything special at all.)

Our three graduates just finished (or are about to finish) their grown-up versions of “Show and Tell”. Final Projects, theses, term papers, Final Exams, etc – those are just “college-ageShow and Tell’” items.

During these weeks between Easter and Pentecost (that’s next week), we are learning how to Follow Jesus Today. We have examined how our words and actions impact the world around us, how we experience both the absence of God and the embrace of God in our daily walk with Him (and how to invite others to experience God’s perfect grace), what it means to love God and to love our neighbors, and how to know Truth from falsehood.

Today we go to the general epistle of the APOSTLE Peter, in fact this Apostle Peter was one of Jesus’ three key LEADERS (James, John and Peter got to spend a lot of “alone time” with Jesus), and listen for what he says about Following Jesus Today. Obviously, he wrote this letter almost 2,000 years ago – but his original recipients were groups of people who lived under constant THREAT because of their faith in JESUS; the minor threats we might live under here in America make this letter very apropos for us 21st century followers of Jesus, too, especially when we see followers of Jesus in Africa and the Middle East being killed nearly every week. Listen to the Word of God, from I Peter 3:15…. —-

15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect….”

May God bless the reading, hearing, receiving of His Word which never fails. Did you hear Peter? He just gave us “Show and Tellinstructions! He said, “Your chance to share this most valuable item with the rest of us is coming – here’s how you show us and tell us about that valued thing.” The first thing Peter tells us is what this “favorite rock” we are bringing for Show and Tell is. He writes, “In your hearts revere Christ as Lord.That is what this “favorite rock” is really all about. Remember when Jesus took His disciples away to a private place so He could talk with them about who He really was? He asked them to tell Him who people, both His critics and His cronies, His foes and His friends, those who wanted to behead Him and those who wanted to BFF Him, who do these people think He is? And these Apostles started spouting off all the stuff they had heard from all the gossip columns and talk shows. Then Jesus turned straight to them and asked, “OK, so who do you think I am?” And Peter, this same Peter said, “You are the Christ, the promised Messiah. You’re the Son of the living God!Jesus told Peter, “That’s my favorite rock! I’m going to build my Church on that rock! And this Church will knock down every stronghold of Satan that exists!

Now, in this letter, Peter says, “Revere this Christ as Lord! This is that rock we’re bringing to Show and Tell!”  There are four key words in this verse – four words of instruction for every follower of Jesus – four words about how and when it is our turn for Show and Tell.

1)   ALWAYS be prepared…. When is my turn? ALWAYS! When should I be ready to Show someone the reason for my hope? ALWAYS! But really, do I have a specific time and place? Yes,,, ALWAYS! This means that it is never just a projectevangelism isn’t something I go out and do; ALWAYS be prepared is just the way we live – at work, at play, at the desk, in the field, on the lot, in the gym, behind the wheel, in front of the TV. ALWAYS be prepared!

So does that mean I never get to have fun? Of course that’s not what it means – what it does mean, however, is that our fun always glorifies God! Question and Answer #1 of the Westminster Catechism: What is the chief end of man (what are we here for)? The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever!This week I heard a message on KMBI radio about how obedience to God means complete obedience to God. We can’t obey Him part way and wonder why things worked out the way they did. The illustration used was the Joshua and the battle of Jericho story. The plan to defeat Jericho by marching around it several times seemed silly, but that’s what God said to do. After marching around once on the first day, nothing happenedno cracks in the wall, no evidence of victory or surrender at all. The same on day 2, and day 3, and so on. I imagine Joshua thinking, “C’mon God? Isn’t this what you said to do?” Not until 7 days of marching, and finally blowing those horns and shouting, did they see anything. And then – the whole city came a tumblin’ down, down, down, down.

ALWAYS be prepared … means to always obey and be ready. ALWAYS.

2)   Give the reason for the HOPE you have …. This is not an order to go to seminary and earn a degree in theology and biblical apologetics. It simply says, Always be prepared to give a reason for the HOPE you have…. If you cannot explain why you have any HOPE in God through Jesus, if the Holy Spirit does not inspire a word of explanation for your HOPE … maybe you need to examine if you really have any HOPE. Is Jesus in your life? Do you trust Him in this life?

3)   Do this with GENTLENESS …. Have ever heard someone share their faith in such a way that totally embarrassed the other person, and maybe even the one sharing his faith? There probably is a proper time and place for the “Turn or Burn” signs on the street corners – but those signs win few converts unless the person reading it is literally headed straight into a fire!

Gentle loving kindness wins people into the Christian faith with more real authenticity and truer longevity than Bible thumping or haranguing.

4)   Do this with RESPECT! Respecting the place the other person is coming from; respecting cultural differences; respecting possible life-difficulties; respecting different ideologies, political perspectives, backgrounds; does not mean agreeing with them – or even regarding them as equally valid or true. It does mean holding the other person in a place of honor. She’s probably really trying her best in this life! He’s probably dealing with a whole set of life circumstances we can’t understand.

But always being ready to give the reason for the hope you have, and doing that with gentleness and respect will win your respect. Listening with ears that love will win the accessibility to share why we have hope!

Today I am giving you a little homework assignment. We are just about to honor our graduates, but these grads need to know that just because you wear a cap and gown does not mean homework is done – in fact, in some ways, it is just beginning.

Your Sermon Notes page lists, at the bottom, two… Spiritual Practices for all who are serious about your faith: These are by no means meant to be exclusive. There are countless spiritual practices one might do to continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ – but here are two things that apply to today’s Scripture reading:

  • Talk to a youth/young adult, asking about any time they may have experienced God outside a church setting (and listen to their answer); and ask if they could send a photo of such an experience.
  • Pray the following prayer each day for the next week: “O God, by Your transforming grace, help Your church point beyond itself through word and work to the Good News of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Alright. It’s time to invite our grads to come forward for a little commissioning ceremony, and to honor them for their hard work. And to pray for them as they continue to venture forthalways being prepared to share the reason for their hope, revering Christ as Lord, with gentleness and respectNikolay Bulakh – was the first person who said TODAY was the best day for this to happen – and then he called me Friday to say he had just entered into a Chess Tournament and would not be able to be here. Anyway, Nikolay’s mom, Vera, is here. Vera, please come forward.

Nikolay graduated from Gonzaga University last Sunday, with a Bachelor of Science, Mechanical Engineering.

Andrew Wheeler – and mom and Brianna, come on up with him. Andrew graduates this afternoon, from Whitworth University, with three degrees, Bachelor of Arts, Cross-cultural Studies, International Studies, and Peace Studies.

Caitlin Wheeler – whose whole family is already up here. Caitlin will earn her Masters degree in Fine Arts from Eastern Washington University.

Vera please give our love and deepest respect to Nikolay; Andrew and Caitlin – your Church could not be more proud of your accomplishments, and we pray for how you continue to grow in your fields, and make this world a better place! These gifts are for you.

Let’s pray:Our heavenly Father, as we stand with these graduates and their families, we stand in awe of their fidelity and hard work and integrity of spirit and heart and mind. Today, we stand together, and peer into their future with them, wondering how You will use their passions and skills to help build Your Kingdom purposes. Today, dear Lord, we commission Nikolay and Andrew and Caitlin into Your service, in the fields they have studied and prepared themselves, to represent your purposes of peace and love and justice, in all the ways You have crafted their hearts and minds into Yours. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Resources:

Detterman, Paul; Following Jesus Today: Challenges and Opportunities (Participant’s Book); Presbyterian Mission Agency; Louisville, KY; 2014; Pp. 31-36.