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.

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01/31/2016 – Revelation 22:1-5 – “The Promise of Heaven”

 

Audio version

Mark Wheeler

Revelation 22:1-5                                                                                                                          “The Promise of Heaven”

01/31/2016

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Mighty God who never breaks a promise; who promised Adam and Eve that there would one day be an offspring who would defeat the wiles of Satan; who promised Noah a rescue from the flood; who promised Abram and Sarai, in their old, childless life, that their offspring would number as many as the stars in the sky, and that one of their descendants would be a Savior for the world; who promised a young virgin that she would give birth to the very Son of God. We need to hear Your promises again; and we need to believe them fully. Thank You for the Promise of Heaven, through Jesus Christ Your Son, our Lord and Savior. Amen.

 

18 months ago, when my father was on his death-bed, I asked him if he was afraid. His lung cancer had spread into his brain and he was unable to make a whole lot of sense anymore, but he looked over at me and started to sing,I know whom I have believed; and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him until (sic) that day.”

I cannot tell you how blessed I was to hear those words.

 

I have a friend whose own father died just before Christmas. This man was not just my friend’s father, he was also his best friend; he stood alongside him as his best man at his wedding. Through tears, my friend shared how hard this has been for him; and his wife said something about how it’s not that her husband has lost his faith, he knows that his dad was a believer and was bound for heaven, but he is afraid, and therefore very sad, that he might never see his dad again.

It does beg the question what heaven will be like.

 

Caitlin, my newly Masters-degreed daughter, recommended a book to me about a pastor and his reflections on life and ministry. Let me share one brief passage:

This morning I’ve been trying to think about heaven, but without much success. I don’t know why I should expect to have any idea of heaven. I could never have imagined this world if I hadn’t spent almost eight decades walking around in it. People talk about how wonderful the world seems to children, and that’s true enough. But children think they will grow into it and understand it, and I know very well that I will not, and would not if I had a dozen lives. That’s clearer to me every day. Each morning I’m like Adam waking up in Eden, amazed at the cleverness of my hands and at the brilliance pouring into my mind through my eyes—old hands, old eyes, old mind, a very diminished Adam altogether and still it is just remarkable. What of me will I still have? Well, this old body has been a pretty good companion. Like Balaam’s ass, it’s seen the angel I haven’t seen yet, and it’s lying down in the path.

God has promised believers a future place in heaven. But what will that be like? How do we live today in anticipation for that eternity? What does the Bible Promise about Heaven?

 

Listen to the Word of God, from John 14:1-4 …. —-

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

I know for a fact that many of us in this room have heard, read, these verses almost a countless number of times. When do we read these words? [At funerals.] Why do we read them at funerals? [Because they speak of JesusPromise about Heaven being a place PREPARED for us by Jesus.]

Jesus says, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled.” He’s about to die. These words were spoken on His last day on earth before He was crucified. “It’s OK,Jesus says. “I’m leaving this earth to prepare a place for you – and then I’ll come back and to pick you up when it’s your time. I promise.

We read in John 1 that “in the beginning the Word was with God and the Word was God … and that through Him all things were made”. Genesis 1 tells a story of “all things [being] madein 6 days. And look how amazingly beautiful this Creation is. The Word, Jesus, then spends the rest of eternity creating Heaven. “I can only imagine,   What my eyes would see,   When your face, is before me?   I can only imagine, I can only imagine

To be surrounded by your glory   What will my heart feel?   Will I dance for you Jesus?   Or In awe of you be still?   Will I stand in your presence?   To my knees will I fall?   Will I sing hallelujah?   Will I be able to speak at all?   I can only imagine, yeah, I can only imagine

We’ll come back to this passage in a minute, but let’s look at the next thing we see Promised about Heaven.

 

Not only is Heaven a place PREPARED for us by Jesus. Heaven is a place where everything is made NEW!

Also written by the Apostle John, the Book of Revelation is John’s record of the vision he received from God while imprisoned, for being a follower of Jesus, on a small island off the coast of Turkey. Listen to these words from Revelation 21:1-5 …. —-

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Nothing will be like it is here on earth? New heaven, new earth, new Jerusalemprepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. Remember that passage we just read from John 14? Those, too, are wedding promises. The groom leaves his bride to prepare a home for his new bride, attached to his father’s property; and when it is ready the groom comes back to take her with him to their new home.

The Church is described as the Bride of ChristHe is preparing everything new for His Bride, us, you and me, followers of Jesus in every age and from every tribe, tongue and nation.

Everything new? No more tears; no more death; nor more mourning or crying or pain. Is this something we can believe? Jesus tells John that “these words are trustworthy and true.”

 

What will Heaven be like? I don’t know about you but I often hear people describe Heaven in words like, “It will be an endless day of golf” – (that seems more like hell to me); or “Heaven will be sitting in a fishing boat, reeling in giant rainbow trout like nobody’s business”; or “… sitting at the beach” or “… being with my best friends in a sewing circle”….

Scripture never describes Heaven anything like that! I don’t know exactly what it will look/feel/smell like – or exactly what we’ll be doing – but according to what we just read in Revelation 21 we can know that we will be in the very visible presence of Jesus … and according to Revelation 22:1-5, everything we do will be in response to that gift.

Look with me at these words, Revelation 22:1-5 …. —-

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lambdown the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

Heaven is a place PREPARED by Jesus, where everything is made NEW. And, Heaven is a place of SEEING and SERVING God.

We think of the whole Good News of Jesus thing as exemplified in Immanuel, God with us, the incarnation, Jesus’ birth and life and death and resurrection – all because “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that all who believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life”! And that is incredible news of Amazing Grace!

But it gets even better! Not only is God present with us in this life – but we are invited to His House in the next, for all eternity.

Look at verse 3, “… and His servants will serve Him.” I assume that this word describes His Church. Yes, we are the Bride of Christ, and the Body of Christ, and the Children of God. But we are also the Servants of God – and we are privileged to occupy that role for eternityimmediately under the Creator of the universe!

Look at verse 4, “They will see His face…” We will see Him face-to-face! This is so-much-better than front row seats at a concert, or center court seats at a Gonzaga game, or 50-yard-line seats at the Super Bowl. This is face-to-face with Jesus!

Verse 4 continues, “… and His name will be on their foreheads.” Two points here: 1) in Heaven, when we look at others also in Heaven, what will we see? His name! We will even see Him when looking at each other. We will be unable to escape the presence of God – and we won’t want to! And, 2) His name on our foreheads mean we belong to Him! What an amazing grace! We will not be able to avoid knowing we are His – and so is everyone else there with Him!

 

My Dad recognized these truths when I asked him if he was afraid of what lay before him. My friend who just lost his father needs a present reminder of God’s promises about Heaven. And the author of Caitlin’s recommended book reminds us that we really have no idea how much better than our best guess Heaven will really be!

 

The future always looks bright when viewed through the windows of God’s perfect Promises. He has Promised His believers a PREPARED place, where everything is made NEW and His people will be busy SERVING Him as we have the pleasure of SEEING His radiant face!

What a glorious day that will be!

 

Dear Lord, help me today to help someone else be ready for Heaven.

 

Today, as we move into our time of prayer, we get to practice a piece of Heaven. If you know this song, please sing louder than me – if you don’t know it, learn it and sing it to God.

Heaven is a wonderful place

          Filled with glory and grace.

          I wanna see my Savior’s face.

          Heaven is a wonderful place.

          I wanna go there!

 

Resources:

Family Bible Study; “Advanced Bible Study Commentary”; Winter 2002-03; Pp. 74-81.

Mann, Tamela; “I Can Only Imagine”

Robinson, Marilynne; Gilead; Picador; NY, NY; 2004; Pp. 66-67

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.

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.

05/03/2015 – John 18:37-38 – Following Jesus Today: “What Is Truth?”

Mark Wheeler

John 18:37-38; I Timothy 3:15

“Following Jesus Today: What Is Truth?”

May 3, 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.

I spent some significant time this week chatting with a group of “millennials”, people born sometime between the mid-1980s and the late 1990s – basically people that are now in their 20s. We talked about what it means to be a Christian in this 21st century, and why so many in their generation do not go to church. Of course there is no single answer to that question but among those who grew up in church-going homes and attended church as children the common thread of answers seems to lie in the field of understanding what is “real”, what is “authentic”, what is “truth”.

(In part, this is why it is so important for us to use those yellow inserts in today’s bulletin as guides for every one of us to ask a simple question of this same generation – “where have you experienced God in your lives, outside of a church setting?”) Listen to their stories, and ask if they could send a photo of something that represents such an experience.

If something smacks of phoniness, or feels fake or put on, millennials go the other way. And in my humble opinion, they are right to do so! Who wants to invest their lives, their money, their time, in something that purports to be one thing but feels like something very different?

Not me! If I’m giving 10% of my family income to an organization, I want to trust that that organization uses my resources for the things it says it will (and which I, too, support!).

Now, hear this: that was not an introduction to a lecture on how good this church is with our finances. I think we are good – but that is not the topic of today’s message. Today’s topic is much deeper: “What is truth?

During these weeks between Easter and Pentecost 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), and what it means to love God and to love our neighbors.Today we will listen to the Bible address the issue of Truth – and we’ll examine whether we live authentically with/in that Truth. Listen to the Word of God, from John 18:37-38, this takes place after Jesus’ arrest and as He stands trial before Pontius Pilate…. —-

37 ‘You are a king, then!’ said Pilate.

Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’

38 ‘What is truth?’ retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, ‘I find no basis for a charge against him.’

May God bless the reading, hearing, receiving of His Word which never fails. “What is truth?” What a great question! And, in fact, one which people continue to ask every day every where.Have you ever sat on a jury? That’s the whole jobdetermine what is truth. Baltimore, MD, is on lockdown because of the difference of opinion about what is truth. Last night, who won the fight? Did Mayweather knock Pacquaio out? Did he even knock him down? No. Three judges, none of whom felt the blow of a single punch, decided that Mayweather won. In baseball, whichever team has the most runs won the game. In boxing, sometimes, it’s whoever looked better…. What is truth?

And we people are prone to argue over what is truth. Sometimes it is truly a matter of opinion – is cherry cheese cake better or is blood pudding better?

Sometimes it is black and white – is 6 greater than 1? But even that can be gray – is 6 African elephants greater than 1 cherry cheese cake?

And sometimes two people can look at the exact same evidence, and because of personal experience and perspective, come to two very different conclusions – when Jesus says, in John 14:6, just before His arrest, “I-am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”, did He really mean that belief in Him is the only link to a truly real relationship with God?

What is truth?” I looked it up in my Funk & Wagnall’s. After 26 lines of arbitration my Funk & Wagnall’s finally defines “Truth” as that which holds “stedfast [sic] fidelity to order and law.”

Steadfast fidelity to order and law. If it doesn’t make sense – it is not “truth”; if it doesn’t hold true in every circumstance – it is not “truth”.

This is, in part, why we live in a world where “Truth” is in the eye of the BEHOLDER. It’s all very subjective. “What may be true for you – fine, and happy for you – may not be true for me.” That is how modern culture has defined “truth. One cannot talk about “absolute Truth” without offending someone – we therefore have collectively decided there is no such thing.

But here’s the truly real thing: part of what it means to be a Follower of Jesus is to believe that God truly is real – and that this truly real God has chosen to reveal Himself to us through His written Word, the Bible.

And if the Bible is this truly real God’s Word to His creation, we must decide to either believe it is truly real or not. Paul told his young protégé Timothy to remember that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.” “God-breathed” or “God-inspired” is supposed to suggest “trustworthy, believable”. The Bible is True!

This truly trustworthy, believable Word of God tells us that Jesus came as truly God and truly human in order to right our relationship with God, by dying on the cross and being resurrected on the third dayThis is Truth! Always, every where, all the time.  And it doesn’t matter whether we believe it or not, it is still true! Always, every where, all the time.

Being the Church means we do believe that! Peter is well known, among other things, for being the first to declare to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” And Jesus quickly responded by declaring that that Truth is the foundation stone upon which His Church would be built – and that even the gates of hell would not be able to stand against it!

That’s the Church I want to be a part of! LPC is not a perfect example of such a Church – we fail and falter and fight and finagle with the best of them – but LPC is truly on the right track!

Paul, again advising his youthful disciple Timothy in I Timothy 3:15, reminded him that “the church of the living God [is] the pillar and the foundation of the Truth.

In what ways is the Church of Jesus Christ as a whole called to preserve the Truth while engaging with non-believers? In what ways is the Church to be “the pillar and foundation of Truth”? We need to, at least, hold on to God’s Word as authoritative over faith and life. We could let culture determine what is true, ignoring Scripture; but to do that would be to turn our backs on the truly real God who so loved the world He sent His one and only Son so that anyone who believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life!

We need to pray – to give our concerns to God and to trust Him for His powerful, loving presence to see us through.

We need to love the Lord our God, with everything we’ve got; and we need to love our neighbors by pointing them to His perfect love, at every chance we can.

And we need to do this togethernot as lone rangers or rock star soloists – but as branches of the same Church of Jesus Christ, regardless of the name on the sign out front.

What is one thing LPC can do to be preservers of this Truth? One thing? Preach with authenticity. One thing? Live in ways that demonstrate our faith. One thing? Ask our young adult and teen-aged neighbors about their God-experiences. One thing? Be present in our neighborhoods, loving and serving with God’s love and presence and purpose.

Imagine the impact on Spokane if the 65 of us and the other 30,000 Followers of Jesus in Spokane, actually told the Truth to just four other people this year.

This is the foundation of our Vision Statement: We are a people who:

Know the power and love of God, and

Grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, compelling us to

Go in the footsteps of the Holy Spirit, loving and serving others who do not yet

Know the power and love of God….*

Let’s answer this question loud and clear. What is Truth? Jesus is the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Him!

Resources:

Detterman, Paul; Following Jesus Today: Challenges and Opportunities (Participant’s Book); Presbyterian Mission Agency; Louisville, KY; 2014; Pp. 19-24.

*Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church Vision Statement, 2006.

04/19/2015 – Isaiah 45:15; Luke 15 – “Following Jesus Today: Deus Absconditus and the Embrace of God”

Mark Wheeler

Isaiah 45:15; Luke 15

“Following Jesus Today: Deus Absconditus and the Embrace of God”

April 19, 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.

Last summer a couple of wind-storms blew through Spokane with tree-toppling force! Winds and gales crushing cars and houses and churches and businesses. The Riverside Community, just north of Spokane, looked like a war-zone with mobile homes completely demolished and hundreds of people left without shelter or power or protection.

Or so they thought. Did any of you drive through Riverside, maybe on your way to Priest Lake or Sandpoint or Camp Spalding? You know what the world discovered after that storm? People from every background, from a variety of religious and faith systems (and from NO faith system) stood by each other and helped each other and fed each other and struggled together to rebuild their community.

And churches and mission agencies stepped right in with food and clothes and supplies to help.

In an interview, one shirtless, tattooed, rough-looking man said something about how “no one could articulate what they had experienced – but something spiritual took place”.

It makes me wonder how this eclectic collection of atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, Mormons and Christians, together, in this very unchurch-like setting, could experience what we in the Church so much long for? Where is God in our every day lives? Now, I certainly know that several people in this room have daily God-moments, but there are also seasons in everyone’s life where we just do not seem to have any empirical evidence of God’s existence. And we wonder why. (Can anyone give me an “Amen” here?) The Old Testament prophet Isaiah (43:18-19) counseled the struggling Israelites with these words:“Do not remember the former things, or even consider the things of old. [God says,] I am about to do a brand new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.Will God again do a brand new thing in our presence? Will we experience His Spirit in ways “no one can articulate”?Two chapters later Isaiah writes, in 45:15….—-“Truly, You are a God who hides Himself, O God of Israel, the Savior.” I love that one-sentence confession and conundrum. Isaiah confesses that God is God, that God is Savior – and in the same breath he questions God’s priorities (where are You? Why are You hiding?)! It’s a tension many of us live in every day. Why are there times when God seems so absent from our lives and even from our churches? In theological circles this is called “Deus absconditus” (the hiddenness of God).Church history has taught us that we cannot effectively fix this sense of God’s absence by trying harder – not even by our own diligent efforts to read the Bible more devotedly, to serve the hungry, to clothe the naked, or to visit the shut-in more dutifully.Martin Luther, in the 16th Century, said that this distance was not caused by our lack of knowledge or ethics, but rather it was due to a “relational estrangement. We needed a deeper relationship with God.It’s really all about our desire to invest time with Him! Yes, to read His Bible and to serve the hungry, and clothe the naked – but not out of obligation or duty, but out of love for Him!It’s a matter of gaining insight into God’s heart and what matters to God. It is seeing where God is already at work in the world around us, and asking how we can join in!In what ways have you personally experienced Deus absconditus (God hiding Himself)?Pastor Randy Lovejoy (Silverlake Community Church, Los Angeles) suggests that, maybe we’ll discover that we are looking for God in all the wrong places! We expect God to be inescapably evident in the lives of our churches and in the lives of churched people – but we sometimes walk away wondering if God even exists.The religious people of Jesus’ day expected the same thing – and they missed the “brand new thingGod was doing through the person and work of Jesus Christ.Let’s take a look at this most well-known chapter from Luke’s GospelLuke 15….—-

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were looking for God in their structures and institutions, but God was “hidingamong the tax collectors and sinners. Where might God be “hiding” in Spokane in 2015?

The rest of Luke 15 is a series of parables where Jesus teaches about how God finds us and how we experience the opposite of Deus absconditus.

There’s the parable of the lost sheep, and the story of the shepherd risking everything to find this one sheep who wandered off – and when he finds it he throws a party, “‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

Then there’s the parable of the woman who has lost her coin, and after spending every moment of her day she finds this one coin which has somehow just fallen through the cracks – and she throws a … party, “‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’  In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.

Then we come to the most famous parable, maybe of all time, the parable of the prodigal son – these are really all parables of the lost being found – lost sheep, lost coin, and two lost sons. But this parable is different.

We all know about how the younger Son gets lost looking for somethingGod? And the father does not go running after him, (Deus absconditus?). This son walks away from his father, living a life of casual carousing and merrymaking (I think he’s looking for “meaning”). He finally goes home and his fatherthrows . a . party.

But there’s another son, an elder son, who has stayed at home, and also experienced Deus absconditus. He did his duty for his father, but had no real relationship with him. And, interestingly, the Greek description of this brother is “Delphos presbuteros” (Presbyterian brother – does he describe us? Do we do our duty, but without a living, loving relationship with God?).

Back to the younger brother, when he comes home we read: “20 …“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him….

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate….

The climax of this parable, and really of the whole chapter, is in verse 20: “the father ran and put his arms around him and kissed him!” In His life and in His parables, Jesus revealed the heart of God.

The parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin illustrate a costly search for something missing – something of great value! And when the search ends successfully, there is a celebration!

God draws people into relationship through Jesus Christ! The surprise here is that the shepherd and the woman invested so much of themselves focusing on what was “outside” rather than what was “inside. Of course God wants us “inHis Church – but it looks like He still focuses, and maybe wants us to focus, on what’s “out there!” That may surprise us, who think we know the heart of God – but think how much more it surprises those people who believe they are somehow beyond the reach of God’s perfect love! The Embrace of Godwow!

In what ways have you experienced the embrace of God (Luke 15:20)?

That’s what happened in Riverside last Summer! They experienced the Embrace of God! People in that small community experienced something no one expected – and it was beyond their ability to articulate! And since then, I am told, several individuals have been attending some of the churches that reached out to them – and they are still experiencing the Embrace of God!

 

Ready for a simple surprise? Part of the Moving back into the Neighborhood experiments we are about to embark on include the potential for stumbling into the Embrace of God. As the weather warms and the sun shines, our “experiments in God doing something new” might involve simply inviting our neighbors to help – to help with serving the hungry and clothing the naked, help in mowing our lawn and weeding their garden, help in … being good neighbors.

And I’ll bet, God will … throw . a . party! Let the celebrations begin! With whom might you share God’s embrace this week?

Father, Your love washes over us into the lives of those we do not yet even know. Grant us the courage to follow that love into Your wonder, mystery, and awe so that in places unfamiliar, with people we have only just begun to know, we might share the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God. To Your glory and honor, Amen.

Resources:

Detterman, Paul; Following Jesus Today: Challenges and Opportunities (Participant’s Book); Presbyterian Mission Agency; Louisville, KY; 2014; Pp. 13-18.

02/15/2015 – Exodus 3:1-14 – “In a Word, God: Who Are You?”

Mark Wheeler
February 15, 2015
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Exodus 3:1-14
“In a Word, God: Who Are You?”

Dear God, thank You for bringing us all here to this place. Help us to open our eyes, our ears, our minds, our hearts, and our spirits to better understand who You are and to know You more. Please be with us as we draw near to You and closer to one another. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

Mountain-top experiences are those rare times when we cannot imagine being in a better place. “I’m on top of the world! Over the moon! In the clouds!”
We’ve all had such experiences – the day we got married – the day our baby was born – the day we got a raise, or moved into our first house, or graduated from high school, or the day we were born (I’ll bet if we could remember that day it would be near the top of the list), or the day we were born again (some of us can remember that day, others only know it happened). Those all describe some of my “mountain-top” experiences. Also, when I traveled to the Holy Land with my family; visiting the Greek city of Corinth with a very small group of Lidgerwoodians and a brand new band of friends from across this country. But maybe my most memorable mountain-top-travel experiences were visiting my grown-up daughter at her first grown-up work-site in Chiang Mai, Thailand; and six weeks ago visiting my other daughter at her first grown-up work-site in Shishmaref, AK.
You can think of your own mountain-top experiences and wonder in the awe of those moments.

Today is Transfiguration Sunday on the liturgical calendar – the day we commemorate Jesus’ mountain-top experience with James and John and Peter; oh, and Moses and Elijah, too. Our Children’s Message time was spent talking a little about that day.
We are looking at another mountain-top experience in the Bible. This one happened 1,400 years before Jesus, when Moses was still a young man before he became the great deliverer of his people from slavery in Egypt. You know the story: he was born at a time when the Pharaoh had declared that all Hebrew baby boys were to be killed, but baby Moses was hidden for a few months, and then he was put in a basket and floated down the Nile River toward where the Pharaoh’s daughter would find him; she does, and hires Moses’ mother to be his nurse-maid, and Moses is brought up in the Pharaoh’s house as if he were a son of the king; when Moses discovers his true identity, he kills an Egyptian slave-master for beating a Hebrew slave; so Moses runs into the hills; and while there he works as a shepherd.
This brings us to today’s Bible passage, from Exodus 3:1-14 – let me start with the end of Exodus 2 …. —-
23 During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. 24 God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25 So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.
3 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
4 When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.”
5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
7 The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 9 And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
12 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”
13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”
14 God said to Moses, “I-AM-WHO-I-AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I-AM has sent me to you.’”
May God bless the reading, the hearing, the receiving of His Word which never fails.

Can you imagine that mountain-top experience? I don’t care if you’re a professing follower of Christ or not, a day on top of THAT mountain would go in your blog.
This is a desert-like wilderness area, so plants are often turned into dry tinder; and it’s an area known for lightning storms – so flaming flora are not all that infrequent.
But a burning bush that does not actually burn – that’s a miracle! And this miracle was God speaking to Moses! Now, we can guess that Moses was already a praying man. Wandering around the wilderness, fearing for his life, and all alone – “C’mon God… Seriously? Is this why I was pulled out from the Nile and raised in the Pharaoh’s house? To live as a foreigner, with no family, no home, no nuthin’? C’mon God.”
I’ll bet that’s what Moses was praying the day God brought him to Jethro’s house and gave him Ziporrah for a wife. But still – I’ll bet he never expected God actually speak to him, and not from a blazing bush!

What are some ways God speaks to His people in the Bible? Give me some shout outs …. Directly (Adam and Eve) – through a donkey (Balaam) – by the handwriting on the wall (Daniel) – in dreams (Daniel, Joseph, others) – through angels (Abraham, Mary, others) – a burning bush (Moses)!

What are some ways God speaks to His people today? Does God speak today? What are some ways? … the Bible – in sermons – through friends – books – sunsets –

Has God ever “spoken” to you? … How did you hear Him? … What did you hear? By the sequence of closed doors and open opportunities – by the invitation of people of authority – through biblical texts/themes grouped together from varieties of unrelated sources – by weird, temporary paralysis –through an actual body-less audible voice //// be calm, I am here with you – go to Spokane, and stay until I release/send you – go to TGH Room 324

I love this story in Exodus 3. Moses made it to this point in his life through miracle and opportunity. He was born in a place of oppression, in a time of desperation – he was supposed to die on his (actual) birthday! He was rescued by the daughter of the tyrant who ordered him dead! He was raised by his own mother, who got paid to raise him when she was supposed to be a slave! He grew up in privilege and prestige instead of dirt and destitution! But at this point in the story, Moses is a homeless fugitive, living in a foreign country with no kin or company – other than his boss/father-in-law, new wife and one baby boy.
And, not doing anything of any special religious nature – he wasn’t in the temple (there wasn’t a temple yet), he wasn’t even praying, not reading his Bible (again, there wasn’t one yet), he wasn’t feeding the hungry or clothing the naked or visiting the imprisoned – he was just doing his job!
He was washing a car, balancing a budget, making payroll, making a sale, teaching a child to read, taking someone’s temperature – and out of nowhere – God shows up and this particular day at the mill becomes a mountain-top holy moment of sacred and scared-spitless divine intervention!
A non-consumed inferno of vegetation – and a voice – “Take off your shoes and pay attention – this is the voice of God Almighty – you have no choice here, but to listen, so make sure you hear what I say!”
And Moses does just that – but before he is excused, he raises his hand to ask one question – “Who do I tell these people is sending me with this message of freedom? When they ask, ‘who is this God who can do this great thing?’, what do I say?” In a word, God: Who Are You?

I have here a poster filled with nothing but names for God from the Bible: Shout out a few names for God you can think of, What are some of the names for God that are in the Bible? Creator God – God Almighty – Adonai/Lord – God most high – then there’s a whole slew of Yahweh/Jehovah names; Jehova-Jireh, Provider-Lord – Jehovah-Rapha, Healer-Lord – Jehovah-Sabaoth, Lord of hosts; heavenly Father – Prince of peace – etc, etc, etc

What are some of the names you call God? Does that name mean something special to you?
Those are all great, powerful names! Now, what does God tell Moses His name is? “Tell them ‘some unpronounceable tetragrammaton’ that in English is spelled “YHWH”’ sends you. In a Word – THAT is my name!”
Most of our English language Bibles translate that as “I-AM-WHO-I-AM sends you.”
Why is this name for God so significant? What does it mean?
Let me illustrate this with a calendar and a map:
Last Thursday Kathy and Kathy and I went to Opportunity Presbyterian Church for an important Presbytery Meeting – then in the evening Kathy Samuel came here for Cantata Choir practice, Kathy Sandusky went to Manito Presbyterian Church for a function there, and I went to Sheridan Elementary School for a Spokane School District Mentor Training session – we were at those different places at those specific times.
Today Kathy and I are here at Lidgerwood and Kathy Sandusky is at Manito worshiping. We are at those places at these specific times.
On Wednesday this week, I will be going to Oakesdale as their church’s liaison from the Presbytery’s Commission on Ministry. I will be in Oakesdale.

But God? God’s name is I-AM! Where was God on Thursday? Last Thursday God IS at Opportunity Presbyterian Church! Last Thursday God IS at Cantata Choir practice! Last Thursday God IS at Manito Presbyterian Church!
And that’s where He IS today! And that’s where He IS next Wednesday! He IS there, present tense, in every past, present and future moment of time! And all at the same time!
And God IS also in Oakesdale, and in NYC, and in Bagdad, and in Kiev, and in West Africa, and in Chiang Mai, and in Shishmaref! His name is I-AM – I-AM – I-AM!

How does this affect my faith? For me, it encourages me when I am nervous – God is there; God is there in the fiery furnace! God is there in the lion’s den! God is there in the burning bush! Not just because we invite Him to be there, but because His name is I-AM!

On that other mountain, 1,400 years later, when Jesus took His three good friends to meet Moses and Elijah, the voice from Heaven announced, “This is my Son with whom I am well pleased – listen to Him!”

God is right here in this very room. And, God still speaks. Are we listening to His voice? In prayer this morning, quiet Presbyterian prayer – let’s listen first – what might God be saying today?

Resources:
Fuquay, Rob; The God we Can Know: Exploring the “I Am” Sayings of Jesus; Upper Room Books; Nashville, TN; 2014; Pp. 4-10.