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

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10/11/2015 – Deuteronomy 5:16 – “Give Honor”

click on this link for an audio version of this message: http://ppl.ug/YiPcVt-Byuo/ .

Mark Wheeler

Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16; Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-31

“10 Rules for Faithful Living: #5 Giving Honor”

October 11, 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. 

A Sunday School teacher was discussing the Ten Commandments with her five and six-year olds.

After explaining the commandment to ‘honor thy father and thy mother’ she asked, “Is there a commandment that teaches us how to treat our brothers and sisters?”

Without missing a beat, one boy (the oldest of a family of seven) answered, “Thou shalt not kill.”

 

We have spent the last four Sundays looking at the first four of the Big Ten Commandments. Can you name those first four?

  1. No OTHER godsall those other things that we allow to take first place in our lives are out of order!
  2. 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 Ten Commandments are meant to do three vital things for those who recognize the gift God gives us of His presence, I am who I am, Emmanuel, I am with you to the end of the age:

  • To reveal to us how much we need a Savior – even more than how much the Hebrews needed a savior from their oppression under Pharaoh, we need a Savior from our oppression under depravity
  • To reel in our selfish desires to kill each other – to restrain whatever evil we are tempted toward
  • To remind 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

When 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? (Look at your Sermon Notes page…): (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 6 (our Call to Worship this morning). Love the Lord your God with everything you’ve got, always, never-ending, without failhave no other godsno desire for riches, no dreams of popularity, no over-extended hopes for glamour, no worries, no fearshave no other gods! Make no false images! Do not misuse God’s holy name! Rest in God’s presence!These first four Commandments are all about that most important one!

But Jesus’ answer to those who asked Him this question goes a little bit further: 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, Church, is His summation (and Leviticus’ summation) of the remaining six Commandments. How do we love our neighbors as ourselves?

Commandment number Five says, in Exodus 20, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.

Deuteronomy 5’s version is slightly longer: “Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, that your days may be prolonged and that it may go well with you on the land which the Lord your God gives you.

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

Two quick and easy things to notice about this Commandment: first, it’s not about God (it’s about human relationships); second, it comes with a promise (that your days may be prolonged in the land the Lord your God gives you).

Why do you think this Commandment comes with a promise/positive consequence?

I think it’s related to how peace in our lives, harmony in our homes, respect in our relationships, results in an ability to establish deeper roots and more hopeful outcomesloving longevity.

What does the word “Honor” mean in this context?

Respect” is the usual synonym we choose, and it’s a good one. To hold in high esteem, to love and cherish. The Commandment says that this is what we are to pay our parents! Why does it specify our parents?

I think it’s because our Father and Mother are our first relationships. If we can start well with our first relations, perhaps we can translate that over to our siblings and our neighbors and our government officials and our pastors and our children and our peers.

We were probably all taught that honor and respect must be earned. I want to say how much I agree with that. If I want to be treated with decency and a degree of deference, then I must live with integrity striving to prove that my existence deserves some level of love. That is true as a husband, as a father, as a friend, as a pastor.

But this Commandment says nothing about the parents who are to receive this respect. It says simply that we are to give them honor! How can “honor” be a gift?

Here’s the real beauty of this Commandment. While I should not expect honor unless I earn it; but because God has already honored me with the gift of His nameHe gave me, and you, He gave us His name, to be used in powerful ways: to call on Him in prayer, to cry for Him when we are in need, to acknowledge His presence always, and to receive His Son and His Holy Spirit as daily Savior and constant Lord, to call upon the name of the Lord and be saved, while we were still sinners, completely undeserving – (because God has already honored us with the gift of his presence) therefore I am meant to offer this same honor to those around me who obviously don’t deserve it either!

Love the Lord your God with everything you’ve got; and love your neighbor as yourselfgive honor until it’s deserved! “But I can’t do that! My mom, husband, neighbor, boss, pastor – drives me crazy! How can I honor him?!

Only by acknowledging that God is with us, and nothing is impossible for God!

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 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. Amen. Psalm 119:165 tells us: “Great peace have they who love Your Law: nothing shall offend them.” Amen.

Resources:

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

09/27/2015 – Deuteronomy 5:11 – “Hallowed Be Thy Name”

For an audio version of this message, click this link: http://ppl.ug/gCxsgPbHBvA/

Mark Wheeler

Exodus 20:7; Deuteronomy 5:11; Matthew 22:34-38; Mark 12:28-30

“10 Rules for Faithful Living: Hallowed Be Thy Name”

September 27, 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. 

Last Sunday the Green bay Packers quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, walked over to the Seattle Seahawks quarterback, Russell Wilson, and said, “Knock-knock.”

Wilson said, “Who’s there?”  

“Owen.”

“Owen who?”  

“O and 2, Loser, that’s who!”

 OK, that didn’t really happen – I’m sure Aaron Rodgers is a better sport than that. But it plays into the importance of names.

 Names are super important. Choosing a name for a new baby can occupy a couple right up until birth – sometimes even beyond. Jennifer and I had agreed on Caitlin’s name fairly early on, but Brianna’s was not really decided until her actual birthday, and we’re still not agreed on Angus’ – er, Andrew’s – name.

And it seems that names come in cycles. When I was a kid, you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting some boy named Mark – but that is way less true today. And I had only heard the name Caitlin once in my life (and loved it), but when we told the hospital nurse our first baby’s name, she said, “Oh good, another Katelynn.”

It seems that Madeline is making another comeback, and maybe Henry…. Dweezil and Moonbeam may never make the top ten American names (I can only hope)….

In some cultures, names are meant to actually mean something. Do you know what your name means? What language it comes from? Last names, or family names (sir names), are different. They tell us where we came from (Johnson, McNeil, Wheeler), but not necessarily where/who we are today.

I’ve heard that in Iceland people are listed in the phonebook by their first names because all the last names simply indicate who their father was.

Names are important. They identify us with a community and a place. We can all tell an Irish name from a Russian name. I’ll bet many of us have been quizzed by new acquaintances about our relations to someone else they know with our last name.

And sometimes names are just fun. In Tacoma our pediatrician was named Dr. Hurt. Here at LPC we sit and worship with a Jack Kennedy every week.

Have you ever done any name-dropping? You know, dropping the name of someone famous or important that, maybe, you had an accidental meeting with? I had a pastor once who sat next to Muhammed Ali on an airplane from NY to LA. 5 hours of conversation with “the greatest”. You can bet he dropped that name as often as he could.

In today’s passage from Deuteronomy 5 (and from Exodus 20) we hear a Commandment about God’s name. Remember how and why God gave us these Ten Commandments? ·

Israel in Egypt for 400 years·

Egyptian kings forgot how valuable Israelites had been to Egypt’s economy·

New Pharaoh, out of fear of the large number of these immigrant people, becomes a tyrannical power player and puts the Israelites in poverty·

God gives the Israelites Moses as a deliverer·

Moses meets God in a burning bush, and God tells him His name is YHWHI am who I am (whenever we read the word Lord in all caps, that means the Bible actually says YHWH [or Jehovah], but God’s name is too holy for the Jews to actually utter, so they say Adonai which means Lord

Moses rescues them from Egypt and they wander for 40 years in the Wilderness on their way to the Land God had Promised their forefathers

While in the Wilderness God gives these delivered Israelites a new way of living from what they had known under the power-broker Pharaoh – the Ten Commandments Listen to the Word of the Lord from Deuteronomy 5:1-6, 11…. —-

Moses summoned all Israel and said:

Hear, Israel, the decrees and laws I declare in your hearing today. Learn them and be sure to follow them. The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. It was not with our ancestors that the Lord made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today. The Lord spoke to you face to face out of the fire on the mountain. (At that time I stood between the Lord and you to declare to you the word of the Lord, because you were afraid of the fire and did not go up the mountain.) And he said:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. …

11 You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

This is a Commandment that declares the importance of God’s name! It is Holy! Hallowed be Thy name!

Middle Eastern cultures know the importance of namesMoses’ namedrawn out” from the Nile like Noah was drawn out from the great flood, like the Israelites were drawn out from the Red Sea. God’s nameI amalways present tense. God is inescapable. King David asked, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” (Psalm 139:7-12)

That’s all right there in His name!

The Israelites knew that. You can’t separate the name from the person. You can’t just use someone’s name without having the person it belongs to dragged along behind it, willy-nilly. So before we start tossing anyone’s name around in conversation, we better know what we’re getting into. Don’t do it carelessly, and don’t do it ignorantly.

That’s what the 3rd Commandment is all about. “You shall not take the name of YHWH your God in vain: for YHWH will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”

Remember why God gave us these Ten Commandments:

  1. to show us we need a Savior (just like the Israelites needed a savior from Pharaoh),
  2. to keep us from killing each other (restrain evil-doing),

3.                to tell us what God’s character is (and therefore as people created in the image of God what our character ought to beguide for living the Christian life as we grow to resemble our Lord Jesus Christ) – sanctification

So, what does this Commandment mean? What does it mean to “misuse” YHWH’s name (NIV)? What does it mean to “take YHWH’s name in vain” (KJV)?

The Hebrew word “shav” that is usually translatedin vain” means “emptily”, or falsely, or without substance. What are some ways we use the Lord’s name emptily or falsely or with substance lacking?

God gave His name to the Israelites as a gift. God gave His name with the understanding that along with His name He was giving them the right to call upon Him and in some sense YHWH God now belonged to them as they belonged to Him (I will be their God and they will be my people). This gave them the right to call themselves the people of the Lord, and invoke His name, claim His power – for protection and justice and wisdom. But there are limits to the ways we can use His name! “Not in vain!

Can you name some ways you have heard othersmisuse God’s name”? Not you, of course, but people you might know of? How do people break this Commandment?

  • Use God’s name to curse with (“Gol durn it!”)
  • Use God’s name to validate a false statement (“I swear to God”)
  • Use God’s name to make an oath (“on God’s honor, I will …”)
  • Use God’s name to argue something against God’s Word (“No one will go to hell, because God is love”)

Remember the three reasons why God gives us these Commandments? One of those reasons is to reveal God’s character. His character is wrapped up in His name, and we human beings, all of us, including you and me, will start using God’s name for our own purposes; we’ll borrow a little power, appropriate a little authority, grab a little glory. Little by little, we human beings will substitute our own agendas for God’s – thus breaking the First and Second Commandments as well.

How do we gain victory over our natural tendency to misuse the Lord’s name? One solution would be to follow the Jewish Rabbis’ rule: never ever say the Lord’s name at all. Remember when I told you about why the word “Lord” is in all caps? But that doesn’t seem like the right way to use a precious giftGod did not give us the gift of Himself, either in the form of His name and the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai, or in the form of His Son Jesus Christ, so that we might just tuck Him away in a safe place and only bring Him out when the pastor visits or our Mom is coming over. He gave Himself to us for everyday use, for all of life.

So, it seems, the only real solution is to learn how to take care of this gift.

Almost always, the first example people give of “taking the Lord’s name in vain” is to use it as a cuss word! Why is it such a common cuss word? My theory is that it is because it is a name with power – it is used to damn people to hell! What is more powerful than that?! But I believe that some of the other ways we mentioned as misuses of God’s name, while more subtle, are even more common and dangerous.

How do we properly use the name of God? Look with me again at the Call to Worship, from Deuteronomy 6. In that passage who is expected to learn the Law of God? Who was expected to know the Ten Commandments? Who does this say should meditate every day, all day, on the Word of God?

This is super-key! The answer is everyone! From the richest to the poorest, from the oldest to the youngest, from the most influential to the ones with the least impact. Everyone is meant to study God’s Word so that everyone, from the greatest to the least, can know God personally and grow in His character traits – we are, after all, created in His image; we should start to look and sound and act more like Him!

This was very different from the Pharaoh of Egypt (or the kings of any of the other neighboring great nations). The more you know, the more power you can wield – therefore they did not want anyone to know their law – that way they could punish you for breaking it, thus creating more power for themselves and more poverty for the rest.

Shema Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu, Adonai Ehad: Hear, O Israel, YHWH our God is one Lord; and you shall love YHWH your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

Israel’s God, our God, does not play favorites. Israel’s God, our God, calls each one of us to responsibility in the covenant relationship we have been called into. The study of the Word of God is a major priority and a serious faith-duty. Spending time in God’s Word is the only way we can keep our faith-lives consistent with the character and purposes of God. It is too easy to slip into a way of life that has more to do with our own desires than the nature of God, and the requirements of discipleship.

The name of God is more than just a sound. The name of God is the whole person of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The name of God is the whole history of God with his people; the name of God includes His requirements for and promises to all those who love Him. God’s name is never empty. Let us never act as if it is empty by trying to fill it with anything other than His own truth.

Our challenge today is to ask ourselves how full of God’s truth, God’s Word, our own lives are. How much time do you invest in learning the Word of God, in meditating on it, in making sure that our lives as Christians conform to the purposes and character of our Lord? Do you spend time daily in the Bible? Do you meet with fellow Christians, helping one another to be accountable?

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 foreverPsalm 119:20 proclaims: “My soul is consumed with longing for Your Laws all day long.” Amen. 

Let us spend a moment in silence asking God to give us a hunger for His Word, and to give us the discipline to make regular time for Him. When you claim God’s name as your own, is it empty or full?

Resources:

Bucklin, Alison; “A Full Name”; Vashon Presbyterian Church (USA); Vashon Island, WA; January 1998.

 The Law of Liberty; “Unfolding God’s Glorious Law”; Project Restore, Inc; Locust Dale, VA; 2006; P. 5.

03/29/2015 – John 11:17-26 – “There’s Hope in the Possible”

Mark Wheeler
John 11:17-27
“There’s Hope in the Possible”
March 29, 2015
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

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.

Seriously God? Really? This is what You planned? Why? What am I supposed to do now?

Have you ever cried to God something like that? Where were You, God? Where were You?

Five weeks ago we read from the Old Testament book of Exodus – and we listened as God told Moses who God is. Do you remember what God said when Moses asked Him, “Who do I tell people You are?” God said, “I-AM who I-AM. Tell them ‘I-AM has sent me to you.’”
Seriously God? I-AM who I-AM? So, why weren’t You?

The New Testament Gospel according to John records some fascinating ways Jesus also answers Moses’ question.
Jesus identified Himself with God by the way He identified Himself by saying, “I-AM the Bread of Life – I-AM the Light of the World – I-AM the Good Shepherd – I-AM the True Vine – I-AM the way and the truth and the life – I-AM the Resurrection and the Life.”
Mary and Martha, the same Mary and Martha who had that fight over who was going to sit at Jesus’ feet and who was going to make lunch for Jesus and all His disciples, the same Mary and Martha whose father was a leper – Mary and Martha, good Jewish women who knew the Old Testament stories of Abraham and Moses, who knew that God is I-AM who I-AM, are now asking, “Seriously God? I-AM who I-AM? So, why weren’t You?”
Today’s Bible story comes just before Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last time. He is visiting an area across the Jordan River, near Jericho, two short-day’s-walk from Jerusalem, when Jesus gets word that His friend Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, was very sick. Jesus prophesied that this sickness would not lead to death. He said, “This is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” And they waited for two days – and then Jesus said, “Lazarus has died. Let’s go to Bethany (a Jerusalem suburb, where Jesus’ life would be threatened).” And Thomas said, “Let’s all of us go, and if Jesus dies, we’ll all die with Him.” Listen to the Word of God from John 11:17-26 …. —-
17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I-AM the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
May God bless the reading, the hearing, the receiving of His Word which never fails.

God told Moses that God’s name means something like I-AM-THAT-I-AM – there is nowhere where I am not – always, all-the-time, I-am-there!
And Jesus has been identifying Himself with that same divine moniker. I-AM the bread of life, I-AM the light of the world, I-AM the good shepherd.
But … Lazarus still got sick and died! Mary and Martha are grief-stricken – and maybe a little in shock! Where were You, Jesus – the great I-AM?! Why did Lazarus have to die?
Is it comforting to know that even some of Jesus’ best friends felt exactly like you?
Do you know what happened right after what we read this morning? Martha, the sister who seems to take charge when things need to get done, Martha comes out to meet Jesus and question Him about why He waited so long to come. And then she goes back home where Mary is grieving, and eating the casseroles that had been brought, and Martha tells Mary that Jesus had asked for her. Did He? We’re not told, but either way, Martha wants Mary to go find Jesus and see if she can get a better answer out of Him.
So Mary finds Jesus, still outside the village, and asks Him exactly the same question: “Where were You? Why didn’t You come? Maybe Lazarus wouldn’t have died had You not lolly-gagged, but had come right away! Why did You wait?”
Jesus does not answer Mary, instead He just grieves alongside her. Jesus’ human emotion is very real. He is deeply moved and troubled, and then comes every kid’s favorite memory verse: John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” And the Jews saw how much Jesus loved Lazarus!

And we know how this story ends, right? Poor old Lazarus is raised from the dead, resuscitated, revived – not the same way Jesus would be raised from the dead on Easter, resurrected to a new body and to eternal life. Lazarus’ body would one-day have to die again, be buried again, and a whole ’nother funeral would have to be planned for Lazarus later.
But Jesus’ prophecy that, this time, Lazarus’ sickness would not end in death – but would be to reveal the glory of God and the glory of God’s Son – came true! Everyone saw this miracle and was amazed – so much so that the religious and political leaders re-started their plot to kill Jesus.

Back to Martha and Jesus. Did you catch the theological debate they had? Martha is in tears, grieving the untimely death of her brother, and she hears Jesus say all the wrong things about comfort.
A week ago, a few of us were super-privileged to attend an intro-training seminar on caring for others. One of the exercises was to come up with all the wrong things we have heard people say to people grieving the death of a loved one. What do you think some of those would be: she’s in a better place; he’s not suffering anymore; you’re young, you can have another baby; etc.
That’s what Martha hears Jesus say. 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” She completely mis-heard Him. And her response is reasonable – “Don’t tell me about the end-times – You should have been here 4 days ago so You could save him before he died!”

Jesus knew the ultimate truth. We all die. We do. And poor Lazarus gets to die twice. But had Jesus arrived 4 days earlier, and had He rescued Lazarus from his sickness, had He brought him back to health before he died – we would not have a record this beautiful truth. Jesus tells Martha – and He tells us, “I-AM the resurrection, and I-AM the life. He who believes in me shall never suffer the fate of eternal death but he who believes in me will live a new and eternal life.”
In John 3:16 we hear the words of love, “God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but shall have everlasting life.”
Here, seven chapters later, Jesus claims in no uncertain terms, that He is the Son. “I-AM the resurrection”; “I-am the way and the truth and the life – no one comes to the Father except through me.”

Martha went back home to fetch her sister Mary. Did she go to get Mary because she wanted Mary to hear the same words Jesus told her? Did she get Mary because she wanted Mary to be on her side in this argument with Jesus? We’re not told exactly, but what we see is that Jesus cared very much for this family, and that He, too, grieved these women’s brother’s death.
Jesus understood the ultimate truth of salvation, and He still wept. It’s OK to have emotions. It’s OK to be sad, or happy, or scared, or courageous. But Jesus wants for us to face these real-life emotions with the truth in our hearts and minds.
He tells Martha, “I-AM the resurrection and the life – if you believe this, you will have eternal life. That’s the truth.” Then He faces Martha, I see Him looking squarely into her eyes, and He asks, “Martha, do you believe this?”

Sit quietly for a moment. Consider your own life-situation: new diagnosis, new financial condition, new relationship to understand, new losses, new gains. Everyone in this room is dealing with their own frustrations, confusions, opportunities, whatever…. Now, recognize Jesus’ eyes looking squarely into your own … and hear His voice asking you, “Do you believe this? Do you believe that I-AM the resurrection and the life? Do you trust that I-AM here with you, even in the middle of this mess or this moment? Do you believe this?”
Martha’s answer was clear and straight: “Yes Lord, I believe You are the Messiah, the Son of God who has come into the world.”

In just a few minutes we will come to the Lord’s Table, and Jesus asks us again, “Do you believe?” What will be your answer? Just imagine the impact the Church could have on our city, our state, our country, if we really believed that with God, we have all hope in the ultimate Possible – even the dead are raised to life! Amen.

Living Christ, thank You for Your life that gives us life, now and eternally. Teach us how to leave the past behind and live in the power of Your resurrection every day, as a witness to the new life we celebrate at Easter. Through Christ, the resurrection and the life, Amen.

Resources:
Fuquay, Rob; The God We Can Know: Exploring the “I Am” Sayings of Jesus (Adult Group Guide); Upper Room Books; Nashville, TN; 2014; Pp. 40-45.

Stephen Ministry Introduction Seminar.

03/15/2015 – John 15:1-8 – “It’s All About the Grapes”

Mark Wheeler
John 15:1-8
“It’s All About the Grapes”
March 15, 2015
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

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.

I have discovered a strange new companion – he’s like my best friend, but he almost always annoys me to no end; we like all the same things, but he never agrees with me about what’s best; he listens to all kinds of new ideas about how to do ministry more effectively, and he never lets me try them out. When he speaks, it’s like I’m listening to my own voice, and then he interrupts me with loud nay-saying. When I think he is sprouting new life from fresh soil, I discover he is nothing more than an old stick in the mud.
That’s when I realize he is me. I need true nourishment to grow and stay alive!

Exactly one month ago we read from the Old Testament book of Exodus – and we listened as God told Moses who God is. Do you remember what God said when Moses asked Him, “Who do I tell people You are?” God said, “Tell them ‘I-AM has sent me to you.’”
Since then, and through the whole Season of Lent as we prepare ourselves for the Easter celebration we are in the New Testament Gospel according to John – because the Apostle John records some fascinating ways Jesus also answers Moses’ question.
Using a particular Greek grammar formula, Jesus identified Himself with God by the way He identified Himself by saying, “I-AM the Bread of Life – I-AM the Light of the World – I-AM the Good Shepherd – I-AM the True Vine.”
As we come to today’s Bible story in John 15, we recognize that Jesus has made His final trip to Jerusalem; He has ridden into the capital city on the donkey; He has washed His disciples’ feet and already celebrated the Passover feast – that which became Holy Communion; and while He is still at the Passover Supper Table Jesus is teaching His disciples and the opening lines of John 15 are …. —-
1 “I-AM the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already (pruned) clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5 “I-AM the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.…”
May God bless the reading, the hearing, the receiving of His Word which never fails.

Today’s message will be different from our usual mode of “being fed” by God’s Word – it will be a little feel quicker, at first, and then it might feel intensely longer. But that’s OK.

This week was “Founder’s Week” at Moody Bible Institute, so local pastors were invited to participate in some special gatherings and then to sit in on some general sessions. On Friday I had breakfast with a brand new Chicago-based Moody Bible Institute professor, and then attended a worship service where a well-seasoned professor from the Chicago campus preached.
He preached from Luke 10, the story about Jesus and His disciples gathering at the home of Mary and Martha. His emphasis was so inspiring, that I immediately went back to my office and re-wrote most of my message for today. So, thank you Lee Eclov for allowing me to sit at Jesus’ feet for a bit.

My sermon is not from Luke’s Gospel, nor is it about Mary or Martha. I am preaching from John 15, in the Upper Room, probably after the meal, but just before the Garden of Gethsemane.
Your Sermon Notes Page asks some questions about what it means to “be pruned” – institutionally as the Church, and personally, as a follower of Christ.
And then it asks about the relationship between a healthy branch and its vine.
That’s where we are investing just a few minutes this morning.

As the Church, and as Church Members, we are often about the task of being obedient to God and God’s Word. Our Thursday Bible Class just finished the New Testament letter from James, which emphasizes being “doers of God’s Word and not hearers only”. That letter emphasizes how our faith can really only be demonstrated by the “works”, the “deeds”, of our living.
And while all of that is true – it is correct; it is right. Jesus told Mary and Martha, and you and me – and John records today’s words where Jesus identifies Himself with God and invites His followers – to stop.

Doing service, serving (the Greek word in the New Testament is the word from which we get “Deacon”) is a good thing – it is right to be of good works – yesterday we had a group of servants who worked here for nearly 6 hours on our Church Clean-Up Day – Proverbs 9 equates wisdom and being a righteous woman with preparing a table and serving our guests – Ephesians says that God’s people are made for works of service – Colossians says that when we serve others we are serving the Lord – Jesus says to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and visit the sick and release the oppressed (all involving good works of service) is to feed and clothe and visit and release Himself! This is a good thing!
But He tells Martha that Mary, who left the kitchen and didn’t set the table but sat on the floor with her arms around her knees and just listened to Jesus – Jesus says that Mary chose the better thing.
Here, in John 15, Jesus says, “I-AM the vine and you are the branches. If you remain in me (KJV says ‘If you abide in me’, I think a better interpretation), you will bear much fruit!”

Recently I found this branch underneath a tree. I guess it had been broken off by the wind. As you can see, there are no leaves at all. It is completely dead. In fact, I wouldn’t even call it a branch, I would call it a stick.
Do you think that if I took this branch out into the yard and planted it in the ground and watered it it would come back to life? No, that wouldn’t work, because the branch gets the nutrients that it needs to live from the tree. Branches cannot live or grow without the tree. Without the tree, there will never be leaves on this branch. If the branch comes from a fruit tree, there will never be fruit on the branch if it is separated from the tree. If I take this dead branch and plant it in the ground and water it, it won’t come back to life, it will just be an old stick in the mud.

That same thing is true about our life with Jesus. Listen again to what Jesus said, “I am the vine and you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
If we keep our life connected to Jesus, we will grow. Our life will produce beautiful leaves and delicious fruit. But if we are separated from Jesus, our leaves will wither and die and we will never put forth any fruit.

Jesus does finally agree with James. He says, “It’s all about the Grapes!” Producing fruit will ultimately define our faith. But we cannot show good, faithful, works, healthy grapes, unless we remain/abide in Him.

What will your life be? Will you be a beautiful branch on the tree … or will you just be a stick in the mud?

Dear Jesus, help us to remember that apart from You, we can do nothing. Amen.

Here comes the part of the message which might feel like it’s a little longer – I invite you, for a bit, to join me in quiet prayer – just sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to His voice – for a bit, just abide in Him – in prayer, together ….

Dear God, show us how to “abide in You”. Free us from trying to produce our own fruit, and help us to trust that You are at work and will work through us and in us. Prune from our lives the tasks and activities that steal our time and keep us from growing as You want us to grow. We ask all this in the name of Jesus, the true vine. Amen.

Resources:
Eclov, Lee; sermon at Moody Bible Institute-Spokane on 03/13/2015.

Fuquay, Rob; The God We Can Know: Exploring the “I Am” Sayings of Jesus (Adult Group Guide); Upper Room Books; Nashville, TN; 2014; Pp. 28-33.

03/08/2015 – John 10:1-21 – “What Makes for a ‘Good’ Shepherd?”

Mark Wheeler
John 10:1-21
“What Makes for a ‘Good’ Shepherd?”
March 8, 2015
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

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.

How many of you here remember the old TV Game Show called “To Tell the Truth”?
For those who don’t remember, this was a game show with 4 celebrities whose job was to interview 3 contestants who all claimed to be the same person, and then to take their best guess at which of the 3 contestants was actually telling the truth.
Merv Griffin, that’s the host I remember, would introduce the shadowy contestants: “One of these three men works as a shepherd, but not just any shepherd, He is the ‘Good Shepherd’. He was born in a suburb of Jerusalem, but was raised in a backwater town in northern Israel. Let’s give a round of applause to our three men claiming to be the ‘Good Shepherd’.”

In the middle of February we read from the Old Testament book of Exodus – and we listened as God told Moses who God is. Do you remember what God said when Moses asked Him, “Who do I tell people You are?” God said, “Tell them ‘I-AM has sent me to you.’”
Since then, and through the whole Season of Lent as we prepare ourselves for the Easter celebration we are in the New Testament Gospel according to John – because the Apostle John records some fascinating ways Jesus also answers Moses’ question.
Using a particular Greek grammar formula, Jesus identified Himself with God by the way He identified Himself by saying, “I-AM the Bread of Life – I-AM the Light of the World – I-AM the Good Shepherd.”
As we come to today’s Bible story, we remember that in chapter 8 Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery, and He condemned the men who thought they were better than her, then He told her, also, to go and sin no more. And He reveals Himself as the Light of the world, and any who believe in Him would no longer walk in darkness, but would have the Light of life.
In chapter 9 Jesus heals a blind man and tells the Pharisees that they are spiritually blind because they don’t yet see the Truth that Jesus is the Son of God – they are still walking in darkness while the man born blind could see even before he received his sight!
Which brings us to John 10:1-21; hear the Word of God …. —-
1 “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.”…

Let’s stop there for a minute and see if we understand, any better than the Pharisees, what Jesus is saying.
I think Jesus is simply describing for them how we might discern the difference between a shepherd and a thief.
If this were To Tell the Truth, we might hear the celebrities ask questions like:
Shepherd #1, how do You enter the sheep pen? Do You ever climb over the fence in the dark of night, or does the gatekeeper open the gate and You walk through that way?
Shepherd #2, what are some of the names of the sheep in Your pen?
Shepherd #3, did You ever have any trouble getting Your sheep to recognize Your voice? When they heard You, did they run the other way or did they follow You?

How would the real Good Shepherd answer these?
I enter by the gate – always, and the gatekeeper always lets me in.
Some of the names of my sheep are: Sigrun and Vera and Kermit and Betty and Barb. I know all their names, and they all know me personally!
Sometimes my sheep get distracted by the enticements of this world – but when they finally hear my voice, they always respond by coming straight to me. My sheep trust me, fully.

Jesus was painting a pretty clear picture of the contrast between knowing salvation through knowing the Savior, and being tricked into following someone other than the real thing.
But because it was not yet a clear-enough picture, Jesus kept painting. Go down to verse 11 …. —-
…11 “I-AM the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep….

Some of us have been in the area around Jerusalem and Bethlehem and into the wilderness of Judah. We have seen actual Israeli shepherds and seen how they live in the fields. It hasn’t changed much since the days of Jesus – today you can see TV satellite dishes with wires streaming into the tents where the nomadic shepherds live, and there’s often one vehicle so that when they have to move to fresher pastures they can haul their satellite and TV and other equipment with them – but everything looks pretty much the same as it did 2,000 years ago!
There might be one sheep pen in a field, with several flocks of sheep kept in the one pen. But when Shepherd David goes into the pen and calls for his sheep, only his sheep follow him out the gate. When Shepherd Jacob goes in and calls his sheep ….
And they also had hired hands, helpers. Starting in verse 11, Jesus describes the difference between the Shepherd and the hired help!
So now we hear the To Tell the Truth celebrities ask questions like:
Shepherd #2, how many wolves have tried to attack Your flock, and did You risk Your own life to protect Your sheep?
Shepherd #3, why would You risk Your life for Your sheep?
Shepherd #1, do you really care about Your flock?

How would the real Good Shepherd answer these?
The number of wolves out there is uncountable – but there is one leader of the pack – and he attacks relentlessly. Did I risk my life to protect my sheep? I offered it up as a willing substitution for the sheep that would be slaughtered and scattered. I died once for all, and my sheep get this.
The reason why I would offer my life as a ransom for theirs is simple – I love my sheep to the full, and my Father loves them so completely that He never leaves or abandons them.
I care so much that my flock know they can call on me, for every miniscule thing that interrupts their faithfulness, and every giant-sized struggle that darkens their faith. I-AM with them, always.

Then, because Jesus just knew His listeners needed a little more help He continued with verse 14 …. —-
…14 “I-AM the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
May God bless the reading, the hearing, the receiving of His Word which never fails.

Did you hear Jesus’ words? He used the great I-AM identification of God, and then repeated His personal claim to be the Good Shepherd!
Who was Jesus addressing? Who were His first century listeners? Verse 1 tells us He was speaking directly to some of the biggest religious leaders of the day. And He is telling them, I-AM the God of Moses, the Word who in the beginning was with God and was God! The Word, who is the Bread of Life, the Light of the World, the incarnate Son of God. I-AM He! And my sheep know me! And, since I have to tell this to you, it’s obvious that you do not know me, therefore you are not my sheep! You are walking in darkness.

Once again we hear the To Tell the Truth celebrities ask some questions:
Shepherd #3, who exactly are You?
Shepherd #1, You say You lay Your Life down for Your sheep – why would Your Father approve of that? Who told You to lay Your life down for these sheep?
Shepherd #2, tell us about these “other sheep”; who are they?

How would the real Good Shepherd respond now?
I cannot make it clearer – I-AM the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. I-AM the God who called Abram from Ur to be a blessing to the whole world, and I- AM that ultimate blessing. I-AM the God who rescued your people from bondage in Egypt. I-AM the God who spoke through the prophets. I-AM the God who is mighty to save, God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. I-AM the God who will never let you go!
My Father so loves the people in this world that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life! That is why I came, why I was born in Bethlehem – the House of Bread, so that one day my body would be broken and all who partake would receive eternal life. My Father sent me for this very reason – to die for you.
In 1963 the Pope declared that maybe these “other sheep” are the Protestant Christians around the world. He was partly right. When I first said it, I was reminding the Pharisees that Abraham was blessed to be a blessing – that salvation was not limited to the Chosen people of Israel, but for all who are drawn close to God, for Gentiles of every race, for cultures across this globe, for people groups yet to be reached with the Gospel. All one need do is believe in their hearts that Jesus is Lord and confess with their lips that God raised Him from the dead, and they shall be saved! In John 5:24 you can hear me say, “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” That includes those who follow the Roman Catholic Pope, but only those that claim Jesus as the way, the truth and the life; that includes Presbyterians and Methodists and Pentecostals and Independents and Orthodox, but only if they know Jesus as their Savior and follow Him as their Lord.
Remember, while people worship differently and emphasize different theological doctrines, there is only One flock and One Shepherd.

At the close of every segment of To tell the Truth, the celebrities had to pick which contestant they believed was really the correct one.
In faith, so do we. This Bible story ends with some of the Jews saying Jesus was demon-possessed, and others wondering if He really might be the promised Messiah!

How about you? How do you know Jesus as your own Good Shepherd?

We could say, “Will the real ‘Good Shepherd’ please stand up?” But what we already know is that after He laid down his life for His flock – He also already was raised to new life from the grave! He’s the One who stands above the crowd. Jesus is that Good Shepherd!

Let’s pray: Loving Shepherd, You know that we tend to wander and get ourselves into tight places. Help us to respond to Your voice as You call us this morning, as You call us over and over toward the way that leads to real life. Help us this week to listen to Your whispers and to obey the Holy Spirit’s small nudging. We give thanks for Your tender care that has kept us and carried us this far. In the name of Jesus, whom we want to know more and more, and who faithfully and diligently seeks all wanderers. Amen.

Resources:
Fuquay, Rob; The God We Can Know: Exploring the “I Am” Sayings of Jesus (Adult Group Guide); Upper Room Books; Nashville, TN; 2014; Pp. 22-27.

03/01/2015 – John 8:12 – “Why We Need a Light”

Mark Wheeler
March 1, 2015
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
John 8:12
“Why We Need a Light”

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.

We have seen from the Old Testament book of Exodus – where God told Moses who God is. Do you remember what God said when Moses asked Him, “Who do I tell people You are?” God said, “Tell them ‘I-AM has sent me to you.’”

Today, and for the next several weeks we are in the New Testament Gospel according to John – because the Apostle John records some fascinating ways Jesus also answers Moses’ question. Jesus uses a specific Greek grammar formula to incorporate God’s “I-AM” identification into His own distinctive identity.
In most of the world’s languages one can say “I am” without ever speaking the 1st person personal pronoun “I”. In Spanish one can say “soy”, and that means “I am”, or one could say “yo soy” which is a more distinctive way of saying “I am”. In German it could be “bin” or “ich bin”. In French, either “suis” or “Je suis”. In the Greek of the New Testament, either “Eime” or “Ego eime”. When Jesus used the more distinctive version of “I am” He was making a direct divine reference to God’s “I- AM” – and His hearers would have made that connection immediately.
When we turn to John 8:12 and we read where Jesus says, “Yo soy la luz del mundo”, “Ich bin das Licht der Welt”, “Je suis la lumiere du monde”, “Ego eime to phos tou kosmou”, “I-AM the light of the world!” He was straight-out saying, “I-AM God”!

At the risk of sounding kinda dumb, asking a question with a stupidly obvious answer, I’m gonna boldly ask it anyway. “Why would the world need ‘light’?” What good is a little light? For those who are on the Internet/Facebook (or probably TV) – you saw the controversy over “what color is the dress?” Was it blue and black or white and gold? All determined by the light refractions.

We spent much of January talking about the season of Epiphany, the liturgical season of “light”. When we have an “aha” moment we call that an epiphanal moment, when the cartoon figure gets a lightbulb over its head, when we finally see the light.
We are investing these Sundays leading up to Easter looking carefully at some of the places in John’s Gospel where Jesus sheds a little more light on His identity by using a variety of “I- AM” statements (last week was “I- AM the bread of life”, this week is “I- AM the light of the world”.

But look at the context of today’s statement.
This follows immediately on the heels of the story where a woman caught in the act of adultery is arrested and brought before Jesus (the Jewish officials were trying to catch Jesus in some kind of bind – “what will He do now?”). And Jesus does the amazing thing of revealing the truth that every Jewish official who caught this woman and brought her to Jesus was also guilty of sin.
“The one among you who has not ever sinned may throw the first stone at her.” And one-by-one, people dropped their stones and walked away.
How was that for a light-of-the-world moment! Stop condemning each other, stop hating, stop pointing out each other’s sins – and stop condemning yourself as well (condemnation is only for God to do)!
And then Jesus says to the woman, “Now go on living, but stop your sinning, too!”

I cannot imagine a more en-light-ening declaration! I am forgiven – free and clear. Now, Wheeler, sin no more!
You are forgiven – completely – of every malicious act, every evil inclination, every thought of retribution – forgiven!
Now stop doing it any more!

The fact that Jesus sheds this light on everyone – the world – does not make it any easier to live out.
What is the AA motto? One day at a time. Our Christian faith motto could probably be: one moment at a time.
Jesus shines His light on the Jewish officials, and they grudgingly walk away, recognizing their own guilt against God and against humanity – we hope they walked away confessing their sin and repenting, and praying for strength and wisdom to be obedient to God’s Word the next moment when temptation comes their way.
And then Jesus shines His light on the woman – on her forgiveness first, and then He gives her the same command He gave her accusers – “Go and sin no more.”

We Evangelical Christians too quickly jump to the command Jesus gave to the woman – and forget that He also called the accusers to recognize their own participation in a world of false condemnation – false not because the sin was not real, but because it came from one guilty party against another. We Evangelical Christians need to keep our eyes open to the light of God’s whole Word – not just the words we like.
But we more progressive Christians also need to read this whole Gospel story and recognize that sin is real – and that Jesus does, in fact, call all of us to step outside of sinful living! As an ordained Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA) I promise to accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God’s Word to me. That means that what the Scriptures call sin, I also must call sin, and stop doing.

I struggle with how to live that out. I do not want to be condemning, but I have friends and colleagues, brothers and sisters, who feel condemned by me. I also do not want to simply condone that which God seems to condemn. So, I take the advice of James 1:5, “If you lack wisdom, ask God, who is generous to give to all who ask.”
I pray for God’s light to shine in ways that clearly mark out the steps God wants me to take.
I also admit that sometimes I choose to ignore God’s light, God’s Word, God’s command, and I do what is more convenient or more to my personal understanding of self-interest. Today, I confess that tendency to you, and to our Lord.

Your Sermon Notes Page lists several Bible passages demonstrating the definition and the purpose of God’s Light.

As we come to the Lord’s Table in just a few minutes, see if you can fill out those Bible verses, and pray for proper understanding of how they apply to you today.
And may we come to this Table of Communion, clear of any condemnation and full of compassion, and seeking God’s light, revealed through Jesus, His living Word. It is, after all, a Table of Communion with God and with one another. Amen.

Let’s pray: Holy God, we ask You to fill us with Your light. Shine Your light through us into the situations and encounters we will face in this coming week. May others see You and Your way more clearly because of seeing Your light in our lives. We ask this in the name of Jesus, the Eternal Light, who shows us the way. Amen.

Resources:
Book of Order; Presbyterian Church (USA); 2013-’15; W-4.4003.
Fuquay, Rob; The God We Can Know: Exploring the “I Am” Sayings of Jesus (Adult Group Guide); Upper Room Books; Nashville, TN; 2014; Pp. 16-21.