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.

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.

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

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

Mark Wheeler

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

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

November 22, 2015 – Christ the King Sunday

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resources:

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

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

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

Mark Wheeler

Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21

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

November 15, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So why are so glum?” 

“This week – nothing!”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resources:

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

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

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

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.

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.