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

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

Mark Wheeler

I Peter 2:4-10

Living Stones: “God: Our Foundation”

04/24/2016

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 1284 construction was halted again because war.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s the message!

 

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

 

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

Peter reminds us of this truth.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Resources:

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

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

 

Audio version

Mark Wheeler

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

01/31/2016

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

It does beg the question what heaven will be like.

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

What a glorious day that will be!

 

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

 

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

Heaven is a wonderful place

          Filled with glory and grace.

          I wanna see my Savior’s face.

          Heaven is a wonderful place.

          I wanna go there!

 

Resources:

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

Mann, Tamela; “I Can Only Imagine”

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

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

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

 

Mark Wheeler

Luke 1

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

November 29, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Resources:

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

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

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.

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

Mark Wheeler

Ephesians 1:3-14

“Chozen: Let It Go”

August 2, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

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

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

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

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

The Orphan Train.

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

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

But yours does.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Resources:

Disney Movies; Frozen; 2013.

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

07/05/2015 – Ruth 4:13-17 – “Full of Grace and Ruth”

Mark Wheeler

Ruth 4:13-17

“Full of Grace and Ruth”

July 5, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

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

This past month has been one of those months when we realize how difficult following Jesus can be:

Hate-filled tragedy in Charleston, terrorist attacks, global financial instability (Greece), US Supreme Court decisions, legal and political posturing from candidates and government employees, at least 7 predominantly Black churches (from several denominations) burned to the ground in the last 10 days!, social media bombardment.

Many people outside the Church, and just as many inside the Church, feel discouraged, disheartened, and disoriented.

Some are feeling hopeless, helpless, vulnerable, and alone.

Can anyone here relate to any of that?

You are not all on your own!

We are in a series which explores the depth and the height of God’s Grace – how it is more than we deserve and how it is greater than we can imagine. Our scripture today comes from the Old Testament story about a woman named Ruth. How many of you have read (or heard) this story before? This Old Testament story of Ruth is in the context of despair, depression and doom.

The story starts with the news of a severe famine in southern Israel, surrounding the town of Bethlehem, a little more than 1,000 years before Jesus was born. The famine was so severe that families were packing up and moving into neighboring, semi-enemy, countries, including Naomi and her husband and two sons. But once they got settled, Naomi’s husband died; and her two sons married women from this enemy territory, and then her two sons also died! Naomi was suddenly a widowed mother with no living children!

So she decides to go back home, traveling by herself, to be with relatives who knew her customs and religion. Talk about despair and depression and doom; hopeless, helpless, vulnerable, and alone! Have you ever wondered if you might never escape the misery you were in? Darkness, fear, abandonment, estrangement … It is a terribly lonely experiencenobody, and it feels like no God!

But then this Old Testament story of Ruth also speaks of HOPE and GRACE.

One of her widowed daughters-in-law decides to go with her. Ruth was her name. She tells Naomi, “Your people will be my people (think how huge that would be – she left her own homeland and family to be with this strange mother-in-law and her extended family!), and your God will be my God (and this is even bigger than moving into a strange community – it’s a strange community and their stranger religion!).

So these two widowed women, unrelated except by marriage, move into town with no job, no family, no means of support, no children or grandchildren, no hope ….

And God provides a job, more food than they can eat, and the attention of a handsome, wealthy, land-owner, farm-manager who falls in love with Ruth and eventually wins her to himself. From the Jewish heritage in which they lived, his title was “kinsman redeemer”. He saved her, and her mother-in-law, from destitution, and he saved them for God’s plan of Redemption for humankind.

We read in Ruth 4:13-17 (almost the end of the book) where …. —-

13 … Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 14 The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! 15 He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”

16 Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. 17 The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

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

Some of you will remember that way back in Genesis 12, God called Abram from the land of Ur and Promised him a new Land, and a Nation, and a people, and that one of his offspring would be a Savior for the world. And before that in Genesis 6, God promised a first salvation through Noah and that there would be a second salvation for God’s people. And before that in Genesis 3, God promised Adam and Eve that one of their offspring would crush the head of Satan and be a Savior for the people.

The story of this desperate foreigner woman named Ruth invites us into God’s perfect story of His perfect grace.

Almost without any regard for how valuable and important this information is, we are told, that “they named [their son] Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Who was David? Does anyone know? Yup, the second-greatest King Israel has ever had! Who was the first-greatest King? C’mon – someone say it: Jesus!

Are you ready for some hope and grace?

1,000 years after Ruth, her ultimate descendant is JESUS, the Savior who comes full of Grace and Truth.

John’s Gospel tells us this truth with poetic beautyJohn 1: (*read with breaks at the asterisks to explain some key points) “1In the beginning* was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God*. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made*; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind*…. 14The Word became flesh* and made His dwelling among us*. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and only Son, who came from the Father*, full of Grace and Truth*…. 17For the law was given through Moses; Grace and Truth came through Jesus Christ*!

I am going to close early this morning, because we are about to move into a time of prayer, where I know some of you are living with some sincere fears and worries, some anxieties about uncertainties, recovering from surgeries and preparing for treatments, and still hearing the national and local news reports about how people suffer at the hands of other people, by natural disaster, because of less-than-smart decisions – and some of those people are very close to our hearts.

We feel discouraged, disheartened, and disoriented; hopeless, helpless, vulnerable, and alone.

But follow the story of Ruth. Her story leads directly to Grace and Hope – we can live lives full of Grace and Ruth – simply by trusting in the One who is the Way and the Truth and the LifeGod’s perfect propitiation and expiation for our sins and our struggles.

Right after the prayer and our offering, we will be invited to the Lord’s Table where we might just experience God’s gift of Grace and where we might receive ruth-ful Hope.

And may we never forget the challenge of Hebrews 12:15: “Let no one fall short of the grace of God.” Let’s pass God’s invitation on to our children, our grandchildren, our neighbors, our co-workers, our classmates; let’s invite them to come into contact with the GRACE of God! Amen. 

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

Resources:

Fellowship Community; 8134 New LaGrange Road; Suite 227; Louisville, KY; 40222; invite to Annual Conference in August 2015.

Lucado, Max; Grace: More than We Deserve, Greater than We Imagine; Thomas Nelson; Nashville, TN; 2012; Pp. 66-75.

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.