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

 

Audio version

Mark Wheeler

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

01/31/2016

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

It does beg the question what heaven will be like.

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

What a glorious day that will be!

 

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

 

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

Heaven is a wonderful place

          Filled with glory and grace.

          I wanna see my Savior’s face.

          Heaven is a wonderful place.

          I wanna go there!

 

Resources:

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

Mann, Tamela; “I Can Only Imagine”

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

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

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

 

Mark Wheeler

Luke 1

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

November 29, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Resources:

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

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

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

Mark Wheeler

Ephesians 1:3-14

“Chozen: Let It Go”

August 2, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

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

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

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

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

The Orphan Train.

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

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

But yours does.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Resources:

Disney Movies; Frozen; 2013.

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

04/12/2015 – Mark 1:14-15; Romans 10:14-15 – “Following Jesus Today: Words and Deeds”

Mark Wheeler
Mark 1:14-15; Romans 10:14-15
“Following Jesus Today: Words and Deeds”
April 12, 2015
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

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

Look over the past year-in-the-news. There has been a lot of “religion” based news stories: wars in the Middle East appear to be caused by differing religious world-views; the massacre at the college in Kenya two weeks ago was definitely about religion; the Religious Freedom Referendum Acts in Indiana and Arkansas have the word “religion” right in their legal monikers; the news stories about florists and wedding chapels right here in our own backyard not wanting to allow their services/facilities for same-sex weddings were definitely “religion-based” news stories.
But this is not just recent news events. My entire adult life, and much of my childhood, has been dominated by debates, debacles, and divisions between “evangelical Christians” and “social Gospel Christians”. The names of these two sides have evolved as the topic-du jour has changed – but the words of hate and fear have not changed all that much.

Here’s an experiment any of us could do: (at work, on the street, at the mall) stand with a clip board and ask strangers what they think of when they hear the word “Christian”.
According to professional surveys, the common answer from the “person on the street” says that they think of judgmental, hypocritical, hateful bigots. That’s what the word “Christian” has come to mean for those outside the Church (and for many within the Church). That is one of the saddest commentaries I have ever heard. It’s especially sad because it is, at least partly, true.
People, in the name of Christ, have killed people who believe differently from them; in the name of the Church, people have disruptively demonstrated at funerals of people who lived differently from them; and simply because of their differing interpretation of Scripture, people have used the name of Jesus to fight and argue and blame and criticize, even other people who use the same name of Jesus.
Right now our own denomination is all stirred up over same-sex wedding ceremonies. And it is right to stand up for what we believe to be God’s revealed Word on the subject – but not in a way that doesn’t also welcome and receive those who disagree with us into the Family!

What makes these images of the Christian Church wrong is that they depict the people of Christ but not the Person of Christ! When the people of Christ act like the Person of Christ – we might still be hated by the society around us, but it will be for doing good in the world according to God’s call, not for obviously malicious acts of fear and hate.
No one has built more hospitals, saved more lives, cured more diseases than the Christian Church! No organization has built more schools, educated more girls, raised more awareness than the Christian Church! No group has served more hungry, housed more homeless, protected more vulnerable people-groups than the Christian Church!        Why can’t we be known for these things? But, we’re not; we’re remembered for the ways we fight!

But because the word “Christian” can so easily be misunderstood in this 21st Century, for the next several weeks we’ll be defining “Christian” as “one who FOLLOWS Jesus Christ”.
When Jesus was gathering His original 12 Disciples, He would approach them and simply invite them to FOLLOW Him – Simon and Andrew, James and John, Matthew, and the rest.
I dream of the impact Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church can have, you can have, if we simply choose to FOLLOW Jesus well.
So between Easter (last Sunday) and Pentecost (May 24), we will explore what it means to Follow Jesus Today. Step One involves our Words and Deeds.

At the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, we’re told in Mark 1:14-15 …. —-
14 After John [the Baptist] was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the Good News of God. 15 “The time has come,” He said. “The Kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the Good News!”
May God bless the reading, the hearing, the receiving of His Word which never fails.

So … if we claim to be a people who follow in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ (that is what being “Christian” is supposed to mean), how do we cause an effective change in the world’s perception of us as haters who judge and discriminate against them?
Jesus started by “proclaiming the Good News of God”. As followers of Jesus, do we proclaim the Good News of God? I mean, do we do that outside the safe walls of this monastic enclave? Do we proclaim the Good News of God at work? At school? At the bank? In line at the grocery store? At the bus stop? In the dining hall or the restaurant?

What is this “Good News of God” we’re supposed to be proclaiming? Jesus answered that with His challenge to “repent” and His invitation to “believe the Good News” (and the Gospel stories reveal that that “Good News” always meant that He is our means of true relationship with God – He is our salvation – Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life – Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life – do you believe that Good News?

What does it mean to “proclaim” the Good News? Proclamation always begins with JESUS CHRIST!
But what are some ways Followers of Jesus Christ (Christians, you) might proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ … without preaching on the street corner? Without a sandwich board announcing that “the end is near”?
If you work at a public school – how would you share your faith, legally? If you work in a business whose policy is to not be religious, how do you proclaim your faith? If you’re a government employee, how do you “follow Jesus”?
St Francis of Assisi is credited with saying, “Preach the Gospel; if necessary, use words.” What did he mean? Our actions, our lifestyles, the way we care for one another, the love we show – all of that – should proclaim the Good News of Jesus. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven … let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:11-16)

Our passage from Paul’s letter to the Followers of Jesus Christ in Rome (Romans 10:14-15) reminds us of our responsibility – that God invites us to be His sales-personnel, God trusts His Good News in your hands!:
“How can those [who do not know Jesus Christ] call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they [possibly] believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone proclaiming to them? And how can anyone proclaim unless they are sent? As it is written [in Isaiah 52:7] ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring Good News!’”

Good deeds should be our life-plan – but even Francis of Assisi recognized that there are times when it is necessary to use words. What are ways we can/should use words to proclaim our faith?
¬On the floor, in the yard, at the lot, in the office, at the movies, at the game, on the bus, in the classroom, at the supper table, with your spouse, with your friend, with your client, with your children, with your teacher, what words do you use to offer the challenge to repent and the invitation to believe the Good News? [Let’s hear some shout-outs on this – what words might introduce the subject of Jesus Christ in these relationships?]
Your Sermon Notes Page has one Homework assignment: Name one person to whom you will proclaim Jesus Christ this week – and how will you do it?

Friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, today you are sent to proclaim the Good News of God wherever you may be!

Loving God, when You said, “Let there be light,” creation dawned. Shine that light into our hearts, that we may receive Your Good News and know that it is good. You have called us out of spiritual darkness and made us a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation – Your own people. You have revealed Yourself to us in Jesus Christ. Help us face the darkness in this world with confidence through Your Holy Spirit, and nurture us to become proclaimers of Your Word in all we say and do. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Resources:
Detterman, Paul; Following Jesus Today: Challenges and Opportunities (Participant’s Book); Presbyterian Mission Agency; Louisville, KY; 2014; Pp. 3-12.