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

 

Audio version

Mark Wheeler

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

01/31/2016

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

It does beg the question what heaven will be like.

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

What a glorious day that will be!

 

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

 

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

Heaven is a wonderful place

          Filled with glory and grace.

          I wanna see my Savior’s face.

          Heaven is a wonderful place.

          I wanna go there!

 

Resources:

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

Mann, Tamela; “I Can Only Imagine”

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

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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.

05/17/2015 – I Peter 3:15 – “Following Jesus Today: Show and Tell”

Mark Wheeler

I Peter 3:15

“Following Jesus Today: Show and Tell”

May 17, 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.

Does everybody here remember grade school “Show and Tell” time? When I was in kindergarten this happened every Wednesday. Every kid in the class had the chance of bringing something from home that we could show our classmates and tell about. One time I “borrowed” my brother’s favorite rock, and hid it in the coatroom so I could surprise my class with how cool I was. When “Show and Tell” time came all the kids who brought something went to get their items – but “my” rock wasn’t there. I was devastated – and scared, because my brother didn’t know I had “borrowed” it…. (I later learned that the custodian thought it was “just a rock” [which, in reality, it was], and threw it out into the yard somewhere. Oh, and my brother, never missed it; it wasn’t really his favorite, or anything special at all.)

Our three graduates just finished (or are about to finish) their grown-up versions of “Show and Tell”. Final Projects, theses, term papers, Final Exams, etc – those are just “college-ageShow and Tell’” items.

During these weeks between Easter and Pentecost (that’s next week), we are learning how to Follow Jesus Today. We have examined how our words and actions impact the world around us, how we experience both the absence of God and the embrace of God in our daily walk with Him (and how to invite others to experience God’s perfect grace), what it means to love God and to love our neighbors, and how to know Truth from falsehood.

Today we go to the general epistle of the APOSTLE Peter, in fact this Apostle Peter was one of Jesus’ three key LEADERS (James, John and Peter got to spend a lot of “alone time” with Jesus), and listen for what he says about Following Jesus Today. Obviously, he wrote this letter almost 2,000 years ago – but his original recipients were groups of people who lived under constant THREAT because of their faith in JESUS; the minor threats we might live under here in America make this letter very apropos for us 21st century followers of Jesus, too, especially when we see followers of Jesus in Africa and the Middle East being killed nearly every week. Listen to the Word of God, from I Peter 3:15…. —-

15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect….”

May God bless the reading, hearing, receiving of His Word which never fails. Did you hear Peter? He just gave us “Show and Tellinstructions! He said, “Your chance to share this most valuable item with the rest of us is coming – here’s how you show us and tell us about that valued thing.” The first thing Peter tells us is what this “favorite rock” we are bringing for Show and Tell is. He writes, “In your hearts revere Christ as Lord.That is what this “favorite rock” is really all about. Remember when Jesus took His disciples away to a private place so He could talk with them about who He really was? He asked them to tell Him who people, both His critics and His cronies, His foes and His friends, those who wanted to behead Him and those who wanted to BFF Him, who do these people think He is? And these Apostles started spouting off all the stuff they had heard from all the gossip columns and talk shows. Then Jesus turned straight to them and asked, “OK, so who do you think I am?” And Peter, this same Peter said, “You are the Christ, the promised Messiah. You’re the Son of the living God!Jesus told Peter, “That’s my favorite rock! I’m going to build my Church on that rock! And this Church will knock down every stronghold of Satan that exists!

Now, in this letter, Peter says, “Revere this Christ as Lord! This is that rock we’re bringing to Show and Tell!”  There are four key words in this verse – four words of instruction for every follower of Jesus – four words about how and when it is our turn for Show and Tell.

1)   ALWAYS be prepared…. When is my turn? ALWAYS! When should I be ready to Show someone the reason for my hope? ALWAYS! But really, do I have a specific time and place? Yes,,, ALWAYS! This means that it is never just a projectevangelism isn’t something I go out and do; ALWAYS be prepared is just the way we live – at work, at play, at the desk, in the field, on the lot, in the gym, behind the wheel, in front of the TV. ALWAYS be prepared!

So does that mean I never get to have fun? Of course that’s not what it means – what it does mean, however, is that our fun always glorifies God! Question and Answer #1 of the Westminster Catechism: What is the chief end of man (what are we here for)? The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever!This week I heard a message on KMBI radio about how obedience to God means complete obedience to God. We can’t obey Him part way and wonder why things worked out the way they did. The illustration used was the Joshua and the battle of Jericho story. The plan to defeat Jericho by marching around it several times seemed silly, but that’s what God said to do. After marching around once on the first day, nothing happenedno cracks in the wall, no evidence of victory or surrender at all. The same on day 2, and day 3, and so on. I imagine Joshua thinking, “C’mon God? Isn’t this what you said to do?” Not until 7 days of marching, and finally blowing those horns and shouting, did they see anything. And then – the whole city came a tumblin’ down, down, down, down.

ALWAYS be prepared … means to always obey and be ready. ALWAYS.

2)   Give the reason for the HOPE you have …. This is not an order to go to seminary and earn a degree in theology and biblical apologetics. It simply says, Always be prepared to give a reason for the HOPE you have…. If you cannot explain why you have any HOPE in God through Jesus, if the Holy Spirit does not inspire a word of explanation for your HOPE … maybe you need to examine if you really have any HOPE. Is Jesus in your life? Do you trust Him in this life?

3)   Do this with GENTLENESS …. Have ever heard someone share their faith in such a way that totally embarrassed the other person, and maybe even the one sharing his faith? There probably is a proper time and place for the “Turn or Burn” signs on the street corners – but those signs win few converts unless the person reading it is literally headed straight into a fire!

Gentle loving kindness wins people into the Christian faith with more real authenticity and truer longevity than Bible thumping or haranguing.

4)   Do this with RESPECT! Respecting the place the other person is coming from; respecting cultural differences; respecting possible life-difficulties; respecting different ideologies, political perspectives, backgrounds; does not mean agreeing with them – or even regarding them as equally valid or true. It does mean holding the other person in a place of honor. She’s probably really trying her best in this life! He’s probably dealing with a whole set of life circumstances we can’t understand.

But always being ready to give the reason for the hope you have, and doing that with gentleness and respect will win your respect. Listening with ears that love will win the accessibility to share why we have hope!

Today I am giving you a little homework assignment. We are just about to honor our graduates, but these grads need to know that just because you wear a cap and gown does not mean homework is done – in fact, in some ways, it is just beginning.

Your Sermon Notes page lists, at the bottom, two… Spiritual Practices for all who are serious about your faith: These are by no means meant to be exclusive. There are countless spiritual practices one might do to continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ – but here are two things that apply to today’s Scripture reading:

  • Talk to a youth/young adult, asking about any time they may have experienced God outside a church setting (and listen to their answer); and ask if they could send a photo of such an experience.
  • Pray the following prayer each day for the next week: “O God, by Your transforming grace, help Your church point beyond itself through word and work to the Good News of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Alright. It’s time to invite our grads to come forward for a little commissioning ceremony, and to honor them for their hard work. And to pray for them as they continue to venture forthalways being prepared to share the reason for their hope, revering Christ as Lord, with gentleness and respectNikolay Bulakh – was the first person who said TODAY was the best day for this to happen – and then he called me Friday to say he had just entered into a Chess Tournament and would not be able to be here. Anyway, Nikolay’s mom, Vera, is here. Vera, please come forward.

Nikolay graduated from Gonzaga University last Sunday, with a Bachelor of Science, Mechanical Engineering.

Andrew Wheeler – and mom and Brianna, come on up with him. Andrew graduates this afternoon, from Whitworth University, with three degrees, Bachelor of Arts, Cross-cultural Studies, International Studies, and Peace Studies.

Caitlin Wheeler – whose whole family is already up here. Caitlin will earn her Masters degree in Fine Arts from Eastern Washington University.

Vera please give our love and deepest respect to Nikolay; Andrew and Caitlin – your Church could not be more proud of your accomplishments, and we pray for how you continue to grow in your fields, and make this world a better place! These gifts are for you.

Let’s pray:Our heavenly Father, as we stand with these graduates and their families, we stand in awe of their fidelity and hard work and integrity of spirit and heart and mind. Today, we stand together, and peer into their future with them, wondering how You will use their passions and skills to help build Your Kingdom purposes. Today, dear Lord, we commission Nikolay and Andrew and Caitlin into Your service, in the fields they have studied and prepared themselves, to represent your purposes of peace and love and justice, in all the ways You have crafted their hearts and minds into Yours. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Resources:

Detterman, Paul; Following Jesus Today: Challenges and Opportunities (Participant’s Book); Presbyterian Mission Agency; Louisville, KY; 2014; Pp. 31-36.

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

Mark Wheeler

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

“Following Jesus Today: What Is Truth?”

May 3, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

During these weeks between Easter and Pentecost we are learning how to Follow Jesus Today. We have examined how our words and actions impact the world around us, how we experience both the absence of God and the embrace of God in our daily walk with Him (and how to invite others to experience God’s perfect grace), and what it means to love God and to love our neighbors.Today we will listen to the Bible address the issue of Truth – and we’ll examine whether we live authentically with/in that Truth. Listen to the Word of God, from John 18:37-38, this takes place after Jesus’ arrest and as He stands trial before Pontius Pilate…. —-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Know the power and love of God, and

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

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

Know the power and love of God….*

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

Resources:

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

*Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church Vision Statement, 2006.