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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09/20/2015 – Deuteronomy 5:8-10 – Ten Rules for Faithful Living: #2 “No Icons on the Desktop”

http://ppl.ug/_kx6cz4h314/

Mark Wheeler

Exodus 20:4-63; Deuteronomy 5:8-10; Matthew 22:34-38; Mark 12:28-30

“10 Rules for Faithful Living: No Icons on the Desktop”

September 20, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

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

A Sunday School student was asked to list the 10 Commandments in any order.

His answer? “3, 6, 1, 8, 4, 5, 9, 2, 10, 7.”

 

Martin Luther once said that “anyone who knows the Ten Commandments perfectly knows the entire Scripture.” (The Larger Catechism)

We all know that Jesus agreed with Martin Luther when He was asked, by people who perhaps hoped to trip Him up, which of the 10 Commandments was the greatest, most important one. Both Matthew and Mark record this story. What is Jesus’ answer? (Mark 12) “29 ‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”’Jesus is merely quoting from Deuteronomy (look again at your Call to Worship from Deuteronomy 6). Love the Lord your God with all that’s in you, with all you’ve got, always, never-ending, without failhave no other godsno desire for riches, no dreams of popularity, no over-extended hopes for glamour, no worries, no fearshave no other gods!

The 10 Commandments, brief enough to be memorized by Sunday School children and comprehensive enough to guide our every thought and action. These Commandments are a far more than just a list of “thou shalt nots”, but it is a list of promises from God and they each contain the secret power to have the ability to obey them. For the next couple of months we will listen as God’s Word reminds us what He demands.

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

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

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

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

Here are the opening words, and then the second of the Big 10 Commandments from the book of Deuteronomy – the second reading of the Law of God. Hear the Word of God….—-

Moses summoned all Israel and said:

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

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

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 9  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 10  but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

May God bless the reading, hearing, receiving of His Word which never fails. “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image … [to] bow down [to] or worship ….”

We got the First Commandment last week pretty clear – but what does this Second Commandment mean?

It seems straightforward – no idols, no icons, no things, that you might worship as more essential than God Himself.

This is really a Command about our inner-desires, isn’t it? Desire Goddo not desire whatever it is that might take God’s place.

There have been debates and church splits over how to define and obey this Commandment – does it mean no art work of any kind? Churches have been vandalized and torn apart and destroyed because of a statue or a painting in it. It does say, after all, “do not make any image of anything in heaven, on earth, or in the water ….” But the Commandment adds the phrase about bowing down and worshiping. When the artwork becomes more important than that which it depicts, it becomes a sin. I think the issue here is about when our desires become disordered by yearning for what is enticing us as if God does not exist!

Why is there a Commandment about not making forms and images? Let’s ask this question another way: What are God’s physical characteristics? God is Spirit, right? So how do we accurately depict that with an icon? How would one appropriately make something that looks like God?How do we meet God in the Old Testament? ·

Fire … burning bush, pillar of fire·

Smoke … pillar of smoke·

Wind … hovered over creation – no way to precisely depict something that is ever changing shape·

Voice … God speaks with Adam and Eve, with Noah, with Abraham, with Moses, with Jesus! (with Paul.)

God reveals Himself through voice – sometimes spoken, sometimes written. So, God forbids the worship of the true God by way of any images or resemblances – there are to be none. In the time of Moses many nations claimed that their images were gods, others that their images were mere reflections of gods; but the God of the Bible says, NO IMAGES.

This Commandment includes some harsh wordsI, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me. The sins of one generation often have consequences that fall on the next. Parents and grandparents, we do teach our offspring right and wrong – take that role seriously.

But this Commandment also comes with amazing promiseI, the Lord your God, show love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. Parents and grandparents, we do teach our offspring right and wrongtake that role seriously.

 

But the real reasons why worshiping idols don’t work is that idolsicons on our desktops, figurines in our parks, flags on our poles, money in our banks, dreams and desires that pretend that God doesn’t really existidols cannot engage with us, cannot be in relationship with us.

Listen again to the voice of God remind us why He gives us the Ten Commandments: The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. It was not with our ancestors that the Lord made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today.

God wants honest relationship with you, with us. If He is not in a living relationship with us, we might have an idol.

The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah tells us that idols are nothing more than extra baggage we carry around with us – made of stone or wood but with no more integrity or glory than vanity or a puff of wind. Can we name our idols? We can probably all name idols that our neighbors have, or our pastor….

But let me step on some toes this morning with some generalizations that are at least partly true.Generationally we all carry some idols in our lives, things we value and worship, sometimes more than we value and worship our relationship with God. Ready?

I’ll start with the newest generation – those that are in what is sometimes called Generation Z (born after 2000). People in this Generation value “Beauty”. Beauty, above all else, is what is important. Beauty is good, and important, but should it surpass receiving the relationship with the God of Beauty?

Millennials (born between 1985 and 2000). People in this generation value that which is Good. If it is Good, for the poor, for the environment, for those who need “good”, than it is valued as most important; but should “Good” go beyond the God who created Good from nothing and expects, demands Good from His followers?

Busters (born between 1964 and 1985), sometimes called Generation X. This generation values what is Real, authentic, transparent. If it is “Real” it is worth our attention and time. But is it better than the only Real God there is?

Baby Boomers (born between 1945 and 1963). This is my generation. We value that which we recognize as Truth. Truth trumps all else, but should concepts of Truth outshine the One who is the Way and the Truth and the Life?

Builders (born between 1924 and 1944), most of us in this room. This generation is known more for their religious fidelity than the younger generations (as is evidenced by attendance in churches like ours across this land); and so they have come up with sayings like “I stand for God and Country”, “God and Flag”, “God and Duty”. But sometimes the tendency is to place Country, Flag and Duty as co-equal with, even out-doing, God.

This Second Commandment, along with the First, tells us that God does not want, does not need, and shuns these icons on our desktops – the God-ands we proclaim, the Truths we preach, our Real feelings, our Moral judgments, and even our Beauty admirations. These all become “forms” of a god. What God wants is our desireabove and before our desire of anything else, God deserves to be at the head.

How do we possibly gain victory over any of these idols that call our names, how are we successful over whole generational ideologies of value?

Let me give you two simple strategies: worship and prayer.

When we worship the only True God, when we gather together to sing His praises and when we come before His throne all on our own, we put God first – and all the idols of prestige and importance, the icons of philosophy and valued perspective, the forms of want and fancy become desire for God Himself!

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

Psalm 119:11 tells us: “Your Word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against You.” Amen.

Resources:

Hauerwas, Stanley; William Willimon; The truth About God: The 10 Commandments in the Christian Life; Abingdon Press; NY, NY; 1999.

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

Wilson, Tobin; “No Eikons on the Desktop”; sermon preached at Placentia Presbyterian Church; 08/16/2015.

09/13/2015 – Exodus 20:1-3 – 10 Rules for Faithful Living: “No Other”

Mark Wheeler

Exodus 20:1-3; Deuteronomy 5:1-7; Matthew 22:34-38; Mark 12:28-30

“10 Rules for Faithful Living: No Other”

September 13, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

We come to worship today, O Lord, on this weekend when we remember the devastations of 9/11/2001, and we are humbled by the gift we have – the gift of freedom and the opportunities to live into that freedom. Help us, right now, to put away any lingering anger or fear, any prejudice or hate, even any thoughts or wonderings about those who perpetrated such evil or the direct victims of that evil. Help us instead, to seek Your perfect power and presence, Your righteousness and redemption, Your Law and Your love in front of all other possible priorities, through Your Son Jesus Christ. Amen. 

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

 

7 habits of,  3 steps to,  10 rules for …

Too simple to be real, but often offer something of substance …

The right place of order/law – keeps us in line (speed limit, good neighbors=good fences)

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

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

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

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

Page 2 of The Law of Liberty – “O How I Love Thy Law”

The 10 Commandments, brief enough to be memorized by Sunday School children and comprehensive enough to guide our every thought and action. These Commandments are a far more than just a list of “thou shalt nots”, but it is a list of promises from God and they each contain the secret power to have the ability to obey them. For the next couple of months we will listen as God’s Word reminds us what He demands.

Here are the opening words, and the first of the Big 10 Commandments. Hear the Word of the Lord….—-

Exodus 20: And God spoke all these words:

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

“You shall have no other gods before me.

 

And from Deuteronomy 5 (Latin or Greek majors? What does “deuteros” mean? Second – that’s what this whole book is about – the 2nd time Moses tells us about the Law.) Hear the Word of the Lord….—-

Moses summoned all Israel and said:

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

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

“You shall have no other gods before me.

May God bless the reading, hearing, receiving of His Word which never fails. Let’s do this sermon a little differently today – turn to someone near you and tell that person what this Commandment means. Both Exodus and Deuteronomy tell it in exactly the same way: You shall have no other gods before me. What does that mean? Now, let’s hear what some of you said – anyone? Would anyone like to yell out a god that maybe threatens this Commandment? What gods in our culture seem to come before the Lord our God?·       Money·       Success·       Education·       Being right·       Fun·       Stuff·       Worry·       Fear·       FOMO

How do we have victory over these “other gods”?

Exodus 20: And God spoke all these words:

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

“You shall have no other gods before me.

And the second time Moses said this, when he reminded the Israelites, and you and me, of these Commandments, he said it like this:

Deuteronomy 5: Moses summoned all Israel and said:

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

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

“You shall have no other gods before me.

How do we have victory over these “other gods”? Trust in the Lord our God! He is the One who rescues, redeems, saves, and secures us in His presence!

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

Jesus is merely quoting from Deuteronomy.

In Luke’s Gospel some lawyer who wants to be a follower of Jesus asks Jesus how to follow Him, so Jesus asks the lawyer what the greatest Commandment is – and this lawyer gives this exact same answer (Luke 10:27).

Love the Lord your God with everything you’ve got, always, never-ending, without failhave no other godsno desire for riches, no dreams of popularity, no over-extended hopes for glamour, no worries, no fearshave no other gods!

 

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

We might argue and debate over whether or not these Commandments belong in our Court Houses or classrooms – but there should be no argument that they belong right here, in our hearts and lives. If the Church ever turns our backs on the authority of these Commandments, may God have mercy on our souls. Let us worship the Lord our God, above and before all else, today and forever. Amen.

Psalm 119:2 tells us: “Blessed are they that keep God’s testimonies, and they that seek Him with their whole heart.” Amen.

Resources:

The Law of Liberty; “O How I Love Thy Law”, “Unfolding God’s Glorious Law”; Project Restore, Inc; Locust Dale, VA; 2006; Pp. 2-4.

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.

04/26/2015 – Matthew 22:34-40 – Following Jesus Today: “Worshiping God by Walking Backwards”

Mark Wheeler

Matthew 22:34-40

“Following Jesus Today: Worshiping God by Walking Backwards”

April 26, 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.

Two years ago last Monday, Velma and Linda and Jeanette and I, along with 16 others from across the country stepped off a boat and entered into the ancient city of Ephesus. We met our local tour guide who introduced herself and then led the 20 of us along a 2-mile 2,000+-year old marble road and told us about the ruins of huge old stone buildings including the third largest library of the ancient world, the theater from which Paul spoke to the crowds, and the jail where Paul was imprisoned. But here’s the thing, this tour guide did this while walking backwards.

She knew the pot holes and divots, she understood the turns and the angles, she recognized when to stop and where to point – without really having to look where she was going.

How was that possible? She knew the landscape so well because she had walked this road and studied its route so many times, it was all second nature.

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 and 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).Today we will listen as Jesus answers a question we all ask in one way or another, Matthew 22:34-40 …. —-

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’

37 Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’

May God bless the reading, hearing, receiving of His Word which never fails. The questions we usually ask go something like: So … this particular sin isn’t as bad as that one, so …, it’s OK, right? The way I convince myself that my sin really isn’t so bad is by asking if enjoying someone’s good cooking is better than wasting the food, right? So I overeat like the glutton I am…. One of the Pharisees, one who was an expert in the Old Testament Law (all the Pharisees were experts in the Old Testament – so this one must have been some kind of super-Pharisee in order to get this kind of acclaim), tried to trick Jesus into coming up with some lame, inappropriate answer to the 10 Commandments question.But Jesus answers the question about which commandment is the most important by quoting from the same Old Testament Law of which this Pharisee was such an expert. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”This comes right after the 10 Commandments were listed in Deuteronomy 5, and then Moses summarizes them in this short verse, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind/strength.” “Love the Lord your God….” In English, the word “love” has so many connotations it’s hard to know what Jesus may have meant. Fortunately, we can go to the original Greek language and get a better picture of Jesus’ words. In English I can say that I love the Spokane Indians (baseball team), and I love cherry cheese cake, and I love Jennifer – but each of those loves better have at least slightly different meanings.I love the Spokane Indians in a way that makes me wish I could attend more games in their short season; I love cherry cheese cake in a way that, if given the choice, I would choose a slice of that over a cupcake any day of the week; but I love Jennifer in a way that means I will always choose her as my life partner no matter how may Spokane Indians, cherry cheese cakes, or other people cross into my line of vision. In Greek there are a number of words one could use that translate into English as “love”. Jesus uses a word with unique meaning and purpose. He uses a form of the word “agape”. This kind of love is completely selfless, utterly altruistic, entirely and totally self-giving!Agape-love is a kind of love humans can’t really do. Even the most caring, gentle, generous person among us has self-centered moments where we want what is best for good old number one. Nonetheless, that is, apparently, the greatest commandment: Agape-love the Lord your God with … everything you have. This is the kind of love that we might put on a par with worshiplove God equals worship Godrecognize God’s worth, and give Him what that worth deserves. What is God’s worth? [Absolute ultimate value] How do we pay for that value? [by giving Him absolutely everything we have to giveheart, soul, strength/mind]!And for New Testament followers of Jesus, worshiping God, loving God, always happens through His Son Jesus Christ. And because we are, actually, unable to offer agape-love under our own power, we love and worship God in spirit and in truth only under the power of the Holy Spirit.So, ,,, do you pass this “greatest commandment” test? Yeah, neither do I. Thank God for His perfect grace!

But Jesus does not stop with the simple quote from Deuteronomy – He also quotes from Leviticus 19:18; in the middle of a whole list of “laws” (one “thou shalt not” after the next “thou shalt not”) the writer of Leviticus writes, “but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

Jesus says, “Love the Lord your God …. And the second greatest commandment is just like it: love your neighbor as yourself!

Agape-love your neighbor as yourself?! Wow! Really? God, do you know my neighbor? Agape-love him? I can barely stand him!

Yes, Jesus says, Agape-love your neighbor!

How does one do that?

Remember the story of the tour guide I told you at the beginning of this message? Here’s where that story fits in – and how we apply the same thing to our Christian lives of following Jesus today.

A thorough perusal of our Holy Scriptures shows us over and over again how God’s greatest desire is for a transformative relationship with us, His greatest piece of creation. When we begin to understand that the Creator of everything loves us without/beyond any conditions, our only reasonable response is an overwhelming desire to love and serve God! And as that becomes our reality, we begin to care more and more about the things that matter most to Godloving and serving our neighbors!

So the “greatest commandmentflows straight into the “second (which) is just like it”. When we love God, we will love our neighbors. I John 3:11-16 reminds us that “the message we have heard from the beginning (is that) we should love one another … this is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. We ought, therefore, to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters (we ought to love each other.)

God-honoring love and worship will compel us, and our experience of God’s love will enable us, to actually invest in loving our neighbors.

Our tour guide walked backwards because she knew Ephesus, and she wanted to share Ephesus with her tourists!

Here’s the take-away lesson for usGenuine, God-honoring love and worship happens when you and I, followers of Jesus, have experienced God’s love and the transformation it brings (even in small doses), and we begin to walk backwards, sharing what we have with our tourists, pointing out God’s creation, directing attention to God’s mighty acts, and simply showing people something of God’s grace in our own lives. THAT is loving our neighbors.

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 servng others who do not yet

Know the power and love of God….*

The people around us desperately need to see these kinds of followers of Jesus.

Worshiping God by walking backwards involves loving God with our heart, soul, mind and strength, by living our faith out-loud so that others might see God as we walk backwards showing Him to our neighbors.

 

Name one person with whom you are currently “walking backwards” – and name someone with whom you will start this week.

 

Teach us to love as Your angels love,

one holy passion filling every frame;

the baptism of the heaven-descended Dove,

our hearts an altar, and Your love the flame. (Amen) – George Croly, 1854

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.

Malachi 4 – Who Is this King of Glory?

Mark Wheeler
Christ the King Sunday, November 23, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Malachi 4:1-6
Who Is this King of Glory?

Provider of righteousness and peace, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ You reunited heaven and earth. When sin disrupts the harmony of creation, pour out Your Holy Spirit upon Your waiting people so that we would trust You, love You, and become Your agents of reconciliation in a cruel and hurting world. Amen.

I read this week that while Queen Victoria lay dying, a member of the royal household mused to Edward, Prince of Wales, “I wonder if she will be happy in heaven?”
Edward matter-of-factly replied, “I don’t know. She will have to walk behind the angels–and she won’t like that!”

For those who pay attention to such things as Liturgical Calendars – today is Christ the King Sunday – the last day of the Church Year. And on this day we pay special homage to the all-time truth that Jesus Christ is King of the Universe! We call Him Lord and Savior – that’s what that means! “Lord” means that Jesus is the ultimate authority! He is the one, the only one, who walks in front of the angels in heaven!
And as King, He has righteous rule, He reigns supreme, He judges justly, he has final say. And what we know of Jesus through His written Word, the Bible, is that He is all-powerful and all-knowing and always-present and completely-loving! Therefore, He is totally trustworthy.

We have invested September and October listening to the Old Testament prophet Micah and heard him remind us that even though there are so many ways in which we fall short of meeting God’s standards, we can always count on His unconditional love. Micah kept reminding us of God’s worthiness of our worship.
In November we have been in the book of Malachi. This is the very last book in the Old Testament, and this is the very last chapter in the Old Testament! Next week we begin the brand new liturgical calendar, and we will be talking about the advent of this King we call Christ. We know almost nothing about Malachi, except that his name means “My messenger” or maybe “My angel”. Malachi continues the theme of God’s worthiness, but his emphasis is on our responsibility to worship Him well.

Hear the Word of God from Malachi 4:1-6…. —-
1 “Surely the day is coming [what day is coming? The day of the King – Judgment Day!]; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the LORD Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. 2 But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. 3 Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the LORD Almighty.
4 “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.
5 “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”

Before we get too far in today’s sermon – I have an announcement to make. Last Thursday marked the 20th anniversary of my very first Sunday as this church’s pastor – which makes today my (approximately) 1,200th sermon with you. To celebrate this milestone, I plan to preach for exactly 12 more minutes today! At minute-11, someone can wave your hand, and I’ll try to wrap it up. This is my way of honoring you for allowing me to serve with you for two decades, so far!

What do these six verses of Scripture have to do with the ecclesiastically invented holiday of Christ the King Sunday? How does this chapter answer the question, Who is this King of Glory?

Remember that most of this book has been a prophecy of condemnation about the ways we do not acknowledge God properly, how we do not worship Him with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, or all our strength; about how our sacrifices have been easy and mostly just left-overs. Here, he says, “Look out, the day is coming – and it will not be fun. But for you who revere my name, [listen to this] the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays.”
He says that Thanksgiving will come! Count your many blessings, name them one by one! See what God has done!

And then this great Old Testament prophet does an amazing thing! He ties the whole Old Testament to this coming King.
Verse 4, “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.”
What is Malachi talking about there? [The 10 Commandments, at least.] Moses the great deliverer who freed the Israelites after 400 years of slavery in Egypt! – The Exodus, the Red Sea crossing, the 40 years n the wilderness, the manna from heaven, the water from a rock – Moses is a type of the Christ who waited another 1,600 years – Malachi ties the great deliverer Moses to the coming King!
Verse 5, “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes.”
Elijah – thought of as the representative prophet of all prophets – Elijah was the prophet who never died , weirdly II Kings tells us that he was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire without ever dying – And Elijah was expected to return before the Messiah came.
These same two, Moses and Elijah, came and appeared to Jesus and three of His apostles on the Mount of Transfiguration – Jesus told the men walking to Emmaus after the resurrection how the Scriptures from Moses and the prophets (Elijah?) explained who He was.
Malachi ties all of that together in two verses.

Verse 6 – As we approach this Christmas – families – turn your hearts to one another – if parents and children cannot do that (for which there are a variety of reasons why this might be so), then cross generations with friends and colleagues. Be community. Call Jesus King, and do that together! If we don’t, Malachi warns us of “total destruction”!

To close, I just want to draw your attention to some Presbyterian denominational stuff – maybe we can draw our hearts together with other Presbyterians even.
Look at your Sermon Notes page:

On the PC(USA) Mission Agency website ( <a href="http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/why-i-belong/ " ), they have posted an article titled “Why I Belong”. Among several theological points listed are the following. These points answer the question, “Who is this King of Glory?”

For more than 200 years, Presbyterians have remained UNWAVERING in this one conviction: Jesus is LORD (I Cor. 12:3). All power, truth, and salvation rest with God alone.
John 14:6, Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
I Corinthians 12:3, Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus Christ is the ONLY savior of the world, and the TRUE awaited Messiah. (Acts 16:31; Book of Confession, 5.077 [The Second Helvetic Confession])
Acts 16:31, They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”
II Timothy 3:14-16, But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness

“Jesus Christ is the only SAVIOR and LORD, and all people everywhere are called to place their faith, hope, and love in him.” (Ephesians 1:3-14; BoC 5.107-5.110)
Romans 10:9, If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Ephesians 1:13-14, 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, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

Who is this King of Glory? He is Immanuel, the promised of ages! Even the angels of heaven fall in line behind King Jesus. Let us, join them, and fall in line behind Him while we are still on earth.

Lord Jesus – You are the king of kings and Lord of lords – today, maybe for the very first time, some in this room this morning are confessing You as their King and Lord, as their Savior, and as their most valued Treasure. Live in our hearts and minds this morning, and draw us close to You as we are drawn close to one another. May this Thanksgiving be different. This time we want to glorify Your name in every thing we do and say, through Jesus Christ, my King. Amen!

Resources:
Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 519.

Smith, Ralph L.; Word Biblical Commentary 32; Word Books; Waco, TX; 1984; Pp. 335-342.

Malachi 3 – Ready or Not …

Mark Wheeler
November 16, 2014
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Malachi 3:1-10
Ready or Not …

God of all loveliness and beauty, even the humblest of creatures finds its home close to You. May Your Church be a place of safety to every wanderer who seeks You, to every believer who trusts You, to every disciple who follows You. We pray this in Jesus; name. Amen.

How many people in this room remember the “street lights rule”? Did you have this rule when you were a kid? “When the street lights come on, I want you in the house!”
That was kind of our regular rule. And since I did most of my growing up in southern CA, even the wintertime street lights came on late enough in the day to have enjoyed a good game of street football or hide ’n’ seek. I remember really not wanting to be “it” at dusk – b/c, you know, I’d still be “it” when the street lights came on. So if I was “it” at dusk, I would do my count to 100 in high speed and holler “Ready or not … here I come!”

We have invested September and October listening to the Old Testament prophet Micah and heard him remind us that even though there are so many ways in which we fall short of meeting God’s standards, we can always count on His unconditional love. Micah kept reminding us of God’s worthiness of our worship.
In November we have been in the book of Malachi. This is the very last book in the Old Testament, and it was written, probably, around the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, also among the final books written in the Old Testament. We know almost nothing about Malachi, except that his name means “My messenger” or maybe “My angel”. Malachi continues the theme of God’s worthiness, but his emphasis is on our responsibility to worship Him well.

Hear the Word of God from Malachi 3:1-10…. —-
1 “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty.
2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years.
5 “So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the LORD Almighty. …
7 “Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty.
“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’
8 “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.
“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’
“In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”

Ready or not … here comes God’s messenger. Who is God’s messenger?
“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.” This book was written somewhere around 450BC , so who was this “messenger who comes to prepare for God’s arrival”? Let me start that conversation by reminding you that Malachi, who wrote this prophecy, his name means “my messenger”! Is this God’s way of saying, “OK you boneheaded priests – remember that that probably refers to everybody in this room, in the New Testament we are all called priests! – OK you boneheaded priests, pay attention to this prophet! He is telling you something you need to know!” God’s messenger could be Malachi!
Who else might this be a reference to? Any suggestions? – John the Baptist, we are told, was Isaiah’s fulfilled prophecy to prepare the way of the Lord! Elijah was supposed to come before the Messiah – and it looks like Jesus claimed that John the Baptist filled that role. God’s messenger could be John the Baptist!
Any other suggestions? Jesus Christ Himself! Yes, He’s coming to prepare the way for Himself – but, remember, when He came as a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes – and lived and preached and healed and raised the dead – and was killed and was resurrected for our sakes – He did all of that in His first coming – someday He is coming back! God’s messenger could be Jesus!
One more suggestion? Since Jesus did already come once – as is easily proven by radio stations already playing nothing-but-Christmas music! – maybe we can read this messenger as describing you and me! In Mark’s version of the great commission, He did, after all, tell us, Jesus’ followers, to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
God says in Malachi 3:1, “I will send a messenger to prepare the way before me”. Could that messenger be His Church? The next several verses look more like Christ’s second coming than His first – “Who can endure the day of His coming? Who can stand when He appears? A refiner’s fire – a launderer’s soap – I will put you on trial (Judgment Day!).” Can we be His faithful messenger?
Ready or not …

Next in this passage comes the topic of how we become faithful messengers. The wording in the passage is – we’re not faithful messengers … yet. But, when we return to God, God will return to us!
How would Malachi (My messenger) have us return to God? What’s the secret?
This is where Malachi enters the one subject of preaching that seems to be most offensive to Americans – it’s not sin – it’s not Jesus’ second coming – it’s not even hell. It is money!
The reason Americans get offended when the topic of money comes up in a sermon is that we have worshiped money more than any other idol or god, far more. And we don’t even think we do it!
There is probably no other thing in life that touches every area of life more than money – except God Himself. And there is little that Jesus talked about more than money!

Are you one who is now rolling your eyes? Seriously, Wheeler? “Money” again?!
Ready or not ….

The LORD asks “Will a mortal rob God? [The implied question is, do you really think you can get away with it?] Yet you rob me.”
Who here takes offense to that? Me too. And so did Malachi’s original readers. We’re supposed to take offense – because, in fact, God takes offense. How do we rob God? Malachi answers that question:
“In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse—your whole nation [read that as family, church, denomination, etc] —because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.

We do not like it when we think God is withholding His blessings from us. We ask things like, Why would God allow that to happen? This is a good person.
But the truth is that we withhold our giving all the time. And we see nothing wrong with it. We defend it. There are lots of reasons why we withhold our giving, and they all make sense.
But God expects a tithe offering. In fact for New Testament people, it could be argued that God expects a full 100% offering – but He accepts a 10% tithe offering! What does “tithe” mean? 10%.
When we faithfully give a 10% tithe:
• It shows our submission to God’s ownership. Everything we have, and are, is God’s already! Are we willing to submit to Him as Lord and Savior? He says we owe 10%. Less than that is robbing Him.
• It keeps us humble. What I have is not mine – it is God’s, but put under my care!
• It prevents us from worshiping money! If I am willing to generously give it away, I am unable to worship it as a god! If I give it back to God, then God gets His rightful place in my life.

And maybe my favorite thing about this passage is God’s guarantee. This is a covenant agreement. This is not just a command. It is more than a mere challenge. And, I want to be clear that I am not saying that when we give the church more money we will definitely prosper financially – there are plenty of places in Scripture that argue that kind of theology down. But in this particular passage God goes so far as to dare us to not faithfully follow through with our side of the covenant.
He says, literally, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”

Without faith it is impossible to honor God’s name. That faith is shown in our trust. Will we trust God to take care of us? Do we trust God to see us through? Can we trust God to bless us beyond our blessing to God?!
On Thursday, Dale and Kathy Sandusky and I were at the Presbytery meeting, and the pastor from Clarkston preached from the passage that we will be reading on Thanksgiving day; and one of the things he asked was about how we bless God.
Do you all know the passages that say we are to bless God? Most of the time the Bible speaks of times and ways God blesses His people; there are prayers for God to bless us; occasionally there are phrases that say things like “Blessed is the Lord”; but sometimes, like Psalm 66:8, it is a command: “O bless our God, ye people, and make the voice of his praise to be heard.”
How do we do that? is a great question. Blessings travel from the bigger, greater to the smaller, lesser. How do little old us bless the God of the universe? Ready or not … by trusting Him!

This is what the whole tithe thing really is about. It’s about trusting God more than we trust money! God’s guarantee is that when we trust Him, His blessings will pour out so much that we will not have room to store it. I don’t know exactly what that means – but I want to be ready.

Ready or not … the streetlights are coming on! God’s messenger is here – and the day of the Lord is coming! Let’s trust Him with everything! Amen!

Resources:
Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 501.

Smith, Ralph L.; Word Biblical Commentary 32; Word Books; Waco, TX; 1984; Pp. 325-334.