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February 5, 2017 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

EXODUS 32:1-16 [NLTse]
When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.”

2 So Aaron said, “Take the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters, and bring them to me.”
3 All the people took the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron. 4 Then Aaron took the gold, melted it down, and molded it into the shape of a calf. When the people saw it, they exclaimed, “O Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt!”

5 Aaron saw how excited the people were, so he built an altar in front of the calf. Then he announced, “Tomorrow will be a festival to the Lord!”

6 The people got up early the next morning to sacrifice burnt offerings and peace offerings. After this, they celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry.

7 The Lord told Moses, “Quick! Go down the mountain! Your people whom you brought from the land of Egypt have corrupted themselves. 8 How quickly they have turned away from the way I commanded them to live! They have melted down gold and made a calf, and they have bowed down and sacrificed to it. They are saying, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.’”

9 Then the Lord said, “I have seen how stubborn and rebellious these people are. 10 Now leave Me alone so My fierce anger can blaze against them, and I will destroy them. Then I will make you, Moses, into a great nation.”

11 But Moses tried to pacify the Lord his God. “O Lord!” he said. “Why are You so angry with Your Own people whom You brought from the land of Egypt with such great power and such a strong hand? 12 Why let the Egyptians say, ‘Their God rescued them with the evil intention of slaughtering them in the mountains and wiping them from the face of the earth’? Turn away from Your fierce anger. Change Your mind about this terrible disaster You have threatened against Your people! 13 Remember Your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. You bound Yourself with an oath to them, saying, ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven. And I will give them all of this land that I have promised to your descendants, and they will possess it forever.’”

14 So the Lord changed His mind about the terrible disaster He had threatened to bring on His people.

15 Then Moses turned and went down the mountain. He held in his hands the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. 16 These tablets were God’s work; the words on them were written by God Himself.

Sermon
“CALF OR CHRIST”
There’s a couple things I’d like to highlight from this Word of God to us today before getting into the main meat of the message.

First: Wait on the LORD. Patience is one of the many fruits showing that the Holy Spirit is alive and living within a Christian person. The people of Israel began putting pressure on Aaron to make an idol for them to worship because Moses had been on the mountain, with no word from him or from the LORD, for more than a month. At the heart of their demand for Aaron to do something so that they could worship God was unbelief: The LORD had worked wonders to free them from slavery in Egypt; the LORD had worked wonders to keep them safe and deliver them when Pharaoh’s army chased after them; and the LORD had provided food and drink for them miraculously as they traveled towards Sinai and the Promised Land. But, Moses is gone for a month and more, and not only do they quickly craft a statue in the form of a golden calf and begin worshiping it as their god (even though the Lord had told them not to), but they begin celebrating and partying in ways the LORD told them not to, as well. So, yes, it can be foolish to sometimes wait too long, but more often in the Scripture we see examples of the foolishness that comes from impatience, giving into our feelings of desperation, and from not waiting on the LORD…

Second: Do you see in verse 6 where it tells us that “The people got up early the next morning to sacrifice burnt offerings and peace offerings. After this, they celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry.” Well, let that be a lesson to us: Just because people are excited about something that they believe God is doing does not mean that God has any part of it. People have attributed much to Jesus over the years that, if they’d read and trusted their Bibles, they would have clearly known to have been selfish and brutal and idolatrous and not of Jesus at all. The LORD tells us in Scripture and shows in Jesus how to worship Him and how to celebrate and truly “party” well. If that’s not what’s clearly going on around you, stay out of it until God shows Himself to show you the Way.

Third, do you see how the LORD distances Himself from those engaging in unrepentant sin? That’s the LORD God’s attitude towards us apart from Christ: He disowns the people, speaking of them, not as His people but, as Moses’ people; and He’s prepared to destroy them for their selfishness and wickedness, for all the harm they are doing because they think they can decide what is best apart from Him. It is Jesus’ sacrifice, and His sacrifice alone, that has God persevere in calling us His people and calling Himself our God, even when we sin in our ignorance or weakness. It’s Jesus’ sacrifice, and His sacrifice alone, that keeps God from keeping us away from Himself and destroying us through death and Hell. And yet, it’s so much more than that! Jesus’ sacrifice has moved God to draw near to us and to draw us near to Him, as sons and daughters, as beloved, the apple of His eye!

But let me bring us back to the main message as I understand it this morning:
This record of the “golden calf” episode shows us that people are looking for something or someone to lead them. History shows us that we’ll follow tyrants, we’ll follow madmen (and ‘women), we’ll follow movie stars and superstars, even if they don’t know where they are going any more than we do, as long as we have someone to follow.

The LORD has never allowed His people to make a statue of Him or draw a picture of Him: Not anything that was ever to be worshiped or bowed down to, at least. Living and breathing human beings are and always have been the image God has given us of Himself. He won’t let us belittle that through statues and pictures and other lifeless images.
Of course, humanity has messed up God’s image in ourselves through our sinfulness. The very best of human beings are trash bags compared to the loving goodness of Yahweh Almighty: The Great I AM; the Great He Who Is! And so the LORD had to come among us in the Person of Christ Jesus of Nazareth, to show us Himself in person. And Colossians 1:15 says, “Christ is the image of the invisible God.” And later in Colossians Paul writes: “In Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” (2:9) Who or what has the LORD God provided so that people might rightly bow down before to worship Him? Jesus Christ. Anyone else? Anything else? … No.

Paul goes on to say, “And you have come to fullness in Him.” (2:10) Yes, you, Colossians, yes you, EPCMilfordites, you have come to fullness in Him.

The Father has given the Son into the world so that we can see His image in Jesus, and know Him and worship Him. And the Lord Jesus has poured out the Holy Spirit on those who trust in Him so that non-Christians can see Jesus in us and, through seeing Jesus in us, come to know the Father and worship Him.

All of us have that role to play: Living surrendered to the Holy Spirit – His fruit and His gifts clearly seen in each of us – in order to point people to Christ Who is pointing people to the Father. Of course, this is especially true for us, Elders and Deacons, because the people of God themselves are looking to us (in addition to all the non-Christian people around us looking to us) to see what the Christian life looks like lived out. To see what a godly husband looks like here in the 21st Century, and to see what a godly wife looks like. Christian-folks are looking to us to see how to faithfully live out the conflicts they experience in their marriages, and how to faithfully relate to their parents, and how to faithfully relate to their children. They’ve read about these things in the Scriptures, many of them, but Christ has given us to them, Elders and Deacons, to show them what it looks like to be faithful employers and employees, what loving God looks like day-by-day, what loving neighbor as self looks like day-by-day, …

And just as the Lord Jesus said that “by their fruits we would know them”, Christ’s people and the people around us will know we are Christians and will know Christ Himself as they see the Holy Spirit’s love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control being produced in our lives. We cannot have Christ live in us by His Spirit and keep participating in immoral sex, giving into impure thoughts, words, and acts, lustful pleasures, idolatry, witchcraft (not even so-called “white witchcraft” that’s so popular out there these days); we can’t keep quarreling, being jealous, bursting out in our anger, pursuing selfish ambitions, taking sides, giving into envy, getting drunk, wildly partying, and other “pagan revelries” like these. Christ doesn’t keep living in us if we keep participating in such things.

We, and those around us, can know whether or not we’re worshiping the LORD because our behavior will begin to be transformed from these types of “revelries” to God’s kind of “fruit”. And we, and those around us, can know whether or not we’re worshiping the LORD because, when we fall short, and people call us on it, we will regret our bad behavior and we’ll be sorry and we’ll repent…

Two things I want to specifically point out to all of you Elders and Deacons. (These things are equally true for any of us who are Christian leaders or seen by those around us as Christian leaders. But here in this place they especially apply to our Elders and Deacons.) Do you see how quickly the LORD responds when His peoples’ leaders intercede for them? The LORD is going to cast them off and destroy them, but Moses intercedes, and God changes His mind! So, carry the people before the LORD in your prayers. Pray for them in their needs. Pray for them in their failures. Pray for them in their rebellion. Pray for them to our God Who wants to forgive and Who has already forgiven us in Christ.

And lastly – and again this specifically applies to Elders and Deacons but is likewise true for us all – Just as Moses comes down the mountain not knowing what he’s walking into but bearing God’s Word into it, regardless, bear God’s Word into all your interactions with the people. Bear His grace, bear His mercy, bear His blessing, bear His image – restored in you through your faith in Christ – bear God’s Word in all your interactions with God’s people: God’s people in your homes, God’s people in your workplaces and neighborhoods, God’s people in God’s Church. Bear His Word to them, always…



January 29, 2017 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

EXODUS 23:20-33 [NLTse]
20 “See, I am sending an angel before you to protect you on your journey and lead you safely to the place I have prepared for you. 21 Pay close attention to him, and obey his instructions. Do not rebel against him, for he is My representative, and he will not forgive your rebellion. 22 But if you are careful to obey him, following all My instructions, then I will be an enemy to your enemies, and I will oppose those who oppose you. 23 For My angel will go before you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites, and Jebusites, so you may live there. And I will destroy them completely. 24 You must not worship the gods of these nations or serve them in any way or imitate their evil practices. Instead, you must utterly destroy them and smash their sacred pillars.

25 “You must serve only the Lord your God. If you do, I will bless you with food and water, and I will protect you from illness. 26 There will be no miscarriages or infertility in your land, and I will give you long, full lives.
27 “I will send my terror ahead of you and create panic among all the people whose lands you invade. I will make all your enemies turn and run. 28 I will send terror ahead of you to drive out the Hivites, Canaanites, and Hittites. 29 But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals would multiply and threaten you. 30 I will drive them out a little at a time until your population has increased enough to take possession of the land. 31 And I will fix your boundaries from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the eastern wilderness to the Euphrates River. I will hand over to you the people now living in the land, and you will drive them out ahead of you.
32 “Make no treaties with them or their gods. 33 They must not live in your land, or they will cause you to sin against Me. If you serve their gods, you will be caught in the trap of idolatry.”

SERMON – “Dependent – Dependable”
After miraculously crossing the Red Sea, the Israelites began traveling to Mt. Sinai, in the Sinai Desert. The Lord had told Moses to bring the people of Israel to Sinai to worship Him once God had freed Israel from their slavery in Egypt. And it was in the Sinai Desert that they camped and constructed the Tabernacle from God’s directions (their moveable worship place), and collected the Ten Commandments and God’s other laws, and where the Lord prepared them for their new life in the land He had promised them.

But as you can see there wasn’t much for the Israelites at Sinai. Lots of mountainous terrain for pasturing their flocks and herds, and lots of level terrain for setting up their camps. And, as we saw in the first picture, too, enough bunch-grasses and spikelets and other desert-scrub to feed their flocks and herds, but not a lot of farmable land to sustain them.
So, it seems that this new life the Lord was seeking to lead them to was a dependent life: A life they were to depend upon Him to direct; a life they were to depend upon Him to provide for.

As we read this past week, because of the barrenness of Sinai, the Israelites had to depend upon God for the miraculous manna – what they called “bread from Heaven” – that the Lord sent to them every morning, and that they gathered to make delicious manna-bread and manna-cakes. And He proved Himself dependable. And they had to depend upon God for the occasional miraculous feasts of quail He sent their way. And He proved Himself dependable. And they had to absolutely depend upon Him for the water He’d provided that kept gushing forth from a rock and making large pools and small lakes out of the different plots around them: Enough to water their flocks and herds and to satisfy them all! The Lord was teaching His people to depend on Him, and He was proving Himself dependable!

And, in our reading, the Lord promises Moses that if the Israelites would carefully obey Him, following all the Lord’s instructions, then He would get in the way of those who tried to get in their way, and He would fight for them against those who wanted to fight them. And He would make sure they always had enough food, and roofs over their heads, and He would keep them healthy. There would be no miscarriages or infertility in their land, and He would give them long, full lives. And, He would make all the bullies and those trying to hurt them turn and run!

And sometimes God takes us to desert places, too, doesn’t He? Situations where we can’t help ourselves. We have no hope but Him. Nothing, but Him… And we can be tempted to curse those times, saying, “Lord, why have You forsaken me?” But, He’s not forsaking us. He’s teaching us to depend upon Him. And if we will depend on Him, He shows us that He is dependable…

When the Lord Jesus died on the cross, He didn’t ask us to do this or to do that so that He might achieve our salvation. No. He went to the cross and saved us all by Himself. Jesus took our sins and gave us His righteousness without any effort on our part. He simply asked us, “Do you believe?”

And when we believed, He sent us the Holy Spirit to nurture His supernatural life in us and bring us to perfect holiness a little bit at a time, all the days of our lives. And He asks us to cooperate with Him in that, but He’s doing the work in us!
In Philippians 2:12-13 the apostle Paul writes, “Work hard to show the results of your salvation.” He doesn’t say, “Work hard to be saved.” No. Jesus has saved us. No. He writes, “Work hard to show the results of our salvation!” And how do we show that? By “obeying God with deep reverence and fear.” And how are we able to obey God with deep reverence and fear? We’ll need to depend upon God, and He is dependable, because, Paul writes, “God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.” We can depend on Him! He is dependable!

In 1 Corinthians 15:10, the apostle speaks about it this way, “Whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out His special favor on me—and not without results. For I have worked harder than any of the other apostles; yet it was not I but God Who was working through me by His grace.“

Hebrews 13:20-21 talks about such things this way: “Now may the God of peace—Who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and ratified an eternal covenant with His blood—may He equip you with all you need for doing His will. May He produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to Him. All glory to Him forever and ever! Amen.

Not one word of, “Get your act together, Ben!” No commands for any of us to work, achieve, or perform. No, the prayer of Hebrews 13 is, “May God equip you to do His will,” because you can’t do His will on your own. And “may God produce in you every good thing that is pleasing to Him,” because we can’t produce anything that is pleasing to God on our own.
God has forgiven you through what Christ did on the cross, and there is nothing you can do to make you more forgiven or to make you less, except by not believing it. The Holy Spirit is within you, applying the holiness of Jesus to your soul – even as we speak! – and you can cooperate with Him in that by not giving in to the temptations you might face, but you can’t make yourself more holy. That’s an inside job, and only the Holy Spirit can do such inside work.
Ours is to depend on Him. He keeps proving Himself so very dependable!

Praise Team: Would you come forward as we pray? …
Abba: You want to protect us but we get in Your way seeking to protect ourselves; You want to take care of us but we won’t let you, set on taking care of ourselves; You want to heal us but we interfere by hiding our wounds away, keeping them, if possible, even from You; we want to make a life for ourselves instead of accepting the life You have for us; we strive and connive for meaning and worth instead of acknowledging the meaning and worth we have as Your daughters and Your sons… Forgive us, Dependable One. Grant us the gifts and help we need to rely on You, wait on You, trust in You no matter the threats or trials. You have always shown Yourself to be so very dependable, and we worship You…



January 22, 2017 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

Genesis 48:1-20 [NLTse]
One day not long after this, word came to Joseph, “Your father is failing rapidly.” So Joseph went to visit his father, and he took with him his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. 2 When Joseph arrived, Jacob was told, “Your son Joseph has come to see you.” So Jacob gathered his strength and sat up in his bed. 3 Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me. 4 He said to me, ‘I will make you fruitful, and I will multiply your descendants. I will make you a multitude of nations. And I will give this land of Canaan to your descendants after you as an everlasting possession.’

5 “Now I am claiming as my own sons these two boys of yours, Ephraim and Manasseh, who were born here in the land of Egypt before I arrived. They will be my sons, just as Reuben and Simeon are. 6 But any children born to you in the future will be your own, and they will inherit land within the territories of their brothers Ephraim and Manasseh.
7 “Long ago, as I was returning from Paddan-aram, Rachel died in the land of Canaan. We were still on the way, some distance from Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). So with great sorrow I buried her there beside the road to Ephrath.”
8 Then Jacob looked over at the two boys. “Are these your sons?” he asked.
9 “Yes,” Joseph told him, “these are the sons God has given me here in Egypt.”
And Jacob said, “Bring them closer to me, so I can bless them.”
10 Jacob was half blind because of his age and could hardly see. So Joseph brought the boys close to him, and Jacob kissed and embraced them. 11 Then Jacob said to Joseph, “I never thought I would see your face again, but now God has let me see your children, too!”

12 Joseph moved the boys, who were at their grandfather’s knees, and he bowed with his face to the ground. 13 Then he positioned the boys in front of Jacob. With his right hand he directed Ephraim toward Jacob’s left hand, and with his left hand he put Manasseh at Jacob’s right hand. 14 But Jacob crossed his arms as he reached out to lay his hands on the boys’ heads. He put his right hand on the head of Ephraim, though he was the younger boy, and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, though he was the firstborn. 15 Then he blessed Joseph and said,
“May the God before whom my grandfather Abraham and my father, Isaac, walked—the God Who has been my shepherd all my life, to this very day, 16 the Angel Who has redeemed me from all harm—may He bless these boys. May they preserve my name and the names of Abraham and Isaac. And may their descendants multiply greatly throughout the earth.”
17 But Joseph was upset when he saw that his father placed his right hand on Ephraim’s head. So Joseph lifted it to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. 18 “No, my father,” he said. “This one is the firstborn. Put your right hand on his head.”

19 But his father refused. “I know, my son; I know,” he replied. “Manasseh will also become a great people, but his younger brother will become even greater. And his descendants will become a multitude of nations.”
20 So Jacob blessed the boys that day with this blessing: “The people of Israel will use your names when they give a blessing. They will say, ‘May God make you as prosperous as Ephraim and Manasseh.’”

Sermon
Words have power. What we say matters. The Lord Jesus’ half-brother, James, writes that our lips speak both blessings and curses, and that it should not be so! The Lord Jesus warns us to be careful about even the most insignificant word we speak, because they matter. In the beginning God created Heaven and Earth with words. And across the Bible, even filling up our readings these past weeks across Genesis, we see the power of blessings spoken and coming true! What we say matters, and the Lord God has called us to be a people who bless and are a blessing!

The Bible is filled with blessings: God blessing people; fathers blessing children; kings blessing God’s people and God’s people blessing kings! Here, in our morning’s reading, we see Grandfather Jacob blessing his son, Joseph’s, boys, Manasseh and Ephraim.

“Blessing” is a powerful word across the Bible and across our culture. It can be belittled to simply refer to any nice thing that happens to us or that we’d like to have happen to another. And yet, at the same time, it still echoes with a sense of the divine, the eternal, and the supernatural!

With so many people posting #BLESSED because they got what they wanted or because things are going their way, it’s interesting to me that, of the 112 references to the words bless, blessing, or blessed in the New Testament that none of them refer to material prosperity. Consider these passages:

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for Him… God blesses those who mourn… God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right… God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are My followers…” (Matthew 5:3–4, 10–11)
“Blessed are all who hear the Word of God and put it into practice.” (Luke 11:28)
“What [blessings] for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sins are put out of sight.” (Romans 4:7; quoting Psalm 32:1)
“God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation…” (James 1:12)
“Blessed are those who die in the Lord from now on… Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” (Revelation 14:13, 19:9)

There is no hint of material prosperity or perfect circumstances in any New Testament reference. On the contrary, blessing is typically connected with either poverty and trial or the spiritual benefits of being joined to Jesus by faith. Makarioi is the Greek word translated “blessed” in these passages, and it means “to be fully satisfied”. It refers to those receiving God’s favor, regardless of the circumstances.

So, what is blessing, then? The Bible seems to portray blessing as anything God gives that points us to Him: Anything that draws us closer to Jesus; anything that helps us surrender in greater ways to the Holy Spirit; anything that helps us relinquish the day-to-day and hold on more tightly to the eternal.

We’re reading through the Old Testament as a church this 2017. (The daily readings are in our Bulletins each week, or you can follow along in The Daily Walk devotional if you’d like some commentary on what we’re reading.) A couple weeks ago, when reading Genesis 12, we read the blessing the Lord God spoke over Abraham, saying, “And I will bless you… and you shall be a blessing… and in you shall all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” So, as we see Jacob blessing his grandkids today and remember God calling Abraham to bless and be a blessing, I think the Father has been blessing us to bless, as well.

So, let me teach you how to bless someone. (I’m not just talking about saying, “God bless you,” to someone, though when we say that with authority it is a powerful gift. But, no, I’m talking about personally and powerfully asking the Lord to bring about, in some person’s life, that which will point them to the Father, draw them to Jesus, help them surrender more to the Spirit, and/or to let go of the temporal and hold on to God.

You can do it in very formal ways or fairly informal ones. You can raise your hand up over someone or you can lightly place your hand on their head or shoulder. (Always ask permission before touching someone, even to give them a blessing. Sadly, for some people, being touched has not been a good thing.) And then ask God’s blessing on them, or ask His protection for them. Have you ever seen the face of a grandparent light up when one of the grandkids comes in the room? Well, ask that they would know how the Lord’s face lights up like that when He looks upon them. Ask that they’d know and embrace His grace, and that they’d have confidence to pray knowing that He wants to give them good gifts. That they would know His wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, and harmony; that they would know that everything needed to bring them to God and keep them close to Him forever has been provided for in full!

Send notes of blessing. Offer prayers of blessing during your own prayer times. And, of course, reach out to bless that baby, or that person who’s struggling that the Lord just drew near, or that one who for some reason the Lord is simply drawing your attention to. Bless, as is our calling and our privilege in Christ!

Now, I want us to pair up. Find someone next to you or in front of you or behind you… (I know, if you’re shy you hate this kind of stuff. But I hope the Lord will surprise you with this…) If there’s nobody nearby you then move around to wherever you can partner-up with another. Just the two of you, please…
Anybody not have a partner? because then I’ll partner with you…
Now that we’re two-by-two, consider your partner and ask the Holy Spirit how you can bless this person. (I’ll give you a minute to ask the Holy Spirit and to then listen to the Holy Spirit.) …

Now, let’s raise our hand over, or, if we have permission, let’s place a hand gently on our partner’s head or shoulder, and speak the blessing that comes to us for them. After the one person is finished, it’ll be the other person’s turn to put their hand up or on and give their blessing… (It doesn’t have to be long, but it might be…) Let’s bless each other…

Words have power, and what we say matters. And God wants us to ask Him for good things; for great things! Great families, financial wealth, and good health are all wonderful gifts we can ask God for and even thank God for, but they are not His greatest blessings. God’s greatest blessing always rests in God Himself. When we have Him, we are truly #BLESSED.