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December 11, 2016 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

The Gospel of Luke 6:20-38 [NLTse]
20 Then Jesus turned to His disciples and said, “God blesses you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours. 21 God blesses you who are hungry now, for you will be satisfied. God blesses you who weep now, for in due time you will laugh.
22 What blessings await you when people hate you and exclude you and mock you and curse you as evil because you follow the Son of Man. 23 When that happens, be happy! Yes, leap for joy! For a great reward awaits you in Heaven. And remember, their ancestors treated the ancient prophets that same way.

24 “What sorrow awaits you who are rich, for you have your only happiness now. 25 What sorrow awaits you who are fat and prosperous now, for a time of awful hunger awaits you. What sorrow awaits you who laugh now, for your laughing will turn to mourning and sorrow. 26 What sorrow awaits you who are praised by the crowds, for their ancestors also praised false prophets.

27 “But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. 28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. 30 Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. 31 Do to others as you would like them to do to you.

32 “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! 33 And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! 34 And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return.

35 “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from Heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for He is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. 36 You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.
37 “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.”

Sermon
Anybody here like fast food? Amy and I were vegetarians for a while in our early marriage. But every day, when we took a walk together, we would pass by this McDonald’s and have to smell the French fry aroma… (I’m convinced they pump that smell out of their restaurants to torture and entice those walking by…)

After about a month of sticking so well to our Black Bean and Cheese Enchiladas with Ranchero Sauce and Eggplant Parmesan and Three-Bean Vegetarian Chili we couldn’t take the smell any more: We went in, ordered a large fry, and… “Ahh!”

I’m more of a Wendy’s-guy these days, [take out Wendy’s bag] but I still love French fries. And yet, something always seems to get confused when I order. Because the cook always serves me up an order of fries that looks like this [taking the typical fries out of the bag], when, in my head, my order of fries looks like this! [Take the “God-sized” order out of the bag.] [Set the two boxes of fries on the Lord’s Table.]

In our reading from Luke, the Lord speaks of four conditions in which people can truly know His blessing when they are following Him. He says, “Blessed are you who are poor… blessed are you who hunger now… blessed are you who weep now… and, blessed are you when people hate you.” And yet, who wants to be poor or hungry? Who wants to cry all the time or be hated by everybody around you? These are situations we want to get out of! These are situations that make us think that God is against us; that we’ve done something wrong that He’s punishing us for!

But the Lord Jesus says that such circumstances are okay to be in and go through in life. He says that such times are not a sign of God’s disfavor, they are just a part of life in this sinful world. In fact, He tells us, when you’re in such circumstances, know that God is with you to bless you: So, persevere and keep trusting God; because the Kingdom of God is yours, and in due time you will have more than you could ever possibly imagine, be satisfied, you will laugh, and you will be proven right in front of all those who did you wrong…

Of course, the Lord is not saying that every poor person or hungry person, mourner or outcast will have a place in God’s Kingdom. He is saying that Christians are much better off being poor, being hungry, crying all the time, and being excluded, rejected, and hated (if that is their circumstances), while following Him and being a part of His Kingdom than being rich, fat, happy, and popular, while satisfying their own desires and not being a part of His Kingdom.
That is why they were “blessed”.

In contrast with the disciples who’d given up everything to follow Jesus were those people who refused to follow Him if it meant they had to give up anything at all. Their things and their status was more important to them than Christ and eternal life. They didn’t understand the gravity of the situation confronting them: Heaven or Hell! When having to choose between the world’s happiness and success and the Kingdom’s happiness and success, they chose the world. And so the good things they knew in this life would be the only good things they would know. In the world to come it would all be taken from them…

The Lord Jesus goes on to share seven aspects of unconditional love. They are each supernaturally empowered. A person can’t truly love like this on their own, only in Christ. And such love is proof of the Holy Spirit and Christ’s righteousness upon a person.
1. Jesus said, “Treat lovingly those who are openly hostile towards you.”
2. He said, “Do good towards and treat well those who passionately dislike you.”
3. “Always build up and say good things about those who are always being nasty towards you and putting you down.”
4. “Ask the Lord’s help for and blessing on those who are actively hurting you.”
5. “Don’t take revenge on or try to get even with those who hurt you.”
6. “Give freely to all who ask and even to those who want to take.” And,
7. “Treat others the way you want to be treated.”
With all the talk about “bullying”, have any of us parents taught our kids to respond to bullies in these ways? That’s the path of blessing. That’s the way of love. One of the fundamental principles of the universe is that what we plant we will harvest. (Call it “karma” or say that “what comes around goes around”, but it is a simple fact of life that)
• Showing mercy leads to being shown mercy. (And showing great mercy leads to being shown great mercy!)
• Judging others leads to being judged. (And condemning others leads to being condemned.)
• Forgiving others leads to being forgiven. (And forgiving others even their horrific offenses will lead us being forgiven our horrific offenses.)
• And, giving to others leads to being given to. (And giving generously, lavishly, and overflowingly leads to being given to generously, lavishly, and overflowingly.)
The measure we give in showing mercy, judging others, giving and forgiving is the measure we will receive…

The world has small, medium, large, and sometimes even “Super-size”. But Jesus is coming, and He wants us, Christians, to be showing everyone around us “God-size” while we wait for Him: Pressed down, shaken together, and running over. The Kingdom of God is at hand!



December 4, 2016 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

Luke 1:67-80
As our reading begins, John the Baptist has just been born…
May the Lord add His blessing to the reading of His Word:

67 Then his father, Zechariah, was filled with the Holy Spirit and gave this prophecy:
68 “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has visited and redeemed His people. 69 He has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of His servant David, 70 just as He promised through His holy prophets long ago. 71 Now we will be saved from our enemies and from all who hate us. 72 He has been merciful to our ancestors by remembering His sacred covenant—73 the covenant He swore with an oath to our ancestor Abraham. 74 We have been rescued from our enemies so we can serve God without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness for as long as we live.

76 “And you, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High, because you will prepare the way for the Lord. 77 You will tell His people how to find salvation through forgiveness of their sins. 78 Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from Heaven is about to break upon us, 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.” 80 John grew up and became strong in spirit. And he lived in the wilderness until he began his public ministry to Israel.
The Word of the Lord…

Sermon
When friends, coworkers, husbands and wives, and others end an argument or a fight these days, you can hear one ask the other, “So, are we good?” And sometimes the other person can be heard saying, “Yeah, we’re good,” even when they’re still holding a grudge and things really aren’t “good”.

But God’s not like that. He wants us to know – to be assured – when we are “good” with Him and when we are not.
Under the Old Covenant, God created a “way” for His people to be in right relationship with Him. This “way” was dependent upon people obeying God’s commands, His Law.

Let’s take a look at this by opening our Bibles to Deuteronomy 30:15-18…
After Israel’s exodus from Egypt – when God set them free from their slavery there (about 1,200 years before Christ) – Moses preached to them as they were getting ready to enter the land God had promised to give them, the land we today call “Israel”. And Moses preached these words that are now recorded in Deuteronomy 30,
“Listen! Today I am giving you a choice between life and death, between prosperity and disaster. For I command you this day to love the Lord your God and to keep His commands, decrees, and regulations by walking in His ways. If you do this, you will live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you and the land you are about to enter and occupy.
“But if your heart turns away and you refuse to listen, and if you are drawn away to serve and worship other gods, then I warn you now that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live a long, good life in the land you are crossing the Jordan to occupy.”

So, through Moses, the Lord was giving His people a choice: Life or death. And, how did Moses say that the people could be assured of a prosperous life in good-standing with God? Showing God they loved Him by obeying His commands.
Now, that’s not all that different from how Jesus would later talk about how we relate to God: In John 14:15 the Lord Jesus said that if we love God we’ll obey His commands. But look at verses 17-18 and we see the difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant: What did God say would happen to His people if they didn’t keep His commands? He says that they would be punished for their sin: God would punish them with death for their disobedience.
Now, God is unchanging. There really isn’t a “God of the Old Testament” and a “God of the New Testament”, as some will say. No. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And yet we can tend to think that God was harsher in the Old Testament and more forgiving in the New Testament.

But this isn’t really an accurate way of thinking about God. God showed compassion and grace all throughout the Old Testament, as time and time again Israel disobeyed and turned from following Him. God even allowed for the sacrificial system so that people could have their sins paid for by the life of an animal instead of their own lives.
Even so, under the Old Covenant, if you didn’t obey all of God’s commands – if you sinned against Him – you were unable to completely clear that debt you owed God. You could sacrifice animals, but you had to sacrifice them again and again, never being truly clean; never really being “good” with God.

How many of you wanted something that saw someone else having today? I mean, did you see someone’s dress and think: I wish I had that dress? Anyone here look at someone else’s car and think: I wish I had that car? Did you look at someone else’s parents or someone else’s kids and think: I wish they were mine instead of the ones I have? (Don’t raise your hands…) Have any of you been worried at all today? Anyone here had feelings of worry about our nation? Had worries about money? Had worries about the health or safety of any of your loved ones?

I ask you all that because it’s all sin: Wanting what others have or being worried about how-things-are or about what-might-happen is sin. And sin always comes between us and God. And since God’s commands tend to show us just how often we’re sinning, the Law really just showed Israel how impossible it was to be at peace with God because sin was always there and because sin always got in the way!

But the prophets said that “The Old System under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship.” The Old Covenant was good because it provided a way for God’s people to know Him. But it wasn’t perfect. From the beginning God had planned to put into motion a perfect plan, a new “way”, a New Covenant.

This is where Jesus comes in.
In our Scripture reading, John the Baptist’s dad, Zechariah the priest, is filled with the Holy Spirit, praising God as he anticipates the birth of Jesus Christ. Because in Jesus, Zechariah says,
• The Lord has visited and redeemed His people;
• According to Zechariah, the Lord Jesus is a mighty Savior!
• Jesus will save God’s people from our enemies and from all who hate us;
• In Jesus Christ we have been rescued from our enemies so we can serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness for as long as we live!
And how will Jesus do all of this? How will He bring to us this great salvation? Through the forgiveness of our sins.
As Zechariah thinks about the Lord Jesus’ birth he says, “the morning light from Heaven is about to break upon us! To give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace!”
In the Old Covenant, the blood of animals paid for the sins of the people. But these sacrifices needed to be offered over and over again, and were a constant reminder of the distance between God and His people because – as we showed in asking about wanting what others have and worrying – just as we constantly sin, God’s Old Covenant people constantly sinned. However, as God’s Son, Jesus’ life was the perfect offering to cover the sins of all people once and for all.
Jesus is the new “way”. He doesn’t point to the new “way”. He doesn’t represent the new “way”. He doesn’t teach us the new “way”. He is the new “way”!

In His love and wisdom, God sent His only, perfect Son to die in our place. This ushered in a New Covenant, one marked by grace through faith in His sacrifice to forgive us our sins. If we believe in Jesus and accept His sacrifice on our behalf, we are once and forever saved from our sins.

It’s not, “Did I do more good today than I did sin?” No. We don’t have to keep track of our sins, beating ourselves up for each and all the ways we’ve failed and fallen out of step with God. No. We are covered: Once on the cross, and for all of our sins – once and for all – we are covered. Through Jesus’ selfless sacrifice on the cross for us, we can have peace with God – even while we’re sinning – for eternity. And, as we’re sinning, and we’re realizing that we have peace with God, even so, it makes us want to stop sinning: [To the Lord] “I don’t want to do that to You!”

When the angel announced Jesus’ birth to the shepherds, what did the angel say? The angel said he had “good news” that would bring “great joy” for all God’s people: A Savior has been born! With His death and resurrection, Jesus forever took away the burden of our sins and created a new “way” of relating to God, through Himself, through His once and for all sacrifice!

Christmas is a celebration of the Lord Jesus’ birth, but is also be a celebration of the freedom we have to be God’s children. We don’t have to work to be His children, we can just be…

On account of the birth of Jesus Christ, we have been rescued from our enemies – including sin and death and self-condemnation – so we can serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness for as long as we live.



November 27, 2016 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

Mark 14:32-42 [NLTse]
32 They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34 “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”

35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36 “Abba,[f] Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
37 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,”he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour?38 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
39 Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. 40 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.

41 Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

Sermon
For years, when I thought of prayer, I saw it as an obligation: A discipline that needed to be a part of my daily routine if I was to be a good Christian. I will never forget the day God decided it was time for me to grow out of that small thought.
I was struggling with God! Over the years I had found myself having discussions and arguments with God. It didn’t make a difference to me that He had always proven right in the past, this time He had definitely got it all wrong!

I was hurting, and I was resentful of the Lord’s absence and silence in the midst of my crisis. I was afraid to be honest about my resentment, so it took me a while before I dared to boldly make my complaint. But, eventually, my complaints poured out like a torrent as I listed my faithful efforts to deal with the circumstance. I remember being amazed to hear myself defend and promote myself before God. It was obvious to me that I had done my very best but God remained unfeelingly absent!

As I recall, I was amazed at His response to the ways I was feeling so sorry for myself and to the ways I was being so critical of Him?! Because, as I wound down, I had a growing sense of the presence of Jesus. He seemed to be almost tangibly near to me.

I had the sense that Jesus had been graciously waiting for me to finish! In response to my self-righteous litany of personal faithfulness, my heart heard Him say: “That’s right, Benjamin, you did all those things and much more than you remember! BUT, do you know why you did those things?” The Holy Spirit then opened my eyes to see our wonderful Father “high and lifted up”, sovereign and loving.

“You have prayed many prayers,” He said. “And not one of them has fallen unheard before Me. And I am going to answer above and beyond what you have thought to pray, Benjamin!” He then informed me that the only reason I had even thought of the prayers I had prayed was because I had “glimpsed dimly” what He had shown me in His Own heart! He was teaching me that when I felt like praying it was because He had initiated the prayer!

I have always felt a close affinity with David! His walk with God was so spontaneous, so loving and trusting, so vulnerable, so appealing to me that I have always aspired to be like him. One day I was reading 2 Samuel 7, thoroughly enjoying the conversation David was having with our God, when – it seemed like for the first time – I read David’s words in verse 27, “For You, O Lord of hosts, God of Israel, have revealed this to your servant, saying, ‘I will build you a house.’ Therefore, your servant found it in his heart to pray this prayer to You.”

The Father had taught me that when I felt like praying that it was because He was calling me to prayer. Now He was teaching me that what I prayed for He had inspired! And immediately other Scripture came to mind: “…without Me you can do nothing…” “…we do not know what we should pray for as we ought…” GOD INITIATES PRAYER and GOD INSPIRES PRAYER! He shows me when and what to pray!

Prayer has never been the same for me since. I saw that, while my prayers can be merely the expression of my own ideas, if I choose, that prayer is intended to be a transfer of God’s thoughts and plans into my heart!
The Father wants me to share His heart!! He wants me to be a part of what He is doing! Prayer is intended to be at our Father’s impulse! At His inspiration!

Abba was showing me that prayer was both natural – from me – and supernatural – from God! That, when praying rightly, that God is bridging the gap between Himself and me!

Jesus said, “Ask, and ye shall receive.” James said. “You do not have because you do not ask…or ask amiss.” I think we instinctively know that we can ask. And we know that we should not ask amiss (selfishly). What we often don’t know is that God simply wants us to want what He wants!

As I received the revelations that God initiates and inspires prayer, as I recognized that I was actually praying what originated in God’s heart, I realized that that meant that God desired the answer to those prayers more than I did! And the immediate result was, “Thank You, Father, for what You are going to do!”

Whenever I would face a situation that seemed discouraging, difficult, or even devastating the Holy Spirit would remind me of the reality of God’s heart filling my heart. I would then change my prayer from, “Please, God…” to “Thank You, Father, for what You are going to do!” And problems became possibilities: Possibilities for God to act!

Romans I shows us the importance of such thanksgiving to God. Human beings have become futile thinkers and human hearts have darkened because we have not thanked God! Thanksgiving is an attitude God has designed us for and intends for us to choose! Praying from a place of thanksgiving – for what God has initiated and inspired – is vital to a healthy relationship with our Father! It is living in reality! It is choosing to believe that God’s promises and faithfulness are more real than our circumstances.

“For the things that are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:18)
Burdensome and heavy prayers become outpourings of faith, hope, and love for our Father as we give thanks for what He is doing in our troublesome and wearying circumstances. Prayer is a joy and our privilege!