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Sermon Series

 

June 12, 2016 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 [NLTse]

13 And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with Him the believers who have died.

15 We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet Him ahead of those who have died. 16 For the Lord Himself will come down from Heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. 17 Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. 18 So encourage each other with these words.

5:1 Now concerning how and when all this will happen, dear brothers and sisters, we don’t really need to write you. 2 For you know quite well that the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. 3 When people are saying, “Everything is peaceful and secure,” then disaster will fall on them as suddenly as a pregnant woman’s labor pains begin. And there will be no escape.

4 But you aren’t in the dark about these things, dear brothers and sisters, and you won’t be surprised when the day of the Lord comes like a thief. 5 For you are all children of the light and of the day; we don’t belong to darkness and night. 6 So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and be clearheaded. 7 Night is the time when people sleep and drinkers get drunk. 8 But let us who live in the light be clearheaded, protected by the armor of faith and love, and wearing as our helmet the confidence of our salvation.

9 For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out His anger on us. 10 Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when He returns, we can live with Him forever. 11 So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.

Sermon – “Ready or Not, Here I Come”

Who here wears a seatbelt when you drive or ride in a car? … (In all honesty, who would wear one even if it wasn’t the law?) … Who here has automobile insurance? Would you have auto insurance if it wasn’t the law? …

When Jesus Christ conquered death and rose from the dead that first Easter Sunday morning, He taught His followers many things before He eventually returned to Heaven forty days later. One of the things the Lord Jesus taught those first followers – and that has been passed on to us, as well – is that Jesus will return to earth someday. He will return for us; He will return to reward and to punish everyone who has ever lived for the deeds we’ve done and the reasons we did them; He will return to bring an end to this sinful, fallen, broken Creation; and, in its place, He will return to establish a new and perfect Heaven and a new and perfect earth where Christians will live again, and be able to live with Him forever.

Several passages across the Bible indicate that we do not, and cannot, know the time when the Lord will return. The Lord Jesus Himself said, “You must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.” (Matthew 24:44) Jesus said, “Keep watch! For you do not know the day or hour of My return.” (Matthew 25:13) He said, “No one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in Heaven or the Son Himself. Only the Father knows. And since you don’t know when that time will come, be on guard! Stay alert!” (Mark 13:32-33) Of course, the practical result of all this is that anyone who claims to know when Jesus is coming back is automatically to be considered wrong.

That being acknowledged, the Bible speaks of several events that will happen leading up to the Lord’s return:

  • The good news about Jesus will be proclaimed to every nation (see Mark 13:10 and Matthew 24:14);
  • Christians will endure a time of horrible persecution and suffering (see Mark 13:7-8; Matthew 24:15-22; Luke 21:20-24);
  • False prophets will try to lead Christians away from believing in the Lord Jesus by performing wonders and miracles (see Mark 13:22; Matthew 24:23-24);
  • One of these false prophets will be a charismatic world leader who will proclaim him- or her-self to be Jesus-returned and seek to be worshiped as God (2 Thessalonians 2:1-10);
  • The sun and moon will behave strangely, accompanied by showers of meteors striking all over the face of the earth (see Mark 13:24-25; Matthew 24:29-30; Luke 21:25-27); and,
  • Many, many, many Jews will become Christians and trust that Christ is God and their Savior and their Lord (see Romans 11:12, 25-26).

Now, the good news about Jesus has been proclaimed to every nation, and yet, there are still many people and language-groups-of-people who have never heard the gospel. [the “suffering” slide] The suffering and persecution of Christians for our faith has been constant in different regions of the world since the days of the apostles, and yet the degree of persecution and suffering that the Bible speaks of towards the End seems to be much more widespread than the world has so-far ever known. [the “false prophets” slide] There have been many false prophets and teachers and wonder-working deceivers around since Bible days, and yet the Bible seems to portray it all leading up to [the “antiChrist” slide] a popular, anti-Christian world leader the likes of which we have not encountered yet. [the “meteor shower” slide] We have experienced all manner of meteor-strikes, eclipses, and signs in the heavens, but what the Bible points to in these “last-days events” seems unprecedented. [the “mass baptism” slide”] And although many, many Jews have become Christians across the centuries, the Bible seems to be indicating a mass-conversion that will happen across a fairly short period of time towards the End, something unknown since the first century.

So, although it is possible that these signs have already been fulfilled, it seems unlikely. And yet, since the only event that seems certainly not to have occurred – the darkening of the sun and moon and the falling of the stars – since that event could occur within the space of a few minutes or an hour, it seems appropriate to say that, although unlikely, Jesus Christ could now return at any hour of the day or night. And, of course, in preparation for His return, the Bible tells us to “be alert”; to “be ready”!

But is it possible to be ready for something that we think unlikely to happen anytime soon? I think so. It seems to me that everyone who wears a seatbelt or who purchases automobile insurance is getting ready for an event that he or she thinks is unlikely… (Afterall, if we thought an accident were likely, we likely wouldn’t get into the car at all.)

So, although it may be unlikely for Jesus Christ to return today, are you confident that you are ready for Christ to return, if He does return today? …

If you knew the Lord Jesus was going to return within the next 24 hours, what habits or practices would you admit to being sinful, ask forgiveness for, and commit to banish from your life? What situations would you get working to straighten out by His appearing? If you knew the Lord was going to return within the next 24 hours, what relationships would you get working to straighten out by then? …

The Lord Jesus Christ has commanded us to “be alert”; to “be ready”. On account of His imminent return, what do you think you should do today about these habits and practices? What do you think you should do about those situations, those relationships, even though it may be unlikely that He will return today? …



June 5, 2016 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

Colossians 4:7-18 [NLTse]

7 Tychicus will give you a full report about how I am getting along. He is a beloved brother and faithful helper who serves with me in the Lord’s work. 8 I have sent him to you for this very purpose—to let you know how we are doing and to encourage you. 9 I am also sending Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, one of your own people. He and Tychicus will tell you everything that’s happening here.

10 Aristarchus, who is in prison with me, sends you his greetings, and so does Mark, Barnabas’s cousin. As you were instructed before, make Mark welcome if he comes your way. 11 Jesus (the one we call Justus) also sends his greetings. These are the only Jewish believers among my co-workers; they are working with me here for the Kingdom of God. And what a comfort they have been!

12 Epaphras, a member of your own fellowship and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends you his greetings. He always prays earnestly for you, asking God to make you strong and perfect, fully confident that you are following the whole will of God. 13 I can assure you that he prays hard for you and also for the believers in Laodicea and Hierapolis.

14 Luke, the beloved doctor, sends his greetings, and so does Demas. 15 Please give my greetings to our brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church that meets in her house.

16 After you have read this letter, pass it on to the church at Laodicea so they can read it, too. And you should read the letter I wrote to them.

17 And say to Archippus, “Be sure to carry out the ministry the Lord gave you.”

18 HERE IS MY GREETING IN MY OWN HANDWRITING—PAUL.

Remember my chains.

May God’s grace be with you.

Sermon – “Every Day Saints”

Onesimus was a slave. He belonged to the patron of the Colossian church – a man named Philemon. The Colossian-Christians gathered each Lord’s Day for Worship in Philemon’s home (and, it was to this same Philemon that the Bible’s letter Philemon is written). It seems that Onesimus had been accused of stealing from his master, and rather than face the accusations, Onesimus had fled and made his way from small city, Colosse, to big city, Ephesus, two weeks journey away.

In Ephesus the Holy Spirit drew Onesimus to the apostle Paul’s preaching and teaching. We know that Paul was a leatherworker, and as Onesimus looked for work in the markets of Ephesus it seems that he came across Paul’s ministry and influence there. He became a Christian. And suddenly Onesimus faced his first test of faith.

You see, slaves had no rights at this time in Roman society, and the typical punishment for runaway slaves was to be branded on the forehead with a Roman “FUG” (for fugitivus) and to have various joints crushed or bones broken, depending upon the value of the slave and the work the owner wanted him or her to continue being able to do. And so, Onesimus had to either trust and obey Jesus Christ and return to his master, or he had to deny the Lord and continue his life as a fugitive.

Here in Paul’s letter to the Colossians we see how Onesimus responded: He accompanied Tychicus in bringing Paul’s letter to the Colossians, and he himself delivered Paul’s letter to his master, Philemon.

Has anyone here said something or done something that the Holy Spirit is calling you to confess? Maybe you’ve lied to your parents or cheated on your taxes or stolen from a store or something much worse or something not as bad, but whatever it’s been you’ve kept it a secret, you’ve kept it to yourself, it’s eating you up inside but you’re afraid of what might happen if you were to obey the Lord and be honest and confess it and come clean…

If it has anything to do with somebody else in this room, I charge you to not leave today without admitting it, asking forgiveness, and doing everything in your power to be reconciled. If it has to do with others not a part of this church, commit right now in the presence of God to address it, admit it, to right the wrong, as soon as possible, and by week’s end at the latest…

We don’t know what Philemon did when Onesimus returned. We don’t know how he responded to Paul’s plea for mercy that fills his letter to Philemon. But history tells us that at the turn of the first century all the many house-churches of the great city of Ephesus were under the shepherding of a bishop named Onesimus. We don’t know if that bishop was the same runaway-slave-Onesimus as Paul is commending to the Colossian church here. But such a responsibility over Christ’s beloved Church would be worthy of someone who had trusted the Lord Jesus enough to face the consequences of their sins, no matter what those consequences might be.

My brothers and sisters: Come clean; face your fears; trust Jesus; humble yourself to the Lord that He might lift you up.

John Mark was the cousin of Barnabas. Barnabas, the famous encourager who sold some land he owned in order to help provide for the needs of those first twelve apostles and the early church; the same Barnabas who, after Paul stopped hunting Christians and became one, took Paul under his wing when no one else would; the same Barnabas whom Paul accompanied on that first great missionary journey to plant churches in Paphos and Salamis on the island of Cyprus, and in Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, and Attalia in what was then called Asia (and is now called Turkey).

John Mark had accompanied Barnabas and Paul on that first missionary journey, but for some unexplained reason, when they arrived in Asia after their trials and victories on Cyprus, John Mark left them to return to Jerusalem.

Acts tells us that Barnabas and Paul continued on together without Mark (John Mark), but that when Barnabas and Paul began planning their next missionary journey, that because Barnabas wanted to bring Mark along with them again, that Barnabas and Paul separated because Paul refused to trust Mark to not leave them again.

And here we have John Mark again, included once more among Paul’s trusted co-workers. Their friendship and trust in one another has been restored, and the gospel of God’s friendship with humanity, and His entrusting us with the good news of His Son, shows its power to all who know their story. Of course, we don’t know whether Paul first approached Mark for forgiveness or whether Mark first approached Paul, but every kind word they say to each other, every expression of trust given and trust lived out, exhibits the resurrection-power of Jesus to all them.

Who are you living in broken-relationship with? Who has hurt you whom you refuse to forgive? Who have you hurt whom you refuse to ask forgiveness? Let it end today. They do not have to ask your forgiveness. You can stop holding onto the grudge today, right now, every time it comes to your mind laying the offense at the foot of the cross to be washed, covered, by Jesus’ blood there. You can tell that person who’s upset at you that you are sorry today, right now. You can lay your pride down at the foot of that same cross and prove that your relationship with them is more important to you than are your rights. Let the world see the power of the resurrection at work in your life, your relationships. “Do everything you can to live at peace with all people,” Paul wrote. It shows the power of God in you, like it did in Paul and John Mark.

John Mark went on to accompany the apostle Simon Peter on many of his preaching and teaching journeys, wrote the Gospel of Mark, and is credited with bringing Christianity to northern Africa where Coptic and Orthodox churches continue to revere him as their founder today…

Of course, there is Demas. We don’t know much about Demas, other than that he was a “fellow worker” for the gospel with Paul. But we read that Demas later rejected Christ because “he loved this world.”

It seems that Demas didn’t want to make the sacrifices that our Savior requires. He didn’t want to do the work of reconciliation and forgiveness. He didn’t want to suffer the persecutions and hostilities of being a Christian: “He loved this world.”

Demas reminds us that we either are loving the Lord or we are loving the world. And it’s easy to tell which: You can tell by how you spend your money, how you spend your time, and in what activities you invest your abilities and talents day after day. The things, teachings, and priorities of our society and culture are powerful lures away from Christ.

Look at your lives: Have the things of the world crowded out Jesus? When you hear His call in the Scriptures do you respond, “Yeah, but…”? Is the Holy Spirit calling you to repent of anything sinful, worldly, or that’s making your heart hard toward the things of God today? Well, repent! Let Demas be our warning! “He loved this world”…

Lastly, I want to lift up Aristarchus to us all. Aristarchus was from the city of Thessalonica, and all that we know about him besides that is that he was always there. When Paul’s team was seized by rioters in Ephesus, Aristarchus was among those who were seized. He accompanied Paul to Macedonia and Achaia after that. And when Paul returned to Ephesus, we see that Aristarchus returned with him. When Paul was sent to Rome to be tried by the Emperor, Aristarchus was with him. Paul writes that Aristarchus was his “fellow prisoner” and that Aristarchus was his “fellow laborer”. We don’t know if he was gifted in any kind of special way. We don’t ever see him speaking or doing anything remarkable. Faithful Aristarchus: It seems he was simply always there.

And so, I ask you: Are you always there for Christ? When Sunday comes, are you always in Worship, wherever you may be? Are you always at Bible Study, always at the Prayer Meetings, always encouraging the leaders of the ministries and the leaders of the church with your presence and support? Be here. Be there. Always. Let the church be your family. Let your family be the church. Always be there for Jesus by always being here/there, whatever is going on, be a part of it. Faithful. Always there…



May 29, 2016 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

To the Colossians 1:1-14 [NLTse]
This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and from our brother Timothy.
2 We are writing to God’s holy people in the city of Colosse, who are faithful brothers and sisters in Christ.
May God our Father give you grace and peace.
3 We always pray for you, and we give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 4 For we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all of God’s people, 5 which come from your confident hope of what God has reserved for you in Heaven. You have had this expectation ever since you first heard the truth of the Good News.
6 This same Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is bearing fruit everywhere by changing lives, just as it changed your lives from the day you first heard and understood the truth about God’s wonderful grace.
7 You learned about the Good News from Epaphras, our beloved co-worker. He is Christ’s faithful servant, and he is helping us on your behalf. 8 He has told us about the love for others that the Holy Spirit has given you.
9 So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of His will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10 Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.
11 We also pray that you will be strengthened with all His glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, 12 always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to His people, who live in the light. 13 For He has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of His dear Son, 14 Who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.

Sermon – “Legacy: Planning For the End”

What kind of person do you want to be?

As many of you know, I turned fifty-one a little over two weeks ago. When I was a kid I don’t think I ever thought about myself. When I was a teen I only wondered what others thought about me. When I was in my twenties I focused more on how much money I could get and how much stuff I could acquire. In my thirties I thought a lot about what I could and would accomplish. Across my forties I compared myself a lot with those around me, looking to see how my life looked in comparison.

But now that I’ve hit the big “five-O” I realize that there’s likely more life behind me than there is ahead of me! And it’s gotten me starting to look at myself more closely, wondering: Who I am, really? What have I done? What am I leaving behind? Has my life mattered? Day by day, is my life mattering still?

It’s not a series of questions that have to wait until you’re my age. Although the vast majority of funerals I attend or am a part of are for older people, Jason Bell’s funeral yesterday, and Sandy Meyer’s many years ago; my wife, Amy’s, brother dying when he was twenty-three, and my brother dying when he was twenty-one, all remind me – and should remind us all! – that no matter how young and invulnerable we are or we feel, not one of us is promised another moment beyond the one we’re breathing in and our hearts are beating through right now…

Steven Covey of “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” fame has been encouraging readers to begin asking such questions across the past 20 years. And his son, Sean Covey, has been encouraging ever-younger readers to begin asking these same questions, as well:

What kind of person do you want to be?

As of the writing of this letter, the apostle Paul had never been to the city of Colossae, but in Colossians 1 Paul tells the church that he had heard about them. It seems they had quite the reputation.

As we ask ourselves what kind of person we want to be, finding out what kind of reputation we have can surely help us know what kind of person we have become. Whether it is a reputation you are happy about or a reputation that upsets you, as we think about the kind of person we want to be our reputation can help us know where we are now, which can help us begin planning how to get from here to there.

The Colossians’ reputation that the apostle Paul had heard about was that they were known for trusting in Christ and for loving their fellow Christians. A commendable reputation! The kind of reputation we have promised Jesus we would have when we got baptized!

It’s interesting to me that Paul doesn’t go on in his letter from there to simply commend the Colossians for their faith. No. The very next thing he does is commit to pray for them, and he says he will be praying for them for two reasons: (1) So that the way they live will always honor and please the Lord, and so that their lives will produce every kind of good fruit; and, (2) so that they will grow as they learn to know God better and better.

For the apostle Paul, he’s not just pleased to know who the Colossians are now, he’s concerned about the kind of people they will grow to be.

The Book of Numbers introduces us to a man named Caleb. Now, Caleb was the leader of the Tribe of Judah, even though Caleb was not a native-born Israelite. The Bible tells us that Caleb was a Kenizzite, from one of the wild, nomadic tribes that roamed the Sinai Peninsula in search of good pastureland. It seems that Caleb’s family, or perhaps his entire tribe, had become slaves alongside the Israelites in Egypt, and had embraced the Hebrew God as their own and afterwards joined with Israel. Caleb must have been a remarkable man and a remarkable man of faith, because, after the exodus, when God released the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt, Caleb was the head of the Israelite tribe of Judah. And, after fleeing Egypt, and as Israel was about to enter into the land God had promised Israel’s ancestors – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – as Judah’s chief elder, Caleb was sent along with the eleven other tribal heads to scout out the Promised Land.

Maybe you know the story, but after the twelve had thoroughly reconnoitered the land, ten of the tribal leaders came back and gave a discouraging report, with only Caleb and Moses’ successor, Joshua, giving and encouraging one.

Notes
It was during this new season of self-reflection that I picked up Gordon MacDonald’s bookThe Life God Blesses. A seasoned ministry veteran with a lot of life insight, he asked the question, “What kind of old man do you want to be?” He’d been reading the story of Caleb, who at eighty-five was described as following the Lord God of Israel “wholeheartedly.”

MacDonald started looking around for other older men who were at their very best in their twilight years. “One thing quickly became clear. I have known a lot of old men, but my list of ‘emulatable’ old men was alarmingly short.”

This was true for a variety of reasons. Some had drifted into self-centeredness, while others had become impatient and cynical toward the next generation. Some had let the later years sour them into becoming grumpy and critical. Many simply lived in the past and were no longer leaning forward into the future.

Securing a spot on MacDonald’s list of “emulatable” old men had virtually nothing to do with achievement or success as we often define it. It had more to do with character and attitude and “being.”

Having served in ministry more than three decades, I find myself less enamored with accomplishment and the bravado that often accompanies it. I am more drawn to men and women who live well than to those who live big. But those who’ve been in ministry a long time and are living well aren’t that easy to find. Why aren’t there more whose twilight years are their highlight years?

I think Henri Nouwen gives us a clue.
I began to experience a deep inner threat. As I entered into my fifties and was able to realize the unlikelihood of doubling my years, I came face to face with the simple question, “Did becoming older bring me closer to Jesus?” After twenty-five years of priesthood, I found myself praying poorly, living somewhat isolated from other people, and very much preoccupied with burning issues.
Pastors write thousands of sermons, lead thousands of meetings, and prepare thousands of budgets. (or at least it seems like it). Twenty or twenty-five years of pushing and striving and leading take its toll. We can feel drained, fatigued, and even jaded. The thought of one more vision message or capital campaign just doesn’t crank up the adrenaline like it once did.

At this point in life we’re very capable of leading out of our experience and knowledge rather than the deep well of a healthy soul. On the outside we have the answers, but on the inside we have questions. To further complicate matters, our physical stamina begins to diminish.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying passion for ministry goes away. I am saying it feels different than when you first started. As a twenty-five-year veteran, you face a whole new set of challenges. The triple-A of adrenaline, ambition, and achievement aren’t enough to sustain you anymore.

Like Nouwen, we have to admit that decades of ministry haven’t necessarily made us more like Jesus. Our sermons are better, our leadership is better, our staff management is better, our planning is better, but our intimacy with Jesus? Not so much.

And for some of us, there is the disillusionment that ministry hasn’t turned out like we thought it would. We’ve done the best we could, but more often than we want to admit, ministry has been more babysitting than leading, more mundane than miraculous, more life-taking than life-giving.

Some days we want out. We daydream about what it’s like on the outside. We fantasize about a prison break from the constraints of ministry. We wonder what it would be like to have a “normal” life. We ponder how it would feel to have weekends off. We dream of not being constantly scrutinized.

If ministry hasn’t turned out like you expected, I want to ask you the same question that Gordon MacDonald asked. What kind of old man or woman do you want to be? I’m not asking what kind of ministry you want to have. I’m asking about you, as a person, as a Christ follower. You can’t undo the past, and you can’t control all of your circumstances, but you so have a choice about the life you are going to live.
?
We have a gut-wrenching choice to make. We can put our ministry on autopilot and move into image-management mode. Or we can do the hard work of reinventing ourselves, of reworking the last chapters of life. If you have been drinking at the well of ambition and success and drivenness . . . that well will run dry. It’s time to drill a new well that will sustain you as you get older.