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Sermon Series

 

April 24, 2016 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

Second Corinthians 4:1-18 [NLTse]
Therefore, since God in His mercy has given us this new way, we never give up. 2 We reject all shameful deeds and underhanded methods. We don’t try to trick anyone or distort the Word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know this.
3 If the Good News we preach is hidden behind a veil, it is hidden only from people who are perishing. 4 Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, Who is the exact likeness of God.
5 You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, Who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.
7 We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.
8 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. 10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.
11 Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. 12 So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you.
13 But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.” 14 We know that God, Who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to Himself together with you. 15 All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.
16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

Sermon – “God’s New Way”
How many of you have been reading through the Bible with me since the beginning of the year? [Let people respond.] How many of you have been trying but have missed some days or gotten behind? [Let people respond.] I want to encourage you to keep on trying. Don’t let missing a day, or a couple of days, or even being weeks behind discourage you. Start fresh tomorrow morning, or whenever it is that you read and pray and spend that precious one-on-one time with the Lord.

We’ve read through the Gospel of John, the Book of Acts, Paul’s Letter To the Romans, Paul’s First Letter To the Corinthians, and now we are in the middle of his Second Letter To the Corinthians, this past week reading from 1 Corinthians 15 to 2 Corinthians 6.

2 Corinthians shows us the trouble Paul had impacting the Corinthian fellowship. Even though he was the one who started the church – being the first one to teach those living in Corinth about Jesus, and helping those who believed to begin living Jesus’ Way – Paul was not able to stay in Corinth very long that first mission trip, and so he wasn’t able to help disciple and grow the new believers there. Part of the reason for Paul’s not being able to stay very long seems to have been related to Paul’s injuries and poor health after being almost stoned to death in Thessalonica while striving to plant a church there. (The same Thessalonica that 1 & 2 Thessalonians is written to.) After Paul left Corinth, a very gifted preacher and evangelist named Apollos came to the city, preaching to and teaching the new church. The Christians in Corinth had come to faith through Paul’s ministry, but he had been weak and not at all well during his time ministering among them. But Apollos was commanding and authoritative, and he impressed them, and some among the church started discounting Paul’s teachings in favor of what Apollos had brought and taught.
So, we see in the beginning of 2 Corinthians Paul’s argument for their full attention and their full submission to his authority as an apostle. He didn’t need a letter of recommendation from other churches or from the other apostles – like Apollos did and others who weren’t apostles. No, the Corinthian church was Paul’s letter of recommendation. Their faith, hope, and love, and their lives following in Jesus’ Way, was all the recommendation anyone should have needed to have been assured of Paul’s calling and credentials.

In our reading from chapter 4 this morning, Paul makes clear that all the world has been blinded to the light of the gospel by the devil himself. That is, that Satan is spiritually preventing people from believing that Jesus is God and that, although He was killed, that God raised Him from the dead. Of course, Paul goes on to say that God the Father has opened the eyes of some. God is stronger than the devil and has overwhelmed the devil’s power so that some have come to believe in Jesus. And Paul speaks of this as ‘God shining His light into their hearts’.

Notice that Paul is making clear that this is all a completely spiritual phenomenon. Look at verses 7 and 8: The Corinthians did not come to believe in Jesus because of anything special in Paul or Apollos. They believed because God the Father shone His light into their hearts: Almighty God broke the devil’s chains that had been spiritually locking up the Corinthians’ minds. And now, set free, they were able to understand the truth of the gospel and put their trust in the Lord.

Does anybody know what this is? It is the world being in such a place that it can’t see the full reflection of the sun on the moon. During a full moon the Earth is in a place where we can see fully the sun’s radiance reflected on the entirety of moon’s sunward-facing surface. The phases of the moon reveal the fact that during any given month the moon slowly – night by night – moves to where we, here on the Earth, can only see smaller and smaller portions of the sun’s reflection on it, until it reaches “new moon” phase (so it’s called) where none of the sun’s reflection can be seen. And then the opposite begins to happen as, night by night, the moon keeps moving so that we, here on the Earth, can see more and more of the sun’s reflection upon it, until it’s back to full moon phase.
There’s nothing in the moon that generates light, and yet, at full moon it shines so brightly, reflecting the sun’s radiance, that you can walk around and be about your business in the middle of the night by its light, almost as though it were daytime. It’s not the moon’s work; it’s merely the moon fully reflecting the sun. Paul is saying, it’s not his and Apollos’ power at work in the Corinthians: its God’s work through them.

In verses 8-10 Paul talks about all the hardships and persecutions he’s had to face for Christ’s sake, but notice how he speaks of them – not as a weakness, but – as a badge of authenticity and honor! Paul’s trials parallel the Lord Jesus’ Own trials. And it was the same power that raised Jesus from the dead that had been working in Paul to help him face and overcome with faith, joy, and hope all that had been set against him.

And here Paul reminds the Corinthians (I’m at verse 12, where he says, “So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you,” and verse 15, where he says, “All of this – that is, his hardships – is for your benefit”), he reminds them that it was the manner in which he faced his injuries and wounds, and the infirmities and troubles that resulted from them, that drew them – by God’s grace – to trust in Christ. The Corinthians saw Paul trusting in Jesus although Jesus had allowed Paul to be almost killed. The Corinthians saw Paul hope in Jesus’ promises of life and a reward after this life even though Jesus had allowed Paul to go through such suffering, hardship, and pain. The Corinthians saw Paul loving Jesus Christ and saw him believing that Jesus Christ loved him, too, even in midst of all his difficulties, problems, and misery. Paul reminds them that that – his attitude in the face of hardship and suffering – that that is what had drawn them to put their trust and hope in Jesus Christ themselves, and to love Jesus, too.

And Paul ends, in our reading, telling the Corinthians that he continues to face his trials and the aches and pains of his bruised and broken body, by not looking at the troubles he can see around him now, but by fixing his gaze on that which cannot be seen – the presence of God with and within him, the power of the Holy Spirit that assures him of success in everything Christ calls him to, and the promises the Lord has made him (and us all) of grace and peace here and now, and new life – perfection! – in the new Heaven and the new Earth in the resurrection to come.

Let me close by highlighting three things for us all.
First, this new life we have and share in Christ is a spiritual phenomenon. Our enemies are not people – flesh and blood – they are powers – demons and devils – mostly invisible to most people. And the Word of God and prayer are our most basic weapons in standing and fighting against them. You must be reading the Bible daily, and you must not give up reading the Bible even when you’ve missed a couple days or even weeks. You must pray. Join us at these Prayer Meetings to ask God to stand with us and for us and his area- and worldwide-church against these unseen powers and forces that are so intent and determined to tear down and destroy you and your families and everything you love and everything that is good.
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Because it is all a spiritual phenomenon, our obedience to all that God commands results in our life and the lives of those around us being transformed by God’s power. We obey Him and serve and love those around us because God uses our words and actions in the spiritual realm to bind up devils and demons and to set captives free.
It’s all a spiritual phenomenon. We can only live it fully and successfully by living it God’s Way.

Second: God has chosen you. If you believe that Jesus Christ is God, and that, although He died, that He overcame death because He is stronger than death, then God has picked you to be the recipient of His grace, because you can’t believe these things on your own, not unless Almighty God Himself has lit-up your heart. God the Father has set you free from Satan’s bondage so that you can draw close to Him through the cross of Jesus Christ, and so that you can live Jesus’ Way – loving and serving Jesus and loving and serving those around you – empowered by the Holy Spirit to do so. God Himself has chosen you to live this new life!

And lastly: You and I were created and made new in Christ to be full moons. The power is not ours. We are “clay vessels”: Fragile, weak (oftentimes), and easily hurt and broken. Even so, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit has chosen to do His work here on the earth through us, His beloved, chosen people. It is our calling, yours and mine, to not focus on the troubles we can see or hear or feel around us now, but, rather, to fix our attentions on those things that cannot be seen: God with us, Jesus in us, the Holy Spirit upon us; counting each and every one of the Bible’s promises, trustworthy and true; and living surrendered and submitted to Jesus in every area of our lives, not by the power of our human nature, but because the Lord has chosen to place His Own divine nature within us, by His grace, so that our lives might fully and brightly reflect the Son. (God’s Son, that is, Jesus Christ.)

Will you pray with me?
Abba, Father, God Most High: Remind and empower us to be strong in Your Spirit and by Your Spirit. Grant us the comfort and full assurance of Your choosing us to be Your Own through Christ. And help us to fully surrender to Your Holy Spirit, living by Your Word, so that Your Son, Jesus, might be more and more famous, trusted, and followed on account of our fully reflecting His glory. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen?



April 17, 2016 A.D. Sermon, by Pastor Ben Willis

1 Corinthians 13:1-14:1 [NLTse]
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it;[a] but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.
4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
8 Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages[b] and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! 9 Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! 10 But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.
11 When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. 12 Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.[c] All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.
14:1 Let love be your highest goal.

Sermon – “Keeping Money from Keeping You and God Apart”

Once upon a time there was a pastor who was in the Sanctuary praying. While he was praying, he asked God, “Lord, how long is a million years to You?” The Lord replied, “To Me, a million years is like one second.” The next day as the pastor was praying again, he asked God, “Lord, how much is a million dollars to You?” And the Lord replied, “A million dollars to Me is like a penny.” The next day, as the pastor was praying, he asked God, “Lord, can I have just one of Your pennies?” And the Lord replied, “Just give Me a second…”

Those of you who know me well know that I can come across as a fairly calm and easy-going person. Different people I’ve known have told me how “chill” I seem to be, seeming to take so much of life in stride.
That being said, I go through times of intense temptation. (They don’t tend to last all that long anymore, at least, they don’t when I respond to the temptations God’s way, because, as the Lord has promised, when we stand with Him, Satan does, indeed, flee.) That being said, the temptations I do face, though often short-lived, are intense and do seem absolutely overwhelming in those times! Sometimes, those temptations have to do with money…

You see, my family and I live in a house about a mile outside of town. We have our bills and our taxes to pay. Our oldest is in college. Our middle is going to college next fall. We homeschool, so we have to buy all our own school supplies and course books and materials for art projects and science experiments, even though we have to pay school taxes like everybody else, as well. And we’ll be doing all that for our youngest, who’ll be going into ninth grade in the fall. Amy’s and my parents are in their seventies. My folks live about five hours away and Amy’s mom lives about fifteen, and, especially as they’re getting older, we want more and more to honor them, and that includes more regularly visiting them. And, of course, our house needs work, and Amy’s been going through one medical trial after another, and our son, Noah, needs dental implants this summer, and on and on: You know the drill!

I’m not saying any of these things because my life or my family’s circumstances are so unique or special. As a matter of fact, it’s just the opposite. I share all this with you because you’re all facing your own version of these same kinds of circumstances, too, aren’t you? I think you know what I’m talking about when I say that I can be tempted to be afraid that I won’t have enough money to pay my bills during any given month! I think you know what I mean when I tell you that I’m afraid we’re going to rack up so much credit card debt on account of all the surprises and emergencies we’ve been facing in our lives that we won’t be able to ever pay it off! I  think you know what I’m talking about when I tell you about the knot that twists in my stomach when my wife tells me about needing another test or procedure, or about our kids not having seen the dentist or doctor in a couple years. Maybe you respond like I do, because I want her to be well, and I want our kids to be healthy and well, and I tell her in those moments, “My love, make the appointments. That’s what money’s for!” And it is! Because it’s just money!

But maybe you know what I mean when I talk about that knot that tightens in my gut when I hear about such things, because it can seem to be so overwhelming sometimes: One important thing after another. And during those times I can be tempted to fear that we won’t have enough money to pay for it all! And I can be tempted to think that money, and more money, is the answer to it all…

But the Holy Spirit tells me, “No! Jesus is the answer to it all.” (And, of course, that’s how I win these bouts with temptation, when I am finally able to sincerely trust Jesus as being the answer to all my troubles and trials, and when I am finally able to sincerely entrust all my troubles and trials to Him.)

So, when I am feeling most afraid about money I tithe. (Don’t get me wrong. I tithe all the time. Amy and I have been tithing for about twenty years, beginning just after we moved here.) But when I am being most tempted to be afraid of not having enough money, and when I am being most tempted to put my hope in money, I consciously and intentionally remember that I tithe. Because in the middle of my temptations, when the devil is mocking me, “Do you really trust God, Ben? Really?” one thing that tithing does is prove my faith in Christ: It puts my money where claim to trust Christ is. It can be easy for me to say, “I trust the Lord,” and to then have the devil point out to me that my actions show that in truth I trust in something very different.

But when I tithe, and seek to be generous on top of that, then the devil has to keep his mouth shut, and he has to leave me alone…

It’s at such times that I recognize the power of Jesus’ words when He said, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24) I recognize the truth of these words at such times because, whenever I start to consider not tithing I begin feeling more and more concerned about money. The temptations towards worry and fear increase, and guilt gets added to it. And I can start to feel bitter towards God for not giving me more and for not getting me out of my situation…

But when I tithe, it’s like opening up a pressure-release valve in my chest. When I tithe I’m not only telling Him but I’m showing Him, too, that I trust Him. And somehow, in that act, the Lord does something miraculous in my spirit. He takes the burden of all my fears and worries off of my shoulders. I’m no longer bearing it. I don’t know where the money is going to come from. But it always has come. And what my Father’s been so faithful to do in the past, I know I can trust Him to do in the future, because He’s a good father!

And yet, tithing is not just a shield to protect us from self-doubt, worry, fear, and the devil’s accusations. Tithing also plants seeds of hope and expectation about the future!

The prophet Malachi spoke these  words of the Lord: “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!’” (3:10)

“Test Me in this,” the Lord says. It is one of the few places in Scripture where the Lord calls us to test Him. He knows the power of money! He knows it’s power to tempt us toward worry and fear, and burden us, and wear us out! So the Lord calls us to test Him: Tithe, He says, and if nothing’s changed in your heart or mind or life in three months, six months, a year, well then…

Proverbs 3:9 echoes the exact same thing: “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing.” The “firstfruits” was the very first reaping of the harvest, the estimated first 10% of the entire crop. “But what if you harvested 10% and then the rest was eaten by locusts or burned by bandits?” you might ask. Yeah, that might happen, said the Lord, but trust Me. Trust Me with the tithe and just see if I don’t fill the barns of your soul to overflowing!

(Notice how I said that the Lord would fill the “barns of our souls” to overflowing if we tithed, and not necessarily the barns of our bank or investment accounts. I say that because the Lord doesn’t promise us material riches. He promises us “enough”, that we will always have enough to live for Him. There are a lot of Christians out there who tithe but are not necessarily wealthy, and the Lord takes care of them. He gives them their daily bread, as He’s promised. There are a lot of Christians out there who don’t tithe and are wealthy, and they have to take care of themselves. So, you may not become rich by testing the Lord and tithing, but I’ve never met someone who tithed and regretted it.)
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So, whether the Lord has plans to grant you wealth so that you might support and fund His work around here and around the world, or whether His plans for you are more modest when it comes to money, but are riches beyond measure in faith and character and in the fruit of the Holy Spirit, tithing nurtures a sense of expectation as we invest in Heaven and in the wealth of our souls.

I share this message with you because I think that many of you might want to tithe, but you’re afraid to, and because I think that others of you want to tithe but believe that you need to get out of debt first. As I’ve shared, I believe that God’s given us the tithe to help us face and overcome our fears about money. And, I believe that God desires us to tithe as a part of helping us get out of debt more quickly and more assuredly.

For what it’s worth, there are two things I would change (and am planning on changing) as Amy and I continue this spiritual discipline of tithing into the future. First, I would (and plan to) have Amy write out every other tithe check. I get paid twice a month so, instead of giving weekly, we only write two tithe checks, the first checks we write as soon as I get paid. I would (and plan to, from now on) have her write one of the checks each month because there’s power in our actions: Putting our faith into practice, as I’ve already said. And I would let Amy benefit from the grace that comes from that action, as well.
Second, I would (and plan to) begin praying with Amy over our tithe check each time one or the other of us writes it. This would be a change for me because sometimes I treat the tithe like any another “bill” to pay: I don’t offer it to God in any kind of special way, nor do I offer myself and my worries and fears to Him specifically, either. I hope (and plan) to change that so that I might intentionally cooperate and partner with the Lord in all of the good things He has for me and for us in the tithe.



April 10, 2016 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

1 Corinthians 3:1-17 [NLTse]
Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?
5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, Who makes things grow. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. 9 For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.
10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. 14 If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. 15 If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.
16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.

Sermon

First Corinthians is an interesting book. Where Paul’s other letters are often filled with teaching and encouragement – building up the faith of the Christians to whom they were addressed – First Corinthians is all correction: From beginning to end Paul is tearing down their faith and their practices in order to rebuild something better. It’s unclear whether this reflects the quality of Paul’s original teaching (since he was the one who planted the church, and because he did so during a time when he was not well and recovering from a near-death beating), or if it reflects the quality of Apollos’ teaching. (Apollos was a gifted preacher and evangelist who came through Corinth shortly after Paul left, growing the church there, and teaching, for quite some time.) It may have had to do with Simon Peter’s influence (since Paul mentions him as having been involved in the Corinthian fellowship at some point). Of course, the troubles in what the Corinthian Christians had come to believe or not believe may also simply have had to do with the believers there themselves. God only knows. But there were lots of troubles. And Paul deals with the troubles one after the other after the other across First Corinthians.

We began reading First Corinthians in chapter 3 this past week, and read through chapter 9, if you’re reading through the New Testament with me this year. (The reading plan is in our Bulletins.) Paul begins chapter 3, as Rich has already read, reminding the Corinthian believers about his time among them, saying, “Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly.” Paul goes on to criticize the divisions they’ve allowed within their fellowship: “I follow Paul;” “I follow Apollos;” “I follow Cephas,” (Cephas being the Aramaic word for “rock”, the new name the Lord Jesus had given Simon Peter.)

He then speaks against the different sexual sins he’s heard were going on among the believers, including they’re going to prostitutes and they’re not doing anything about a man in the fellowship who was sleeping with his step-mom. (As though letting the sins continue was showing how great God’s grace was!) Then He speaks against their suing each other in the public courts. (“An embarrassment to Christ!” he says.) He corrects their understanding of sex in marriage, and about whether or not to get married, and staying with or divorcing an unbelieving spouse… (All this about marriage and marrying is in chapter 7. Read it. It is straight-forward and good-as-gold advice for Christian couples today.) And he ends correcting their understandings of leadership in the church: How mature believers should help and serve and sacrifice for weaker believers, not lord themselves over those newer and more fragile in the faith.

I’ve skimmed through all of these conflicts and the details of First Corinthians so far to take us back to where we started at the very beginning of chapter 3: Paul’s comments to the Corinthian believers about they’re not being spiritual but they’re being worldly…

What does it mean to be a spiritual person? That phrase gets thrown around a lot today, “I’m spiritual,” people like to call themselves. But what does that really mean, at least as far as the way the Bible defines being “spiritual”? And on the other hand, what does it mean to be “worldly”?

As a whole, the Bible describes three different types of people: There are natural people, spiritual people, and worldly people. Here’s a fairly famous representation of a “natural person”. (All human beings are born “natural people”. In Psalm 51 King David sings about us all this way: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” So, sin isn’t just about the things we’ve said or done. Sin is a state of being, a state human beings are born into on account of Adam and Eve’s fall from grace. And, again, here’s a representation of us in that natural state.) The throne represents what’s in control of our lives. And the “S” stands for “self”, so with a “natural person”, our self is in control of our lives. And the big and little dots are our interests, and they are going whichever this way and that according to our changing whims and desires. You can see that the cross is completely outside the life of the “natural person”. The “natural person” isn’t necessarily against Jesus or God or faith. The Lord and all He’s done just doesn’t have anything to do – not personally, anyway – with natural people.

For the “worldly person”, Jesus has become a part of their lives, but they are still in control. Their interests and desires are influenced by Jesus’ presence, by their faith in Him, but they are still under the control of “self”, and so there’s still a large degree of frustration, a lack of clarity, little sense of focus and purpose (at least having to do with Christ) in the “worldly person’s” life.
With the “spiritual person”, Jesus is on the throne. He is Lord of the “spiritual person’s” life. And so the “spiritual person’s” interests and desires are ordered by Jesus. They serve His Kingdom purposes and His purposes for the “spiritual” believer, and if they do not those interests and desires have been left behind.

Notice that the apostle Paul did not deny that the Corinthians were believers, Christians. He didn’t say that they didn’t have faith. But Paul said that they weren’t living by their faith. They weren’t living with Jesus as their Lord; they – themselves – were still in charge of their lives. And the result was their many, many troubles: Troubles in their own lives; and troubles in their fellowship together…

This seems so important for us to talk about today because of the influence of the Prosperity Gospel on the Church of Jesus Christ, and the dominance of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism among Christian teens.

The Prosperity Gospel basically teaches that God sent Jesus to die on the cross for us so that we can all be healthy, wealthy, and wise. Prosperity rarely talks about the cross, Christ calling us to take up our cross and follow Him, Christian service, or the reality of persecution for the faith. God the Son was sacrificed so that you and I could have a big house, fancy cars, glittering wardrobes, and live a long illness-free life lean and muscled or curvy and slender. Pastor Joel Osteen has become the best-known preacher of the prosperity gospel here in America.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is a little more subtle. MTD believes that a god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth. (Sounds good so far.) This god wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions. (That’s a little soft. Not quite the “Be prepared to die and follow Me,” that Jesus called us to, but I guess that summarizes the Golden Rule – “Do to others what you would have done to you,” okay…) The central goal of life, according to MTD, is to be happy and to feel good about oneself. (Here’s where things start boldly going bad.) God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life, MTD says, except when god is needed to resolve one’s problems. (So, this god is near when I need him, but he doesn’t bother me otherwise.) And, according to MTD, all “good” people go to Heaven when they die. (Yuck!)

I hope you see how insidious both of these teachings can be. They both have some truth in them: God has created all there is; God does want good things for us; God does want us to love Him and others; God does want us to know joy and be at peace; God does want to help us with our problems; and, we have been promised Heaven when we die. But can you see that with the Prosperity Gospel and Moralistic Therapeutic Deism the believer is on the throne? They both, and other New Age thinking like them, make our faith all about us: God wants me to be rich and healthy; God wants me to be happy and feel good about myself; God will take care of all my problems; and I will get to go to Heaven when I die.

However, with true Christianity, when a person is living by the Holy Spirit of God – truly “spiritual people” – have Christ at the center of their lives and Christ in control of their lives. And Christ sacrificed Himself and went to the cross, and He calls us to follow Him – to be ready to die, if we must – following where He leads.

If I get sick, it’s not that God doesn’t love me. It’s because God needs me to be about His work in the doctor’s office or hospital. If I’m out of work, perhaps He needs me in the unemployment office or to have me available to Him during that time I’m more free. Of course, if I’m sick or out of work our Father may also be trying to get our attention and speak to us about whether or not we’re making good choices and taking good care of ourselves; He may be trying to show us that we haven’t been very good employees – that we’ve become lazy, or not doing our work excellently, or something else.

But do you see the difference? “Spiritual people” are centered around Christ, not around themselves. Jesus is in control. “Spiritual people” seek to look at their lives through the lens of Christ, asking Him to tell them about their circumstances; asking Him to direct their steps next. In this life I may not be healthy or wealthy, but that’s okay, because He is with us. As a matter of fact, we remember that Jesus had a lot of warnings for those who were wealthy, and so we know that that’s not always a good thing for those of us who’ve chosen to follow Him.

You see how close it all is, and yet how far? Do you see the difference it makes having Jesus at the center, Jesus in control, versus having ourselves?
So, I ask you: Are you in control of your life? Or is Jesus? Are you at the center? Are you on the throne? Or is He?

What does this look like, practically speaking, to let Jesus be in control, and to let Him stay in control?

Here’s an exercise for us all to do. Go home today and get out your calendar and to-do list for the coming week. Look at your appointments and commitments and ask Jesus what He wants for you among them. You know why you have those appointments and commitments on your calendar. But why has He allowed them there? Ask Him what He wants you to be about for Him in these activities and events. Write what the Holy Spirit reveals to you down on your calendar.

Do the same with your to-do list: How does Jesus want you to get these things done? Are there any tasks or to-dos that He wants you to remove from the list as a waste of time? Unimportant? Too focused on “you” and on “the world”? What kind of attitude is He calling you to as you tackle these tasks? If the tasks involve working with others, does He have anything He wants you to know about these folks, or that He’s highlighting to you about your time with them?
Second, (back to your calendar) ask Him what is not on your calendar that He wants there? Is there anyone you might visit or call for His sake, or anything you should schedule or take care of that’s not already planned for, because He’s thought about it while you’d forgotten? Now, the same with your to-do list…

Do this for a week. See what it’s like to have Jesus in control; Jesus in the center…

There was a lady in the church who needed help. Her sister could help her, but it was a sister whom she hadn’t spoken with for years and whom she’d had much conflict with the last time she had spoken. I encouraged her to call her sister anyway, but before she did, to pray and ask God to go ahead of her and help her connect with her sister. The woman did. Then she made the phone call. Her sister answered the phone and was immediately so happy to hear from her and offered her all the help she needed…

I find that when I’m on the throne I’m doing stuff for me and getting what I want done. When Jesus is on the throne I’m much more focused on others, doing things that serve, bless, and show my gratitude for those around me.
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Are you doing your own thing or are you doing Jesus’ things? Are you on the throne or is Jesus? Are you in control or is He?