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Sermon Series

 

November 22, 2015 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

Matthew 6:19-33 [NLTse]

19 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in Heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.

22 “Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. 23 But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!

24 “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

25 “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? 27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

28 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, He will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

31 “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.

Sermon

Anybody here use a daily planner or calendar to schedule your days? What would your schedule look like if God were in charge of it?

Most people’s schedules are filled with the meetings and appointments and things we all have to do to keep our grades up or to not lose our jobs. And then we add to that what we have to do to not upset our parents (or our husbands or wives), and to keep up with our kids, etc.

What would your schedule look like if God were in charge of it? What if your schedule were working to help you become the person you know God wants you to become?

We’ve been talking these past weeks about being faithful managers of what God has entrusted to us. It’s true that when people think about what God has given them that many often only think about money. But what about our time? What about our talents and abilities? Our marriages have been entrusted to us. Our children have been entrusted to us. Yes, of course, our wealth and possessions have been entrusted to us. But so have our popularity and our influence. So have our intellect and our accomplishments. And if you think about it, a person’s daily planner is filled with these things: The choices each one of us is making for how we are going to spend our time and how we are going to invest our talents and abilities. What will it be today? Will we invest in our wife or our kids this afternoon? Will we work or will we play? How much of God’s guidance do you seek in putting together your work, school, or personal schedules each day?

I want to tell you about the power of our daily planners. A fellow I know wanted to become a pilot. So he wrote on his daily planner the word “airport” every Wednesday afternoon from 3:00-4:00pm for six months. Now, of course, this fellow had to make some phone calls, and he had to study the manuals and do the coursework, and, of course, he had to go to the airport every Wednesday for his lesson, but because he wrote the word “airport” on his daily planner on each Wednesday for six months he got his pilot’s license!

This fellow wanted to become a pilot. What do you want to become? What matters most to you in life? What matters most to God?

It’s pretty well agreed upon by all variety of different pastors and Christian scholars that God’s priorities for us are as follows:

1) He must be first – our highest goal – our most important relationship, because out from our relationship with Him will flow a right order and direction for everything else in our lives.

2) Our husbands or wives are to be in that second place. The Lord has made us one with our spouses, so that relationship is intimate to who we are once we are married, and because our relationship with our husband or wife shows the world Jesus’ relationship with His Church it is of the utmost importance to keep it strong and healthy, as well.

3) Then our relationship with our kids comes next, dependent upon us as they are.

4) Then our work and ministries and other family and friend relationships, and on and on…

So, scheduling our days can become a holy endeavor. I say that because, although American culture puts a lot of emphasis on getting things done (and so we American’s can tend to see our calendars as daily plans for getting our things done), calendars have the massive potential for helping us become the kind of person we know Christ died for us to be.

In our reading from Matthew 7 the Lord Jesus says, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.” Our Lord – our leader’s – priority for Himself and for us is “seeking the Kingdom of His Father and our Father”. His priority for Himself and for us is “righteous living”. How well do our calendars and schedules reflect your and my becoming “God first” men and women and boys and girls? Our becoming “righteous”? Are Jesus’ priorities our priorities? If not, why not? But if so, then do our calendars and schedules make that clear so that the whole world might know?

On a pretty regular basis folks will come up to me after Worship and tell me what a powerful Service it was. Sometimes different ones will add, “And I almost didn’t come!” What do you mean, “you almost didn’t come”? What kind of a person do you want to be? The Lord Jesus was always in Worship. Luke makes clear that it was the Lord Jesus’ “custom”, His “habit”, His “regular practice” to be in the synagogue during Worship Services. If our Lord, our Savior, the One Whom we are following, if He had church so firmly plugged into His weekly calendar then why don’t we? The power of our calendars to help us become more like Christ!

What do you want to become?

Do you want to lose weight and get healthier? What difference would it make to write “Working Out” somewhere every day or every other day on your calendar? Is the Lord calling you in a new direction or into a new profession? What difference would it make to write “Night School” somewhere regularly on your weekly schedule?

What would your schedule look like if God were in charge of it? Who is He calling you to become?

I have some Commitment Cards that I’d like to hand out. I want to challenge each of us to consider how the Holy Spirit might be calling us to put the Kingdom of God first in our lives, and to live more righteously. You’ll see there are options for reading the Bible (or reading the Bible more), for praying (or for praying more), for always being in Worship, for tithing (or for giving even more), for growing or serving or sharing our faith more with others… The intention of this Commitment Card is for us to take it home, for each of us to prayerfully fill it out. (You’ll see there is a blank side on the back where you are asked to include some details about your commitment.) And then bring it back next Sunday and hand it in along with your offering during the Collection.

A commitment is not really a commitment if there is no way for anyone to hold you accountable to it. That’s why marriage is a public commitment. That’s why citizenship is a public commitment. That’s why proclaiming our faith in Christ is a public commitment. They are all public so that those around us can hold us accountable to what we’ve committed.

And the elders and myself want to help you keep these commitments, to help support you and encourage you as you begin including some of these spiritual disciplines on your calendars, as you grow n putting the Kingdom of God first in your lives, and as you live more and more righteously. We want to collect these commitments and pray for you as time goes by. Sometime next year – maybe in February or April – we hope to reach out to each of you and ask you how your commitment is going. Not to pick on you or to check on you but to encourage you and to help you along, if we can.

Jesus said, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.”



November 15, 2015 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

Sermon

Have you seen the bumper sticker that says, “Tithe if you love Jesus because any fool can honk”?

Today’s message is about tithing. But more than that, it’s a message about giving, and about being generous, and about God having given us a way to live free from the worries and fears of not having enough that weigh so many people down and keep so many up at night.

Tithing, as perhaps you know, is the biblical concept of giving one tenth of our income to the Lord. A bunch of years ago I did an exhaustive study of the tithe, boiling down everything I learned into a little leaflet I titled, “Something About Tithing”. I based it on Deuteronomy 14:22-23, which says,

22 “You must set aside a tithe of your crops—one-tenth of all the crops you harvest each year. 23 Bring this tithe to the designated place of worship—the place the Lord your God chooses for His name to be honored—and eat it there in His presence. This applies to your tithes of grain, new wine, olive oil, and the firstborn males of your flocks and herds. Doing this will teach you always to fear the Lord your God.”

This shows us first that when we tithe we are cooperating with the Holy Spirit to nurture a healthy and wholesome fear of the Lord in ourselves. You see, every time you give the tithe, you must face and deal with the fears within: Fears about paying your bills; fears about security in retirement; fears about keeping up with the Joneses; fears about not being seen as good providers; fears about our kids complaints; fears about the hardships we might have to face; so many fears that are all tied up with greed and envy and worry that come down to whether or not we have or can ever have enough money.

Every time we give the tithe we face and deal with these fears, because to give away to God or to others is not to buy for yourself. And the weekly victory of putting our tithe in God’s plate is utterly important for each of us to maintain. We must fight greed, we must fight worry, we must fight fear, we must fight envy almost every day. And God has appointed an antidote: Giving.

He tests us again and again, week after week, check after check, envelope after envelope, collection after collection: What do we desire most—the advancement of His Kingdom, the lifting up of His name, the blessing that only He can bring, or 10% more security and comfort and fun for ourselves? As Jesus says, you know where your heart is by where you put your treasure. Tithing nurtures a healthy and wholesome fear of the Lord in us, and fights off greed, worry, envy, and the fear of other things.

Deuteronomy 14 has more to say about the tithe.

Moses makes clear that although the entire tithe is the Lord’s and for His purposes, that each Christian is to benefit from the tithes – whether in fellowship dinners and celebrations (like our upcoming Church-Family Thanksgiving Dinner, or in Sunday School and Bible studies; in all these ways and whatever ways we “feed” because of the tithes and because of the Lord.

Skip down a couple verses to v. 27 and about the tithe Deuteronomy 14 says there,

27 “And do not neglect the Levites in your town, for they will receive no allotment of land among you.

28 “At the end of every third year, bring the entire tithe of that year’s harvest and store it in the nearest town. 29 Give it to the Levites, who will receive no allotment of land among you, as well as to the foreigners living among you, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, so they can eat and be satisfied. Then the Lord your God will bless you in all your work.”

So, another purpose for the tithe is to pay church-workers. Pastors, Praise Team Leaders, Secretaries, missionaries, etc… none of these do the “normal” work the Lord has given to other people for making a living, but do, in modern times, the work that the Levites are recorded as having done in Bible times. And they are to be paid – ministering among the people, spreading His good news and comfort, nurturing His abundant life around their communities, stirring up His hope and joy in their midst – and their pay comes from the tithe.

Of course the tithe makes the Lord’s mercy and grace clear, too. The poor and vulnerable and abused in our communities are to be served by the tithe, as well. Which is why our Youth Group is open to street kids as well as church kids, and why our church is known to be a place where friends and neighbors can come for help from our Benevolences Team, our White Gifts ministry, and our Food Closet in their times of need.

Psalm 103:8 says, “The LORD is merciful and gracious!” Exodus 34:6 says, “The LORD is merciful and gracious!” What do you think Psalm 145:8 says? “The LORD is merciful and gracious!” Yes! And He wants His mercy and grace proclaimed and made known to our neighbors in the tithe. And when we tithe, and faithfully use the tithes as He has called us to, He promises that we will be blessed in all our work!

Our fearful, materialistic, greedy, and untrusting culture wants us to believe that we need God’s blessing on our work first so that we can then tithe. But that’s not God’s way. That’s never been God’s way.

God commanded Noah to build an ark to save himself and his family from The Flood. “What’s a flood, Lord?” Noah must have asked Him. “Build the ark,” God said, “and you will see.”

God said to Abraham, “Leave your home and I will bring you to a place where you will be a blessing to the world.” Abraham responded, “Where is this place, Lord?” And God answered, “Leave your home and I will show you the place when you get there.”

God told the Levites of Joshua’s day to carry the Ark of the Covenant (that gold box that contained the Ten Commandments) into the fast-moving, deadly waters of the Jordan River, promising once they did that He would stop the Jordan’s waters so that Israel’s army could pass through. “Don’t You want to stop the waters first, Lord?” I can imagine them asking. “No,” He replied, “you step into the torrent and then you will see My wonders!”

We read of this all across the Scriptures. Of course, the most glorious example is the cross. Hebrews 12 speaks of it this way, “Because of the joy awaiting Him, Jesus endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now He is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.” Jesus, as a human being like us, had to trust that joy would be His on the other side of the horrors of crucifixion. But He had to endure the crucifixion first.

It has always been our Father’s way to call us to faith and trust in Him first, and then to bless us with the rewards of our faithful obedience. It is the same with the tithe.

Jesus says, “Give and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:38)

Giving in a regular, disciplined, generous way—up to and even beyond the tithe—is simply good sense in view of the promises of God.

In Malachi 3:10 the LORD puts it this way,

10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of Heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put Me to the test! 11 Your crops will be abundant, for I will guard them from insects and disease. Your grapes will not fall from the vine before they are ripe,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. 12 “Then all nations will call you blessed, for your land will be such a delight,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

(“The Lord of Heaven’s Armies” is just one of the many titles for God in the Bible.) He’s speaking to Israel when they were a nation of farmers and vine growers working the land. The equivalent for us today is simply, “Bring your tithe so that I can do everything in your communities and worldwide that I long to do! And I will bless you so richly you won’t have enough room in your hearts or your homes to contain it all! All nations will call you blessed for your communities will be such a wonder and such a delight!” says the LORD.

What an amazing challenge from God. “Test Me,” He says. “You think you can’t afford to tithe? Test Me.” And what we find when we test Him is that we cannot afford not to tithe—and beyond! There is an absolute correlation between faith in the promises of God and the peace of mind He has for us when we give away what we think we need but in truth really don’t.

Every time you doubt that you can live on 90% of your income, let the glorious promises of God strengthen your faith. Because tithing boils down to a faith issue: Do we trust God’s promises?

Well, First Presbyterian Church, I appeal to you: Trust God! For as the apostle Paul writes, 19 “And this same God Who takes care of me will supply all your needs from His glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19).



November 8, 2015 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

Paul’s Letter To the Philippians 3:1-11 [NLTse]
Whatever happens, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. I never get tired of telling you these things, and I do it to safeguard your faith.
2 Watch out for those dogs, those people who do evil, those mutilators who say you must be circumcised to be saved. 3 For we who worship by the Spirit of God are the ones who are truly circumcised. We rely on what Christ Jesus has done for us. We put no confidence in human effort, 4 though I could have confidence in my own effort if anyone could. Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more!
5 I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. 6 I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault.
7 I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. 8 Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ 9 and become one with Him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with Himself depends on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised Him from the dead. I want to suffer with Him, sharing in His death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!

Sermon
Can anyone remember a time when you lost at something, when there was nothing more important to you than to win but for the first time in your life you realized that you just weren’t good enough and you never would be?

Yeah, if that’s never happened to you you’ll never be able to fully understand it. And if it has happened to you, likely, you’ll never completely forget it.

Anyone here ever been in love? [Let folks respond.] Yeah, people write about it, sing about it, paint and carve and sculpt about it, but it can never truly be described to someone who’s never known it. The strength and the weakness; the sense of absolute accomplishment and utter helplessness; to possess that which you want most of all in the whole world along with the humble, fragile feeling that it’s all hanging on a string…

Anyone here ever had your heart truly broken? The devastation and feelings of emptiness and hopelessness, and emotions you never thought you were capable of having overflowing your world…

Does anyone here know the complex pride of being a parent? How you can be so elated by rather trivial things, as long as they’ve been accomplished by your child? Being both proud of your kid while at the same time being so proud of yourself for being that child’s parent…

Anyone here ever worked a job you despised? Where you could literally feel it eating away at you from the inside?

Anyone here ever experience the rush of proposing to or being proposed to by the right person? When time stopped? The high that comes in thinking that everything in your life will now be alright forever?

Yeah, there are some things in life that a person can never understand unless they’ve experienced them themselves. And, of course, there are many such experiences. Knowing Christ is like that.

If you know Jesus, you know what I mean. If you don’t know Jesus, you can never know what I mean until, that is, you come to know Him.

For me, knowing Jesus is like coming home at the end of a long, hard day and seeing my wife, Amy. In the midst of all my burdens and confusion, our kids are all there – Noah, Eden, and Caleb – and Amy and the kids are more happy to see me than I am to see them! Knowing Jesus is like that. For me. …

For me, knowing Jesus is like being pulled over by the police and me going through my head all the things I might’ve been doing to be pulled over, and feeling kind of guilty and embarrassed because I’m a Christian and a pastor and getting ready to apologize for whatever it was I must have done wrong, but then having the officer be my friend who just pulled me over to say “hi” and he’s so happy to see me. Knowing Jesus is like that to me…

For me, knowing Jesus is like leaning up against my mom or dad reading, or cuddling on the couch with Amy and our kids watching a movie. We’re not talking or even interacting in any way, we’re just enjoying each other’s company. Knowing Jesus is like that to me…

For me, knowing Jesus is like when one of the guys in Bible Study pulls me aside and tells me about something I’ve been saying or doing that hasn’t been a good thing. We’re such good friends, and I know he cares about me so much, that I welcome the correction and truly want to be better out of love for my friend. Knowing Jesus is like that to me…

For me, knowing Jesus is like having all the bad stuff I’ve ever done or that’s ever been done to me come to my mind all at once, and me being ready to hate myself and feel like a worthless loser, but suddenly realizing that it all happened to someone else, and that I’m somebody else now…

Knowing Jesus is like when I’m running late to an appointment and having all the lights turn green along the way and all the roads and highways are wide open or filled with cars and trucks going just as fast as I am. And, although I left so late that it was impossible for me to get there on time, I do, arrive in plenty of time…

Knowing Jesus is like speaking at a political rally but not being able to find my speech. I get up and talk and feel like I’ve let everyone down because of my lackluster words but seeing the crowd inspired, and watching them leave filled with hope and committed to do the right thing out there no matter what! Knowing Jesus is like that to me…

With a God like that, nothing else in my life means very much to me. And yet, because of a God like that, everything else in my life has become that much more precious! But only because of Him. There’s nothing I’ve ever been able to buy or anything I’ve ever been able to make happen by myself that can compare with all that Father gives me each and every time I turn to Him in Jesus. Nothing. I have a lot to be proud of, a lot I could brag about. But compared to Christ and all He’s given me in salvation, I count all the rest as skubala: Garbage; waste; raw sewage (most literally) when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord

Anybody else here know what I mean when I talk about Jesus these ways? [Hopefully there’ll be a “yes”.] If knowing Jesus is like this for anyone else here, won’t you bow your heads right there in your seats: Clasp your hands together and bow your heads in worship and adoration. Love Him in your heart. Let your love for Him well up in your hearts!

Now, if knowing Jesus is like this for you, lift up your hands to Heaven! Not because it’s right to worship Jesus by bowing down, nor because it’s right to worship Him by raising our hands. Lift up your hands to God’s throne with me because He is worthy; because He’s worth it; worth our everything!

This is the month of November, a month that many often associate with gratitude on account of Thanksgiving. Coming towards the end of the year, it’s also the time that many businesses and organizations establish their plans and their budgets for the coming year. And it’s a time when many people, likewise, take special time to evaluate their lives and their priorities and make plans and set goals for how they want their lives to be across the year ahead.

With that in mind, we’re going to have some special inserts in our Worship Bulletins across the next couple of weeks challenging us with who we are in Christ and all that God has given us and called us to by saving us through our faith in the cross of Jesus. I’m going to be preaching about some of the ways God has called us to fullness of life, a fullness that shows itself through giving and sharing and helping provide for the needs of others because we’re trusting our Father to provide for us. A fullness of life that we can’t know when we are stingy with our time, talents, and treasure, and when we give in to only looking out for ourselves and trying to please ourselves.

It will all culminate on the last Sunday of November – November 29th – the first Sunday of Advent, Recommitment Sunday here at First Church, when we will renew our baptismal vows, share the Lord’s Supper together, and when we will commit all that we have and all that we are to Him Who has given His everything and all to us.
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Remember, it’s not doing good that makes us righteous before Father. We become righteous by trusting in Christ: Trusting what He has done for us.