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Sermon Series

 

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

The Gospel of Matthew 14:22-33 [NLTse]

22 Immediately after [feeding the five thousand], Jesus insisted that His disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while He sent the people home. 23 After sending them home, He went up into the hills by Himself to pray. Night fell while He was there alone.

24 Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen, and they were fighting heavy waves. 25 About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. 26 When the disciples saw Him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!”

27 But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” He said. “Take courage. I am here!”

28 Then Peter called to Him, “Lord, if it’s really You, tell me to come to You, walking on the water.”

29 “Yes, come,” Jesus said.

So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.

31 Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt Me?”

32 When they climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped. 33 Then the disciples worshiped Him. “You really are the Son of God!” they exclaimed.

Sermon – “Where Are You?”

God gives us a new life when we begin trusting Him through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and we are adopted into God’s Family. Foundational to this new life is belonging to Jesus, and the knowledge that nothing – no power in Heaven or on Earth – can ever separate us from Him. (See John 10:27-28 and Romans 8:38-39) Theologically this is called “The Principle of Position”: That is, having trusted God through Christ, we Christians have been moved to a new place in the creation – a new position. That new place – that new position – is in Christ.

More recent Bible translations, like the New Living Translation in our pews, talks of being in Christ as being “united with” Jesus and as “belonging to” Him, but, most literally, the Bible speaks of us as being “in” Jesus Christ. Colossians 3:1-4 describes being in Christ this way, “Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of Heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of Heaven, not the things of Earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, Who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all His glory.”

This idea of having a “new position” in Christ – our true life now being “with Christ in God” – however, confuses many Christians, and can seem like one of those intellectual realities that doesn’t really “hit the road” in our daily living. Many Christians can wonder, “If I’m now in Christ – if I’m now living with Jesus in God – then why do I still struggle with sin? Why do bad things continue to happen to me and those around me if I’m in Christ?”

So let’s look at that.

The Bible makes clear that the power of sin over Christians has been removed by Jesus’ death on the cross. Romans says,  “Everyone has sinned… Yet God freely and graciously declares that we are righteous… For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin.” (3:23-25) In 2 Corinthians we read,  “For God made Christ, Who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” (5:21) And Hebrews tells us that “once for all time, [the Son of God] has appeared at the end of the age to remove sin by His Own death as a sacrifice.” (9:26) Even so, every Christian experiences temptation: And sometimes overcoming that temptation and sometimes falling into sin.

What then is the benefit to belonging to God and being in His Family? What then does it matter to be in Christ and now with Him in the heavenly places with God? Being in Christ means that everything Jesus is, we Christians are because God has credited all of Jesus’ righteousness to our account. So, it’s not as though our accounts were simply “Paid In Full”, they’ve been “Overpaid”!

And this is God’s eternal point of view. In our humanity we can only experience history in the present. We look back on the past and we look forward to the future. But God is not bound by space or time. (He created space and time!) So God is able to view all of history as a completed act: Past, present, and future are all within God’s “eternal present” viewpoint. (Revelation 1:8; John 8:58) From His perspective, we are already complete, and so totally acceptable to Him. He sees us as a finished product.

Our Father sees you and I having died with Christ on the cross. (See Galatians 2:20; Romans 6:6) Our Father sees you and I dead to sin. (See Romans 6:7, 11) Our Abba in Heaven sees us raised to new life in Christ and living the eternal life. (See 2 Corinthians 5:17; 1 John 5:12-13) He has completely and eternally forgiven you and I of all sin. (See Psalm 103:11-12; Romans 8:1) Our Daddy knows He has blessed you and me with every spiritual blessing. (See Ephesians 3:1) He enjoys your and my presence, seated with Him in the heavenly places. (See Ephesians 2:6) He experiences you and me enjoying the fullness of our inheritance as His children right alongside Jesus Christ. (See Romans 8:17)

Our position in Christ is not affected by our personal performance. It doesn’t change depending on our feelings. Because it is God’s perspective, our position in Christ is a spiritual absolute; as unchanging as God Himself.

Of course, although our position in Christ is God’s perspective, our day-to-day experience is our perspective. We must keep living in a world corrupted by sin and in bodies corrupted by sin.

Now, our position in Christ will become our daily experience when we see the Lord Jesus face-to-face when He returns. But until then, even though the world and sin and corruption are our daily experience, we are to live focusing our minds on God’s perspective! Our old self rules in our lives when we live according to our own desires. Our new selves are evident when we live according to our position in Christ through our surrender and obedience to God’s desires. And God wants us to live according to our position in Christ.

Which is the only way spiritual maturity occurs: It is only when we acknowledge our position in Christ and put that to work in our practical experience that we grow in Christ, because only that is living by faith. (See 2 Corinthians 5:7) Likewise, it is only when we get caught up and lost in our daily circumstances and ignore the realities of our position in Christ that we are overcome by the world.

We can see this played out in our reading from Matthew. What happened when Jesus walked up to the storm-tossed boat and called for Peter to come to Him? Peter climbed down out of the boat and began walking on the water with Jesus. Peter left what his mind, the world, and his day-to-day experiences taught him was possible and focused on Christ. Peter believed that because Jesus had called him, that what Jesus was doing he could do, too! And when did Peter begin sinking? When he saw the strong wind and waves! Once He took his eyes off Jesus he got caught up and lost in his circumstances again. And down he went! God wants us to live as He sees us in Christ!

And the Lord shows us how safe it is for us to try, even if we will eventually lose our focus and fail. After all, what did Peter do when he realized he’d lost his focus and was sinking? He cried out to Jesus to help him and, the Bible tells us, Jesus “immediately reached out and grabbed him”! The Lord is near to save us when we seek to live our lives in Him. Even when at some point we fail. So it’s safe to try! And to try and try and try again!

As believers we must learn to look at ourselves from God’s perspective. We live effectively for Christ and we grow and mature spiritually when we live according to our position in Christ and not according to what we’re sensing and experiencing throughout each day. We experience victory and growth when, by faith, we live out our position in Christ throughout each day.

For Christians, life, with all its ups and downs, is an experience of becoming like Jesus. Even the problems are used to make us more like Him. (See Romans 8:28) Living out our position in Christ gives us the exciting prospect of becoming more like Jesus every day, and as we wait for His return. (See 2 Corinthians 3:18)



March 1, 2015 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

John 16:24 [NLTse]

16 “In a little while you won’t see Me anymore. But a little while after that, you will see Me again.”

17 Some of the disciples asked each other, “What does He mean when He says, ‘In a little while you won’t see Me, but then you will see Me,’ and ‘I am going to the Father’? 18 And what does He mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand.”

19 Jesus realized they wanted to ask Him about it, so He said, “Are you asking yourselves what I meant? I said in a little while you won’t see Me, but a little while after that you will see Me again. 20 I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn over what is going to happen to Me, but the world will rejoice. You will grieve, but your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy. 21 It will be like a woman suffering the pains of labor. When her child is born, her anguish gives way to joy because she has brought a new baby into the world. 22 So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again; then you will rejoice, and no one can rob you of that joy. 23 At that time you won’t need to ask Me for anything. I tell you the truth, you will ask the Father directly, and He will grant your request because you use My name. 24 You haven’t done this before. Ask, using My name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy.

Sermon

Does anyone remember the TV show M*A*S*H? Channel 3 on Basic Cable is called “Me TV” and it runs old TV shows all day and night long. One of those old shows is M*A*S*H and my kids have really come to enjoy it.

Some people journal or keep a diary, but the lead character of M*A*S*H, a surgeon named Hawkeye Pierce, writes to his dad. The show never shows you the letters he writes, but you get to know all about them because you hear Hawkeye’s voiceover speaking what he’s writing as the camera shows him scribbling words on a pad. Watching the show as a Christian the scenes of Hawkeye’s letter-writing always give me the sense of listening in on someone’s prayers.

“Dear Dad…” and then he writes to his dad about what happened in the operating room that day and what’s going on with his tent-mates and about this or that prank he and Trapper or BJ pulled. He writes to his dad about things he’s proud he did and things he’s feeling ashamed of. He writes about different things they need around their mobile army surgical hospital, or the amazing provision of things they’ve received…

I bring it up to us this morning because the elders have called our church to fast the Wednesdays of Lent from after dinner Wednesday nights right up to dinnertime Thursday nights. And prayer and fasting always go together, yet I know that many Christian people struggle in the practice of prayer. So I mention this scene for you of army doctor writing letters to his dad as a picture of prayer…

In our reading from John’s gospel Jesus is trying to prepare His disciples for His death and resurrection. He says to them, “In a little while you won’t see Me anymore. But a little while after that, you will see Me again.” But the disciples don’t get it.

Jesus tells them that what’s about to happen will be so horrible that they’ll cry and grieve for Him, but that His enemies will celebrate. But He goes on to say that their sadness and grief will suddenly become rejoicing and celebration the same way a mother’s anguish and suffering turns into wonder and joy once her baby is born.

And then Jesus says that after that has happened – after their mourning has turned into rejoicing – that they will no longer ask Him to ask the Father for what they need because they will then be able to ask the Father directly, and that God will answer their request because they use Jesus’ name.

Note how Jesus says, “You haven’t done this before,” that is, they’ve never asked God for anything using Jesus’ name. So Jesus says, “Ask, using My name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy.”

Notice a couple of things with me here in the Lord Jesus’ words. First, notice that Jesus doesn’t talk about prayer here, He talks about asking God for things. And I raise that up to us because I know of too many Christian people who ask others for things all day long but who don’t have confidence that they know how to pray.

Throw away the word “prayer” if you must. Never use it again, if you don’t want to. Tell Him how great He is, instead. Tell Him you’re sorry for all you’ve done to hurt Him and others, instead. Thank Him! And ask Him for what you need and what those around you need. “Prayer” is just an old English word for asking. So let’s stop using it if it gets in the way of us talking to our Daddy. Let’s tell Him we love Him and ask His forgiveness and share how we’re grateful and seek Him for help, instead.

A second thing I was hoping we’d get from Jesus’ words is what He’s saying about asking our Abba for things in Jesus’ name.

In John 16:24 Jesus was speaking to His disciples the night before His crucifixion. Notice that He didn’t tell them they had never asked for anything in prayer before. No. He said they had never asked God for anything in His name. And it gets me thinking how many times we all, likely, asked God for things before we were Christians, before we committed ourselves to Jesus’ life. We probably especially tried praying when we were in trouble. But we weren’t “in Jesus” then: We weren’t committed to Him; we hadn’t put our trust in Him; we weren’t asking from the assurance of knowing we belonged to Him; let alone, we never asked in His authority or in the certainty we were asking from a fully restored relationship with God on account of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.

Before we became Christians we didn’t ask with any of these things in mind. We were just crying out. Maybe we’d seen others pray or maybe we’d heard about prayer, so we gave it a shot. Anything to get what we wanted or thought we needed at that time.

But the Lord reminds His disciples that once He’s gone away and then returned again – once He’s died and then come back from the dead again – things will be different. With the punishment for their sins paid for they would be able to approach the Father directly. They would have to approach Him in Jesus’ name because it was Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross that opened up the Way, but they would be able to approach the Father directly, and have the same kind of confidence in the Father giving to them all that they asked Him for that Jesus Himself had.

1 John 3:22 adds that we can be confident of Jesus giving us what we ask when we do what pleases Him. So we can’t be out there doing whatever we want to do and expecting God to move Heaven and Earth to give us what we’ve asked Him for. We need leave our sins behind us and live in a way that, when He does give us what we’ve asked for that, those around us will know that God was the One Who provided for us and give Him the credit.

According to Matthew 7:7-8, we are to keep on asking God for what we want, seeking God for what we want, and knocking on Heaven’s door for what we want. Faithful praying is keeping at it. And when we’ve kept at it then we will receive, then we will find, and then we will have it all opened to us.

John 15:7 tells us that Jesus’ words need to be in us to have God answer our prayers, and that’s because 1 John 5:14-15 says we must ask for what will please God to expect Him to answer us. And, of course, how can we know what Jesus wants in order to ask Him for it without His Word in us?

Jeremiah 33:3 whets our prayer-whistles to remind us that God not only gives us what we ask when we pray but also reveals things we could not otherwise know. And Ephesians 3:20 reminds us that our Abba can and often does so much more than we could ever think to ask Him for or even imagine. And in Matthew 7:9-11 Jesus makes sure we know that God only gives good gifts to His children.

[Ask the congregation] Which get me wanting to ask you, “What do you think God would do if you asked Him for something He knew would be bad for you?” [Wait for answers.]

[Ask the congregation] “What do you think God would do if you asked Him for something but He knew it would be better for you to receive it at a later time?” [Wait for answers.]

One last thing the Lord Jesus makes clear to us in His words through John is that talking with God results in joy! Seeing God provide for us and respond to what we’ve talked with Him about and enjoy His fellowship and the confidence of His caring about us and listening to us creates joy in our hearts.

All of this is our inheritance in Christ! No one else has provided such a Way to the Almighty’s heart as Jesus Christ has done for those who love Him, have repented of their sins, and walk in His ways. This joy, this peace, this confidence, this power are all ours for the living and enjoying in Jesus.

One last thing: As a man sharing a house with a wife and a daughter who have long, beautiful hair, our home is filled with hairbrushes filled with hair, hair that I spend too much time pulling out of hairbrushes I’d like to use and throwing those gobs of hair into toilets or trashcans.

Well, Satan may try to have us doubt the effectiveness of talking to God and asking Him for anything at all. He may whisper, “You don’t think God is really personally interested in you, do you? He’s far away, and concerned about more important things. Surely you don’t think He’ll hear your prayers – much less answer them?”

But Matthew 10:29-31 reminds us that you and I – God’s children on account of Christ – that even the most insignificant things in our lives – our hairs! – are known and counted and kept an eye on by God. This isn’t true for everyone on the Earth. Nope. Just us. So precious. So prized. God’s beloved; His chosen ones! What I throw into the toilet or trash so precious and beloved to God because they are the hairs of those He gave His Son for, those He gave His life for; His beloved, His bride…

Trusting we are so important to Him we can be sure He cares and listens and will answer us when we talk with Him in prayer.

Father: Help each one here talk to You in the conversation of the loving, caring Father You are…



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

Psalm 68:1-6 [NLTse]

For the choir director: A song. A psalm of David.

1 Rise up, O God, and scatter Your enemies. Let those who hate God run for their lives. 2 Blow them away like smoke. Melt them like wax in a fire. Let the wicked perish in the presence of God. 3 But let the godly rejoice. Let them be glad in God’s presence. Let them be filled with joy. 4 Sing praises to God and to His name! Sing loud praises to Him Who rides the clouds. His name is the Lord—rejoice in His presence!

5 Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—this is God, Whose dwelling is holy. 6 God places the lonely in families; He sets the prisoners free and gives them joy. But He makes the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.

The Acts of the Apostles 2:42-47 [NLTse]

42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.

43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.

Sermon

When you became a follower of Jesus Christ, something very exciting happened! You became a part of a family. As we just read, Psalm 68 sings, “Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—this is God, Whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families; He sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.” The “family” that Psalm 68 sings that the Lord puts us into is not our flesh and blood families, although being a part of our flesh and blood families can be a great gift and blessing from God, too.) No. The Lord adopts us and gives us a new life as a part of His very Own family. And this family – His family – includes all those who love and have put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. God calls His family “the called out ones” – called out from those who make up the rest of the people of the earth. And another name for “called out ones” is the Church.

Who here realizes you are a sinner and that you can’t save yourself from the penalty your sins deserve? [Raise hand.] Okay. Raise your hand again if you believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and has paid the penalty your sins deserve for you? Okay. All of you who raised your hands both times need to know that the very fact that you believe such things – receiving Jesus Christ and living in Him by faith – these facts make each and every one of you a part of God’s family! Let me make it absolutely clear: Membership in God’s family is automatic when you repent and believe the good news about Jesus.

Now, although there is ultimately only one worldwide family, it has always been local churches (like ours) that have provided a very personal context for Christians to live out our family-relationship together. And the Bible calls our family-relationships fellowship.

As you may already know, the Bible’s word “fellowship” comes from the Greek word koinonia which means to contribute; to partner and participate; to share. So, although the Bible points out many ways that Christians should, and must, relate to each other, all those ways fundamentally describe ways in which we are to contribute to one another’s lives, the ways in which we are to partner with and participate in one another’s lives, and the ways in which we are to share in one another’s lives.

So, although membership in God’s family is automatic according to our faith, fellowship – the ways we relate and partner and share each other’s lives – must be developed and practiced.

God’s Word speaks of three basic reasons why God has brought us into His family and into fellowship with one another: Spiritual motivation; spiritual support; and, love. Let’s start with spiritual motivation.

Hebrews 3:13 says, “You must warn each other every day… so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God.” “You must…” Hebrews says. So to experience the very best of what God has for us we should be experiencing the spiritual motivation that comes from fellowshipping with God’s family – fellow Christians – every day! Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another…” So even the early church was prone to fall away from fellowship, tempted to live out their faith on their own. But we are called to “not neglect our meeting together.” We need fellowship! We need the spiritual motivation that comes from our warning each other when we fellowship. We need the spiritual motivation toward acts of love and good works that come when we fellowship. And we need the spiritual motivation that comes from encouraging each other when we fellowship.

Another aspect of the spiritual motivation God has for us in Christian fellowship comes from the reality concerning the types of people we hang around with. It is common sense that the people we spend the most time with are going to be those who influence us the most. God wants you to make sure that you’re drawing your closest and most meaningful friendships from those who have a heart for God. 1 Corinthians 15:33 says, “Don’t be fooled… ‘bad company corrupts good character.’” And Psalm 1:1-2 says, “Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night.”

Fellowship with other Christians provides the spiritual motivation and a positive environment for growing closer to Christ.

Of course, we benefit from the spiritual support that comes from fellowshipping with each other, too. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says, “All praise to God… the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” And 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Build up one another…”

Think about your latest hardship or crisis… What made it bearable? Was it receiving a phone call or a visit for prayer from fellow-Christians at just the right time? Was it brothers and sisters bringing over food or giving you a ride? Was it people from church sharing some money or a shoulder to cry on? Or was it one of a million other ways that God’s family cries out to the Lord for us or reminds us of His promises or lets us know by their caring and presence that in Christ we are truly never, ever alone?

The practice of fellowship guarantees that no one in the church body will ever have to shoulder the weight of the Christian life alone.

All of this, of course, is wrapped together in the bonds of love. Everything that takes place in true Christian fellowship is brought about by love. John 13:34-35 says, “I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are My disciples.” And 1 John 4:11; 5:1 says, “Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other… Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God. And everyone who loves the Father loves His children, too.”

So God’s love for us – the same love that has brought us into His family – works in us to love our fellow believers, as well. Now that doesn’t mean we always have to like every other Christian we meet. But for the sake of Christ we must surrender to the Spirit’s compulsion to love them: To serve them; to help them; to share what we have with them; to never say anything evil about them; to support them and help them to grow and succeed; to bless and never curse… It is this kind of love for one another that Jesus says will lead the world to believe that Jesus is indeed God’s Son, because even best friends and flesh and blood family members don’t love each other that well!

We need to fellowship. We were made for Christian fellowship! John D. Rockefeller, after experiencing all that his riches and fame could bring him, said, “There is nothing in this world that can compare with the Christian fellowship; nothing that can satisfy but Christ.”

To receive the very best things God has for us we must practice Christian fellowship. We must! Stop settling for less than Jesus’ best!

So stay after Worship today for conversation and connection over a cup of coffee or some juice. Or if you just can’t, then come Wednesday nights to the Soup & Prayer. Invite each other over for coffee or a meal. (Those of you who enjoy cooking and entertaining were especially made to practice this kind of fellowship.) Come Sunday mornings to the Sunday School classes. Parents, bring your kids. Don’t deny them God’s best just because they are tired or because they say they don’t like anybody in their class. Fellowship isn’t about liking or being entertained. Fellowship is about practicing love, and sharing our gifts and abilities, and helping one another with the motivation and support each of us needs to live for Christ.

Let’s not miss God’s best!