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Sermon Series

 

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

1 John 5:1-12 [NLTse]

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God. And everyone who loves the Father loves His children, too. 2 We know we love God’s children if we love God and obey His commandments. 3 Loving God means keeping His commandments, and His commandments are not burdensome. 4 For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith. 5 And who can win this battle against the world? Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God.

6 And Jesus Christ was revealed as God’s Son by His baptism in water and by shedding His blood on the cross—not by water only, but by water and blood. And the Spirit, Who is truth, confirms it with His testimony. 7 So we have these three witnesses— 8 the Spirit, the water, and the blood—and all three agree. 9 Since we believe human testimony, surely we can believe the greater testimony that comes from God. And God has testified about His Son. 10 All who believe in the Son of God know in their hearts that this testimony is true. Those who don’t believe this are actually calling God a liar because they don’t believe what God has testified about His Son.

11 And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life.

13 I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life.

Sermon

I went and sat with Evelyn Ruff last night in her room at Karen Ann Quinlan’s hospice home over on the other side of Newton. She was in her last moments, or perhaps her last days. Only God knows… She was not conscious while I was there, that I know of. So I held her hand, stroked her forehead, read Scripture, prayed, and sang.

It was such a blessing to sit with her. Evy has lived such a faithful life; overcome much hardship and many trials; and yet all of it with such hope and trust in Christ, at least as I’ve been near watching her these past 18 years. As I sat there saying “goodbye” and entrusting her into the Lord Jesus’ care I was so grateful for her life in Christ. I was so grateful for the confidence I had (because I’d seen the way she lived by faith), and so I could read God’s promises and entrust her to Him so assuredly.

Now, we can never be absolutely sure of another’s saving faith, of course. The Reverend Billy Graham has given the world so much evidence of the genuineness of his faith, and yet, even so, we can only truly speak the promises of God and be consoled by the promises of God with hope when it comes to the salvation of other people. After all, we can only see the outside. God alone knows the heart.

But we can know and be assured of our own saving faith. We can know the sincerity of our own love and our own commitment and our own faith and trust in God’s Word and work for us on the cross of Christ. More than that, God wants us to know and be assured! And yet many Christians don’t allow themselves the benefit of such confidence.

In 1654 a Puritan named Thomas Brooks wrote, “Assurance is the believer’s ark where he sits, Noah-like, quiet and still in the midst of all distractions and destructions, commotions and confusions… [However] most Christians live between fears and hopes, and hang, as it were, between Heaven and #@!*. Sometimes they hope that their state is good, at other times they fear that their state is bad: now they hope that all is well, and that it shall go well with them for ever; [then] they fear that they shall perish by the hand of such a corruption, or by the prevalency of such or such a temptation… They are like a ship in a storm, tossed here and there.” (Brooks, Heaven on Earth, p. 11)

Many followers of Jesus Christ who are seeking to be more confident in their identity as new creations and children of God look in the wrong places. They tend to seek the assurance of their salvation in the things God is doing in their lives, or in their spiritual growth, or in the good works and obedience to God’s Word that is evident in their Christian walk. And while these things are important evidence of our new lives in Christ, God-lovers should not base our confidence on them. Rather, we should find our foundation and assurance in the truth of God’s Word. We should have confident trust that we are in Christ and that Christ is in us based on the promises God has declared, not because of our subjective experiences.

How can you be assured you belong to the Lord Jesus Christ? Consider 1 John 5:11–13 from our reading this morning: “And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life. I have written this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life.” If you you’ve trusted in Jesus and are following Jesus and have entrusted yourself to Jesus, you have Him, and you have life. Not temporary life. Not 10 or 40 or 70 or 90 years of life, but eternal life. God’s message to you and me in the Bible promises it. And God never lies.

Don’t get me wrong. You can be saved and doubt it. You can go to Heaven in a fog, not knowing for sure that you’re really going to get there, but that’s certainly not the best way to enjoy the trip!

And, of course, all of us as Christians have times when doubt makes us question if our faith is true and if our relationship with Jesus is real. For some, those times are but fleeting moments that come and go; for some, such doubts are nagging and ingrained and last a long time; for others, they seem like a way of life.

On the other hand, some people have assurance who shouldn’t. Jesus said, “Not everyone who calls out to Me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of My Father in Heaven will enter. On Judgment Day many will say to Me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in Your name and cast out demons in Your name and performed many miracles in Your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from Me, you who break God’s laws.’” (Matthew 7:21-23). Many people are deceived about their salvation which is why the apostle Paul said, “Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves.” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

There seem to be several common reasons why Christian people doubt their place in God’s family. Some people lack assurance because they can’t accept God’s forgiveness. They are ruled by their emotions and feel they are too bad to be forgiven. Their identity as “bad” is still bigger to them than Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. And yet, as someone wrote: “Manasseh is saved. O despairing souls, the arms of mercy are open to receive a Manasseh, a monster, a devil incarnate; he caused that gospel prophet Isaiah to be sawed in the midst with a saw… He turned aside from the Lord to commit idolatry, and caused his sons to pass through the fire, and dealt with familiar spirits, and made the streets of Jerusalem to overflow with innocent blood…

“The soul of Mary Magdalene was full of devils; and yet Christ cast them out, and made her heart His house… Why dost thou then say there is no hope for thee, O despairing soul?

“Paul was full of rage against Christ and His people, and full of blasphemy and impiety, and yet behold, Paul is a chosen vessel, Paul is caught up into the Heaven, and he is filled with the gifts and graces of the Holy [Spirit]… Why should thou then say there is for thee no help, O despairing soul! … The apostle tells you of some monstrous miscreants that were unrighteous, fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, abusers of themselves with mankind, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, extortioners; and yet these monsters of mankind, through the infinite goodness and free grace of God, are washed from the filth and guilt of their sins, and justified by the righteousness of Christ, and sanctified by the Spirit of Christ, and decked and adorned with the precious graces of Christ… Why then, O despairing soul, shouldst thou fear that thy unworthiness and unfitness for mercy will so stop and turn the stream of mercy, as that thou must perish eternally for want of one drop of special grace and mercy?” (Heaven on Earth, pp. 93-94)

You must realize that God knew you were a sinner, which is why He sent Jesus Christ into the world to completely pay the price for your sins: Past, present, and future. God Himself said, “I—yes, I alone—will blot out your sins for My own sake and will never think of them again.” (Isaiah 43:25). What you can’t forget, God has chosen not to remember!

Of course, the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead proves that His work on the cross brought about an eternal salvation. Jesus said He was God and rose from the dead to prove it! He said He came to accomplish the work of salvation, and God raised Him from the dead to show He was successful!

A young convert once said, “If anyone is ever to be kept out of Heaven for my sins, it will have to be Jesus, for He took them all upon Himself and made Himself responsible for them. But He is in Heaven already, never to be turned out, so now I know that I am secure.” (Ironside, p. 75)

Many Christians can be tempted to doubt God’s love for and adoption of them because of their personal struggles and the bad things they are having to endure. And yet Romans 5 says, “Since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us … and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love.” (vv. 1-5). Our trials are not to make us discouraged or doubt. We are to let them produce hope and assurance in us as we draw near to Christ through them!

“Dear brothers and sisters,” says James, “when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” (1:2-4) Rather than causing us to doubt, the trials of life are to prove God’s love and power in us on our behalf.

Lastly, it’s been rightly said that high levels of assurance cannot be enjoyed by those who persist in low levels of obedience. To live in sin is to live in doubt. Preacher Charles Spurgeon talks about what he’s experienced in his own life:

“Whenever I feel that I have sinned and desire to overcome that sin for the future, the devil at the same time comes to me and whispers, ‘How can you be a pardoned person and accepted with God while you still sin in this way?’ If I listen to this I drop into despondency, and if I continued in that state I should fall into despair, and should commit sin more frequently than before; but God’s grace comes in and says to my soul, ‘Thou hast sinned; but did not Christ come to save sinners? Thou art not saved because thou art righteous; for Christ died for the ungodly.’ And my faith says, ‘Though I have sinned, I have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and though I am guilty yet by grace I am saved and I am a child of God still.’ And what then? Why the tears begin to flow and I say, ‘How could I ever sin against my God who has been so good to me? Now I will overcome that sin,’ and I get strong to fight with sin through the conviction that I am God’s child.”

Jesus Himself assures those who believe in Him: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of My hand. My Father, Who has given them to Me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of My Father’s hand” (John 10:28–29). Yes, you should see the evidence of the Holy Spirit in your life drawing you to Jesus, helping you understand His Word, growing to be more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled as God’s Spirit transforms your life. But the bedrock for our assurance are God’s promises – made to you and to me, if we trust them – across His Word.



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

Mark 1:40-45 [NLTse]

35 Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray. 36 Later Simon and the others went out to find Him. 37 When they found Him, they said, “Everyone is looking for You.”

38 But Jesus replied, “We must go on to other towns as well, and I will preach to them, too. That is why I came.” 39 So He traveled throughout the region of Galilee, preaching in the synagogues and casting out demons.

40 A man with leprosy came and knelt in front of Jesus, begging to be healed. “If You are willing, You can heal me and make me clean,” he said.

41 Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” He said. “Be healed!” 42 Instantly the leprosy disappeared, and the man was healed. 43 Then Jesus sent him on his way with a stern warning: 44 “Don’t tell anyone about this. Instead, go to the priest and let him examine you. Take along the offering required in the law of Moses for those who have been healed of leprosy. This will be a public testimony that you have been cleansed.”

45 But the man went and spread the word, proclaiming to everyone what had happened. As a result, large crowds soon surrounded Jesus, and He couldn’t publicly enter a town anywhere. He had to stay out in the secluded places, but people from everywhere kept coming to Him.

Sermon

The leper knelt before Jesus, close enough that the Lord only had to “reach out” to touch him. Now, the Old Testament Law declared leper’s unclean, which meant that if you had leprosy you were not allowed to be near or live near other Jews, nor were you allowed to attend synagogue or worship at the Temple. When lepers did come into town or need to be near other Jews they were required to stay at a distance from the clean Jews around them shouting, “Unclean!” as a warning, and so that others wouldn’t be contaminated by them and be declared unclean, too. And yet we have this leper brazenly march right up to within arm’s reach of Jesus! (And, of course, getting so close to Jesus meant getting that close to Jesus’ disciples and to all the crowds that so often flocked around Him, too.)

I can picture in my minds’ eye the disciples and crowds around Jesus gasping, shrieking, drawing back, and clawing and climbing overtop of each other in order to get away from the leper, his uncleanness, the possibility that they might be declared unclean on account of contact with him, and worse still, perhaps become infected by him with the dreaded leprosy themselves!.

And yet Jesus doesn’t seem to have moved.

And so, there, kneeling at Jesus’ feet, the leper said to Him, “If You are willing You can heal me.” Do you hear the complete faith in Jesus’ power that is in that statement? What’s at question is not Jesus’ power and authority. The leper is questioning Jesus’ heart. “I know You can heal me, Jesus. I just don’t if You’re want to.”

Of course, Jesus’ response to the leper is both a healing and a miracle: Every trace of the man’s leprosy disappears, and it happens instantly! (I speak of this as a healing and a miracle because there is another record we have of Jesus healing lepers where the healing came about more naturally – little bit by little bit as systems were restored and functions were regained. So it seems to be a miracle, as well, when the restoration occurs instantly, like it does here.)

So, what about us?

With the leper in mind, how boldly do you come to Jesus? We can come to Him in prayer; we can come to Him by asking the elders to pray for us; we can come to Him by constantly sharing our needs with those around us, asking for prayer in our groups or Bible studies, asking to be kept on the Prayer List, coming forward for prayer at the end of Worship week after week… But do we? Is our faith enough that we’re willing to cause a stir, willing to make a commotion, willing to shock those around us, and, perhaps, even willing to offend those around us in order to seek Jesus for our needs? Because Jesus shows us this morning that even if everyone else is offended by our boldness, He is not!

And when we do come, do we trust that Jesus can heal us? I guess when I think of the many Christian people I’ve interacted with over time I think that most Christian people do think that God can heal them. So maybe a better question for you would be: Do you trust that Jesus wants to heal you? Do I trust that Jesus wants to heal me? …

[Go to the Table and unwrap the bread and uncover the trays…]

Now let’s put ourselves in the place of Jesus’ disciples and those crowds. When we hear about someone with a great need, or when someone with a great need comes to us – perhaps, even, a scary need – do we gasp and shriek, or draw back and turn away (even if that turning away is only in our hearts)? Do such needs make us feel afraid or inadequate or powerless or guilty or perhaps some other such feeling that closes us down inside and gets us wanting nothing more than for our interaction with the needy person to end? … That’s how it seems the disciples and the crowds responded. But Jesus stuck.

Do we trust Him in such circumstances? Do we follow Jesus and do what we know He would do? That is, do we stay near to listen with a willing heart, willing to be used by God as He leads and provides?

I saw both of these played out during the Men’s Saturday Morning Bible Study yesterday. As we were getting ready to pray for each other at the very end of our time, one of the guys shared this Herculean need – a monstrous, impossible, overwhelming need! He laid it out there humbly, and in every aching detail. And we were all moved. The guy was crying and several of the rest of us got crying, too… And we prayed, and then we prayed some more. And as our prayer ended one of the guys stepped out of the room with the fella who had shared the need… and he helped him. Now, to the best of my knowledge his help didn’t completely meet the guy’s need, but it was huge, God-inspired help.

The man boldly shared his predicament with us all, and humbled himself, and took responsibility for this and that that were a part of it. And he demonstrated, as he shared with us, that he knew God could handle his troubles if God wanted to! And the Lord showed the guy that He could help and that He did, indeed, want to. We didn’t recognize it, but that guy had arrived at the Study a leper, but according to His faith, and because the One He put his faith in wants to help, he walked away cleansed and healed!

How bold are you to ask for what you believe you need from God? How persistent in your prayers are you and in asking for prayer are you?

On the other hand, how trusting are you to believe that He-Who’s-in-you is greater than he-who-is-in-the-world? That is, do you trust God even when confronted with overwhelming needs or monstrous, herculean situations?

Are you willing to keep seeking God’s promises – your Christian-inheritance – as aggressively as you need to until your Abba satisfies you?

Are you willing to offer yourself to be the answers to others’ needs and prayers: Listening, praying, and responding as God’s Spirit leads?

Where have you been falling short in asking?

Where have you been falling short in giving?

Father, we want to be like Jesus. Make it so…



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

Matthew 6:5-18 [NLTse]

5 “When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. 6 But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, Who sees everything, will reward you.

7 “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. 8 Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask Him! 9 Pray like this:

Our Father in Heaven, may Your name be kept holy. 10 May Your Kingdom come soon. May Your will be done on Earth, as it is in Heaven. 11 Give us today the food we need, 12 and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. 13 And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.

14 “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. 15 But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.

16 “And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. 17 But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. 18 Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, Who knows what you do in private. And your Father, Who sees everything, will reward you.

Sermon

Last week I shared that the Holy Spirit has directed our elders to call us to fast together as a church. We will celebrate seven one-day fasts across the Wednesdays of Lent. So, beginning Ash Wednesday, February 18th, we will meet every Wednesday evening at 6:30pm for a soup dinner together in Fellowship Hall. Following that meal we’ll move to the Sanctuary for a time of prayer and praise. And then our fasting will begin: Water only until dinnertime that Thursday night when we will break our fasts with dinner in our various homes.

As a part of reading through and meditating on Isaiah 58:1-14 last week I called us all to adopt one new practice across the weeks of Lent that would have us love God more and one new practice that would have us love those around us more. (And we talked about how that could require us giving up some things, too, so that we’d have the time to do these new things.)

Has anyone accepted the call? Anyone here committed to love God and those around us more across Lent in some ways you’d be willing to share with us?

This morning, in preparation for our fast, I’d like to talk about the practice of fasting, some of the dos and don’ts, to help us as we get ready to start.

To start, let’s look at these words from the Lord Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount where our role model for living by faith says, “When you fast…” Now, notice that He doesn’t say, “If you fast…” and that He doesn’t say, “This if how I fast, but, of course, you can stop doing this after I ascend to Heaven…” No, our Savior says, “When you fast…”

Then in Acts 13 we read how the prophets and teachers of the church in Antioch fasted and worshiped as a part of discerning whom the Lord was sending from them out into the mission field. So we know that Christians continued to fast as the church spread out from Jerusalem.

And we can read in The Didache – a Christian discipleship manual from the second century – how during the 100s AD believers fasted every Wednesday and Friday as a part of their life in Christ. So, fasting was a part of Jewish discipleship before Jesus and continued to be a part of Christian discipleship once Jesus had come.

So, because some of you may have heard different preachings or teachings that fasting is not a part of the Christian life today, we can plainly see that that’s not the case: Jesus taught His disciples how to fast; the apostles and early Christians fasted; and even into the first generations of Christians Jesus’ followers continued fasting.

Now, the elders have called us to a fairly simple fast. We will only be giving up two meals: Breakfast and lunch across the Thursdays of Lent (as well as any snacks, of course). In their place we will all be drinking water and taking the time we would have spent in food preparation and meal times praying, praising God, and reading the Word.

Consider praying outloud and in a kneeling position. Try spending some time spread out on your face before God, as well. These types of body positions may help us nurture more humble attitudes as we pray.

Now, it’s true that the elders have called us to this fast, but we still believe that the Holy Spirit has specific reasons for each of you to participate in it, too. So, in preparation for this fast, we want each of you to ask our Father in Heaven why He wants you to be fasting: What specific spiritual reasons and purposes does He have in His mind for you during this fast? Does the Lord want to break the power of anger in your life as the result of this fast? Or perhaps your spiritual need is to be freed from unforgiveness or worry, or perhaps there are other problems in your life that are overwhelming you, maybe even driving you to despair! Whatever the issues you are facing, ask the Lord to make them clear to you, and trust that He has called you to this fast as a part of breaking you from them.

As a part of all this, get a journal. Whether a wire-bound notebook or a three-ring binder, or, perhaps like me, you’ll use some sort of a journal or notebook app on your phone, tablet, or computer. Write there the reasons, as specific as you can be, as to why you believe God has called you to this fast. You can also include there any prayer requests that you want to keep asking our Father for across the fast. And you can write down your prayers there, and any devotional thoughts or spiritual insights the Lord may be teaching you. You’ll find keeping all these things in your journal helpful as the fast continues, but also in the future when you want to reflect back on what God taught and how He stretched you during this time.

If you have a medical condition or are on any medications, please talk with a doctor who is familiar with fasting before joining us. A two meal fast is not very challenging to our health or systems, but better safe than sorry.

Be prepared ahead of time that headaches and feeling irritable often accompany fasts, especially if you are a big coffee or caffeinated drink person. But don’t let that intimdate you, and don’t let your fasting be an excuse to give in to irritable attitudes or behaviors!

Of course, be prepared that even people with good intentions may try to keep you from fasting or may encourage you to break your fast early. Expect it, and be ready with a kind, yet firm, response.

With last week’s reading from Isaiah 58 in mind, remember that there are many benefits from fasting. 1) The Lord will set us free from slavery to self and our sinful nature, loosening the bonds of wickedness and undoing the bands of the yoke. 2) He will bring us freedom from oppression. 3) He will transform us into givers. 4) He will give us the desire and abilities to meet and minister to people’s needs. 5) He will allow us to see ourselves as we really are. 6) God will give us spiritual insight and influence. 7) Recovery and healing of various kinds may happen in our lives. 8) Righteousness will precede us and God’s glory will be our protection and rear guard. 9) God will answer our prayers. 10) God will manifest His presence with us. 11) He will adjust our attitudes, 12) and continually guide us. 13) He will fulfill our desires in the midst of harsh and adverse situations. 14) He will give us strength and energy. 15) He will make us fruitful, 16) and like living water that never runs dry. 17) And He will give us more faith.

Don’t we all want to grow in these ways? And God wants us to grow in these ways. And His way includes prayer and fasting.

Review the benefits of a godly fast that we found last week going through Isaiah 58 (Ronnie Floyd’s list from pg. 212) in the hopes of inspiring some of the undecided in the congregation to join the fast…