Sermon Series


January 11, 2015 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper: Protestant Christians practice only these two Sacraments, what we believe to be “visible signs of God’s invisible grace”. Roman Catholics, however, practice seven Sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, but also Confirmation, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Ordination, and Marriage. We Protestants don’t believe these others to be Sacraments because we believe the Sacraments are for every Christian and the Bible doesn’t tell everyone to get married, and because the Bible doesn’t call each and every Christian to ordination. We don’t believe Confirmation is a Sacrament because Confirmation is so directly connected to Baptism, so much so that for all those not baptized as infants, Confirmation is an integral part of their Baptism ceremony. Likewise, Penance is intimately connected with the Lord’s Supper as the mercy and reconciling benefits of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross are ministered and renewed to believers through each serving of the bread and the cup.
So as we gather today to ordain and install men and women among us to the offices of elder and deacon we are not participating in a Sacrament but we are setting men and women apart to those special roles and services in the Body of Christ to which God has called them and – by the Holy Spirit – has empowered them to fulfill.

Mark 1:1-11 [NLTse]
This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. It began 2 just as the prophet Isaiah had written:
“Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, and he will prepare your way. 3 He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for him!’”
4 This messenger was John the Baptist. He was in the wilderness and preached that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. 5 All of Judea, including all the people of Jerusalem, went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. 6 His clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey.
7 John announced: “Someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to stoop down like a slave and untie the straps of his sandals. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!”
9 One day Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and John baptized him in the Jordan River. 10 As Jesus came up out of the water, he saw the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.”

Baptism: Sprinkling in a font gives us a picture of washing; immersion in a tub or stream can convey the idea of death and new life. Either way we are stuck focusing on the physical dimension of these acts: Washing and cleansing, or dying and new life. And yet John the Baptist makes clear that his baptism – showing that we’ve repented of our sins and turned to God to be forgiven – is merely preparation for the Christian life. John made clear that Jesus’ baptism, baptism with the Holy Spirit, that’s the doorway into Christ.
It is too easy, I think, to be distracted by the physical aspects of baptism and think this to be a ritual of having our sins forgiven, but Jesus’ baptism shows us that what is truly happening here – because our sins have been forgiven – is the boundary between Heaven and earth is being torn open and the Holy Spirit coming upon us to pour into us God’s love and to pour into us God’s salvation, everything the Scriptures says are ours by faith.

Mark 15:33-41 [NLTse]
33 At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. 34 Then at three o’clock Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
35 Some of the bystanders misunderstood and thought he was calling for the prophet Elijah. 36 One of them ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, holding it up to him on a reed stick so he could drink. “Wait!” he said. “Let’s see whether Elijah comes to take him down!”
37 Then Jesus uttered another loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.
39 When the Roman officer who stood facing him saw how he had died, he exclaimed, “This man truly was the Son of God!”

In the Jerusalem-Temple of Jesus’ day there were two rooms: The Sanctuary (also called the Holy Place) and the Most Holy Sanctuary (also called the Holy of Holies). The two rooms were partitioned off from each other by two massive curtains: Each 60 feet high and 30 feet wide, and each 4 inches thick. These two curtains together were spoken of as “the curtain” or “the veil” and kept those outside the Temple and those priests ministering in the Sanctuary room separated from and from seeing into the Holy of Holies, where God’s presence dwelt.

As with Baptism, it can be so easy for us to look at the physical aspects of the Lord’s Supper – speaking of the bread as the body of Jesus and of the cup as the blood of Jesus – and think we are going through a ritual to merely remind ourselves of Jesus’ sacrifice. But in His Word God tells us that Jesus’ sacrifice tore down the dividing curtain, tore apart that which separated us from God’s holy presence, opening us to an unhindered relationship with the Father!

The Lord likes to tear things apart for us. In Exodus the Lord tore open a pathway through the Red Sea. (14:21) In Isaiah (48:21) the Lord speaks of satisfying Israel’s thirst by tearing open a rock where water gushed out.

God is asking us to believe that He’s torn open the skies in our baptisms to equip each of us with power from Heaven. Likewise He”s asking us to believe that He’s torn open the dividing curtain so that now all who have faith to draw near have unhindered communion & fellowship with Him.

As you come forward to share in the Lord’s Supper later in our Worship, put your hand in the font-water and see the heavens splitting apart and the Holy Spirit descending upon you like a dove in your baptism. Hear the voice from Heaven saying, “You are my dearly beloved, and you bring me great joy.

What is it that separates you from God? Is it a habit or a practice that you just can’t or won’t give up? Do you not pray enough or read the Bible enough? Are you unworthy and you know you’re just not good enough? As you eat the bread, and as you drink the cup, know that the curtain has been torn away: Everything that could ever separate you from that holiest of places where Almighty God lives has been torn away. All that’s left is your entering and enjoying sweet friendship and fellowship – sweet communion – with Him.

(And after Worship, if you are not sure whether you have received the Holy Spirit or not, please come to the front to be anointed and prayed for by the elders gathered here.)

January 4, 2015 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

I love the way one part of the Bible fills us and completes other parts of the Bible!

This past week I was reading and studying Jeremiah 30-31 even as I was reading and studying this passage from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

Jeremiah, in chapters 30-31, has been imprisoned in the kings courtyard – the federal penitentiary of their day. And if that weren’t bad enough, the Babylonian army is laying siege to Jerusalem around him! But God gives Jeremiah words of hope to share with the inhabitants of Jerusalem:

“Yes, the Babylonians will overcome the Jews; they will take Jerusalem, defeat the remnants of Judah’s army, and take all Judah away into captivity and slavery, But, “the Lord says, “A cry is heard in Ramah – deep anguish and bitter weeping, Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted – for her children are gone.’

“But now this is what the Lord says: “Do not weep any longer, for I will reward you, ‘ says the Lord. ‘Your children will come back to you from the distant land of the enemy. There is hope for your future, ‘says the Lord.”

Ramah was a village to the north of Jerusalem, and the place where a thousand years before the matriarch, Rachel, died giving birth to the youngest of Jacob’s twelve sons, Benjamin. During the siege of Jerusalem Ramah was being used as a detainment camp to hold and organize the men and women and boys and girls of Judah on their way to slavery and captivity in Babylon.

Ramah was the embodiment of Judah’s defeat and Rachel’s death – cries echoed in the cries of husband and wives as they were separated from each other and of fathers and mothers as they were torn from their kids. But God says, “Stop your weeping for I will reward you. Your children will come back to you from the distant land of the enemy. There is hope for your future,” says the Lord.

In the midst of their heartaches and heartbreaks and hopelessness God says, “Cut it out! This is not your lot! I have plans for you! There is hope for your future!” says the Lord. Which brings us to our reading from Ephesians 1 This morning, that says, “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.” And then Paul goes on to list those spiritual blessings: That is

God loved us

And God chose us (in Christ)

God chose us to be holy, set apart, different and

He chose us to be without fault, blameless, unaccusable of sin!*

He’s adopted us to be His sons and daughters along with giving us the legal benefits of being His family in Heaven!

He’s forgiven us our sins – forgiven us! Not holding on to them or holding them against us anymore! And

He’s revealed to us His will for uniting the entire physical and spiritual creation together under the lordship of Christ!
He’s spoken all that over us with the same creative authority that He spoke the heavens and the earth and all the cosmos and creation into being! That’s who we are in Christ! That’s how new we are in Christ!

*(We can be shown our sin; we can be convinced of our sin; we can even feel sadness and sorrow and repent of our sin. But we can never be accused or condemned of our sin. Not in Christ. Not ever again.)

And that’s how we’re called to live in Christ. Not according to our fears and worries and the uncertainties of our circumstances, but according to Christ, crucified, and risen from the dead!

ISIS, ebola, old age, evection, aimlessness, emptiness? Praise Him in the storm! Is He our Father? Can He save? Has He saved us before? Can He save us again? Do we trust Him? Enough to die? Enough to live, to live even in the face of such temptations and persecutions and opposition?

Does God love you? Has God chosen you? Has God chosen you to be different from those around you? Different because you live life His way? Has God made you to be unaccusable of sin? Unaccusable? Are you God’s sons, guys, men? Are you God’s daughters, gals, ladies? Has God forgiven you your sins? Completely forgiven you? Do you know, has God revealed to you, that it’s all for Christ: That you’re for Christ, that I’m for Christ, that we’re all for Christ, that Milford is for Christ, that  the Pocono’s are for Christ, that the United States is for Christ, that the nations are for Christ, that the earth is for Christ, that this galaxy is for Christ, that the universe is for Christ, do you know that, do you get that, has He revealed that to you? Then praise Him! Praise Him in the storm! Praise Him in the face of your hardship, struggles, and fear. Praise Him! He’s stronger, He can. He will. Praise Him! All praise to Him! When you praise your team, praise God, too. He’s more worthy. He’s a better bet! When you praise your spouse or your kids or your folks, praise Him, too! All praise to Him!

Enough defining ourselves and our moods by our circumstances. We are defined by our God! Enough being dominated and overrun by our enemies and opposition. God is our refuge and strength, our hope in Whom we’ve put our trust! There is hope for our future!

No matter our present, let’s live 2015 and beyond, like children and people of hope that we are!

Let us pray….

December 7, 2014 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

The Gospel According to Mark 1:1-8 [NLTse]

This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. It began 2 just as the prophet Isaiah had written:
“Look, I am sending My messenger ahead of You, and He will prepare Your way. 3 He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for Him!’”
4 This messenger was John the Baptist. He was in the wilderness and preached that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. 5 All of Judea, including all the people of Jerusalem, went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. 6 His clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey.
7 John announced: “Someone is coming soon Who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to stoop down like a slave and untie the straps of His sandals. 8 I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!”

You would’ve thought people would have avoided John the Baptist with his message about “sin separating us from God” and the need for everyone to repent. But they flocked to him. Why?

Perhaps they were desperate to hear from God and John clearly seemed to be a prophet. Perhaps because he spoke so openly about sin and forgiveness people experienced him addressing the real things going on in the deep places of their hearts. I’ve come to believe, however, in addition to all these reasons, that crowds flocked to John the Baptist because through confessing and repenting of their sins John promised them the Spirit-filled life Isaiah had foretold.

The Prophet Isaiah 32:15-20 [NLTse]
Look, a righteous King is coming! And honest princes will rule under Him. 2 Each one will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams of water in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a parched land.
3 Then everyone who has eyes will be able to see the truth, and everyone who has ears will be able to hear it. 4 Even the hotheads will be full of sense and understanding. Those who stammer will speak out plainly. 5 In that day ungodly fools will not be heroes. Scoundrels will not be respected. 6 For fools speak foolishness and make evil plans. They practice ungodliness and spread false teachings about the Lord. They deprive the hungry of food and give no water to the thirsty. 7 The smooth tricks of scoundrels are evil. They plot crooked schemes. They lie to convict the poor, even when the cause of the poor is just. 8 But generous people plan to do what is generous, and they stand firm in their generosity.
9 Listen, you women who lie around in ease. Listen to Me, you who are so smug. 10 In a short time—just a little more than a year—you care[free] ones will suddenly begin to care. For your fruit crops will fail, and the harvest will never take place. 11 Tremble, you women of ease; throw off your complacency. Strip off your pretty clothes, and put on burlap to show your grief. 12 Beat your breasts in sorrow for your bountiful farms and your fruitful grapevines. 13 For your land will be overgrown with thorns and briers. Your joyful homes and happy towns will be gone. 14 The palace and the city will be deserted, and busy towns will be empty. Wild donkeys will frolic and flocks will graze in the empty forts and watchtowers 15 until at last the Spirit is poured out on us from Heaven. Then the wilderness will become a fertile field, and the fertile field will yield bountiful crops.
16 Justice will rule in the wilderness and righteousness in the fertile field. 17 And this righteousness will bring peace. Yes, it will bring quietness and confidence forever. 18 My people will live in safety, quietly at home. They will be at rest. 19 Even if the forest should be destroyed and the city torn down, 20 the Lord will greatly bless His people. Wherever they plant seed, bountiful crops will spring up. Their cattle and donkeys will graze freely.

John’s message must have been, “Yes, you are a sinner! Yes, you must repent of your sins! But don’t do it just to ease your conscience. Don’t do it just to get “right” with God. Do it because the Messiah’s coming, and with Him a new day’s coming! He is God’s righteous king, and He’s bringing with Him a day of absolute transformation – making all things new! The sin and the death and the selfishness and the uncertainty that have marked every person, every society, and the whole creation is going to begin unravelling with His coming. He will come pouring-out the Holy Spirit!
“Come! Don’t miss it! Be a part of it!” John must have preached. “But only God is bringing it, and the path to God is by confessing and repenting of your sins and trusting in Him. He alone the way to this new life.”

In Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ movie the Lord Jesus is carrying the cross through the streets of Jerusalem. His mother, Mary, cuts through an alley to get ahead of the crowd that is keeping her from Him and reaches Him just as He falls under the burden. Exhausted under the crushing load, the Lord looks up and sees her. Beaten and bloodied and through broken teeth He proclaims, “Behold, I make everything new!”

Isn’t that why Jesus came? I mean, do we all really need more rules? Did the angels and the shepherds and a young girl’s shameful pregnancy all come about just so people could be moral? Yes, Jesus would be the King, of course, and that would be great because Jesus is great, but doesn’t that fall a little flat? Think of the wise men and king Herod slaughtering all the babies Jesus’ age in an attempt to kill Him, and the devil getting personally involved desperately seeking to tempt Him astray… Doesn’t it all seem to be leading to so much more than just attending church, trying to be nice and helping those around you as you have the time, and looking forward to a peaceful and placid “Heaven” some day? I mean, if that’s all its leading up to, don’t you kind of want your ticket price back?

Hallelujah! that what Jesus has started is not simply a cleaned up version of the same old thing. No, He says, “What no eye has ever seen, what no ear has ever heard, what no mind has ever begun to imagine, what God has prepared for those who love Him!

What Jesus has begun, pouring out the Holy Spirit, is a new creation: The heavens will disappear like a computer screen losing power, and the continents will be rocked like dice in a cup. It’s going to all be gone! in order to make room for something new!

That’s why you read your Bibles, isn’t it? In the hopes of something new? That you’ll be transformed? That this life you know will be gone and a new life will begin?

It’s working! It has started, my friends!

Don’t you pray hoping for communion? Hoping for a closeness and a meeting, to get run-over by God? Keep it up, He’s coming!

At Christmastime this Scripture is often read: “The nations shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (2:4) Isaiah is describing the Spirit-filled life! “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6) “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.” (Isaiah 35:1) It’s all the Spirit-filled life!

This is what Jesus has brought. This is what the Spirit-poured-out produces! Our wild, uncultivated lives will become like gardens, and our garden-like lives will become like forests-of-every-good-thing! Yes, seek justice, fairness, and to live righteously day by day. But do so knowing that God’s Spirit within you produces these things as you seek to make Christ and His Kingdom your number one aim. “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things – whatever you might be striving and longing for – will be supplied to you!”

Has your life been a desert? As you pursue the King He will pour out His Holy Spirit upon you, and by His grace and in His strength, as you confess your sins and repent, just watch His fruitfulness and abundance transform your desert into blossoms and rejoicing!

Have you been looking out for number one? “Every man (and woman) for themselves?” Has “do it to them before they do it to you” been your motto? As you love your neighbor as you love yourself, as you “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, as you ask and seek Jesus to drench you and keep you soaked with His Spirit, you will watch the Lord transform those whom you used to see as “competition” or “prey” into your community and your partners, and transform your stinginess and self-preservation into self-giving and life.

Does war and anger and revenge and unforgiveness govern your heart? As you receive the Holy Spirit from Christ our King His love and acceptance will make you new so that you can recognize your faults and leave behind those ways that keep you from the Savior. As His Spirit transforms you you just watch your best weapons for protecting yourself and getting your way be transformed into His best tools for building others up, forgiving them, and caring and sharing this new life with them! Can you imagine those you’ve treated as enemies being transformed into friends that stick closer than a brother (or sister)? That’s the work of His life in us!

But maybe you are the only Christian in your family or among your friends or where you work, and you wonder what you can do to against your folks or your spouse or your kids and others. How can “just you” make a difference?

But it’s not your words you speak nor your compassion you show or your righteousness you are living. No, in this new life all this comes from Jesus with the Holy Spirit poured out. Ours is simply the activity and the doing: Sharing His new life with the poor and those far from God; offering comfort to the brokenhearted; speaking release and freedom to those captive and imprisoned; telling those who are in mourning that God’s favor has come! As we seek Him and offer ourselves to Him as vessels of His grace, it’s the Holy Spirit Who actually comforts and sets free and gives hope and makes new!
It is your work, but as you do it it is God working in you, giving you the desire and the power to accomplish what pleases Him. (Philippians 2:12-13)