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“He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not….He Loves Me!”January 07, 2018 A.D.by Pastor Ben Willis

ELDER: ISAIAH 43:1-4 [NLTse]

But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord Who created you. O Israel, the One Who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are Mine. 2 When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. 3 For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I gave Egypt as a ransom for your freedom; I gave Ethiopia and Seba in your place. 4 Others were given in exchange for you. I traded their lives for yours because you are precious to Me. You are honored, and I love you.

PASTOR: SERMON (Part 1)

Someone recently challenged me to change my life and my marriage and my family and my work and all my relationships, and while I’m at it to change the world. They challenged me saying that, if I did it, everything in me and around me would be so dramatically better that I would forever look back at this moment and decision in awe by the transformation that occurred.

What was the challenge? Be loved by God.

Initially, after such a big build-up, the challenge disappointed me. After all, I know God loves me. The truth is, I count on God loving me. I’VE INVESTED MY WHOLE LIFE IN SUCH A LOVE AND SUCH A GOD.

But it’s the kind of challenge that stuck in my head, and that I’ve found myself coming back to, and coming back to again.

It’s said that the biggest distance in the universe is the distance between a person’s mind [pointing to my head] (and what they intellectually give assent

to) and a person’s heart [pointing to my chest] (what they love and live for and will die for). [Pointing to my head,] I know Jesus loves me, but my preoccupation with the challenge got me wondering, [pointing to my chest] do I really know Jesus loves me? Do I let Him love me? Do I receive His love for me? Do I allow His love to seep into the nooks and crannies and core of who I am?

For many people, letting God love us and receiving His love is hard. Many of us have learned that love is only offered with conditions: If we’re good enough, if we’re smart enough, if we’re pretty enough, if we’re likable enough, if we’re … whatever enough, enough, enough… It can be hard, and even terrifying to stand before God Most High, just as we are, with all our pride and sin and anger and shame stark and laid bare before Him. To come out from where we’ve been hiding and drop the fig leaves we’ve covered ourselves with can be the most terrifying thing we ever consider; the hardest thing we ever do: To stand naked and exposed before the Holy! Holy! Holy One of Israel! What if He rejects us the way others have?

Except He won’t.

ELDER: EPHESIANS 3:14-21 [NLTse]

14 When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, 15 the Creator of everything in Heaven and on earth. 16 I pray that from His glorious, unlimited resources He will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make His home in your hearts as you trust in Him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

20 Now all glory to God, Who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish

infinitely more than we might ask or think. 21 Glory to Him in the Church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.

PASTOR: SERMON (Part 2)

The Bible pictures our Abba’s love for us in a variety of very homey ways.

For instance, the city of Jerusalem is often prophetically-used to speak of the Church. (As we talked a little about last Sunday when, in The Revelation, John draws everyone’s attention to the Bride of Christ, picturing her as “the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of Heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” (21:2)

Well, about Jerusalem, the prophet Isaiah speaks for the Lord: “See, I have written your name on the palms of My hands.” (49:16) Like a lovesick school-girl, Almighty God has written our names all over His hands!

Another down-to-earth image the Bible uses is, again, from The Revelation, when the Lord Jesus writes a letter to the Church in Philadelphia. (Not our “Philadelphia” here in Pennsylvania. This “Philadelphia” was in Asia Minor, modern-day Allah-Shehr in modern-day Turkey.) He writes to them, “I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take away your crown. All who are victorious will become pillars in the Temple of My God, and they will never have to leave it. And I will write on them the name of My God, and they will be citizens in the city of My God—the New Jerusalem that comes down from Heaven from my God. And I will also write on them My new name… (3:11-12)

Don’t you love it? He writes our name on Him and He writes His name on us: Like Andy did to Woody and Buzz, his favorites! Like my kids did on their favorites. Because when you write your name on something it means, “Mine!”

And yet, let’s not fall into thinking that Father’s love for us is merely some warm-fuzzy, feel-good emotion. No. Because the Bible doesn’t just tell us

that God loves us, the Bible also tells us that God is love!

God doesn’t love us because we are deserving or worth it or for any other reason that has anything to do with us whatsoever. No. Scripture makes clear that God loves us out of His Own nature. It doesn’t matter whether we feel as though God loves us or not. It is true that God loves us because love is an aspect of His nature, His character; it is a part of Who He is and what He is. God’s love for human beings is a cold, hard fact because God is love!

Just as gravity doesn’t care whether or not you want to end up on the ground when you fall out of the tree: It is gravity’s nature to bring all things to the ground! The water in the lake doesn’t care whether or not you want to get wet when your friends throw you into it: It is the nature of water to completely soak what is in it!

Likewise, God does not care whether or not you want to be loved when you are conceived and born into the world as a human being: It is the nature and character and being of God to love you, you human being! God doesn’t take us into account whether or not we are love-worthy. There’s no such thing! God loves us because that’s what He does, because that’s Who He is: God is love.

But do you believe that? Do you [pointing to my heart] truly believe that? Do you believe God sees you, and says, “You are Mine. Your name is tattooed on My hands. I have chosen and adopted you to be My child. You belong to Me, and you always will”?

Do you make space and time to be still and hear and take into yourself this message? Do you make time in the morning, at lunch, or late at night to let God’s love invade your heart, your mind, your soul, your strength? Do you make time to get away with Him to just listen and believe?

What if you let yourself be loved by God? What if you dared to believe His promises were true?

ELDER: JOHN 3:16 [NLTse]

“For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”

PASTOR: SERMON (Part 3)

C.S. Lewis once wrote: “To please God… to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness… to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son – it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.” (The Weight of Glory)

ELDER: ROMANS 8:31-39 [NLTse]

“What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since He did not spare even His Own Son but gave Jesus up for us all, won’t He also give us everything else?

Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for His Own? No one: For God Himself has given us right standing with Himself!

Who then will condemn us? No one: For Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and He is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us!

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or are hungry, or are poor or in danger or are threatened with death? … No! Despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, Who loved us.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love! Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow, not even the powers of Hell can separate us from God’s love! No power in the sky above or the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to

separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord!”



“The Great Marriage Supper”December 31, 2017 A.D.by Pastor Ben Willis

SERMON

PASTOR: INTRODUCTION

Across The Revelation to John we see parallels made between the realities of God and the counterfeits of Satan. We see the real, Lord God Almighty, the One sitting on the Throne, and we see the counterfeit, the Dragon, Satan, the Devil… We see the real, God the Son, the Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ, and we see the counterfeit, the Beast, the first beast (that is), with a fatal wound that has been miraculously healed (in imitation of the Lord Jesus’ being raised from the dead). We see the real, Christ’s Church, marked and measured, and we see the counterfeit, the False Prophet, that looks like a representative of the Lamb but that speaks with the voice of the Dragon. We see the real, the Bride of Christ, dressed in righteousness, and her city, the New Jerusalem, and we see the counterfeit, the Great Prostitute, drinking obscenities and impurities, and her city, Babylon the Great, covered with heresies and blasphemies…

As our reading begins, “the End” has just begun with the fall and destruction of the Great Prostitute and her city, Babylon the great. With their destruction falls the whole world-system and the devil’s wicked, sinful, death-fearing pattern of life-together across human society… (Immediately after our reading, the Beast and the False Prophet are quickly defeated, and, finally, the Devil – Satan – likewise proves himself no match whatsoever for the One seated on the Throne and the Lamb. But, for now, so far, it’s just been the fall and destruction of the Great Prostitute and her city Babylon the great…)

ELDER READING FROM: THE REVELATION 19:1-10 [NLTse]

After this, I heard what sounded like a vast crowd in Heaven shouting, “Praise the Lord! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God. 2 His judgments

are true and just. He has punished the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her immorality. He has avenged the murder of His servants.”

3 And again their voices rang out: “Praise the Lord! The smoke from that city ascends forever and ever!”

4 Then the twenty-four elders and the four living beings fell down and worshiped God, Who was sitting on the throne. They cried out, “Amen! Praise the Lord!”

5 And from the throne came a voice that said, “Praise our God, all His servants, all who fear Him, from the least to the greatest.”

6 Then I heard again what sounded like the shout of a vast crowd or the roar of mighty ocean waves or the crash of loud thunder: “Praise the Lord! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns. 7 Let us be glad and rejoice, and let us give honor to Him. For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb, and His bride has prepared herself. 8 She has been given the finest of pure white linen to wear.” For the fine linen represents the good deeds of God’s holy people.

9 And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” And he added, “These are true words that come from God.”

10 Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said, “No, don’t worship me. I am a servant of God, just like you and your brothers and sisters who testify about their faith in Jesus. Worship only God. For the essence of prophecy is to give a clear witness for Jesus.”

PASTOR: SERMON

Wedding customs in the time of Jesus had three major parts. First, a marriage contract was signed by the parents of the bride and the bridegroom, and then the bridegroom’s parents or the bridegroom himself would pay a bride-price – typically a gift of money, land, or livestock – to the bride or to her

parents. This began what was called the betrothal period—what we would today call “the engagement”. This period was the one Joseph and Mary were in when she was found to be with child (Matthew 1:18; Luke 2:5).

The second step usually occurred a year later when the bridegroom, accompanied by his male friends, marched and danced and sang in procession to the bride’s house creating a parade-of-sorts through the streets. The bride would know in advance this was going to take place – though, perhaps not the exact day or the exact time of day – and so she would be ready with her maidens, and when the bridegroom and his men arrived, they would all join the parade and accompany them all back to the bridegroom’s and bride’s new home. (Sometimes their new home would be an addition the bridegroom had built onto his father’s home; sometimes it would be a new house altogether.) This custom is the basis for the Lord Jesus’ parable The Ten Bridesmaids in Matthew 25.

The third phase in a good Hebrew wedding was the marriage ceremony, which ended with the bridegroom and bride being led to the bridal chamber… And with the bridegroom and bride formally wed and having consummated their union, the wedding supper would begin! (A celebration that might go on for days, as we see happening in John 2 when the Lord Jesus attended the wedding at Cana.)

So, when we read about the “Wedding Supper of the Lamb” in John’s vision in The Revelation, we are watching the culmination of the Lord Jesus’ marriage to His Bride, the Church. The implication, of course, is that the first phases have already taken place. The first completed here on earth with each believer individually making a contract – a covenant – with God by placing our faith in Christ as the Savior of our lives and the Lord oof our lives. Our bride-price was Christ’s sacrifice on the cross paying the penalty for our sins. The Church on earth today, then, is “betrothed” – engaged – to Jesus Christ, and, like

the wise bridesmaids in the Lord Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25, all of us believers should be watching and prepared for the return of our Bridegroom.

The second phase of our marriage speaks of the Rapture, when Christ will come to take us – His Church – out of the collapsing world to our new home: The New Heavens and the New Earth! Then after all the pomp and wonder of being finally and fully united with Him, the “Marriage Supper” will follow: The glorious celebration of all who are in Christ!



“Idol Chatter”December 17, 2017 A.D.by Pastor Ben Willis

SERMON “Idol Chatter”

1 JOHN 5:13-21 [NLTse]

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. 14 And we are confident that He hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases Him. 15 And since we know He hears us when we make our requests, we also know that He will give us what we ask for.

16 If you see a fellow believer sinning in a way that does not lead to death, you should pray, and God will give that person life. But there is a sin that leads to death, and I am not saying you should pray for those who commit it. 17 All wicked actions are sin, but not every sin leads to death.

18 We know that God’s children do not make a practice of sinning, for God’s Son holds them securely, and the evil one cannot touch them. 19 We know that we are children of God and that the world around us is under the control of the evil one.

20 And we know that the Son of God has come, and He has given us understanding so that we can know the true God. And now we live in fellowship with the true God because we live in fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ. He is the only true God, and He is eternal life.

21 Dear children, keep away from idols, that is, anything that might take God’s place in your hearts.

SERMON

We are finishing up our year-long reading of the Bible. This past week we finished Hebrews, and read through James, and First & Second Peter. This reading from 1 John that Elder Roger Casey just finished comes from next week’s readings. I’m a week ahead of us because next Sunday – Christmas Eve morning – the Service will largely be led by the kids and teens of the church, including the Message. So, as I believe the Lord wanted this Message preached, since I won’t get a chance to preach it next Sunday, here I am preaching it today. J

During our prayers this morning I asked us what we were praying for this Christmas: What we were asking God for… With that on my mind this past week as I was preparing for this morning I got wondering what God might want from us this Christmas: What He’s asking us for… And the very end of this reading caught my attention: John’s final words of the letter, “Dear children, keep away from idols, that is, anything that might take God’s place in your hearts.” (5:21)

For those of you reading along with Roger this morning, if you were reading along in our pew Bibles – the New Living Translation – you saw that I inserted the word “idols” into our reading. Its translation simply says: “Keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts.” If you’re reading along in some other translation – the NIV (the New International Version) or the New King James Version or the growing-more-and-more-popular ESV (English Standard Version) – your translation simply read: “Keep yourselves from idols.”

Of course, both translations are correct because when the Holy Spirit (through John) is calling us away from “idols”, he’s not just telling us to not worship God by bowing down before or praying toward statues made of wood or marble or gold that represent God or other gods. No. “Idols” and “idolatry” in the Bible include anything we might worship other than God (through Christ): Anything that might take God’s place in our hearts.

You see, the Bible makes clear that as far back as Genesis chapter 3 – which records the first sin – that human being’s root problem is that we don’t want to let God be the center of our lives. In Genesis 3 Adam and Eve trusted the devil more than they trusted God. In Genesis 4, Cain went along with his jealousy instead of going along with God. By the time of Noah, the people of the earth had ignored and distanced themselves from God so completely that Genesis 6 tells us, “Everything [human beings]

thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil.” (v. 5) And by Moses’ day, the peoples’ of the earth were so mixed up about right and wrong and love and hate and rightness and injustice that God had to give Moses the Ten Commandments (and over time a bunch of other so-called “laws”) to help people get to know good from bad again!

Yup, like Adam and Eve trusting the devil, and Cain giving in to his jealousy, and even the Israelites wanting a golden calf they could see and touch to worship instead of a God Who couldn’t be seen or touched, human beings have always chosen created things to worship and be our “gods” because we don’t want God to be in control of our lives: We want to be in control of our lives.

So, wealth, work, family, and wanting others to like us can all become “idols” when we look to them to help us feel good about ourselves and acceptable to others. A property, a possession, an activity, or an institution can all become “idols” when we need them in our lives in order to be happy. A hope, an idea, a pleasure, even a hero can become “idols” when, if ever threatened or taken from us, would cause us to turn our backs on God. Yes, even the good things God has given us and the good callings He has on our lives can become “idols” when they become the real goal of our day-to-day living instead of Almighty God Who gave them…

Several years ago I shared with you all the story of a time when my wife, Amy, and I were making our way through a crowded movie theater parking lot and Amy, having looked both ways, had then dashed across the traffic to the other side. (Only, Amy hadn’t seen a car that I could see coming up from behind us!) In that moment when I thought I was going to lose her I had one of those “life flashing before your eyes” conversations with God: Begging Him not to take her. And in that same moment God showed me how, if I didn’t surrender Amy’s life and welfare to Him – how, if I always demanded He keep her safe and healthy – how Amy

would always be vulnerable to the wicked plans of the Evil One. That is, if my love for God and my trust in Him depended on whether or not He took good-enough care of my wife, how the devil could then always hurt me and cause trouble between God and me by hurting her or even taking her from me. God taught me in that moment that the safest place for my wife to be was not in my hands or in my plans for her and us, but in His hands and in His plans for her and us. I needed to worship Him alone.

God shattered another potential-idol of mine years later when our first child was born. Amy was exhausted after a long night of labor made all the more draining on account of her having been given a large dose of sleeping medicine by accident just as her contractions started. She literally didn’t have it in her to push Noah out. And he was stuck. And the nurse hit that dreaded blue button, and the coding announcement went out over the hospital loud speakers. And as the crash cart came in and I was pushed out of the way, it became clear that my wife and my son were going to die as I helplessly watched. And I told God in that moment, with tears pouring down my face, that He could have her and I would still love Him, and that He could have Noah, too, and that I would still love Him…

And God was merciful to me as those little stone sculptures fell from the altar of my heart and smashed on the hospital floor at my feet. He had mercy on us in that Amy is here today and in that, God willing, Noah will be home for Christmas break later on this afternoon.

But how do we know when the Lord is rightly and solely enthroned upon our hearts and when something or someone has become an “idol” that we’ve placed there?

First of all, there’s always competition for the throne of our lives. The devil hates that we’re saved and is doing everything in his power to break up our relationship with the Lord. So, the question is never,

“Is there something or someone competing for God’s place on the throne of my life?” the question is always, “What is competing for God’s place on the throne of my life?”

And we get the answers to such questions by honestly answering other questions. Questions like:

u “What gives my life meaning? What gives my life worth?”

u “What is my greatest nightmare? What do I worry about most?”

u “What keeps me going? That is, what – if I failed in it or lost it – would cause me to not want to live anymore?”

u “What do I rely on when things go bad or get difficult? What do I comfort myself with?”

u “What preoccupies me? What does my mind think about when I’m not doing something else?”

u “What prayer, if unanswered, would make me seriously think about turning away from God?”

u “What gives me the most self-worth? What am I the proudest of?”

u “What do I really want and expect out of life? What would really make me happy?”

The common-thread answers to these questions will make absolutely clear to you what has become too important to you… u

Once we’ve identified our “idols”, how do we go about smashing them and removing them from the throne of our hearts?

First, let’s realize that having an “idol” or “idols” alongside or in God’s rightful place in our lives is like saying to God, “Lord, it’s good to have You in my life, but there’s this other thing that I must have or I’ll never be happy and my life won’t be meaningful. You are not enough, Father. I need this, too, in order to be fulfilled. In fact, if you take it from me I’ll turn my back on You, because I like having You in my life, but I need this!” (Does anything or anyone come to your mind as I said that? Well,

that’s your “idol” or at least one of the “idols” competing for God’s place in your life.)

So, acknowledging what having an “idol” in our lives says to God, we repent and seek to smash the “idol” by coming against its place in our lives in two different ways:

First: We meditate on the sin of our idolatry in order to hate the sin of our idolatry. And, second: We meditate on the grace of God to us in the work of Jesus in order to love the grace of God to us in the work of Jesus.

So, hating the sin of our idolatry… If we are the Bride of Christ then by allowing this “idol” we are having an affair! If we are the sons and daughters of God then by allowing this “idol” we are rejecting the Dad Who has given everything for us and Who has everything for us! Our Husband in Heaven is the One Who has declared us innocent of sin, not this “idol”! Our Father in Heaven is the One Who has saved us from the power of sin and the fear of death, not this “idol”! Jesus is the Way, not this “idol”! Jesus is the Truth, not this “idol”! Jesus is our Life, not this “idol”! He’s the One Who’s saved us! He’s our Lord! We will no longer be controlled by this “idol”!!!

And, loving the grace of God to us in the work of Jesus… We admit to our Beloved: “Lord, I’ve been trying to earn my own salvation and set up my own righteousness through this “idolatry”. But Jesus is my salvation! I am righteous only in Your Son! You accept me because of what Jesus has done on the cross! All my problems come because I am forgetting how loved, honored, beautiful, secure, rich, respected, embraced, and free I am in Jesus! Help me, Abba-Father, to be so captivated by Your love for me that no other love can ever control me again!”

We meditate on the sin of our idolatry. We meditate on the grace of God to us in the work of Jesus.

“Merry Christmas, Jesus! We give our hearts to You afresh and unchallenged this morning. Please, help keep us from idols, that is, anything that might take God’s place in our hearts!”