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Sermon Series

 

March 16, 2014 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

Romans 6:1-4 [NLTse]

Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of His wonderful grace? 2 Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? 3 Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined Him in His death? 4 For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.

Sermon

There is a community of Christians in Africa that have an unusual baptismal practice that vividly illustrates what we believe about baptism. When the pastor dips the infant into the water, he says “I kill you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Then he again dips the infant in the water again and says, “And I raise you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

Remember you’ve been baptized…

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 [NLTse]

9 Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, 10 or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. 11 Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Sermon

Protestant reformer and founder of the Lutheran Church, Martin Luther, struggled earnestly with overwhelming feelings of unworthiness and questioning whether or not he deserved God’s love and grace. Legend says that he had written over his desk: “Remember, you have been baptized.” Baptized as an infant as a Roman Catholic, Luther’s meditations on the fact on his baptism as an infant impressed upon him the meaning of grace and being saved by grace alone (through his faith in Christ). Martin Luther grew to realize the futility of his fretting over whether or not any of us are adequate or worthy. Luther realized that, with the exception of Jesus Christ, none is truly worthy. But we have sure and certain hope in our salvation through God’s grace and mercy so freely given to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Luther reasoned that an infant is helpless to choose God or even to move toward God, let alone able to choose to be baptized or not. His baptism as a helpless infant starkly reminded him and refreshed in him that God had chosen him; that God had brought him to faith; that God alone, according to His love for Luther from before the foundation of the world, saved Martin Luther and brought him to that zealous, saving faith that led Luther to stand against the Roman Catholic Church of his day and be a part of birthing the Protestant Reformation that we are inheritors of this morning!

God’s grace is freely poured over us like running water. And in our baptism we are united with that grace, with Jesus Christ Himself. Remembering that we have been baptized highlights to us the question, not, “Are we worthy?”, but, “Do we believe God would really choose us?” …

Matthew 3:13-17 [NLTse]

Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to talk Him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by You,” he said, “so why are You coming to me?”

15 But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must fulfill all righteousness.” So John agreed to baptize Him.

16 After His baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on Him. 17 And a voice from Heaven said, “This is My dearly loved Son, Who brings Me great joy.”

Fred Craddock, while lecturing at Yale University, told the story of going back to his hometown one summer, to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, to take a short vacation with his wife. One night they found a quiet little restaurant where they looked forward to a private meal – just the two of them.

While they were waiting for their meal they noticed a distinguished looking, white-haired man moving from table to table, visiting guests. Craddock whispered to his wife, “I hope he doesn’t come over here.” He didn’t want the man to intrude on their privacy. But the man did come by their table.

“Where you folks from?” he asked trying to be friendly.

“Oklahoma,” Craddock gave a short answer.

“Splendid state, I hear, although I’ve never been there. What do you do for a living?”

“I teach homiletics at the graduate seminary of Phillips University.”

“Oh, so you teach preachers, do you? Well, I’ve got a story I want to tell you.” And with that he pulled up a chair and sat down at the table with Craddock and his wife.

Dr. Craddock said he groaned inwardly: Oh no, here comes another preacher story. It seems everyone has one.

The man stuck out his hand. “I’m Ben Hooper. I was born not far from here across the mountains. My mother wasn’t married when I was born so I had a hard time. When I started to school my classmates had a name for me, and it wasn’t a very nice name. I used to go off by myself at recess and during lunchtime because the taunts of my playmates cut so deeply.

“What was worse was going downtown on Saturday afternoon and feeling every eye burning a hole through me. They were all wondering just who my real father was.

“When I was about 12 years old a new preacher came to our church. I would always go in late and slip out early. But one day the preacher said the benediction so fast I got caught and had to walk out with the crowd. I could feel every eye in church on me. Just about the time I got to the door I felt a big hand on my shoulder. I looked up and the preacher was looking right at me.

“Who are you, son? Whose boy are you?’

I felt the old weight come on me. It was like a big black cloud. Even the preacher was putting me down.

But as he looked down at me, studying my face, he began to smile a big smile of recognition. “Wait a minute,” he said, “I know who you are. I see the family resemblance. You are a son of God.”

With that he slapped me across the rump and said, “Boy you’ve got a great inheritance. Go and claim it.”

The old man looked across the table at Fred Craddock and said, “That was the most important single sentence ever said to me.” With that he smiled, shook the hands of Craddock and his wife, and moved on to another table to greet old friends.

Suddenly, Fred Craddock remembered: On two occasions the people of Tennessee had elected an illegitimate son to be their governor. One of them had been a man named Ben Hooper… A man with a great inheritance.

Remember, you’ve been baptized…

Let’s pray… We’ve died… We’re new, born again, new creations… We’ve been washed… You’ve chosen us to be Your Own, a part of Your holy family, a son, a daughter of God… Too often we believe what we see in the mirror, we forget these things, this new identity… Remind us… Refresh us…



March 9, 2014 A.D., by Pastor Ben Willis

1 Corinthians 13:1-14:1 [NLTse]

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

8 Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! 9 Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! 10 But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.

11 When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. 12 Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

14:1 Let love be your highest goal.

Sermon

I’ve been the pastor here at First Presbyterian Church for almost seventeen years. I’ve preached from every book of the Bible (even Song of Solomon that people say nobody preaches from) and through some passages that life-long Christians have told me they’d never heard anyone preach on before. But I’ve never preached about speaking in tongues. I have talked with different ones of you personally about the practice, and I’ve prayed with different ones of you in these beautiful and mysterious languages, but I’ve never preached about it before. So, by God’s grace, here we go…

First let me begin with a definition: Speaking in tongues is Holy Spirit-inspired speech in a language that is unknown to the speaker. So, if I learn Spanish in order to share the good news with and be a blessing to my Hispanic neighbors or a Hispanic community nearby – even though my native language is English and I am speaking in Spanish to a person, or a crowd, or a small group – I am not speaking in tongues: I am speaking Spanish. I’ve learned the language so it’s a language that’s known to me. If I’ve never learned and don’t know a word of Spanish but find myself preaching strange words that are being understood by the Hispanic folks around me, and someone tells me that I’m speaking fluent Spanish: That’s speaking in tongues, speaking a language that is unknown to me by the leading of the Holy Spirit. Or I may be praying, and I begin praying strange words that have come into my mind that don’t make any sense to me, even if nobody around me understands their meaning either, and even if there’s nobody around me to understand them because I’m praying alone, that is speaking – or praying – with tongues. Tongues is Holy Spirit-inspired speech in a language that is unknown to the speaker.

The Bible speaks in several different places about speaking or praying in the Spirit, as tongues is sometimes called. In Mark 16 the Lord Jesus Himself, after His resurrection, said that His followers would perform miraculous signs including casting out demons, speaking in new languages, and healing the sick. (vv. 17-18) And tongues praising and preaching accompanied the coming of the Holy Spirit that very first Pentecost, and accompanied the Spirit’s coming when many who were baptized by the Holy Spirit across the Book of Acts received Him. And the place of tongues is discussed and debated in Paul’s First Letter To the Corinthians, in chapters 12 and 14.

In every instance tongues is spoken of as a positive experience, a gift God has given to individual believers personally and privately to enhance and bless their personal and private worship, as well as a gift given to congregations-as-a-whole when the Lord is desiring to share a special message with His church, that is, when someone is present who’s been gifted to understand the tongue-message that has been spoken.

I think I have shared before my first experience of the blessing of tongues at the congregational level. Amy and I were worshiping at Christ Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Virginia. And in the middle of the congregational prayer time the pastor’s wife began speaking aloud in this strange language. I remember the pastor all-but-glaring at her as he said something like, “I know that my wife is aware that we are not to speak aloud in strange tongues unless someone is present who is able to interpret what they’ve said. So I trust,” and he continued giving her a fairly hard look, “I trust there must be someone here who understood what she just spoke.” And then a lady in the far back corner of the room raised her hand and said, “I understood her clearly…”

I regret that I don’t remember what God’s message was to us all that morning, but He sure got our attention, and Sunday Services were never again the same as we all began to anticipate the Holy Spirit’s personally speaking and guiding and encouraging us as we met together during Worship.

I first experienced spiritual language (as some call it today) as a personal practice when I was in seminary. Although I had believed in Jesus for many years, I had only truly submitted my life to Him the year before. So I’d already been born again, come alive, been made new in Christ for about a year (if I remember it correctly). And it had been a wonderful adventure! The Lord had been teaching me new things. I was understanding aspects of God’s character and of the gospel that I’d never grasped before. And I was growing in my own discipleship by leaps and bounds.

The night I first prayed in a language unfamiliar to me – the words of which I believe the Holy Spirit had put in my mouth – I was at a Bible Study focusing on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. The Study had ended with a time of extended prayer where we were encouraged to ask God’s Spirit to give us the gifts He wanted us to have so that we could love Him better, love others better, and to help us do our part of spreading His Kingdom – person by person – across the face of the earth.

And I remember kneeling there, wondering what might happen. Because others there at that little Presbyterian Church praised God and prayed with tongues, and I’d never asked them what it was like and how it worked. I didn’t know if God was going to just ”take over” my mouth or if it was going to feel weird or if nothing was going to happen to me at all and God would choose to give me another gift or other gifts instead. The teacher had told us to simply speak whatever words it seemed that God was putting into our mouths or that came into our minds. And so I did.

I can tell you that it seemed like gibberish to me, only, there were some words that sounded to me kind of like Hebrew mixed in, too. (Which got me wondering if I was just making the whole thing up, since I had just finished my Intro to Hebrew class a month or so before.) But the words kept coming into my mind, and so I kept at it: Hoping it was something real and that it would indeed be something wonderful, just like I’d heard others say.

So I continued speaking the funny words. And it didn’t strike me at all as a very spiritual experience. But I was encouraged by others who’d been given their own “spiritual language” to praise and to sing with. And they told me that, just as praying had been a strange discipline that I’d had to learn and believe God was truly listening-to when I first believed, that I needed to keep at the practice, continuing to ask God to give me words and language to speak, and to speak them trusting that God knew their meaning and that He would be blessed by it as I did, and that, just like my regular praying, that I would grow to be blessed by it, too.

Of course, now, speaking and praying with tongues is as much a part of me as praying in English. When I don’t know what to pray I am blessed to believe that the Holy Spirit is praying through me with these words that sometimes seem like strange noises and groaning. And when I’m so filled with wonder and praise and love for our Father, praising Him in the Spirit is so much more freeing than trying to struggle to put my thoughts and feelings into words that don’t even begin to capture the bursting going on inside me.

The apostle Paul spoke to the Corinthians thanking God that he spoke in tongues more than any of them did. And the apostle John was given The Revelation while he was in the Spirit one precious Sunday. I believe that our Father would have us all experience this beautiful gift. I don’t believe every born-again Christian has to. Nor do I believe that every Spirit-filled believer necessarily will. But even as the Lord Jesus says that tongues will be one of the miraculous signs He will give us, and even as the apostle Paul desires that we might all speak in tongues, it is my hope that our Father would give each of you your own spiritual language, as well: To strengthen your faith and to encourage your faith because of its supernatural nature; to help you praise and pray when our English words either seem to fail us or seem lacking; and, to nurture in you an ever-greater fellowship and intimacy with God that we know He longs for and that I know you long for, as well.

We’re going to worship God singing Him a song. And then, let’s pray…



March 2, 2014 AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

Matthew 17:1-9 [NLTse]

Six days later Jesus took Peter and the two brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone. 2 As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed so that his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. 3 Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared and began talking with Jesus. 4 Peter exclaimed, “Lord, it’s wonderful for us to be here! If you want, I’ll make three shelters as memorials[a]—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 But even as he spoke, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.” 6 The disciples were terrified and fell face down on the ground. 7 Then Jesus came over and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 And when they looked up, Moses and Elijah were gone, and they saw only Jesus. 9 As they went back down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen until the Son of Man[b] has been raised from the dead.”

Sermon

We’ve just heard Rich read to us Matthew’s account of Jesus’ “transfiguration”. Let me set the stage for this glimpse we’ve just been given into eternity.

Jesus and his followers have been traveling around Caesarea-Philippi, a Roman city and district at the foot of Mt. Hermon and where the Jordan River begins. The Romans are harsh rulers, and human life is considered cheap in their eyes, unless you are Roman, of course. And the Jews, even the elite, are treated with contempt and as little better than slaves by those they consider to be nothing more than arrogant pagans. They are waiting for the prophet Moses said would come, and for the Messiah – the Christ – that the prophets promised God would send to deliver them.

Jesus has been asking His closest followers what the crowds are saying about Him. They tell Him that some think He’s John the Baptist come back from the dead, or the prophet Elijah come down from Heaven, or Jeremiah, or one of the other great prophets. And then Jesus asks them what they think about Him. Simon Peter then makes his famous confession that they believe Jesus is God’s Christ, the long-promised Messiah, “the Son of the living God”, come to free Israel from Roman oppression and establish God’s Kingdom on the Earth.

And Jesus responds telling them that, yes, He is God’s Messiah – God’s Son – but that His destiny is not to gather an army and overthrow the Romans. God the Father has sent Him to go to Jerusalem, be mocked and tortured and go through horrific things at the hands of the religious leaders, and to then be killed. But after that, He tells them, He will be raised back to life again! And He goes on to tell Peter and them all that those who follow Him will be treated the same way: Mocked and, perhaps, tortured and, perhaps even go through horrific things, and maybe even themselves be killed in order to – along with Him – bring God’s Kingdom to the entire Earth.

I’m thinking that Jesus needs to try a better sales approach: “Come one! Come all! Be mocked and whipped and cut in two with Me! Yes, you can have a life of ridicule and strange conflict with those around you all because of Me and being a part of My Father’s work here in the world. Yes, you’ll get to be a part of healing people and bringing the dead back to life and spreading joy and peace across the face of the Earth. And you will know joy and peace yourselves beyond your wildest imaginings, along with the torture and perhaps even more horrific things that unbelievers and the enemies of My Father may want to do to you. But in the end you’ll have eternal life! Come! Follow Me!”

And I hear all the good and the wonders and even the glory in that, but the drawbacks are pretty huge, too! Where do you think you’d stand if you’d been there that day? John’s gospel tells us that many of the things Jesus said, instead of drawing people to Him, caused people to stop following Him. The miracles and healings and the ways He always beat the religious leaders in their battles of words and just the sheer life and excitement of being with Him were awesome! But ‘eating His body and drinking His blood’? Being beaten and perhaps killed? ‘Taking up a cross and following Him’? Jesus, that’s how the Romans torture rebels to death! What do you mean by calling us to that?

Of course, that’s the life Jesus is still calling us to today. So, what do you think? And what do you think was going through those first followers’ minds that day? If their minds were anything like my mind, sometimes, then I’m thinking they were likely pretty confused and, perhaps, conflicted: Wanting all the great things and wonders, and so badly wanting to be with Jesus and continue enjoying just being with Him. But the costs…

Of course, Jesus is so good, and He knows just what we need when we truly need it, doesn’t He? And so the next thing we read, Jesus has taken Peter, James, and John with Him up a high mountain, perhaps Mt. Hermon itself. (Now Peter, James, and John were the same three who accompanied Jesus when He raised Jairus, the synagogue leader’s, daughter from the dead, and who Jesus would later ask to accompany Him when He went away to pray alone in the Garden of Gethsemane after that Last Supper [the night before He was crucified]). And we read, “As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed so that His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as light. [And that] Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared and began talking with Jesus.” (vv. 2-3)

(Now, it hits me that God the Son’s Transfiguration on the mountain should not really amaze us. What should amaze us was God the Son’s Transfiguration in the manger: When the ever-glorious God the Son became not glorious; when the ever-blazing God the Son became not blazing; when the ever-brilliant God the Son became not brilliant. all that Peter, James, and John were really witnessing on the mountain that day was simply Jesus’ true Self! God the Son in His glory!)

Isn’t it just like Jesus to reveal His majesty to these leaders? James would go on to be the first Christian martyr. Simon Peter would become the acknowledged leader of the church and eventually be crucified upside down on account of his faith and life in Christ. John would spend much of his life imprisoned for his beliefs on the Roman prison-island of Patmos. And here as Jesus’ has just finished revealing to them His Own identity and destiny – God’s Messiah, the Christ, come to overcome – not just the Romans but – sin and death! And revealing to them their true identities and destinies, as well: As a part of joining Him in His work, to suffer and, perhaps, die with Him in order to help overcome evil with good… In the face of these hard things, isn’t it just like Jesus to encourage them and help them to truly, fully see all the wonders and life and glory and eternity He says is their destiny, as well. And so He shows them His true Self, and in doing so, shows them, if they continue following Him, what they will one day be like, as well!

Yes, we will share Jesus’ glory.

John wrote later to the churches, “Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but He has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He really is.” (1 John 3:2)

And Paul records that it is such a spectacular glory that no matter our present sufferings, they can not compare to it! Romans 8:18, “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory He will reveal to us later;” 2 Corinthians 4:17, “For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!” Philipppians 3:20-21, “But we are citizens of Heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for Him to return as our Savior. He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like His Own, using the same power with which He will bring everything under His control.”

And 1 Corinthians 6:3 says that we will judge the world and even angels in our glory. “When one of you has a dispute with another believer, how dare you file a lawsuit and ask a secular court to decide the matter instead of taking it to other believers! Don’t you realize that someday we believers will judge the world? And since you are going to judge the world, can’t you decide even these little things among yourselves? Don’t you realize that we will judge angels? So you should surely be able to resolve ordinary disputes in this life.”

The Revelation pictures that we will share Jesus’ throne when we are glorified: “Those who are victorious will sit with Me on My throne, just as I was victorious and sat with My Father on His throne” (3:21) David Mathis – preacher, author, editor, and church elder – wrote, “We will not be God, but we will be stupendously one with Him. We will not become the Groom, but we will be married to Him.”

Jesus is saying to Peter, James, and John, “Don’t be afraid! What you’ve just seen, This is the real Me, and this will be the real you. This is your future as you remain a part of Me! This is our life. What you saw in Me being glorified, that’s how I really am! And you’re going to be like Me! This is what faith and trust in Me leads to. This is part of the reward! As you persevere in following Me and living your lives for Me you are going to be like this. So, don’t be afraid. As a matter of fact, never be afraid again! The God almighty Who freaks everybody else out? He’s your Dad! My God and your God. My Dad and your Dad. This isn’t true for everybody, only for those who overcome and follow Me. So overcome! Live! Listen to Me! Build your life on Me! Obey Me! Trust Me! This is what you have to look forward to when you do. You don’t have to be afraid. Not ever again.”

In the meantime Jesus calls us to be content with a different kind of transfiguration. The kind that Paul writes about to the Romans, saying, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you – [literally, “let God transfigure you”] into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (12:2). It’s the same kind of transfiguration Paul writes about to the Corinthians, saying, “So all of us who have had that veil [of unbelief] removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—Who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like Him as we are changed [literally, transfigured] into His glorious image” (3:18). And the Lord—Who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like Him Who was transfigured as we are transfigured into His glorious image.”