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Sermon Series

 

February 23, 2014 AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians 1:3-14 [NLTse]

3 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. 4 Even before He made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in His eyes. 5 God decided in advance to adopt us into His Own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ. This is what He wanted to do, and it gave Him great pleasure. 6 So we praise God for the glorious grace He has poured out on us who belong to His dear Son. 7 He is so rich in kindness and grace that He purchased our freedom with the blood of His Son and forgave our sins. 8 He has showered His kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.

9 God has now revealed to us His mysterious plan regarding Christ, a plan to fulfill His Own good pleasure. 10 And this is the plan: At the right time He will bring everything together under the authority of Christ—everything in Heaven and on Earth. 11 Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for He chose us in advance, and He makes everything work out according to His plan.

12 God’s purpose was that we Jews who were the first to trust in Christ would bring praise and glory to God. 13 And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, He identified you as His Own by giving you the Holy Spirit, Whom He promised long ago. 14 The Spirit is God’s guarantee that He will give us the inheritance He promised and that He has purchased us to be His Own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify Him.

Sermon

The Scriptures make absolutely clear two things that cannot at one and the same time be true: That God has predetermined the ultimate end for human beings and of human history, and yet has given us human beings genuine freedom. The Bible reveals a God Who wants all people to know that He genuinely cares about the choices they are responsible for, while at the same time showing Himself to be a God Who, like a great chess master, is always in control of the board while moving strategically to His predetermined “end-game.” So great is our God and the mystery of His grace that God can honor and be responsive to our will even while remaining in control of the outcome.

In our reading this morning Paul writes to the Ephesians that God loved them and chose them in Christ before He made the world, and that He decided in advance to adopt them into His family through Christ. Then Paul goes on to speak to these saints of when they first began trusting in the Lord and how the Father all His wonders so that they would praise and glorify Him. God has predetermined the circumstances of our lives counting on the choices we will make, and yet He does so while taking a genuine interest in us as individuals and interacting and reacting to what we individually say and do.

It is a wonderful mystery that if we put our trust in Christ that it is counted as God’s work and His glory in us, but that if we reject Him and continue in rebellion against Him that it is our choice, freely made, and we will pay the right and fair penalty for our sin.

In the Book of Acts, fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter told a crowd of Jewish listeners, “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death” (Acts 2:23). And yet how could Peter’s audience bring about God’s set purpose for Christ and still remain free to exercise and be held accountable for their choices and will? The Bible doesn’t tell us. It only reveals that God has predetermined an outcome for us and for the entire universe that we can barely begin to comprehend. And yet that God does not force anyone to become a believer but works in a person’s heart so that the individual freely chooses to receive Christ as Savior.

Somehow – according to God’s great power – the Bible shows us a God Who is free to be God and Who gives human beings the freedom to be morally responsible beings who live in His presence and genuinely choose belief or unbelief, obedience or disobedience, submission or rebellion.

How can Jesus say, “No one can come to Me unless the Father Who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44)? How can we truly have free wills and be held responsible for our decisions and choices while needing God to move in us before we will ever move toward Him?

We know that He bought us through Calvary’s price. We know that He moved in us before we moved to Him. The Bible makes clear that our salvation is always initiated by God: He always is the One Who seeks us out and by His Spirit enables us to believe. Yet the Bible makes equally clear that we are left with the choice and held accountable for accepting or rejecting the undeserved kindness and mercy God the Father offers us in Christ.

The declaration “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 Jn. 2:2). “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (John 3:16-17) So no one ever needs to ask, “Have I been predestined?” The proper question is, “Have you accepted Jesus’ atoning death?” If you have acknowledged your sin; if you have believed that Jesus died for you and rose again; and, if you are living and have committed yourself to living a life of trust in and reliance on Him, then as you continue to trust and live in Him you can have confidence that you are a member of His elect and chosen body, the church (Romans 10:9)

How can the Lord have established all these wonderful things for you because of your faith in Jesus Christ before He even made the world? How could He have chosen you all those thousands of years ago when you only began to believe in Him these past months or years?

People who have not yet accepted the new life we’ve been given in Jesus seem to relate very well to the choice, the battle of the wills, the decision that needs to be made to receive or to reject Jesus’ offer to forgive our sins and make us new. And for those who are relatively new Christians the reality of that struggle may still be fresh in their minds. And yet once someone has admitted their sin and accepted Christ as Savior and committed to Him as Lord, many gain perspective to see the work of God’s Spirit dragging them into His Kingdom almost against their control; bringing us to new life even while we were clinging to our old life…

I have a couple hundred cards here that say:

“PRAYING FOR NEW LIFE

“for

“Anyone who belongs to Christ

“has become a new person. The old life is gone;

“a new life has begun!

“(2 Cor. 5:17)

“I ask committing to pray, share the new life God’s Spirit has begun in me, and live as an example of life in Christ.”

With this wonderful paradox in mind of God’s working for our salvation and our choosing to receive Him, is there anyone whom you would ask Him to receive new life in Christ? Who around you would you like to know the love God the Father has shown us in Christ? Who in your life needs the healing and peace, the hope and the joy that the rebirth into Christ brings? Whether you tend toward predestination or toward freewill, if you have ever prayed for God to help people believe, to convert people to Christ, to bring people into His Kingdom, then you are at least a believer in God’s willingness and ability to influence, sway, and perhaps even overcome a person’s “free” will.

Now some may be more difficult than others, and some may choose to reject Him forever, but as I pass the cards around I’m wondering for whom you would ask the God Who “so loved the world” to save and bring to life in Christ today: And I want to invite us to write their name or names down on this card – one name per card.

We’ll keep printing more cards week after week, but the idea is for us to take as many of these cards as we need and write on each the name of someone we would like God to make new by drawing them to faith in Christ.

We would pray through these cards Sunday after Sunday – maybe only a handful at a time, maybe all of them each time, and we will pray for them at our prayer meetings, and the elders and deacons at their meetings, … whenever the Lord would move us to run up here and grab this basket to pray.

I hope that as different ones we are praying for put their trust in Christ and begin living for Him that we would remove their card from the basket, put the date or the approximate date of their decision on their cards, and make the “prayers answered” cards into something special, or mount them onto something special, that would help us celebrate our loved ones’ putting their faith in Christ and God’s goodness and faithfulness in bringing them into His Kingdom.

Write clearly and legibly… Perhaps we’ll have hundreds of cards in this basket – individual persons whom we are praying for at any given moment. And yet, by God’s grace, perhaps the basket will empty as people come to Jesus, even as we continue to add cards for more people…



February 16, 2014 AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

Psalm 34 [NLTse]
A psalm of David, regarding the time he pretended to be insane in front of Abimelech, who sent him away.
1 I will praise the Lord at all times. I will constantly speak His praises. 2 I will boast only in the Lord; let all who are helpless take heart. 3 Come, let us tell of the Lord’s greatness; let us exalt His name together.
4 I prayed to the Lord, and He answered me. He freed me from all my fears. 5 Those who look to Him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces. 6 In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened; He saved me from all my troubles. 7 For the angel of the Lord is a guard; He surrounds and defends all who fear Him.
8 Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in Him! 9 Fear the Lord, you His godly people, for those who fear Him will have all they need. 10 Even strong young lions sometimes go hungry, but those who trust in the Lord will lack no good thing.
11 Come, my children, and listen to me, and I will teach you to fear the Lord. 12 Does anyone want to live a life that is long and prosperous? 13 Then keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies! 14 Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it.
15 The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right; His ears are open to their cries for help. 16 But the Lord turns His face against those who do evil; He will erase their memory from the earth. 17 The Lord hears His people when they call to Him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles. 18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; He rescues those whose spirits are crushed.
19 The righteous person faces many troubles, but the Lord comes to the rescue each time. 20 For the Lord protects the bones of the righteous; not one of them is broken!
21 Calamity will surely overtake the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be punished. 22 But the Lord will redeem those who serve Him. No one who takes refuge in Him will be condemned.

Sermon
“Does anyone want to live a life that is long and prosperous? Then keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies! Turn away from evil and do good.” King David seems to be prophesying that:
1) a long life,
2) a prosperous life, and,
4) the proper use and control of what we say
are all bound together. Is he really saying that you and I cannot truly have good lives if we do not control what we speak with our tongues? So much resting on such a little thing?

Hmmm… I wonder what else the Bible says about our tongues?
Proverbs 13:3 says, “Those who control their tongue will have a long life; opening your mouth can ruin everything.” Opening your mouth can ruin your life?

Proverbs 21:23, Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut, and you will stay out of trouble.”

Proverbs 18:21, “The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences.”

I’m beginning to see a pattern here: What I say can be a part of bringing our Father’s life into the world or be a part of bringing death; if we don’t guard what we say, not only will we get ourselves into trouble, but we can dump a lot of trouble into the lives of those around us, as well.

I’d like to say that this all seems a little grand and overstating things to me, except that – I don’t know about you, but – my experience confirms just these things! When I’m watching what I say and I say life-giving things, I enjoy a lot of life and sweetness in my life. But when I don’t guard my tongue – when my mouth gets out of control – things get dark and bitter awfully fast.

The Lord Jesus taught a lot about our speech. He even went so far as to state that what we say and talk about is a very good indicator of our spiritual condition. In Matthew 12 He says, “A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad. You brood of snakes! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right? For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.”

He’s telling us that bad fruit doesn’t come from a good tree, and that good fruit can’t come from a bad tree. He’s telling us that there is direct connection between what comes out of our mouths and what’s in our hearts. That we can convince ourselves that we are so good and pure and righteous, but the truth about us will always be shown by what comes out of our mouths. God With Us is telling us that you cannot have wicked words come out of a good heart, and you cannot have truly good words come out of a bad heart.

The Lord Jesus’ half-brother, James, also writes about this in his letter. James 1:26 says, “If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.”

“But I attend church!” we cry. “I’m singing these hymns and worship songs with all I’ve got! And you should see how well I live all the rest of my life! Worthless? Just because I’m a little out of control with what I say from time to time?” And, of course, worshiping and fellowshipping and living our lives for the Lord is all wonderful! But life and death are in the tongue. What we say is a powerful part of our testimony to Jesus’ new life! James writes, inspired by the Holy Spirit, that if we don’t keep our tongues under control, that our religion is worthless and unacceptable to God.

I don’t know about all of you, but this is pretty sobering stuff to me. Because I’m a pretty good guy when I compare myself with other folks, and I can think I’m doing pretty good. But every now and then my tongue does get out of control – not as out of control as it used to – but at those times I am not speaking the life the Lord would have me speak and I’m am not enjoy the sweetness the Lord would have me enjoy! And I don’t want it to; I don’t mean for it to. But it does. And I try to control it, but just at all the wrong times…

Later on in his letter James writes more about the tongue and what we say with it. And I don’t know about you but I feel like he’s writing just for me. He writes, “Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way. We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches.

“But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by Hell itself.

“People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison.”

“Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.”

Is that really what my heart is like, a salty spring? Is our Father letting us see the truth about our hearts – our selves – because of what comes out of our mouths? Do we think ourselves fresh, but are we in truth bitter? Do we think of ourselves as blessings, when really we’re cursings? Do we think of ourselves as good and life-giving, but are we really evil and full of deadly poison?

What a kind and gracious daddy we have to reveal such hidden things to us! But does He reveal it all only to leave us out of control? Aware of our great need but unable to do anything about it?

No, the Bible reveals to us very clearly the steps we can take toward the healing of our tongues and the right use of our lips. First, the Lord tells us we must call our problem by its true name: Sin.
1) Call your problem by its right name: Sin. As long as we try to excuse, cover up, or disguise our struggle, God seems content to leave us to our own devices. But when we’re willing to admit the truth, according to our faith and trust in Christ, God moves in and helps us with all His mighty power!

So once you’ve called it sin then confess it as sin, and receive His forgiveness and cleansing. 1 John 1:9 famously says, “If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” We need the Father’s forgiveness to remove from us any guilt and any concern about future judgment or punishment that can keep us from Him and weigh us down. And we need His cleansing to wash our hearts so that we don’t go on committing the same sin again and again and again.

And then, fresh and renewed, we must then begin saying “no” to sin and saying “yes” to God. You need to do both! And only one power can give us such a victory to control our tongue for good: The power of God through the Holy Spirit. We must say to sin, “You cannot have my tongue; I refuse to surrender it to you any longer.” And then we must say to the Holy Spirit, “Holy Spirit, I surrender my tongue to You! I cannot control it. I ask You to control it for me.” And surrender it to Him regularly, daily even, and throughout each day, as needed, actively taking every opportunity to bring God in to sweeten the things we say and to make Him look good through the things we say.

Afterall, we were given our tongues to glorify God! On Pentecost the Holy Spirit came upon those first disciples with tongues of fire so they might begin a new way of using their tongues! And the same is true for us! The key is controlling our tongues is to call upon the Holy Spirit. As men and women and boys and girls who trust in Jesus Christ, the presence and power of God by the Holy Spirit is ours. Call on Him. Ask Him to fill you or to fill you afresh. Only the Holy Spirit can enable us to always use our tongues for life.

Let’s start now!



February 9, 2014 AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

According to John 6:22-40 [NLTse]

22 The next day the crowd that had stayed on the far shore saw that the disciples had taken the only boat, and they realized Jesus had not gone with them. 23 Several boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the Lord had blessed the bread and the people had eaten. 24 So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor His disciples were there, they got into the boats and went across to Capernaum to look for Him. 25 They found Him on the other side of the lake and asked, “Rabbi, when did You get here?”

26 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with Me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. 27 But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given Me the seal of His approval.”

28 They replied, “We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?”

29 Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the One He has sent.”

30 They answered, “Show us a miraculous sign if you want us to believe in You. What can You do? 31 After all, our ancestors ate manna while they journeyed through the wilderness! The Scriptures say, ‘Moses gave them bread from Heaven to eat.’”

32 Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, Moses didn’t give you bread from Heaven. My Father did. And now He offers you the true bread from Heaven. 33 The true bread of God is the One Who comes down from Heaven and gives life to the world.”

34 “Sir,” they said, “give us that bread every day.”

35 Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to Me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in Me will never be thirsty. 36 But you haven’t believed in Me even though you have seen Me. 37 However, those the Father has given Me will come to Me, and I will never reject them. 38 For I have come down from Heaven to do the will of God who sent Me, not to do My Own will. 39 And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those He has given Me, but that I should raise them up at the last day. 40 For it is My Father’s will that all who see His Son and believe in Him should have eternal life. I will raise them up at the last day.”

Sermon – Why? What? How? Now!

In her blog, “Searching for Something”, a student named Michelle wrote: “I’m stuffing chocolate in my mouth, as much as I can take, in. It’s sickening-sweet, dripping down my throat, coating my tongue. I can’t take it. I’m not hungry. Yet I stuff it in to try to avoid that which cannot be solved by stuff-age. When you think about it, hunger is so easy to solve. The action of eating requires only some way of getting food into the mouth. Yet we go hungry. We go hungry because we do not have food. We go hungry because we have no time to eat. We go hungry because we diet. We go hungry because we are not satisfied. I just downed a bar of Hershey’s chocolate, yet I am still hungry: Hungry for answers to things that cannot be solved through simple arithmetic or logic; hungry for someone to tell me what I’m living for, for I have no answers.”

Michelle and millions like her are searching for that which will really satisfy; that one thing that will fulfill her inner hunger. Jesus says that He’s the answer to our hunger and thirst and that following Him settles the gnawing emptiness of the human spirit. But we tend to fill up on the wrong things.

Michelle is downing chocolate, and still others think that fixing their marriage or help with their money problems or being healed of disease would satisfy. The Lord Jesus tells the crowds who’ve followed Him around the lake, “You want to be with Me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs.” And we, too, have heard the health and wealth gospel and can come to Jesus for what He can give to us or do for us and completely miss what all these wondrous miracles – like signs along the way – are pointing to: That God is with us; that He has come among us in Jesus Christ and sent another comforter – the Holy Spirit – to stay with us forever.

He has revealed to us that our greatest need is not money or work or relationships or prestige or food or substances to help us deaden our pain. No. If, like Michelle, you are looking for answers and looking for meaning, then God in His goodness has revealed to us across the pages of the Bible that that deep inner hunger and thirst that’s gnawing at you comes from the Holy Spirit drawing attention to your alienation from God.

Maybe your parents didn’t treat you like they loved you or you have just never felt good enough; perhaps you feel unworthy of love or that you’ve been defiled and shamed and left as damaged-goods here in the world; possibly your life has been one person abandoning you after another, or you live your life in fear, insecure, uncertain… Our answer, our need, is not the perishable things of this life. Emmanuel – God with us – tells us, “Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you.”

A person’s greatest need is the confident knowledge that our sins have been forgiven so that we can live trusting that our separation and isolation from the Almighty is over – that He is with us – and that His promises to us are sure and true! Yes, many people are experiencing legitimate needs. But if we give someone food, water, clothes, and shelter, if we fix their marriage or solve their money problems or heal them or their loved ones of whatever wasting disease and fail to share Jesus with them, then we have ultimately not given them what they truly need. This world’s immediate needs can seem so important and pressing, but what satisfies our soul-hunger and satiates our soul-thirst is Jesus showing us that God is good and the Holy Spirit showing us that God is close. That’s what satisfies.

And we eat the bread of life and drink the water of life by  reading the Scriptures by faith that Jesus is meeting us there, and, ? by applying what we are reading to our lives. So, if we are having troubles or are aware of troubles around us or around the world, then when we read we should be asking God to speak to us and grant us guidance about such things, believing He will. If we read truths we don’t believe – for instance, perhaps we’ve always thought of God as distant and uninterested or insensitive and uncaring or stern and demanding but our reading shows us God to be intimate and involved (Psalm 139:1-18), kind and compassionate (Psalm 103:8-14), accepting and filled with joy and love (Zephaniah 3:17; Romans 15:7) – then we need to believe that He’s trying to reveal His true Self to us, meditate on these things, and believe Him. If what we read seems like a coincidence – that is, perhaps you were considering a fast and your reading today talked about fasting – then believe that He’s giving you the guidance and encouragement you need, and act upon it. The only work God wants from you is to trust in Christ, the One He has sent.

We are going to be celebrating the Lord’s Supper in a little bit. If you know that you are a sinner and believe that God the Father has sent Jesus Christ the Son to absolutely satisfy His judgment against your sin; and if you believe that God’s near to you now, living in you by the Holy Spirit, then come and be a part with us in sharing the body and blood of the Lord. Know that if you keep coming to Him you will never be hungry again. Know that if you keep coming to Him you will never be thirsty again.

Keep coming to Him when you read the Scriptures. Keep coming to Him in prayer. Keep coming to Him in the bread and the cup. He will never reject those who come to Him.