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Sermon Series

 

January 12, 2014 AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

Introduction

The focus of our Services of Worship today are on leadership as we ordain and install new elders and deacons to lead and serve this congregation today. As a part of this occasion we’re going to be reading two passages from the Bible that talk about leadership.

The context of these readings comes from Israel’s wilderness wanderings in the book of Exodus. They may not seem to be about leadership, but let’s open ourselves to the Spirit of God and hear what He is saying to His church today…

Exodus 13:17-22 [NLTse]

17 When Pharaoh finally let the people go, God did not lead them along the main road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land. God said, “If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” 18 So God led them in a roundabout way through the wilderness toward the Red Sea. Thus the Israelites left Egypt like an army ready for battle.

19 Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel swear to do this. He said, “God will certainly come to help you. When he does, you must take my bones with you from this place.”

20 The Israelites left Succoth and camped at Etham on the edge of the wilderness. 21 The Lord went ahead of them. He guided them during the day with a pillar of cloud, and He provided light at night with a pillar of fire. This allowed them to travel by day or by night. 22 And the Lord did not remove the pillar of cloud or pillar of fire from its place in front of the people.

Exodus 33:7-11 [NLTse]

7 It was Moses’ practice to take the Tent of Meeting and set it up some distance from the camp. Everyone who wanted to make a request of the Lord would go to the Tent of Meeting outside the camp.

8 Whenever Moses went out to the Tent of Meeting, all the people would get up and stand in the entrances of their own tents. They would all watch Moses until he disappeared inside. 9 As he went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and hover at its entrance while the Lord spoke with Moses. 10 When the people saw the cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, they would stand and bow down in front of their own tents. 11 Inside the Tent of Meeting, the Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Afterward Moses would return to the camp, but the young man who assisted him, Joshua son of Nun, would remain behind in the Tent of Meeting.

Sermon – Why? What? How? Now!

We Christians are quite serious in believing that when we gather together for worship and work that God is present and sovereign: That is, that the Lord our God is truly with us and absolutely master and in charge, there is no power or authority in Heaven or on the Earth that matches or even rivals Him, even though He allows human beings freedom of choice (and even to make horrible choices). God creates and guides, God saves and heals, God corrects and blesses, God calls and judges. With such all-inclusive and o-so-personal leadership from God, what is the place of human leadership?

Well, obviously, it has to be second place: Elders, deacons, ministry leaders, we must not elbow our way to the front; we must not bossily take over. Self-centered, ego-prominent leadership betrays the Lord and poorly serves the church that is His people and His body within which He dwells. The best leadership in Christian communities is inconspicuous, not calling attention to itself, and yet not sacrificing anything in the way of passion and commitment either.

You will hear such of such humility and passion and commitment being called for in the questions being asked of these men and women we will soon be ordaining and installing into leadership, these men and women whom the Lord has called through our voices and votes to be our servant-leaders in the Way, the Truth, and the Life that is Jesus Christ.

The message that greeted you on the screen when you first came in this morning said, “Wake up, sing up, pray up and pay up; but never give up or let up, or back up or shut up ’till the cause of Christ is built up in this world!” A friend from our old Lehigh Presbytery sent that to me this past week saying that he thought of our church when he read it.

We are all servant-leaders in Christ. No one else can fulfill the function in Christ’s body you were made to fulfill. That is, no one else can succeed in the ministry-work that the Holy Spirit has come upon you to succeed in. The Lord has not given us elders and deacons and pastors and others to keep us from our ministry, our work, our part of the Body. As we pray for and follow our servant-leaders, let each of us fulfill our calling in life. The Lord is our leader: He is with us and sovereign that we might do immensely more than we could ever ask or imagine!

Christ has died for this: To bring servant-leaders to God. Christ has overcome death for this: To bring a people to life – and through them – a light to the world. Christ lives in us for this: That we might destroy the works of the devil and make His – our Master’s – joy complete!

Are you committed to live your lives for Jesus Christ in this world?

Will you shine for Him, letting your words and deeds draw people’s attention to His goodness and grace?

When you fail or fall, will you ask Him and any whom you may have hurt forgiveness, and will you freely grant forgiveness to those who ask it of you?



January 5, 2014 AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. 2 A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest. 3 A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up. 4 A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance. 5 A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones. A time to embrace and a time to turn away. 6 A time to search and a time to quit searching. A time to keep and a time to throw away. 7 A time to tear and a time to mend. A time to be quiet and a time to speak. 8 A time to love and a time to hate. A time for war and a time for peace.

9 What do people really get for all their hard work? 10 I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. 11 Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. 12 So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. 13 And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.

[PASTOR] Sermon

We gave our kids a Wii for Christmas. (Actually, friends of ours had recently gotten a WiiU and so had given us their Wii that we in turn gave to our kids.) We’ve been playing it a good bit since Christmas, especially MarioKart and bowling & boxing and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed!

Computer-gaming is a lot like life, if you think about it that way: That is, there are difficulties that need to be overcome, opponents to defeat, and there always seems to be some kind of a “boss” at the end of each “level of difficulty” that needs to be overcome in order for us to advance to the next level. Of course, in life sometimes the hardships, trials, or opponents we face are of our own making: Ungodly choices or too hasty decisions we’ve made, prejudices or bad attitudes we’ve gone along with, people we’ve hurt or enemies we’ve left behind in our wakes, destructive habits we’ve refused to break, to name just a few… And all of our interactions with these difficulties, trials, and opponents seem to eventually lead us up to some kind of “turning point” or another – a “point of no return”, a “moment of decision”, a “crisis”, a “crossroads” – and what we do and how we handle that “boss” (to use the computer term) determines whether we “level up” to the next level or have to start all over again.

In Ecclesiastes the “preacher” – the “gatherer-together of wisdom” – tells us that there are God-appointed times not only for the good and pleasant things in life, but also for death and for killing and for tearing things down and for crying; God-appointed times for grieving and for scattering and for turning away from those around us and for quitting our searches and for throwing away; God-appointed times for tearing apart and for hating and for war…

As much as we may not like to face it, the truth is that bad things happen. Sometimes God ordains unpleasant things to happen, things that challenge our comfort and convenience and ease; other times the Lord simply permits them to happen. After all, our Father’s goal is not our comfort, convenience, and ease but is our well-being, our wholeness, and our Christ-likeness. So, things we consider bad do happen and our Father has told us they will happen and that they will keep on happening because we live in a world that loves darkness more than light. (John 3:19) And because they are times that are promised and appointed by God, they should not be times to fight against or to ignore or to pretend aren’t happening or going to happen. They are times for us to exercise our faith, trusting in the God Who lives outside of such times in eternity; the God Who is absolutely sovereign over all.

The Gatherer writes that God has placed eternity in our hearts. That is, God has put a “restless yearning for the kind of perfect world that can only be found in His perfect rule” into the hearts of all people, believers and unbelievers alike. And, yes, He does give us glimpses of that perfection in creation and our relationships and across the blessings of this life, but they are only glimpses. And we ought not expect their fullness in this life or before Jesus returns. Bad things happen and are going to happen, and Jesus shows us the way to truly find meaning in life: By cheerfully accepting life and all it’s made of as coming from the hand of our loving Father.

When we’ve been playing the Wii together these past days (especially when we’ve been watching each other play, as opposed to playing against one another) we do a lot of cheering each other on: “You can do it, Caleb!” or, “Watch out behind you, Noah!” “Don’t give up, you guys. Keep at it! Come on, you’ve almost made it!” Etc…

Now did you notice as I was rooting for them that I never once cheered for the game to get easier? I never cheer for the different opponents or trials to disappear from the level. I mean, where would all the fun and challenge and adventure and satisfaction-in-victory be if everything just got easy? Jesus cheers for us the same way.

In John 17, after the Lord had washed the disciples’ feet, shared the Passover meal with them, and talked with them for some time about things to come, He prayed for them. But He didn’t ask His Father to make their lives easy or to keep them from hardship or harm. He prayed for the Father to protect them through all such things so that they might be united. As He prayed He didn’t ask that the Father would take them out of the world but that while going through the trials of the world that He would save them from giving in to the evil one. He prayed that God the Father would make them holy by His truth, teaching them His Word which is truth.

The apostle Paul prays for and cheers on the congregations he writes to at the beginning of most of his letters, as well. Across 1 Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians Paul prays that the saints would be “kept strong to the end so that they would be blameless on the day Christ returns”; that they would “receive spiritual insight and wisdom so they might grow in the knowledge of God”, that their “hearts would be filled with God’s light so they might understand God’s hope and understand God’s great power available to believers”; that God would “finish the good work He began in them, with their love overflowing more and more, continuing to grow in knowledge and understanding to live pure and blameless lives until Christ returns, filled with the fruit of their salvation”; and, He prays they would “have all the endurance and patience they would need, being always filled with joy, and always thanking the Father”; and that the Lord would “enable them to live a life worthy of their calling, confident in His power to accomplish all the good things their faith might prompt them to do”; and more…

That’s the kind of cheering the Lord seems to think we need to keep “leveling up”, cheering that recognizes that the hardships and trials we face in this life are a part of God’s plan to shape the fullness of His likeness back into us again; the cheering we need to overcome the difficulties and beat the bosses this life will send our way.

F. B. Meyer, an English devotional writer and advocate for social causes during the mid-18- and early-1900’s, once wrote: “God’s dealings with us are on an ascending scale. The steps that slope away through darkness to God will always be beckoning to greater and yet greater things.

“Have you known Christ as the Word?” he writes. “He is more – both Spirit and Life. Has He become flesh? You shall behold Him glorified with the glory He had before the world began. Have you known Him as Alpha? He is also Omega.

“Have you beheld the Lamb on the cross? You shall behold Him in the midst of the throne. Have you seen the Spirit descend like a dove on one head? You shall see Him come as a fire upon an unnumbered multitude.

“Do you acknowledge Him as King of Israel? You shall hear the acclamations that salute Him as King of the world.

“Live up to all you know, and you shall know more. Be all you can, and you shall become more. Do all that your two talents permit, and you will find yourself ruler over four cities.”

It’s such a great feeling of accomplishment when we finally get that lay-up down or master the take-down we’ve been practicing, when we’ve memorized our lines or finally gotten that difficult harmony, when we’ve finished that paper, and when our diet has finally become our typical way of eating, etc… Likewise it’s such a great feeling of accomplishment when we haven’t had a cigarette all day; and when we haven’t worried about that worrisome thing all morning; when we were so tempted to rage but somehow found the grace to be gentle, instead; when we realize that although we used to lust after him or her, that we don’t anymore; such a great feeling of accomplishment to see ourselves in big and little ways becoming more and more like Christ!

So let’s expect troubles and trials, and expecting them let us pray that God would grant us and those around us going through them the graces and empowerment we and they really need to persevere, to be brave, to overcome, to grow in faith, hope, and love despite it all, so that the Lord might be made much of here in Milford and the Tri-States area and to the ends of the Earth. And so our neighbors and co-workers and friends and loved ones around us might be saved.



December 15, 2013 AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

When important people come to town, everyone one knows it. NBA stadiums sell out months before LeBron or Kobe show up for game time. When Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson or Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie do a personal appearance, hundreds of screaming fans will show up hours ahead of time. When the President visits, you can be sure the mayor will meet him at the airport, and schoolchildren will be there to give the First Lady flowers. (We’re still celebrating the visit of a president from 50 years ago!)

But the Christmas event shows us that God does things differently. You might even call His way sneaky. The most important person in the history of the world snuck into town late one night and definitely did not stay in a five-star hotel. Actually, Jesus was smuggled into Bethlehem through the womb of a teenage girl, who gave birth in a barn. That’s different.

We all know the story of Christmas: the baby, the barn, the shepherds, the magi… But hidden inside that familiar story is the surprising revelation that God’s way is to ignore the big shots and use nobodies instead. Here are the stories of a few of God’s nobodies:

The Gospel According to Luke 1:26-38

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, 27 to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. 28 Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”

29 Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean. 30 “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God! 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name Him Jesus. 32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His ancestor David. 33 And He will reign over Israel forever; His Kingdom will never end!”

34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and He will be called the Son of God. 36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.”

38 Mary responded, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” And then the angel left her.

Mary was a teenage girl from a small town. In Bible times, women were not important people, and teenagers were even lower on the scale. Mix in her premarital, anonymous pregnancy, and you’ve got not only a real nobody on your hands but a scandalous nobody! Yet Mary was God’s choice. She conceived the baby Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. To God this nobody, Mary – willing to bear scandal for His glory – was somebody, and because she said, “Yes!” to God she has become somebody very important! But she was a nobody first, until she said, “Yes,” to God…

The Gospel According to Matthew 1:18-25

18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.

20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

22 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: 23 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’”

24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.

Joseph was a nobody, too: Just a hard-working craftsman. He was faced with a choice between trusting God and protecting his small-town reputation. He chose trusting God even though it meant rejection and shame from those around him. So God chose Joseph to act as a foster-father to the Savior of the world.

The Gospel According to Luke 2:8-20

8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize Him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of Heaven—praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in highest Heaven, and peace on Earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

15 When the angels had returned to Heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the Baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing Him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this Child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

Shepherding has become romanticized in our day, but back then shepherds were not important people. As a matter of fact, just the opposite: Shepherds were filthy, unreliable, and foul-mouthed with no manners; and spending their days and nights working and sleeping with their beasts made them ill-suited for human company over time. Yet they were the first guests invited to the celebration! They saw the skies ripped open and heard the song of Heaven. In just one winter night, these social misfits witnessed more of God’s glory than all the priests and royals in Jerusalem!

The Gospel According to Matthew 2:1-12

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, 2 “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw His star as it rose, and we have come to worship Him.”

3 King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. 4 He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote: 6 ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you Who will be the shepherd for My people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. 8 Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the Child. And when you find Him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship Him, too!”

9 After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the Child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the Child with His mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

In their own lands the Magi were clearly somebodies, but in Judea they were nothing more than spectacles. At home they may have been rich, famous, and influential, but in Judea they were simply pagan astrologers: Foreigners with the wrong religion, wearing the wrong clothes, and reading from the wrong sacred books; yet the Father invited these pagan foreigners to celebrate the birth of His Son!

The Gospel According to Luke 1:5-20

5 When Herod was king of Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He was a member of the priestly order of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron. 6 Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. 7 They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old.

8 One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. 9 As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. 10 While the incense was being burned, a great crowd stood outside, praying.

11 While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. 12 Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. 13 But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. 14 You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. 16 And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. 17 He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”

18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”

19 Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was He Who sent me to bring you this good news! 20 But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.”

As a part of the high priestly family Zechariah and Elizabeth would have been a part of Jerusalem’s elite, that is, if they had had children. But Elizabeth’s barrenness was thought to be a sign that the Lord was displeased with them, perhaps punishing them on account of some secret sin. So while they were likely treated kindly to their faces, they would also likely have been the objects of scorn and wagging fingers and giggling gossip. Yet this childless couple found themselves picked to care for and raise the greatest prophet of the Old Testament tradition! And the one who would prepare the people to receive their Messiah!

The Gospel According to Luke 2:25-40

25 At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him 26 and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, 28 Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying, 29 “Sovereign Lord, now let Your servant die in peace, as You have promised. 30 I have seen Your salvation, 31 which You have prepared for all people. 32 He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and He is the glory of Your people Israel!”

33 Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about Him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but He will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose Him. 35 As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.”

36 Anna, a prophet, was also there in the Temple. She was the daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher, and she was very old. Her husband died when they had been married only seven years. (37 Then she lived as a widow to the age of eighty-four.) She never left the Temple but stayed there day and night, worshiping God with fasting and prayer. 38 She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she began praising God. She talked about the Child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.

Of all that we know of Simeon and Anna, they were elderly and alone in the world, two people who – in the world’s eyes – had outlived their usefulness. And yet the Spirit of God had been whispering to them for decades that they would witness the most important event in the history of Israel, in the history of the world! Even after they held God’s Son that day in the Temple the world would have considered them to be has-beens and simply living off others’ charity. Yet Simeon and Anna were in on God’s secret plan decades before the rest of the world even knew what was going on!

When God invites you to His Christmas to celebrate the birth of His Son remember that He’s inviting the nobodies. The powerful people, the beautiful people, and the cool kids might not make it to the celebration. They’re welcome, but they might be too busy building their own kingdoms. Meanwhile, God’s Kingdom is filling up with the people no one notices.

If you’re a nobody this Christmas season—rejoice! You are not far from the Kingdom of God.

A very special thanks to writer and preacher/teacher Ray Hollenbach.