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Sermon Series

 

“Thou Shalt Keep On Keeping On”November 12, 2017 A.D.by Pastor Ben Willis

SERMON – “Thou Shalt Keep On Keeping On”

LUKE 8:4-15 [NLTse]

4 One day Jesus told a story in the form of a par-able to a large crowd that had gathered from many towns to hear Him:

5 “A farmer went out to plant his seed. As he scat-tered it across his field, some seed fell on a footpath, where it was stepped on, and the birds ate it. 6 Other seed fell among rocks. It began to grow, but the plant soon wilted and died for lack of moisture. 7 Other seed fell among thorns that grew up with it and choked out the tender plants. 8 Still other seed fell on fertile soil. This seed grew and produced a crop that was a hundred times as much as had been planted!” When He had said this, He called out, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and under-stand.”

9 His disciples asked Him what this parable meant. 10 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables to teach the others so that the Scriptures might be ful-filled: ‘When they look, they won’t really see. When they hear, they won’t understand.’

11 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is God’s Word. 12 The seeds that fell on the footpath represent those who hear the message, only to have the devil come and take it away from their hearts and prevent them from believing and being saved. 13 The seeds on the rocky soil represent those who hear the message and receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they believe for a while, then they fall away when they face temptation. 14 The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity. 15 And the seeds that fell on the good soil represent honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s Word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest.

SERMON

We’ve been reading through the Bible together as a church in 2017: This past week finishing the book The Acts of the Apostles. As a part of our reading the Bible together, I’ve committed to preach – each Sunday – from something we’d read the week be-fore. So, it may be strange that our Scripture Reading this morning comes from The Gospel of Luke at the end of a week where we’ve been reading through Acts. But, I think you’ll see the connection if you’ll bear with me…

The God of the Bible is unique. For thousands of years, loyal devotees worshiped the god of the hills, the god of the valley, the god of the sea… But the God of the Bible attached Himself to a people. The idea that there was a God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – a God of people – this was something new!

And the Bible records the direct line of this rela-tionship – from Adam and Eve to Abraham and Sa-rah, from Abraham and Sarah to David and Bath-sheba, and from David and Bathsheba to Mary and Joseph.

This relationship between God and His people was everything but easy. There were periods of great joy and celebration, like when King Solomon and the elders of Israel dedicated the Temple. There were seasons of frustration and anger, like when the Lord allowed foreign armies and tyrants to conquer. There were times of unfaithfulness and apostasy, like when Israel and Judah tried to be like the surround-ing nations and even worship their gods. And there were painful seasons of silence, like the years be-tween the Judges and Samuel when the Lord did not speak to Israel, and the four hundred years of si-lence-from-the-Lord between the Prophet Malachi’s ministry and the angel Gabriel’s appearance to Zech-ariah the priest heralding the birth of Jesus Christ.

One characteristic holds the history of God and Israel together – perseverance. When Israel turned her back on God, God didn’t turn His back on Israel. We see Him step back for a time, here and there, but

the Lord’s overall commitment to Israel and Israel’s overall commitment to the Lord remained concrete and steadfast.

In the Parable of the Soils that we read this morn-ing from Luke 8, Jesus warns that some will hear God’s Word and believe for a while, but “then fall away when they face temptation” (v. 13). Others hear “but never grow into maturity” because of the cares and riches and pleasures of this life (v. 14). But those praised by Jesus as the reason He came, are those who “hear God’s Word, cling to it, and pa-tiently produce a huge harvest” (v. 15). Or, to quote the New International Version instead, those who “hear the Word, retain it, and by persevering pro-duce a crop”.

A fruit of the Holy Spirit in every Christian’s life, true Christian spirituality has always emphasized per-severance. The writer of the letter To the Hebrews wrote: “Since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endur-ance the race God has set before us.” And Paul writes to the Christians in Rome: “[The Lord] will give eternal life to those who keep on doing good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers. But He will pour out His anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and instead live lives of wicked-ness.” (Romans 2:7-8).

Love, thanksgiving, righteousness – true holiness – are seen over time in our endurance, our persever-ance, our persistence. It is relatively easy to “flirt” with such things: Being courteous to other drivers if it’s been an exceptionally good day; publicly giving God thanks and credit if something made you really happy; going to someone’s assistance or helping someone in need if you have the time; throwing some extra money into the offering plate as long as you don’t need it for yourself… But such behavior is in reality superficial love, superficial thanksgiving, superficial righteousness. But what Father is seeking

from us is persistence: Our commitment to continue doing the loving thing, expressing our thanks, mak-ing the right decisions even when (and perhaps it’s moment by moment), you feel pulled in the oppo-site direction. Genuineness in our relationship with God is far more than occasional acts of kindness and charity. The Lord has perseveringly committed to us and is looking for our commitment to persistent sur-render to Him.

What can give us such power to persist and en-dure and persevere in love and thanksgiving and righteousness and doing good? I think Paul hints at the answer in the Romans 2 passage we talked about above. He writes that, those who keep on doing good are “seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers” (Romans 2:7). Since there is no immortality in this life, Paul is saying that Christian perseverance is based on the idea that there is another life after this one – we call it “Heav-en” – and that life is eternal and for which this world is a preparation. The coming world is so glorious, and heavy with so much honor, that that life is worth making sacrifices for now in this life to receive the glory, honor, and immortality there. Christian endurance, persistence, and perseverance don’t make any sense unless we live with a keen sense of eternity.

My younger and older brothers and sisters in Je-sus: The holiness that will be rewarded in Heaven is an enduring love, a persistent thanksgiving, a perse-vering righteousness. Read through the entire Bible. I promise you, you won’t find one reference to a “crown in Heaven” going to the person who’s had the “happiest” life on earth. No, there is no heaven-ly reward for the Christian who felt the least amount of pain.

In closing, 2 Thessalonians 3:5 says, “May the Lord lead your hearts into a full understanding and expression of the love of God and the patient en-durance that comes from Christ.” There’s the Bible’s recipe for holiness and a “successful” life here on earth: O, that our hearts could more fully under-

stand and more fully express God’s love! O, that we could more fully understand and more fully express the patient endurance of Christ Himself!



“Sola, Sola, Sola, Lord!”November 5, 2017 A.D.by Pastor Ben Willis

THE GOSPEL OF JOHN 16:1-15 [NLTse]
1“I have told you these things so that you won’t abandon your faith. 2For you will be expelled from the synagogues, and the time is coming when those who kill you will think they are doing a holy service for God. 3This is because they have never known the Father or Me. 4Yes, I’m telling you these things now, so that when they happen, you will remember My warning. I didn’t tell you earlier because I was going to be with you for a while longer.

5“But now I am going away to the One Who sent Me, and not one of you is asking where I am going. 6Instead, you grieve because of what I’ve told you. 7But in fact, it is best for you that I go away, because if I don’t, the Advocate won’t come. If I do go away, then I will send Him to you. 8And when He comes, He will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. 9The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in Me. 10Righteousness is available because I go to the Father, and you will see Me no more. 11Judgment will come because the ruler of this world has already been judged.

12“There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on His Own but will tell you what He has heard. He will tell you about the future. 14He will bring Me glory by telling you whatever He receives from Me. 15(All that belongs to the Father is Mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever He receives from Me.’)

SERMON
Last Sunday was Reformation Sunday, a day when Protestant churches around the world celebrated the central belief of Christianity: Justification by faith; that is, God declaring us innocent of sin because of our faith in Christ. I was away last Sunday, so, I hope it’s okay that we celebrate such a wonder a little bit today…

Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk. He had been taught in his Roman Catholic church that God demanded absolute righteousness from human beings in order to be reconciled with us: Absolute love towards Him, absolute love towards our fellow human beings, and unshakeable faith like Abraham’s, who was willing to sacrifice his son. Luther knew he could never meet such a standard and so, even living as a monk, he was tortured by his sin. He came to hate what he called, “the righteous God Who punished sinners”.

In Luther’s day the Roman Catholic church was the only kind of church in Europe. The Pope, cardinals, and bishops had far-reaching power over their parishioners, claiming to have each one’s salvation in their hands! And because Bibles were available only to those who could read Latin, Hebrew, or Greek, there were few who could tell them they were wrong.
By this time, the church had fallen to proclaiming that God declared His people innocent of their sins only through a mixture of faith and works. On the surface this may sound innocent enough, I mean, the Scriptures do tell us that faith without works isn’t truly faith at all. But during this sad time in the Church’s life, abuses abounded.

For instance, from the 1100s to the 1300s – during the time of the Crusades – the Popes declared that a person could automatically be forgiven all their sins if they volunteered to go to Jerusalem to fight “the Muslim infidels” and re-take the Holy City. Notice: Their sins weren’t simply forgiven as they trusted the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, no; only if they trusted Christ and joined the Crusades, would their sins be forgiven. (And many went who were drowned at sea, captured and sold into slavery, or just out-and-out slaughtered.)

By Martin Luther’s day, the sale of “indulgences” had become the popular abuse. Because the Catholic church believed that Christians who had died had to spend time in a state called “Purgatory” to be fully purified of their sins before being allowed into God’s holy presence in Heaven, the church taught that family members could quicken their loved one’s journey to Heaven by giving money to the church. The popular slogan was, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings / a soul from Purgatory springs!”

(In its extreme, “indulgences” could even be purchased beforehand in order to grant a ruler or some wealthy person absolution and the church’s blessing upon a wrong they had not yet done but were planning to do!) It is this “sale of indulgences” where the idea came of one “buying the stairway to Heaven”!

Martin Luther was not the first to call the Catholic church to account for its wrongs and abuses. John Wycliffe in England, John Huss in Czechoslavakia, and Girolama Savonarola in Italy all tried to challenge the church. But Wycliffe was declared a heretic (and after his death his remains were dug up, burned, and his ashes were thrown into a river), Huss was burned at the stake, and Savonarola was hanged and then his body burned. (Every Reformer knew the danger of standing up to the church!)

It was in this climate that 500 years ago, on October 31st, 1517, Martin Luther publicly posted 95 Bible-based proofs showing that God declares human beings innocent of our sin for no other reason than our faith in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and challenging any and all of his colleagues to a debate if they wanted to try and prove him wrong.

And debate they did! As Luther’s “95 Theses” (as they came to be called) were distributed and spread, other “protesters” and their “protestant” followers across Europe were emboldened. They’d, likewise, been seeking the reform and renewal of the Roman Catholic church and a return to the Bible: Men such as Desiderius Erasmus in the Netherlands, the Waldensians in France and Switzerland, Heinrich Zwingli in Switzerland, John Calvin in Switzerland, John Knox in Scotland, and many, many others.

While the Reformation movement was widespread all across Europe, not all leaders or groups were “protesting” the same abuses, nor were they unified in every area of theology. Some were more concerned about personal holiness. Others saw the abuses of the monastic movement. Others felt the Roman Catholic church needed a thorough “house-cleaning” from top to bottom.

However, five basic, fundamental truths – often called “the Five Solas” – were consistent across the entire movement. In response to the question, “How are people saved?” all of the “protestants” agreed: “Sola fide”, that is Latin for “by faith alone”. Human beings are not eternally-saved by Worship attendance or by church membership or by participating in the Sacramemts, but – “sola fide” – by faith alone!

In response to the question, “How are people forgiven their sins?” all of the “protestants” agreed: “Sola gratia”, Latin for “by grace alone”. A person is not forgiven their sins through “penance”, that is, by trying to show how sorry they are or by trying to do more good than they’d done bad; nor can one’s sins be forgiven by a priest or any other “holy person” declaring one forgiven (since no one can forgive sins but God alone); no good work, no generous gift, nor any manner of repentance can move God to forgive human beings their sins. Sins are forgiven by God’s grace alone, His gift to those who have faith in Him alone.

In response to the question, “Who is the mediator of the Church?” that is, “Who restores Christians back into a right-relationship with God?” And the “protesters” all agreed: “Solus Christus”, Latin for “Christ alone”. Neither priests, bishops, cardinals, popes, nor any form of church hierarchy can bring human beings into a right-relationship with God. Only the sin-less, fully-God, fully-Man Jesus of Nazareth – Christ alone – can bring men and women, boys and girls, back into right-relationship with God as a free gift by God’s grace alone when they receive the Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for their sin by faith alone.

When the reformers were asked, “How do we know this to be true?” That is, “What is the ultimate basis of authority for spiritual life?” the “protesters” all agreed: “Sola Scriptura”, Latin for “by Scripture alone.” Yes, churches will always have their traditions and teachings; yes, human beings will always have the desire to “reason through” and want to make sense of things in their own minds; and, yes, people will always have all sorts of experiences that lead them to this, that, or some other belief about God, salvation, and living by faith; but, Scripture has greater authority than them all!

If a pastor, priest, pope, or church proclaims something but the Bible clearly says something else, trust and live by the Bible. If some well-known scholar or brilliant-thinker declares that this is illogical or that that is unreasonable or that some other thing makes no sense, but the Bible states clearly and repeatedly that whatever-it-is is God’s truth, trust and live by the Bible.

If you have some amazing experience that you’re sure has been with God (or if someone else tells you about an amazing experience they’ve had that they are sure was with God) and it makes you doubt all that the Bible clearly says, or even this or that little thing that the Bible clearly says, if the Bible really does clearly say it, trust and live by the Bible.

The Holy Spirit will never reveal to anyone anything that contradicts or goes against what Jesus has passed on to us in the Scriptures. As Jesus Himself has said, “[The Holy Spirit] will bring Me glory by telling you whatever He receives from Me.” (John 16:14) (And, as we’ve also read, the Lord Jesus is only passing on what the Father first gave to Him!)

Lastly, when the “protesters” were asked, “What is the purpose for life and the church?” they answered with one voice, “Soli Deo Gloria”, Latin for “To glorify God alone”. It’s not to have big congregations or beautiful buildings. It’s not to feed or build homes for the poor. It’s not to get to know the Bible so well that we can quote it and teach it to others. No.

The purpose of life and of the church is to point everyone to God in a way that makes Him look good and gives Him the credit for every good and hopeful thing: To glorify God alone! (Having big congregations and beautiful buildings may glorify God. Feeding and building homes for the poor may glorify God. Getting to know the Bible well and teaching others may glorify God. But all of those wonderful things are empty and worthless if we’re not glorifying God alone, Who has revealed Himself to us by the Scriptures alone, showing us that we are forgiven our sins and eternally saved from all worry, fear, death, and darkness on account of the sacrifice of Christ alone by His free gift of grace alone through faith alone!

How about you?
1. “How are people saved?”
2. “How are people forgiven their sins?”
3. “Who restores Christians back into a right-relationship with God?”
4. “What is the ultimate basis of authority for spiritual life?”
5. “What is the purpose for life and the church?”

Are these questions settled for you?

Let’s pray…



“Do-Be-Do-Be-Do & What Can I Do For You?”October 15, 2017 A.D.by Pastor Ben Willis

MARK 3:13-19 [NLTse]
13 Afterward Jesus went up on a mountain and called out the ones He wanted to go with Him. And they came to Him. 14 Then He appointed twelve of them and called them His apostles. They were to accompany Him, and He would send them out to preach, 15 giving them authority to cast out demons. 16 These are the twelve He chose:
Simon (whom He named Peter), 17 James and John (the sons of Zebedee, but Jesus nicknamed them “Sons of Thunder”), 18 Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James (son of Alphaeus), Thaddaeus, Simon (the zealot), 19 Judas Iscariot (who later betrayed Him).

SERMON
I’ve titled this part of my Sermon, “Do-Be-Do-Be-Do,” and would like us to focus on v. 14 of our reading today. Mark writes, “Then He appointed twelve of them and called them His apostles. They were to accompany Him, and He would send them out to preach, giving them authority to cast out demons.” That’s how our New Living Translation – the Bible in our pews – renders the Greek. But most literally, the Word of God says, “And He appointed twelve, whom He also named apostles, to be with Him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message and to have authority to cast out demons.”

In our pew Bible translation this passage from Mark comes across as though there are three “works” the Twelve were called to: 1) Accompanying Jesus; 2) preaching; and, 3) casting out demons. But most literally there are only two things those first apostles were to be about: 1) Being with Jesus; and then, 2) sharing the good news while setting demonized people free.

And that’s why I’ve called the message “Do-Be-Do-Be-Do”: First off, it sounds catchy since Frank Sinatra made such phrases famous; but second, because we live in a culture that loves and rewards doing. However, the Lord makes clear that our doing-what-He-has-made-us-to-do comes from first being-with-Him, spending-time-with-Him, enjoying-simple-fellowship-and-companionship-with-the-Lord.

Our Lord and Savior says this same thing most famously and directly in John 15: “Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in Me.
“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in Me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from Me you can do nothing.” (vv. 4-5)

So, if we want to do good things and change the world for Christ we must first hang-out and spend much time with Christ. If we want to “do” we first have to “be”. (So, I guess Sinatra got it backwards. It should be, “Be-Do-Be-Do-Be”!)

The apostle Paul paints a picture of this reality for the Colossian-Christians, saying, “Since you have been raised to new life with Christ,” (that is, since we were born-anew when we put our trust in Christ), “since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of Heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of Heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life,” (that is, your old life died when you began to believe, and a new life has begun), “and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.” (3:3)

Paul is conveying the truth that every Christian lives every day, that even though we can be preoccupied by and focused on our lives here in this world and the things of our society and culture, our real life is with Christ! Yes, just as Christ is with us and in us, here, likewise, we are with Him and in Him, there, at the right-hand of the Father in Heaven!

And the Lord Jesus makes absolutely clear that He created us for fellowship and companionship with Him and not just for the work of ministry for Him when He famously said to His disciples shortly before being arrested: “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in Me. There is more than enough room in My Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with Me where I am.” (14:1-3)

Yes, the Lord has called us to be harvest-laborers in His Vineyard – sharing the good news and doing good to those in need – but He has also called us simply to hang-out and be with Him, enjoying one another’s company. He’s given us work to do! But our ability to serve Him well and to “produce much fruit” comes from spending quality and quantity time with Him: Walking with Him and talking with Him and letting Him tell us we are His Own! And letting Him fill up our lives with joy, like no other we’ve ever known!

MARK 10:46-52 [NLTse]
46 Then they reached Jericho, and as Jesus and His disciples left town, a large crowd followed Him. A blind beggar named Bartimaeus (son of Timaeus) was sitting beside the road. 47 When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus of Nazareth was nearby, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
48 “Be quiet!” many of the people yelled at him.
But he only shouted louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
49 When Jesus heard him, He stopped and said, “Tell him to come here.”
So they called the blind man. “Cheer up,” they said. “Come on, He’s calling you!” 50 Bartimaeus threw aside his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus.
51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked.
“My Rabbi,” the blind man said, “I want to see!”
52 And Jesus said to him, “Go, for your faith has healed you.” Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus down the road.

SERMON
Here in Part 2 of the Sermon I want to invite you to get comfortable where you are in your seat. If you’re leaning up against someone I’d ask you to move just slightly away so – at least for this time – you aren’t distracted by their touch… Put your arms comfortably at your sides or clasp them loosely in your lap…

I want you to begin picturing the scene Neil just read… (Here’s a modern-day picture of Jericho, so you can get a flavor for the city…) Close your eyes… Picture the stone and plaster buildings around you: The narrow alleyways; the broader dirt streets; perhaps there are dung-piles here or there that haven’t been cleaned-up or swept aside yet from the horse-traffic, and the donkeys bearing their burdens, and the sheep and goats being driven to and from the market…

Hear the noises of the flapping awnings… and the horse-noises and donkey-noises and sheep- and goat-noises… Hear the voices of the people around you – some low and murmuring, others speaking and gesturing loudly: “They say He can forgive sins!” “He’s healing the blind and deaf and mute and lame!” “Could He be the Messiah, the Christ?” “EVEN THE DEMONS OBEY HIM; HE’S SETTING PEOPLE FREE!” “He just had a meal with Zacchaeus, and now Zacchaeus is sharing his money with the poor and paying back everyone he treated dishonestly! The little guy’s a new man!”

Feel the heat beating down on you as you… and the dust in your face and the grit in your teeth…

…And as Jesus and His disciples left town, a large crowd followed Him. A blind beggar named Bartimaeus was sitting beside the road. When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus was nearby, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
“Be quiet!” many of the people yelled at him.
But he only shouted louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
When Jesus heard him, He stopped and said, “Tell him to come here.”
So they called the blind man. “Cheer up,” they said. “Come on, He’s calling you!” Bartimaeus threw aside his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked.
“My Rabbi,” the blind man said, “I want to see!”
And Jesus said to him, “Go, for your faith has healed you.” Instantly the man could see, and he followed Jesus down the road…

Who are you in the crowd? Are you one of the Twelve, crowding around the Lord, trying to be seen as important, one of His men? … Are you someone in the crowd, trying to get near to Him, to touch Him, if you can? … Are you Bartimaeus, so desperate – so aware of your need – that you don’t care if people give you a hard time for making a fuss? …
Because Jesus is calling to you, “Come here.” …

And He’s standing before you, and you’re standing before Him, and He says to you, “What do you want Me to do for you?” …
You think of how unfair life has been… You think of all the ways people have hurt you… You think of the sins that you just can’t get out of your life…

“What do you want Me to do for you?”
You think about the gifts you wish you had… The personality you with you had… A dream-job comes to mind… Your relationship with your husband or your wife, with your kids, with your folks…

“What do you want Me to do for you?”
He is speaking to the deep places in you… His Spirit – holy – calling out to your spirit – wounded, stained, longing…
“What do you want Me to do for you?”

And you followed Jesus down the road!