Sermon Series


August 19, 2012 by Pastor Ben Willis

According to Luke 11:1-13 [NLTse]

Would anybody here like to experience a greater closeness to God? I know this can be kind of a sticky-wicket kind of question to ask because our feelings and experiences can be so subjective: What makes me feel close to God might not make you feel close to God. And then, of course, there’s always the temptation (when seeking after certain feelings or experiences) to begin to get hooked on the high or emotionalism that good feelings and thrilling experiences can leave us with and come to a place where the high and the thrill are more important to a person than God. Ultimately it’s not about our feelings anyway: The Lord Jesus promises that He is with us and even within us whether we feel it or experience the reality of it or not.

All that being said and acknowledged, does anybody here desire to feel or experience a greater closeness to God? … Are you willing to work for it? I’m not trying to offend anyone, I’m just asking because we’ve become such a “microwave” culture: Looking for instant gratification; expecting instant relief; demanding instant results. And getting to enjoy a sense of closeness with the Lord is less like microwaving and more like marinating…

If you want to grow closer to God I want to invite you to begin growing your time with God in prayer. Now perhaps you already have a strong prayer habit, and that’s wonderful! And history tells stories of great men and women of prayer who had focused, set-apart prayer times of two, three, four hours and more during special seasons of intercession! So we can always grow!

Many Christians struggle with prayer, I know. Perhaps you are one of them. I hear Christians sometimes wondering: Does it really matter if I pray, isn’t God just going to do what He wants to anyway? And if our praying does matter, why does it sometimes take so long for my prayers to be answered? Is there a difference between times when we should keep on praying until we get a response and times when we should just trust that the Lord has heard our prayers and thank Him ahead of time in faith? If everything that happens to us and our loved ones is allowed by God then does it matter if I pray for God’s protection for them? And the questions and the confusion can go on and on…

And there are answers to many of those questions and other questions like them. And perhaps the Lord will share them with us over time. But for now I’d simply like to take us through a little bit of a survey of what the Bible has to say about prayer that I hope will encourage us to make time to pray before we go to bed tonight, and tomorrow, and the day after that, and so on.

Father, inspire us; fill us Holy Spirit; help us, Lord Jesus. Amen?

Open your Bibles (or feel free to use the Bible in your pew) to Psalm 62:8… Verse 8 tells us that God is our refuge – our place of safety. Now, because God is our refuge, what does v. 8 tell us to do? trust in him at all times; pour out our hearts to him. uuu Because the Lord is our safe place He calls us to pour out our hearts to Him.

Turn to Hebrews 10:19-22… Let me read it for us: “And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter Heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. This is the new, life-giving way that Christ has opened up for us through the sacred curtain, by means of His death for us. And since we have a great High Priest Who rules over God’s people, let us go right into the presence of God, with true hearts fully trusting Him. For our evil consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood making us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.” Look at this passage; think about what this passage is saying: uuu How should we approach God when we come to pray?

o Fearful and cautious

o Confident and open

o Making sure we speak the right words

o Proud and complacent

confident and open. uuu We can fearlessly enter God’s presence on account of Christ, with true hearts, fully trusting in Him. uuu

Turn with me to Luke 11:9-10… What three things does Jesus tell us to do? uuu keep on asking; keep on seeking; keep on knocking. uuu And when we do, what does He promise will happen? when we keep on asking we will be given what we’ve been asking for; when we keep on seeking we will find what we’ve been looking for; when we keep on knocking what’s been closed to us will be opened. uuu

Let’s turn to Philippians 4:6-7… What does the Holy Spirit through Paul tell us not to do? don’t worry about anything. Instead, what are we told to do? pray about everything: tell god what we need and thank him for all he has done. What are we promised when we do this? we will experience god’s peace, and his peace will guard our hearts and our minds as we live in christ. uuu

Turn to John 14:13-14… The Lord Jesus tells us to pray in His name, why? because the work of the son brings glory to the father. uuu Trusting in what Buddha has done does not bring glory to the Father. Believing Mohammed’s teaching does not bring glory to the Father. Asking the help of some other god or power does not bring glory to the Father. Jesus is the only way to God. The more often we pray relying upon Jesus, and every time He gives us what we’ve asked Him for, those around us are more and more convinced that our Father is indeed God!

Over to Jeremiah 33… The prophet Jeremiah has been taken into custody by the King of Judah, and, in v. 3, the LORD speaks to him: “Ask Me and I will tell you some remarkable secrets about what is going to happen here.” Why does God want Jeremiah to pray? god wants to tell jeremiah “remarkable secrets” about what’s going on and what he is going to make happen. uuu God wants to let us in on His secrets! Sometimes when the Lord is calling us to pray it’s because He wants us to know what He’s about to do before He does it!

Lastly, let’s go to Ephesians 3:20… Concerning prayer, how does the Holy Spirit through Paul describe God here? able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask or hope. uuu

The experience of prayer is a very intimate one for most people: Trusting that Jesus is next to us as we walk and talk to Him; visualizing Him sitting across from us or next to us as we sit and pray; believing the voice in your head that just responded to your words was the Holy Spirit’s voice, it is all very profound and faith-building!

But, again, I know many struggle with what to pray for: We often ask God for such temporal (as opposed to eternal) and worldly (instead of godly) things which works to quench our sense of intimacy and closeness with the Lord. So, let’s finish up exploring a couple more Scripture.

Turn to Romans 10:1… What did Paul pray for the people of Israel? for them to be saved. uuu

Over to Matthew 9:37-38… What did Jesus tell the disciples to pray for? for the lord to send more workers out to bring people to christ and disciple them. uuu

Here are a couple that are all together: Start with Psalm 19:14… What request is being made? for our words and thoughts to be acceptable to god. uuu How about in Psalm 51:2… to free us from guilt and purify us from sin. uuu Down to 51:10… a clean heart and a loyal spirit. And lastly, Psalm 86:11… to teach us to live out his ways with purity of heart. uuu

I’ve included in today’s Bulletin an Insert listing many of the members and adherents here at First Presbyterian. (I’m sure it’s not complete, so if your name is not on it but you consider yourself a part of the church here, make a note about it later on when we sign the Red Books and we’ll make sure the church is praying for you, too.) Set aside special time each morning and each evening when no one will disturb you, or perhaps call or meet to pray with a friend if that enhances your sense of closeness and fellowship with Christ. Kneel, walk, sit, … It takes some work, but you want to grow closer to God!

He rewards those who sincerely seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6)

August 12, 2012 AD by Lisa Lewis

Good morning family, good morning friends, good morning newcomers since I’ve been gone! I have been blessed to be part of this church for about ten years. Many of you have watched me grow from a 20 year old woman struggling with many things in life to an independent woman who is crazy enough to move across the world! Each and every one of you have had a part in my transformation from a victim in life to a victor in Christ! I’m so grateful for the time of training I had here at First Pres as a youth leader, worship leader and a lay leader in training. I enjoyed being part of this amazing family who takes care of one another and serves Jesus wholeheartedly. All of you helped to send me and our church team out to Russia the summers of 04’ and 05’ to take care of orphans, which in turn changed the direction of my life completely towards full-time missionary work in the Slavic regions. When I came back in 2005 I wanted to jump right in and move to Russia, but God in his wisdom knew best and had me wait another 7 years. He knew that he needed to send me over whole. I have been longing since then to go back to Russia, knowing that this was the place where God burdened my heart for the lost and the hurting, no matter what age they are or social status. Sometimes the wait to go back to where I call “home” has been painful, but I see so clearly now why God needed to take me through each trial, each joy, each season these past 7 years.

I moved to Missouri in 2006 to go to a Christian College that didn’t fully understand who Jesus was and the mission he had for us. But in spite of this, I learned a great deal about myself and about the Lord. Many of you know that I came back from Missouri very ill and it’s taken up until today for me to receive healing from most of it from the Lord. God’s grace and love in my life through the hardest circumstances increased my faith in who he was and who he is to all people. I started recovering and learning how to treat my body as God would want me to treat it. I then transferred to Nyack College in 2007 and received my Bachelor’s in Psychology in 2011, all with the purpose of having a skill for missions. God used my Psychology professor to mentor me, give me health advice and she encouraged me to be a powerful woman in God’s kingdom. Everywhere I went these past 5 years God put someone in my life to mentor me and to lead me into wholeness. God brought me through a complete change of mind and healing in my body. It has been a wonderful journey with the Lord and I can’t wait to see what He has in store in this next chapter in my life.
After graduating from Nyack last spring, I started praying about going to Ukraine. Ukraine has been a war ravaged country and needs to find her identity. Orphans need the love of the Father tangibly expressed to them in a saving fashion. Ukraine has a very high divorce rate, abortion is at an all -time high, and sex-trafficking is on the rise. Families need to know the restoring power of Jesus.
God led me to YWAM (Youth with a Mission) to complete a 6 month practical missionary training, or put simply Discipleship Training School. We will be partnering with existing ministries to serve orphans, relieve the burden of the homeless, lay hands on the sick and see God transform lives surrounding the capital city of Kyiv. After 3 months of class and ministry there, we will most likely travel to Moldova and Albania to bring Jesus love to people on the streets.
My life verse is from James 1:27 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” I want to take this lifestyle to Ukraine with me in September.
I want to share a bit with you about why I feel that taking care of orphans, looking after widows, the sick and anyone in distress is a call from God to all people. But more importantly I want to share with you what God has put on my heart for all of you, because it is the backbone of everything in life.
What compels us to do anything in life? I think if we were all honest with ourselves is that we are motivated by being loved. SHOW OF HANDS I know that all of us have heard about God’s love for us. Some have had experiences with God’s love, given to us by others in word or deed. Scripture says that “We love because He first loved us” 1 Jn 4:19 Even though we “know” the love of the Father, have we experienced it? For instance, have we experienced it in a transforming, I have completely and utterly been undone fashion? Most of my life I knew that God loved me. I knew of his great compassion and great sacrifice for me on the cross. There is no greater love than someone who would lay down his life for his friends (Jn 15;13). I “knew” this and a few times I actually felt the tangible, manifest, here with us now kind of love come from the Father. This has been a journey for me because I grew up in a church that quenched the Spirit and also quenched a love encounter with the Risen Jesus. I was taught to shut my emotions off, that I had to know God’s word through and through (which I am grateful for), but feelings never were much in the picture. I’m not saying that feelings should be the most important thing, but God didn’t make us to shut it off! We are a whole being that He created to experience Him in every sense were were created with. Those of you who know me well, know that I’m an extremely cognitive person. I usually won’t trust anything until I’ve thought about something over and over in my mind, which in turn has to fit into a box of understanding. I’ll do this over and over until I find a solution. I guess this is what helped me to get my Psych degree!
I have had a great deal of sickness in my life which has sometimes left me feeling like God cares to heal others more than he wants to heal me. I would always hear God say to me ever so softly, “My grace is sufficient.” I was ok with this answer, because I trusted God’s words towards me that He indeed was good. I didn’t get angry with him, but I would ask him why everyone else was being healed and he told me to be patient. I started to learn that He wanted to receive the most glory and the most impact on others through my healing.
When I went to Nyack College, I started to learn how to receive more from others I didn’t know well. Most of the things I was receiving was words that God gave them to pray over me and I started to be able to receive the love of God. Each time the love encounter I had with God was deeper, but I still rejected much of what He said over me. Shame? Maybe. Guilt? maybe. Believing that everyone was more special and I had to suffer to receive blessing? Yes!
I was asked to be part of a new prayer training at my church this past winter. The focus of this prayer meeting was to learn how to hear the voice of God, to know His character more deeply, to speak truth over one another and to hear fresh revelation from God about the here and now as revealed through His word.
For most of my life I had a beggar mentality when it came to asking things of God for myself. I acted as though I had no authority in the Kingdom of God and that if I requested anything personal from him I was asking too much. My needs were always just too much, just like I was too much for others to handle. I was sometimes afraid of God’s presence because I wasn’t ready to receive His love. I loved to worship the Lord but don’t ask me to get emotional or overwhelmed by His love.
I had never felt God hug me before and I’ve begged Him for this for years. All the times I was in physical pain and enduring all medical problems I face, I would beg Him. This past March, I had my first overwhelming experience of God’s love for me. I was out of a job and had health problems that were getting me down. I sat down on my bed to have my quiet time with God and I cried out in desperation and asked him to hug me. For the first time I felt it! I don’t know why God chose this moment, but there were tears of Joy coming down my face. I remember asking Him, can I ask you to come any time? Do you really want to be that close to me? God said an overwhelming Yes!!!!! He said that He delighted in me and that I was his daughter. This revealing of His presence stayed with me for about an hour and I just basked in His love for me.
My second encounter with His presence was last Saturday. I went to the International House of Prayer conference, in NJ. The preacher was speaking of our intimacy with God and how much of a part of our lives that we allow God to be. (I will share this in person)
What is this good news that I want to share? God is completely ravished by you! When you experience this kind of love in a tangible way, what do you do with it? My pastor from Nyack said, “anytime God gives you a gift, in whatever form it comes in, God wants you to give it back. It will come back to you tenfold” ~Pastor Mike
In my degree program, we learned very profoundly that we can’t give what we don’t have. If I haven’t received God’s love for me, responded to him, and decided to give it away to others (in whatever form God reveals himself in), I don’t have anything of value to give away. The reality of that situation would be that my love that I am giving away is not filled with God’s spirit, and has no eternal value.
I recently found a couple quotes by Charles Spurgeon that I feel illustrates this idea fairly well. “As fire grows by the addition of fuel, so does our love to Christ
increase by renewed and enlarged discoveries of his love to us.”

“Where much of divine love is perceived by the soul, there will be
a return of affection in some degree proportionate to the measure
of the manifestation. As we pour water into a dry pump when we
desire to obtain more — so must we have the love of Christ imparted
to the heart before we shall feel any uprisings of delight in Him.”

Without a fresh revelation, a filling of God’s love in our lives we’re impoverished. We’re incapable of running the race with endurance. We’re inept to carry out the compassion, the depth and the height of God’s love for other people.
So why did I share all of this? It is because of this verse that I even have the power to serve Jesus: Ephesians 3:14-21 “ For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,  from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named (we bear the name of God, my point), that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,  and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
This is why taking care of orphans, looking after widows, the sick and anyone in distress is a call from God to all people. Most of these groups of people in some form are stricken by some form of poverty, such as monetary, physical, relational, emotional, etc. Most of all they are in need of the love of Jesus. Can I share my heart with you about this?
First lets start with what is poverty? Poverty is a very loose term and everyone I speak to has a different definition. A simple definition of poverty would be expressed as:
The state of one who lacks a usual or socially acceptable amount of money or material possessions. Poverty is said to exist when people lack the means to satisfy their basic needs. In this context, the identification of poor people first requires a determination of what constitutes basic needs. These may be defined as narrowly as “those necessary for survival” or as broadly as “those reflecting the prevailing standard of living in the community.” (poverty. (n.d.). © Encyclopedia Britannica)
Even more disheartening are the plight of the individuals whom the name is given “the poor.” Behind the label of “poor” is a face; a person or group of people deeply loved by God. In Genesis 1:27 (NIV), God says, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Since “mankind” is made the image of God there is no partiality in that statement. The poor are held in high esteem by their Creator. With the economic state in the world right now being so real to all of us, Let us move to one of the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures. Isaiah 61:1-3 so perfectly states God’s heart for the poor:
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. (NIV) (Emphasis added) A similar passage is again spoken by Jesus is in Luke 4:18 in the New Testament. This verse is a strong statement concerning the poor. It was revolutionary statement in ancient times, it is equally revolutionary now, if not more so. This is not just a call from the Old and New Testament scriptures. This was Jesus’ calling on earth and he bestowed it to us by the Holy Spirit to carry on his work.
Who are the poor?
The poor have been portrayed many ways throughout the centuries. Strong’s concordance Greek word for “poor” is ptochos, and its transliterated meaning is:
reduced to beggary, begging, asking alms; destitute of wealth, influence, position, honour; lowly, afflicted, destitute of the Christian virtues and eternal riches, helpless, powerless to accomplish an end, poor, needy, lacking in anything as respects their spirit, destitute of wealth of learning and intellectual culture…” (Strong & Kohlenberger III, 2001, # 4434).
The poor have always been vulnerable, as history pens. In New Testament times, the peasants, who were in the majority Jews tied to the land, were a prime example of the oppressed and abused. The Jews did not only have to pay taxes to Rome and Herod, but they had to pay tithes to the Temple (Friesen, 2005). Historians estimate that 25 to 30 percent of a peasant’s wages were given from their harvest to taxation. On top of this, the peasants had to pay enormous rent whenever asked, and without notice. Eviction was the outcome and indebted slavery to pay off their debts was their reality (Friesen, 2005). This kind of oppression was perpetuated in part because the peasants were considered as less worthy of being able to have a working wage.
What does the Bible say about the poor? : Jesus view in the New Testament
First of all, the scriptures speak about the specific word “Poor” at least 176 times. God must have been rather serious about the topic if the poor are mentioned so much, although one could never exhaust talking about each passage. Jesus is seen as the liberator of those who are in bondage. Romans 8:21(NIV) says, “…that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” Right before this verse Paul speaks of creation being in eager expectation for this hope of restoration.
Luke 1:52 states that, “He puts down the mighty from their thrones, and exalts the oppressed. He fills the hungry with good things, and the rich he sends away emptyhanded” (NIV). The “he” in this passage is Jesus; one could say that what Jesus was proclaiming is a moral and social and economic revolution (Linskens, 1976). In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus enters the Synagogue, opens up the scroll and proclaims that He is the one who will proclaim good news to the poor, proclaim freedom to prisoners, heal the blind, set the captive free and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. The “year of the Lord’s favor” was very clear to the audience he was speaking to because it referred to the “Year of Jubilee” from the Hebrew Scriptures; the Jews would have known this passage very well. In the Deuteronomic Legislation (code) of chapter 15, the author speaks of the cancellation of debts every seven years, which is called the Sabbatical Year; the Jubilee was commanded to be done every 49 years (Kinsler & Kinsler, 2005). In short, God’s command was from Isaiah 61, which was to proclaim liberation and liberty, referring to the laws of Exodus and Deuteronomy which instructs the Jews to proclaim “freedom for slaves, cancelation of debts, and the recovery of land” (Kinsler & Kinsler, 2005, p. 47). It is our job as the church to proclaim the year of Jubilee.
Peace in the New Testament
It is the “Church’s” role to bring about justice for the poor. John 20: 19-22 reads:
“So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again,” Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them,” Receive the Holy Spirit. (NIV, emphasis added). The meaning of the word “peace” alluded to complete wholeness or “Shalom.”
A similar word for ‘peace’ is used in this passage as the word shalom, right after Jesus’ ultimate demonstration and action of peace, the resurrection from the dead. This Greek word in Strong’s is called “Eirene,” (#1515) which is transliterated as: a state of national tranquility; exemption from the rage and havoc of war; peace between individuals, i.e. harmony, concord; security, safety, prosperity, felicity, (because peace and harmony make and keep things safe and prosperous); of the Messiah’s peace; the way that leads to peace, or salvation (Strong & Kohlenberger III, 2001). Jesus goes even further in this meaning of Shalom, as He is the absolute embodiment of what was prophesied in the above passage of Isaiah 9. Jesus came to bring peace through His people (the disciples in context) to everyone they touch and minister to. Jesus has sent us, today, His church to be moved by the Holy Spirit to be his ‘bringers of harmony,’ his menders of the world (Dr. Assur, Lecture, Fall 2010). This tranquility includes justice for the poor and right relationships to be had by all.
James goes even further in this concept in chapter 3, verse 18: “Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (NKJV) The same word “Eirene,” is used in this passage for peace. It is very important for us to realize that the fruit of being in Jesus kingdom are just works which brings Shalom. Before this passage James 1:27 says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (NIV). Justice, flowing out of a love for God and a love for neighbor is what keeps us from being corrupted by the world.
The Kingdom of God
There are many parables in the New Testament that Jesus told. This story in Luke 6:20-26 was more like a sermon demonstrating who the people of the “Kingdom” look like: And turning His gaze toward His disciples, He began to say, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven…”
We are blessed when we take care of those who God loves, for those he died for.
Poverty in families
Poverty has a cyclical effect in families. As happens often in poor families, mothers who grew up in poor environments tend to pass all the negative influences that affected them on to their children; these parents did not have the necessary attention they needed, leaving the same hopelessness and negative view on life to their children (Stapleton, 2007). Secure attachments allow children to feel that everything is alright with the world and poor children most likely are not securely attached to their parents in the above situation (Stapleton, 2007). In Ukraine, we hope to reverse this pattern in families.
Everything that we have is God’s, including our monetary and physical possessions. So therefore, in Deuteronomy 15: 7-11, the law which does not bind us instructs us:
…rich Israelites are exhorted, do not be hardhearted or tight-fisted toward your needy brother” (v. 7) but “open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need of the poor” (v. 8). This is an exhortation or a legal admonition, which in general is typical of Deuteronomistic language” (Kinsler & Kinsler, 2005, p. 85).
Jesus even went to the extreme of asking his Disciples to share in his poverty, which He did willingly; He asked for them to give up all their material possessions to follow Him (Mulhern, 1973). What is interesting about this request is that most of the disciples were poor, yet God asked them to give all they had. We may conclude that God wanted all that may captivate their hearts, all their being to be offered up to Him and that He would always provide for all their needs. The role of the Church has not changed. We should give all we can to help those in need.
Scripture gets even more specific as to who we are to be as the Church. Isaiah 1:17 states, “Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow” (NKJV). The church is not to sit and watch the poor suffer while we enjoy our comfort. We are to stand up (advocate) for those being oppressed and fight for their freedom. The church has become lazy with our comfort especially in the United States, with the assumption that someone else or the government will help the poor. This is a stance of the Presbyterian church back in the 90‘s which should be a pattern for us: God’s unconditional love is the measure by which every person is to be valued. God’s special concern for the poor and powerless makes our attitude toward them and actions for them a test of our loyalty to God (De Vries, 1998, p. 223). We must rebuke those who are oppressing the poor and seek just laws so that this generation and the coming generations will not have to suffer. We are to plead for those who cannot help themselves like the widows, the orphan, the foreigner and all those who are in need of assistance. Doing justice is not an option given in scripture for God’s people; it is etched within us because God first loved us. It is time for the Church to rise up and do His work in the world. This is the Whole Gospel. This is the heartbeat of Heaven.

The question I want to ask ourselves is this. What has God put in your heart to bring the kingdom of God to your neighborhood? We don’t have to go overseas to bring the love of Christ to people. What talents, what giftings do you have that can be used for the Lord? Where is God’s love taking you? Can I share with you what I will be doing over in Ukraine?

August 5, 2012 AD, preached by Pastor Ben Willis

1 Kings 18:16-39 [NLTse]

This contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal came to my mind while listening to reports about the controversy over the Chic-fil-A restaurant chain owner’s pro-Bible and pro-family position. As you may or may not know, the Chic-fil-A owner’s position is not new: Chic-fil-A’s founder, Truett Cathy established the restaurant chain on biblical principles, and has long been a proponent of traditional, biblical, family values as well as practicing and offering biblical hospitality to its communities.

I got thinking about Elijah’s challenge on Mount Carmel because Chic-fil-A is a significant corporation in our nation. And just as Elijah stood, not just against the 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah in this confrontation, but against King Ahab and all of Israel’s gathered leaders and nobility, Chic-fil-A is standing, not just against the well-funded, media-wielding pro-gay lobby, but against the President, many state governors and other government leaders who – for moral, political, or personal reasons – are promoters and supporters of homosexual practice and gay marriage in our nation.

I got thinking about the Lord God versus Baal because our culture would convince us – if it could – that Chic-fil-A (and Bible-believing Christians, in general) are troublemakers in our communities: “So, is it really you, you troublemaker of Israel?” King Ahab greets Elijah.

And as we can perhaps imagine the pressure against Chic-fil-A as they seek to not waver in their proclamation and witness, I think all of us can commiserate with them on account of the pressures we can face, as well, in school and our work places, in our close relationships, and in and around our communities to not waver in our proclamation and witness.

Although we’ve read this morning about the prophet Elijah’s great victory against the prophets of Baal and Asherah, let’s not forget that within days of the event Elijah had fled Israel for his very life, (when Queen Jezebel heard what he had done she threatened to put him to death) and Elijah was hiding in the Sinai Desert feeling sorry for himself and asking God to kill him.

With that in mind I know there are days when we have our great victories of standing firm and being bold for Christ, and other days where our sinful nature seems to have the upper hand and where we want to simply run away and hide. But the Lord is calling us to exercise our faith, to use it and strengthen it and build it up.

Because we have been given great news to share! Humanities alienation from God has ended! Although human beings have cut ourselves off from God by choosing to trust ourselves and our own judgment of right and wrong and what’s best in a given situation, God has not let our rejection of Him and His Way of Life ruin His plans for life and everlasting life with us. Jesus Christ has broken the chains of sin that have bound all humanity. And this eternal security Christians have because Jesus has opened the gates of Heaven for us means that no earthly insecurity needs to ever hold us captive again! The unconditional love our heavenly Father has shown us in Christ means we no longer have to work and strive after the all-too-conditional love of those around us. God’s acceptance of us and adoption of us on account of our faith and trust in Jesus means we can truly live at peace, we don’t have to fight and wrestle to make our dreams happen or to have our will be done. No, in Christ we can rest in the knowledge that our Father is all-powerful and in charge of all existence and human history: No power in Heaven or on the Earth can separate us from His love; no power can hurt us or come against us without His first giving permission (and we know that He loves us); and no power ever again can convince us that we are no good or not good enough as the Holy Spirit pours His love and favor into our hearts!

Now that’s hope! That’s a reason to get up in the morning! That’s a reason to try again after messing up again! That’s a reason to forgive and be reconciled with those around us! And this is just a part of the great news we have been given to share with the world! And this is what the Lord is calling us and giving us His Holy Spirit to stand firm and share.

Elijah and Chic-fil-A show us that we need to be public about our Christian morality. Our Father is calling us to be clear that we believe and act the way we do because the Bible tells us so. And He wants us to be forthright that the reason we’re living our lives according to the Scriptures is because we died with Jesus on the cross and because we have begun living a new life through the Holy Spirit He has given us!

Are you reading your Bible everyday? The Lord has given us His Word so we can filling ourselves up with truth? Are you praying and asking the Lord to work through you and speak through you? God wants us to ask Him and call upon Him so we can be more-assured and confident that He is indeed working and speaking through us every time we act and speak?

I know we may never find ourselves standing up against the President of the United States or even more-local powers or officials, but each of us has those God is calling us to stand up for Him against, every day. And Christ is calling us the same way He was calling Elijah and has been calling Chic-fil-A: To speak up for Christ; to give witness to God’s goodness; to tell those around us what He’s done for us and how He’s transformed and is transforming us.

Like with Elijah, we’re not responsible to convince anyone. As you keep on reading you’ll see that the crowds cheered, worshiped, and slaughtered the Baal and Asherah prophets as Elijah had called them to, but the Bible tells us that their faith and fervor was short-lived. And though perhaps things will be different with this Chic-fil-A hullabaloo, history shows us that likely many of those who have begun filling up on chicken sandwiches these past couple of weeks will likely go back to “wavering between two opinions” once the uproar and drama dies down.

God wants all the world to know that He alone is the one, true God. He uses many different ways to reveal Himself and open the eyes and hearts of those who do not know Him. And one of those ways is showing Himself through people like you and me who have put their faith and trust in Him! We reveal Him as we obey His laws, as we reflect His ways in our thoughts and actions, and as we speak out and tell others what God has done – and is doing – in our lives. And when we’re not totally committed to loving and obeying God, not only do we suffer, but what God desires to accomplish through our testimony suffers, as well.

Is the hand of the Lord too short or not strong enough to save? Is an army of opposition – or any power – too great, too powerful for the Lord?

We’ve got the goodness and glory of the one and only God to proclaim. And the greatest news the world has ever heard to share! As we share the Lord’s Supper this morning, let us recommit ourselves – let’s devote ourselves – to Jesus Christ wholeheartedly and never be ashamed of Him or back down, so that our special acts as well as our everyday lives will show God to the world in such a way that those around us will recognize Him as a Savior, and as a Shepherd, and as the Light and Life of the world.