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July 22, 2012 AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

Isaiah 43:1-4; Isaiah 62:1-5; Jeremiah 2:1-3; Mark 12:28-31

The Lord our God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and our Father, loves us with an everlasting love. (See Jeremiah 31:3) Like a husband is supposed to love his wife, like a father is supposed to love his children, the Lord God loves us fiercely and unconditionally. And He desires to be loved in return.

I bring all of this up today as I think about the twelve who were shockingly killed in Colorado this past week. Equally tragic, weeks earlier, was the news of a young man in his mid-40’s who’d always exercised and eaten right, but who died suddenly as he sat at his cubicle at work. Sudden, seemingly meaningless deaths, hit us human beings where it hurts.

Fox News Religion Correspondent Lauren Green hosted a program the other day asking “Where is God during tragedies?” because the Bible tells us that God is good, “God is light,” John writes, “and there is no darkness in Him at all.” (1 John 1:5) And when we human beings think of “goodness” and “light” we have trouble seeing where suffering and tragedy and death fit with that. So we can ask, “If God is truly all-powerful, and if He is truly good and filled-with-light, then why didn’t the Lord find some way to have authorities discover Mr. Holmes plan and stop him, or simply use His almighty power to keep Mr. Holmes car from starting that night? And we can doubt the Lord’s goodness and that He is truly “filled-with-light”, or we can doubt whether or not He is truly all-mighty…

Another response people can have to the uncertainty of random violence and insecurity is fear: Since we can’t control everything we control what we can. So we never go to the movies ever again; and we demand our doctors check us for everything and anything, everytime; and we lobby for more and more safety and security measures from government and businesses; etc… And parents live anxious and worried every moment their children are out of their sight; and children live anxious and worried every moment their parents are out of their sight.

I believe the Lord has another option for us: To be ready.

The all-too shocking, tragic events that seem to fill our newspapers and news shows hopefully remind us how precious life is, but they clearly show us that we do not have as much control over our lives and the world around us as we think we do (no matter how hard we may have worked to be in control). We are not promised to live even to see the end of this Worship Service, let alone the end of today or tomorrow or even five years from now. There are no guarantees.

However, the Bible tells us that God our Father is in control of all life. Singing to the Lord, Psalm 139 tells us: “You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in Your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” (Verse 16) The good-Shepherd-of-our-souls knew the day of our birth and knew the day of our death before we were even a twinkle in our parents eyes; and before even they were a twinkle in their parents’ eyes! No evildoer, wasting disease, natural disaster, or random accident can shorten our lives or take human history out of the Sovereign God’s almighty hands.

And, as we’ve read and said, He loves us with an everlasting love and desires for us to love Him in return.

So what do I mean when I say we can “Be ready”? I mean that in the Bible God has sought to prepare us for the troubles and sadnesses that are a part of life in this world. For instance, the Lord Jesus said, “Here on Earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) And in another place He said, “You will always have the poor among you.” (Matthew 26:11; Mark 14:7; John 12:8) And in another place states, “You will hear of wars and threats of wars… There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world… You will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are My followers.” (Matthew 24:6, 7, 9) He’s let us know how very troubled and dark this sinful, fallen system of things has become.

But the Lord also comforts us in the midst of it all, promising that, just as our Lord Jesus has gone away into Heaven to intercede and provide for us, in the same way Jesus will one day return for us, take us out of the world, put an end to this sinful, fallen system of things, replace it with a new Heaven and a new Earth – a new Creation where there is no more mourning, nor crying, nor pain, nor death anymore – He will make all things new. (See Revelation 21:1-4)

The Lord Jesus tells us, “When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days before the Flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the Flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes.

“Two men will be working together in the field; one will be taken, the other left. Two women will be grinding flour at the mill; one will be taken, the other left.

“So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would keep watch and not permit his house to be broken into. You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.” (Matthew 24:37-44)

Which brings us back to being ready, and which brings us back to our God and Father loving us with an everlasting love, and desiring that we love Him in return, which is how He calls us to be ready, by loving Him in return as we wait for His return.

You see, I know that many of you believe in God – that He exists, is all-powerful, even, perhaps, that He is truly good and “filled with light”. But the Lord our God is calling us to more than mere belief, to more than mere acknowledgment of His existence. After all, the devil knows that God exists, and even fears Him. But the devil doesn’t love God, and God is calling us to love Him.

Do you love God? Like a bride is to love her groom, do you love God? Like a child loves and absolutely trusts their parents, do you love God? I think about the ways I love my wife and ask you, When you get ready in the morning, do you think of yourself as getting ready for your Beloved? Would your Beloved feel loved and considered by the modesty of your clothing? When you talk with your friends at work or at school or over the phone, would your Beloved feel loved and considered by the language you use and the subject matter you talk about? When you post onto Facebook, would your Beloved shine at the way your posts and page shows the world your love for Him? When you’re planning the day you’ve been given or the ways you are going to spend the money you have, would your Beloved feel loved and welcome to be a part of your activities what you buy?

When I think of the ways I respect and love my and Amy’s parents I realize that, although I might think they have more time to visit us than we have to visit them, I know that the Bible tells me to honor them if I want a good, long life here; it doesn’t command them to keep on honoring me. Likewise, although I’m always counting on God to be there for me when I want and need Him, I realize that He is God: I need to be there for Him; I need to set apart the time to be with Him, and to work to make it all about Him (especially since I’m so prone to always want to make it about me), and to honor and respect what He says when we meet.

Surprises are going to happen. Tragedies are going to occur. And, unless Jesus returns in our lifetimes, each of us is going to die, as are our parents and our spouses and our children and our other loved ones. Instead of doubting God’s goodness every time something bad happens around us that we don’t understand, and instead of living in anxiety and fear, trying to control every aspect of our lives in ways we were never meant to be in control, how about just being ready for trouble and trials and tragedy whenever it’s going to happen? How about simply returning God’s love?

The Lord our God loves us with an everlasting love, and He desires for us to love Him in return. Are you ready to actively begin pursuing a love-relationship with God and make Him your Beloved? Are you ready?



July 15, 2012 AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

Leviticus, the Third Book of Moses, 4:27-35, 6:26-29 [NLTse]

In a few moments we are going to be celebrating the Lord’s Supper together. It’s a ritual we share at least once a month here at Milford Presbyterian, and oftentimes more.

Have you ever really thought about what you are doing when you eat and drink? Have you ever really thought about why you are eating and drinking at all?

When I eat the Lord’s Supper I believe that – somehow, someway – I’m in the heavenly Temple – that God showed Moses on Mt. Sinai, that we read about in the Revelation, that the Holy Spirit has made all of us Christians into together. I’m in the heavenly Temple participating in a sacrificial meal: I am eating the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world! Jesus is the Lamb I have chosen to offer for my own sins, and yet I am also, myself, a priest of the Most High God offering the sacrifice, and eating the flesh of the sacrifice just offered, and applying its life-blood to my life.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe we’re sacrificing the Lord Jesus over and over and over again (as the Roman Catholic Church used to teach and sometimes still does teach). No, here in the heavenly Temple, here outside of Time in eternity – by the Holy Spirit of God – every time we eat and drink I’m participating in the Lord Jesus’ once-and-for-all sacrifice. By the Holy Spirit I am a sinner confessing my own sins, as we’ve been commanded to do; by the Holy Spirit I am a priest of God eating the sin sacrifice, as we’ve been commanded to do; applying the blood, as we’ve been commanded to.

Just as we’ve read of those Israelites long ago being told to bring a goat or a lamb to the Temple and to confess their sins over it; just as we’ve read of those priests long ago being told how to offer and how to eat the sacrificial meal, I am both offering and sharing in Christ’s sacrificial meal.

I am showing God by my faith – my faith in eating and my faith in believing what the Lord has told me happens in the heavenlies when I eat – I am showing God that Jesus is the sacrifice I have picked, the Lamb I have picked to sacrifice. As I come to the Table I have put my hands on Jesus’ head and I have admitted my sins there. Not just that I’m a sinner, but I have admitted my specific sins while laying my hands on Him. And in His once-and-for-all sacrifice I am refreshing and renewing that Covenant of Grace the Father has offered me – has offered the world – in His Son.

Do I need to – do we need to – eat this bread and drink this cup to be forgiven? No, we’re saved according to the saving-faith His Holy Spirit’s given us. And yet Jesus does say, “As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, do it in remembrance of Me.” So, in order to show Jesus our love for Him we do as He’s asked us. And since we celebrate the Lord’s Supper once a month here at Milford Presbyterian, every month I remember His sacrifice, and let – by faith and by the power of the Holy Spirit doing His work in the heavenly realms – I let this bread and this cup be my sin sacrifice.

And yet, the Lord’s Supper is more than just the “sacrifice for sin” meal. It is also the “Passover” meal: The Lamb we feast upon together here in God’s House (all of us together made into God’s House); and the Lamb’s blood that we apply to our souls by faith; believing that by eating His flesh and applying His blood that the Lord God will protect us from the death-Angel from the Bottomless Pit who’s been given authority to torment and destroy all those who’ve not put their trust in Christ. (You can read more about that in Exodus 12 and in the Trumpet Woes of the Revelation 8:6-9:21.)

We don’t believe the bread becomes the Lord Jesus’ flesh. No, it remains bread. And we don’t believe the cup ever contains His actual blood. No, it’s all the Holy Spirit’s work when we eat by faith and drink by faith: The Holy Spirit applies God’s forgiveness to our souls; the Holy Spirit applies to us God’s protection assuring us of everlasting life! (And, of course, when we don’t eat and drink by faith… well, I hope you enjoy the bread and the juice! J But, beware! You also drink God’s judgment upon yourself!

Even so, the Lord’s Supper is also our sacrifice of praise! The joyful feast of the people of God! The Letter To the Hebrews proclaims of us, “We have an altar from which the priests in the Tabernacle have no right to eat. Under the old system, the high priest brought the blood of animals into the Holy Place as a sacrifice for sin, and the bodies of the animals were burned outside the camp. So also Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates to make His people holy by means of His Own blood. So let us go out to Him, outside the camp, and bear the disgrace He bore. For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.

“Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to His name. And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.” (13:10-16)



July 8, 2012 AD, preached by Pastor Ben Willis

According To Matthew 5:17-48 [NLTse]

Message
As I’ve spoken of several times over the years, every summer my family vacations off the coast of Acadia National Park in northeastern Maine. One of the famous attractions around Acadia is a place called “Thunder Hole”. Thunder Hole is a small inlet, naturally carved out of the rocks, where the coastal waves come crashing in. At the end of the inlet is a small cavern just below the water’s surface. When the tide is right, air gets trapped in this little cavern every time the waves recede. And as each new wave comes breaking in a booming thunder-like sound rumbles as the air explodes out of the little cavern super-compressed by the crashing surf. Water may spout as high as 40 feet with a thunderous roar! And, of course, it’s called “Thunder Hole”.
When I was little (my family’s been vacationing there since before I was born) I remember visiting Thunder Hole. There was no fence around the ledge then: You could walk right up to the overhang and see into the little cavern. They put up the fence because Thunder Hole’s more dangerous than it looks. On sun shiny days, even when storms are hundreds of miles out to sea, their currents crash powerfully against Thunder Hole and can without warning break over the rocky ledge and slam you onto the rocks or suck you back into the sea and carry you away in its fierce rip tide. Even so, when you visit you can regularly see tourists climbing through the fence hoping to catch a glimpse of the cavern and watch the water erupt to spout and spray above them.
I share all this about Thunder Hole with you because of God’s Word to us this morning from the Sermon on the Mount. Elder Neil Frazer read to us the Lord Jesus’ words, “I have not come to abolish the Law… but to accomplish their purpose… I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!”
So let’s start by reminding each other that the cross of Jesus Christ has not done away with the Law of God. The Lord Jesus has revealed to us that human beings don’t have to keep every small detail of the Law to be made right with God and to live with Him here on the Earth and, in the life to come, in the new Heaven and the new Earth. But Jesus clearly says to us today, “…unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!”
Although it’s been popular to teach the impossibility of keeping all of God’s commandments, and how despairing the Jews must have been thinking they needed to keep the Law in order to be saved, the apostle Paul said the Law could be kept, and wrote to the Philippians that he himself had kept it: “5 I was circumcised when I was eight days old,” Paul wrote. “I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin—a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish Law. 6 I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the Law without fault.” (3:5-6)
So though some teach that we Christians no longer need to keep God’s commands because the Lord Jesus has accomplished their purpose on the cross, here the Lord Jesus Himself tells us this is not so: If we ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, we will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But if we obey God’s laws and teach them we will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. And if the Pharisees were able to keep the Law in their own power, how much more ought we be able to keep it, and not just the letter of the Law but the very intention of the Law, as well, having God’s Holy Spirit dwelling inside and empowering our lives!
We don’t keep God’s Law so that He might love us, so that He might adopt us and make us new in this life. No, we keep God’s Law because the Lord Jesus has told us, “If you love Me, obey My commandments,” “those who accept My commandments and obey them are the ones who love Me,” and “all who love Me will do what I say.” (14:15, 21, 23) We obey God’s commandments because God does love us, because God has adopted us and made us new. Because God has done all these things in bringing us to trust Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, we obey God’s commandments because He tells us that’s the way we can show Him our love in return!
But, again, it’s not just keeping the Law – God’s commandments – “do not murder”, “do not covet”, and so on the Lord Jesus calls us to keep, it’s the intention of God’s Law, as well. So the Lord Jesus says, “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder’… But I say, if you are even angry with someone you… if you call someone an idiot… if you curse someone… you are in danger of the fires of Hell…
“You have heard the Law that says, ‘A man can divorce his wife’… But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery…
“You have also heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not break your vows’… But I say, do not make any vows…
“You have heard the Law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye’… But I say, do not resist an evil person…
“You have heard the Law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies!”
Taking God’s commandments and expanding their application was not unique to the Lord Jesus, many of the rabbi’s of Jesus’ day did likewise. (The Lord simply did it with greater authority.) It’s a practice called “fencing the Law”. (And here’s where Thunder Hole comes back in.) Just as Park officials erected the fence to protect people from the dangers of Thunder Hole, the rabbi’s would “fence the Law”, that is, expand upon it and broaden its scope, in order to keep people from breaking it or even violating its intention that can sometimes happen when we get too close.
I told you about the tourists you can see climbing through the fence around Thunder Hole to get a closer look. Well, three of those tourists were swept out to sea one bright sunny day in 2009 because of a severe storm that was raging 300 miles away in the North Atlantic, and 20+ others were hospitalized for broken bones and other injuries after they were slammed against the rocks by just one, freak, pounding wave. That fence was for their good, but they thought they knew better.
Likewise, Christians get angry at those who’ve hurt them, call them names, and even tell horrible stories about them and yet often feel righteous in doing so because at least they didn’t murder them! Our economy thrives by nurturing covetousness, and we Christians often go along – coveting their hair, their car, their clothes, their wife, their husband, their girlfriend, their home, their vacation, on and on – (“lust” is the New Testament word for the Old Testament word “to covet”) and we’ve become convinced it’s okay as long as we aren’t stealing to get it, or committing adultery to get him or her, or lying or cheating to get what we want…
So the Lord Jesus, with God’s Own authority, is “fencing the Law” for us. He’s saying, “Adultery is death, so don’t even lust after someone who’s not yours. Stealing is death, so don’t even covet what’s not yours. Breaking your promises is death, so don’t even make any promises. Retribution leads to death, so don’t even resist those who would do you wrong…” and on and on.
Obeying God’s commandments to us are a big part of the ways God tells us we can show Him we love Him. And disobeying His commands to do what we want or to go along with the crowd in big and little ways nurtures death and suffering in our lives and the lives of those around us.
What ways are you tempted? Which of the commandments do you have the most trouble keeping? I believe the Lord Jesus is offering you and me the blessing today of “fencing these Laws” we struggle with. Do you have trouble saying “no” to your friends when they try to get you to do something you know is wrong? Fence the Law and stop even hanging around with those so-called friends! Do you have trouble not turning into that bar or liquor store parking lot when you drive by? Fence the Law and plan a different route for getting where you need to go that avoids having to drive by such places!
I don’t know each of your struggles, but you don’t need me to erect your “fences” for you anyway. The Lord’s given you His Holy Spirit! Ask Him to help you build a safety “fence” around those commandments you struggle with. You want to show Him your love for Him, and He wants you to show Him your love for Him. You don’t want to nurture death or darkness in the lives of those around you, nor does the Lord want you to be any part of such things. So you can trust the Lord will help you, if you ask planning to carry it out!
Let’s pray and ask Him…

Protect Your children from thinking we need to earn Your love and good gifts
Protect Your children from thinking we can earn Your love and good gifts by keeping Your commandments
Help us be assured and confident of all the good things You have accomplished for us on the cross and the good gifts You have given us in Your resurrection through the Holy Spirit
Teach us Your Law
Make clear to us those commandments we are vulnerable to disobeying
Grant us the wisdom and devotion to build the fences necessary to keep us from temptation and to keep us victoriously showing our love for You