Sermon Series


April 15, 2012 AD, by Pastor Ben Willis

The Prophet Isaiah 8:11-18 [NLTse]

11 The Lord has given me a strong warning not to think like everyone else does. He said,

12 “Don’t call everything a conspiracy, like they do, and don’t live in dread of what frightens them. 13 Make the Lord of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life. He is the One you should fear. He is the One Who should make you tremble. 14 He will keep you safe. But to Israel and Judah He will be a stone that makes people stumble, a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem He will be a trap and a snare. 15 Many will stumble and fall, never to rise again. They will be snared and captured.”

16 Preserve the teaching of God; entrust His instructions to those who follow me. 17 I will wait for the Lord, Who has turned away from the descendants of Jacob. I will put my hope in Him.

18 I and the children the Lord has given me serve as signs and warnings to Israel from the Lord of Heaven’s Armies Who dwells in His Temple on Mount Zion.

The Gospel According to Matthew 7:21-23 [NLTse]

21 “Not everyone who calls out to Me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of My Father in Heaven will enter. 22 On judgment day many will say to Me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in Your name and cast out demons in Your name and performed many miracles in Your name.’ 23 But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from Me, you who break God’s laws.’

The Letter from James 1:19-25 [NLTse]

19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. 20 Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. 21 So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls. 22 But don’t just listen to God’s Word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. 23 For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. 25 But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.

I was looking up the word “disciple” recently. It’s become so equated with Christianity that the first three definitions I found on defined it in that sense. But definition “4” is what I’d like us to think about together today:

A disciple is “a person who is a pupil or an adherent of the doctrines of another; follower: a disciple of Freud.” A “pupil or an adherent of the doctrines of another”; so a disciple is a student: One who studies the teachings of someone. And as Christians that means we study the teachings of God, the good news of Jesus Christ: We study Him; we follow Him; we live Him.

And yet, how? We’re all so different, and our personalities and temperaments can lead us to express the life of Jesus is so many different ways! We see friends and mentors or others we look up to living Jesus’ life around us, and we’re inspired, but their “way” just doesn’t work for us. And so we become discouraged, thinking, “There’s something wrong with me”, or “I should’ve known God wouldn’t want a screw-up like me”, or something similar. But the truer truth may simply be that our friend’s “way” of living Jesus’ life just isn’t our way of living Jesus’ life.

If you look at Jesus’ life across the Word of God there seem to be different, distinct areas of His life with God: We see Christ at prayer, and we listen to His teaching on the life of intimacy with the Father; we see Jesus doing battle with temptation, and we listen to His teaching on the importance of virtue and purity of heart; we see Him doing His ministry empowered by the Holy Spirit, and we listen to His teaching on the comfort, wisdom, strength, and power that come from the indwelling of the Spirit of God; we see our Savior caring for the sick and the needy, and listen to His teaching on the importance of caring for our neighbor; and, we see Him reading from the Scriptures, focused on the lost, and we listen to His teaching on the importance of hearing His Word and doing it. We see each of these distinct-but-overlapping areas of the Lord Jesus’ life being lived out across the history of the Church, as well.

In the fourth century men and women fled the life of the city to found cloisters and monasteries, emphasizing the importance of solitude, meditation, and prayer. St. Augustine was one of these. This renewal of intimacy with God strengthened the Church in that day. We’ve come to speak of that as the contemplative movement.

In the late twelfth century a man named Francis of Assisi abandoned his former life and went about the countryside of Italy caring for the sick, the poor, and the lame. Countless men and women followed Francis’ lead, and the Church’s impact on disease and poverty was remarkable. We’ve called similar crusades across history social justice movements.

In the fifteenth century the Church witnessed a renaissance recognizing the importance of the Bible and preaching. Martin Luther and others provided believers with access to the Bible that had previously been unavailable to them. This resulted in a reawakening of the role of the laity in expressing the life of Christ to the world. The Protestant emphasis upon personal witness and evangelism naturally followed, and we speak of such times as evangelical movements.

In the seventeenth century the Church witnessed a new outbreak of the Holy Spirit in the lives of men and women who were called “Quakers,” led by the ministry of George Fox. The active presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers became the empowering principle behind scores of conversions. The active role of the Spirit was at the center of their worship, and it propelled them into evangelism, missions, and addressing social concerns. An example of charismatic movements.

In the early eighteenth century the Anglican priest John Wesley and his friends (who were nicknamed “the Holy Club”) began focusing on moral laxity and the need for the removal of sinful habits in the life of Christian men and women. Because of the effectiveness of their “method”, the Church once again took sin seriously, and the results were dramatic. This is an example of a holiness movement.

And there have been other, similar movements before and after, the sovereign Lord-of-all stirring up His people to

more intimate devotion;

increased virtue in our thoughts, words, and actions;

a more earnest seeking of the Spirit’s empowerment for ministry;

deeper compassion toward all people; and,

more widespread evangelism to the lost.

The heart of God fully expressed in the Son of God to be fully expressed by the sons and daughters of God.

And so while our friends or mentors may be more drawn to the evangelical life of Christ, we may be more drawn to the holiness life. Where this or that Christian leader may be so boldly living out the charismatic life of Christ, we may recognize the Savior directing us to address His social justice concerns. One Body, one Spirit, one glorious hope for the future; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father Who is over us all and in us all and living through us all, but many ways to live out His fullness here in the world.

And each are important because contemplatives can forget the needs of the world, and moralists focusing on sin can neglect compassion, and charismatics seeking the gifts can neglect the Giver, and social activists can forget to listen to God, and Bible-Study enthusiasts can feel no need for the Holy Spirit…

There’s a special Insert in our Worship Bulletins this morning. It lists some different exercises we can do to strengthen the different aspects of Jesus’ life with God in our lives with Him.

For instance, there’s the contemplative practice of spending time in silence or praying using Scripture; there’s the holiness practice of fasting and of spending an entire day without saying anything negative; there’s the charismatic practices of intentionally yielding to the work of God’s Spirit and finding out our spiritual gifts; the social justice practices of seeking out injustices and of guarding the reputation of others; and, the evangelical practices of memorizing Scripture and telling someone about your faith.

Last week we celebrated in a focused way the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Let’s “turn up” our life of faith a few notches. He is risen! And He has so much more life for us to be living!

April 8, 2012 AD Easter Sermon, by Pastor Ben Willis

Colossians 1:15-20 [NLTse]

15 Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, 16 for through Him God created everything in the Heavenly realms and on Earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see—such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through Him and for Him. 17 He existed before anything else, and He holds all creation together. 18 Christ is also the head of the church, which is His body. He is the beginning, supreme over all who rise from the dead. So He is first in everything. 19 For God in all His fullness was pleased to live in Christ, 20 and through Him God reconciled everything to Himself. He made peace with everything in Heaven and on Earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.

Happy Easter!

Different Sundays you can hear different ones from around our congregation share their testimonies – the stories of how knowing the Lord Jesus has changed our lives. I thought today I’d share mine…

The Lord Jesus once said, “Anyone who listens to My teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears My teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

I was the man who built his house on sand.

“Wadi” is an Arabic term for “valley”, usually referring to dry riverbeds that contain water only during times of heavy rain. Characteristic of desert environments, as you may know, are infrequent, but sudden and heavy, rains that often result in flash floods (with several deaths occurring each year when people cross dry wadis and get caught by the sudden and unexpected flash-flood waters).

And yet nomadic and desert peoples often establish communities around wadis because of the water that can often be found just below the dry surface, and the seasonal vegetation found there.

The Lord Jesus may have shared this illustration of building on bedrock versus building on sand while overlooking a wadi, because the dry riverbed of a wadi would make a solid, and sure foundation for even great construction projects. Except that when the rains fell and the flash-flood waters came, everything would get swept away.

And that’s what my life was like.

I’ve always been a “nice guy”, part of the “in” crowds. And in high school, that was enough to succeed. But when I got out on my own, being nice and well-though-of and trying to do the right thing wasn’t enough. Because you can think the wadi sand is solid all you like, and you can believe it will be the perfect place to begin to make-your-mark all you like. But when your thoughts and beliefs aren’t based on truth, everything you build – time after time after time – is going to get carried away when the floodwaters come.

Like many today, I was very inspired by those who were sincere in their faith. I was a part of a church and had heard many stories about Jesus Christ, but I was equally inspired by the reputation of famed Buddhist’s, stories I heard told about devout Muslims and Hindus. And though the majority of America’s founding fathers were committed Christians, I think it is hard to grow up in America today and not revere the great atheists and deists who were amongst those great men, as well.

So, not know who are what to believe, most often I just went along with the crowd. I didn’t know which religion or groups were right and which were wrong – they all seemed equally sincere – so I figured I’d just follow the majority.

I’ve always been a sensitive soul: Hurting for the underdog; and, for those hurting around me and on the news. Perhaps drawn to my sensitivity, many of my peers and others around me would readily share their confusion and their troubles and regrets with me, seeking advice. And I would respond back with the latest and greatest wisdom I had just read in the latest news magazine or from this or that self-help bestseller.

But it was all sinking sand, because – for a time – this self-help approach would be talked about and promoted and all the rage. But after a while, all the so-called “authorities” and “specialists” would start disparaging that method in favor of some new technique or way of thinking. Which would soon be replaced by even newer and more-improved ways, and on, and on.

No sooner would I build my “house” but it would get swept away. And then I’d build another, but it, too, wouldn’t last. And pretty soon I found myself fearful of building anything at all!

I reached this crisis point during my first semester at seminary – studying to be a pastor, believe it or not. I knew I needed to find a way to change my relationship with God (as I was coming to know Him through Christ), or I needed to begin studying some other religions and find one I could live with integrity.

What brought about the change that has transformed my Christianity to the close, abiding relationship I enjoy with Jesus today? (Please don’t get me wrong: My relationship with Jesus isn’t perfect, but it is close and abiding. J) Believe it or not, what changed things was that I truly began trusting Him. For me, what that meant was, when I read the Bible I began believing what I read instead of doubting it all. If it was something that seemed far-fetched, I gave the One-Who-created-the universe-from-nothing the benefit of the doubt. If passages seemed to contradict, instead of immediately responding, “See, you can’t believe it!” I sought to read more carefully and study histories and commentaries, and I found that a knowledge of history and the details in the passages often showed how, what had seemed conflicting, all fit together quite well.

When modern “authorities” and “specialists” and self-help books said things that would have made the Word of God untrue, I put my trust in the reliability of the Bible, knowing that, as our “authorities” and “specialists” keep changing their minds that, perhaps they would eventually come to agree with the truth there in the Scriptures!

I know all of you here are in so many different places in your lives right now: 1) Maybe religious observances and demands are keeping you down? Well, know that in His day Jesus Christ put an end to the way Sabbath and dietary laws had been twisted to keep people from God, and helped people draw near to God again. And He can help you! 2) If you’re afraid of supernatural forces and evil powers and all the dark things going on in the world; know that Jesus Christ set people free from the demons that bothered and possessed them. He has absolute authority over the powers in the spiritual realm. He can help and protect you. 3) Do you live in constant anxiety about earthquakes, tornadoes, tidal waves, and the frightening storms going on around us? Jesus Christ transformed a raging sea squall into calm, peaceful waters simply by yelling at the waves! He is the almighty! 4) Are you growing weary under a chronic illness that won’t let you go? Or is the chronic illness of a loved one haunting you and breaking your heart? Does death seem to always loom over you, and you’re terrified to die? Jesus of Nazareth healed the blind; He restored the health of lepers; He made fevers leave those He cared for; and, He even brought those who had died back to life! He can take care for you! 5) Perhaps you are carrying so very much pressure, and living in fear and worry about losing your job, and providing for your family, because it feels like it’s all resting squarely on your shoulders? Know today that on two separate occasions Jesus Christ miraculously multiplied a handful of fish and bread loaves to feed more than 5,000 people. Yes, you have to do your part, but you can trust Him to provide for you when you put your trust in Him! 6) Or maybe for you this whole system of things that makes up the world has got you down and afraid and worried and in chains in your own mind. Well, we celebrate today that the powers and leadership and governments of this world threw everything they had at Jesus Christ, even torturing and killing Him in the end. And He beat it! He transformed it all to die for our sins and bring glory to God His Father in Heaven. And then He came back from the dead, showing Himself even more powerful than death itself! He will free you from your fears if you will trust Him. He will free you from your worries if you trust Him. He will set you free!

I tell you from my own experience: If you’re looking for something in your life, you’re looking for Jesus Christ! If you’re hoping for someone to come into your life, trust me, you’re hoping Jesus Christ will come into your life first!

When you get to know Jesus Christ you are getting to know God. He’s the One Who made everything that exists, and everything that exists was made for Him! And everything that exists, including you and me – and, of course, even those people who hate Him – we all find our right place in the world and our true meaning in life only in relationship with Him!

April 1, 2012 AD, Palm Sunday Sermon by Pastor Ben Willis

John 13:1-15 [NLTse]

Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that His hour had come to leave this world and return to His Father. He had loved His disciples during His ministry on Earth, and now He loved them to the very end. 2 It was time for supper, and the devil had already prompted Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had given Him authority over everything and that He had come from God and would return to God. 4 So He got up from the table, took off His robe, wrapped a towel around His waist, 5 and poured water into a basin. Then He began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel He had around Him.

6 When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to Him, “Lord, are You going to wash my feet?”

7 Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.”

8 “No,” Peter protested, “You will never ever wash my feet!”

Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to Me.”

9 Simon Peter exclaimed, “Then wash my hands and head as well, Lord, not just my feet!”

10 Jesus replied, “A person who has bathed all over does not need to wash, except for the feet, to be entirely clean. And you disciples are clean, but not all of you.” 11 For Jesus knew who would betray Him. That is what He meant when He said, “Not all of you are clean.”

12 After washing their feet, He put on His robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? 13 You call Me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. 14 And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. 15 I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.

The Book of Acts shows us the earliest days, months, and years of the Christian church. Fifty days following the Lord Jesus’ resurrections, 120 disciples gathered to pray together in an upper room. By the end of that first Christian Pentecost the Holy Spirit had called out 3,000 others to join them in living by our faith. And within several months the Holy Spirit had added more than 5,000 more!

If you’d open your Bibles or a pew Bible to Acts 6… We read, “But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food.”

Here we see the Twelve – who were the elders of that large, growing congregation – continuing in our Savior’s pattern of service: And we read specifically of the ways they were caring for that first church’s many widows.

Notice with me the difference between the focus of the leaders and the focus of those others who made up the church: We see the Twelve concerned with serving those needy women, as well as, a little farther along, their desire to serve the many across Jerusalem who had not yet received the gospel; at the same time we see the widows and other members of the church complaining that they weren’t being served in the ways they wanted to be and thought they should be.

There may be many characteristics that set apart true Christian leaders from other Christians around Christ’s church, but one of those characteristics surely must be having a servant’s heart: Seeking to serve others rather than to be served; concerned about other’s welfare even at the expense of our own; no matter how demeaning or demanding that service might be.

In the spirit of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I want to call us all to nurture in ourselves the Lord Jesus’ holy spirit of servitude in our lives.

Perhaps you’re a leader; maybe you’re not; but, whatever we are, we know, according to our faith, that the Lord lives in us and is calling us to follow Him, even in serving.

Maybe for different ones of us that means we’ll start cleaning our rooms without being asked or making sure we’re home when we say we’ll be. Or perhaps we’ll start getting our reports handed in on-time like our boss is always asking or begin changing our habits to get more work done and be spending less time chatting or around the water cooler.

Around here we could serve the Worship Hosts by cleaning out our pews when we leave, and serve our Sextons and one another by throwing away our trash and straightening up rooms as we’re leaving. Letting other cars cut in front of us when we see them signaling is another way to serve, as is staying off their tails as we follow them along…

And yet, truly serving others is a lot more than simply doing this or not doing that. It’s an attitude: Considering others as being more important than ourselves – other’s time more important than our time, other’s reputations as more important than our reputations, other’s property more important than what we want to do or what may be convenient for us at the time.

Serving is a mindset. It’s thinking, “I’ll do that so so-an-so won’t have to.” “I’ll suffer so the other person won’t need to.” Even disciplining our thinking towards: “What can I be doing to serve others and those in need, even in the midst of my busy schedule, today?”

We live in a day where airplane pilots are reportedly acting dangerously; and postal workers and students are threatening and taking out their rage on those around them; where racial fears and hatreds are being nurtured and allowed to blow following sad and heart-breaking deaths; where me-me-me is encouraged focus, and we’re told to do this and do that because we deserve it and because we’re worth it…

[Invite the Elders forward…]

You call me “Shepherd” and “Teacher” and you are right because that’s what I am. And since I, your shepherd and teacher have washed your feet, you should wash each other’s and other’s feet. Christ has given us an example to follow. Let us do as He has done to us.