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Sermon Series

 

“A Tale of Two Sins”September 10, 2017 A.D.by Pastor Ben Willis

SERMON
THE PROPHET HOSEA 14:1-9 [NLTse]

Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for your sins have brought you down. 2 Bring your confessions, and return to the Lord. Say to Him, “Forgive all our sins and graciously receive us, so that we may offer you our praises. 3 Assyria cannot save us, nor can our warhorses. Never again will we say to the idols we have made, ‘You are our gods.’ No, in You alone do the orphans find mercy.”
4 The Lord says, “Then I will heal you of your faithlessness; My love will know no bounds, for My anger will be gone forever. 5 I will be to Israel like a refreshing dew from heaven. Israel will blossom like the lily; it will send roots deep into the soil like the cedars in Lebanon. 6 Its branches will spread out like beautiful olive trees, as fragrant as the cedars of Lebanon. 7 My people will again live under My shade. They will flourish like grain and blossom like grapevines. They will be as fragrant as the wines of Lebanon.
8 “O Israel, stay away from idols! I am the One Who answers your prayers and cares for you. I am like a tree that is always green; all your fruit comes from Me.”
9 Let those who are wise understand these things. Let those with discernment listen carefully. The paths of the Lord are true and right, and righteous people live by walking in them. But in those paths sinners stumble and fall.

SERMON
How many of us, here (don’t raise your hands), believe that human beings are basically good, but sometimes we make mistakes (we “sin” the Bible calls it) and so, sometimes, we need Jesus’ forgiveness and help. (Again, please don’t raise your hands, or anything.)

With that question in mind, let me read to us all from Ephesians (a letter Paul wrote to the Christians who were living in Ephesus, Greece, at that time). Paul writes: “Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.” (2:1-3) And then Paul goes on to write about the change Christ brings into people’s lives when we trust in Him.

So, God the Holy Spirit (through Paul) says that before we put our trust in Jesus that you and I were dead because of our disobeying God and because of our sins. He says that everyone in the world is like that: Dead because of disobeying God and because of sin. Either people are “living” obeying Jesus or people are “dead”, obeying the devil and refusing to obey God. (But even those who are alive and obeying Jesus were at one time dead, obeying the devil and refusing to obey God.)

The Holy Spirit (through Paul) talks about life before Christ a different way in Romans (the letter Paul wrote to the Christians who lived in Rome, Italy at that time). He says, “No one is righteous—not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God. All have turned away; all have become useless. No one does good, not a single one. Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave. Their tongues are filled with lies. Snake venom drips from their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. They rush to commit murder. Destruction and misery always follow them. They don’t know where to find peace. They have no fear of God at all.” (3:10-18)

Notice that the Bible isn’t talking, here, about evil, wicked people. The Bible is talking, here, about all people. “No one is righteous.” “No one is seeking God.” “All have turned away.” “All have become useless.” “No one does good.”
But then a person – you or me, perhaps – puts their trust in Jesus Christ: “I believe Jesus conquered death and was resurrected from the dead; I believe Jesus is God, God’s one and only Son; I believe He died to serve the punishment I deserve for my sins; I believe that He loves me and is good and that He has a good plan for my life; I believe I can trust Him, and that He’ll be with me always to comfort and guide me…”

And something happens after a person – you or me, perhaps – puts their trust in Jesus: God forgives that person for all the sins they’ve ever done, are doing, and will ever do in the future, and from that point forward God looks at that Christian and treats that Christian as though they had never ever done anything wrong but had always behaved perfectly! (God forgiving us all of our sins – past, present, and future – is called being “justified” because of our faith, and God always looking upon us as though we were absolutely perfect-in-every-way is called being “sanctified” in His eyes.)

So, that’s how God thinks about us and that’s how God looks upon us. (Such amazing grace. Such amazing love.)
But you and I know, even though we have believed in Jesus, that we still sin and we are still far from perfect. Yes, God looks at us and treats us as though we had never sinned and were perfect (we have been justified, we have been sanctified) but there’s another kind of sanctification than just the way God looks at us. There’s a kind of sanctification that has to do with how much we’re sinning today as opposed to how much we were sinning yesterday or the day before or the year before that. And that’s a process. We are fully sanctified in God’s eyes, but we are being sanctified day by day: That is, we are sinning less today than yesterday or last year as we trust God more and more and obey Him more on account of our growing faith.

You see, Christians will always be sinners. The Bible says in 1 John, “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth.” (1:8) The Bible says that to the one reading it who is not yet a Christian, to the one reading it who has just become a Christian, and to the one reading it who just turned 100 and has been a Christian their whole life! “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth.”

Our whole lives long there will always be temptations we give in to. There will always be better days and worse days. And, as we grow closer to the Lord year after year after year of trusting in Him, we will grow in understanding sin better and better and see sins in ourselves that we never had noticed being a part of our lives before.

I share this all with you today because we Christians seem to tend towards two different attitudes about sin: Either we don’t take sin very seriously, thinking we’re not so bad, that sinning is not so bad, and so we never make much progress against our sinful ways and hurtful habits; or, when we realize we’ve sinned it’s as though the world has come to the end and we live in fear of ever being discovered and think we’re no good and believe we could never be loved by God because we’re so foul.

But, both of these attitudes are twisted. The Christian who doesn’t think he or she is so bad doesn’t understand what it’s like to die on a cross. Jesus suffered horribly on the cross. Crucifixion is one of the sickest ways human beings have ever devised to kill each other. And if the perfect Lord Jesus Christ had to die that kind of horrible, torturous death for our sin, then our sin must be horrible and torturous (whether we think so or not)!

The Christian who thinks he or she is an abomination each and every time they sin hasn’t understood the cross, either. Because the perfect Lord Jesus died a horrible, torturous death there, and He did not die a horrible and torturous death so that we could continue to beat up on ourselves and hate and condemn ourselves and refuse to forgive ourselves for our sins. No, He died a horrible and torturous death so that we would be assured that He had indeed served the punishment for our sins, so that we would be confident that we’ve been forgiven and live grateful to Him forever because of it!



“God is Speaking, Are We Listening?”September 03, 2017 A.D.by Pastor Ben Willis

SERMON
THE PROPHET DANIEL 7:1-13 [NLTse]

Earlier, during the first year of King Belshazzar’s reign in Babylon, Daniel had a dream and saw visions as he lay in his bed. He wrote down the dream, and this is what he saw. 2 In my vision that night, I, Daniel, saw a great storm churning the surface of a great sea, with strong winds blowing from every direction. 3 Then four huge beasts came up out of the water, each different from the others.
4 The first beast was like a lion with eagles’ wings. As I watched, its wings were pulled off, and it was left standing with its two hind feet on the ground, like a human being. And it was given a human mind.
5 Then I saw a second beast, and it looked like a bear. It was rearing up on one side, and it had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. And I heard a voice saying to it, “Get up! Devour the flesh of many people!”
6 Then the third of these strange beasts appeared, and it looked like a leopard. It had four bird’s wings on its back, and it had four heads. Great authority was given to this beast.
7 Then in my vision that night, I saw a fourth beast—terrifying, dreadful, and very strong. It devoured and crushed its victims with huge iron teeth and trampled their remains beneath its feet. It was different from any of the other beasts, and it had ten horns.
8 As I was looking at the horns, suddenly another small horn appeared among them. Three of the first horns were torn out by the roots to make room for it. This little horn had eyes like human eyes and a mouth that was boasting arrogantly.
9 I watched as thrones were put in place and the Ancient One sat down to judge. His clothing was as white as snow, His hair like purest wool. He sat on a fiery throne with wheels of blazing fire, 10 and a river of fire was pouring out, flowing from His presence. Millions of angels ministered to Him; many millions stood to attend Him. Then the court began its session, and the books were opened.
11 I continued to watch because I could hear the little horn’s boastful speech. I kept watching until the fourth beast was killed and its body was destroyed by fire. 12 The other three beasts had their authority taken from them, but they were allowed to live a while longer.
13 As my vision continued that night, I saw someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of Heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into His presence. 14 He was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey Him. His rule is eternal—it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed.

SERMON: “God Is Speaking – Are You Listening?
What a wonderful and terrible week! Among the wonderful things: Those of you reading through the Bible this year with the daily readings from our Worship Bulletins and The Daily Walk Devotional read of the many different ways God uses to speak to people to get our attention and grant us direction. We’ve read of God giving messages in dreams to unbelievers for believers to help them understand, of His writing messages on a wall (literally) to have believers help the unbelievers understand, and of giving and explaining dreams and visions to us believers personally as a way of helping us be ready for the future He’s bringing…

Of course, among the terrible things this week was the never-ending storm and its path of destruction along the Texas coast. And yet, even there, as we were just sharing about in our prayers, the Lord has been speaking and revealing Himself, His plans, and His purposes to those who are watching and listening…

Across the Bible we see the Lord speaking to His people through dreams: To reveal His plans, to further His plans, and to put His people into positions and places of influence. For instance, the LORD reminded Abraham of the covenant they’d made together using a dream. The Lord protected Abraham’s wife, Sarah, by giving Abraham’s enemy, Abimelech, a dream. Joseph (of “Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” fame) dreamed and could interpret the dreams of others. His unwisely sharing his own dreams got him into trouble with his family, and his interpreting others dreams got him promoted to the prime minister-ship of Egypt where God used him to not only save the nation of Egypt through a crippling famine but also to save Joseph’s own family, providing for God’s promises to continue being fulfilled.

The prophet Samuel was given his first vision as a young boy (kids, take note: God loves you and wants to be close to you and speaking to you these ways, too), and Samuel was eventually led to anoint David king of Israel! God spoke to King Solomon in a dream that set the course for Solomon’s effective years of leadership. Of course, Daniel, as we read this past week, had many dreams and visions himself and was used by God to interpret the dreams of many others, which elevated him to positions of great influence for God, even while he was in foreign lands living among unbelievers. (Kind of like many of our situations today.) But this was not a merely Old Testament phenomenon.

Do you remember that Mary’s husband, Joseph, was given dreams to guide him towards marrying Mary and to protecting Jesus by having them escape slaughter by fleeing to Egypt? Pontius Pilate’s wife was given dreams she shared with her husband at the time of Jesus’ trial. The Gentile, Cornelius, was given a dream leading him to invite the apostle Peter to his home, and Peter was given a vision that led him to go to Cornelius’ and to share the good news with Cornelius’ whole household, and they became the first non-Jewish Christians! And, of course, the entire Book of Revelation is one vision – one waking dream – after another that’s been encouraging Christians to live by faith and stay the course and to trust God and remain faithful ever since.

And God used one natural disaster after another to lead the Israelites in “exodus” out of their slavery in Egypt. And He used wind and flooding to help Israel conquer militarily-superior enemies. And used year-after-year of drought to show those who worshiped the false-god Baal that He – the LORD, the great I AM – alone was truly the Almighty and the only god deserving of human worship! And He used the movement of the Earth and the heavenly bodies around our solar system and galaxy to announce to the Wise Men the birth of Jesus Christ. And used an eclipse and torrential rain and an earthquake to draw attention to Jesus’ death on the cross paying the penalty for sin and bringing us back from being separated from God.

God is speaking! All Heaven declares the wonders of the risen Lord! And yet, not every dream or vision is from our Father (though I do believe the Lord is making at least a point in every storm and natural disaster). But with that said, not every dream-interpreter speaks God’s truth, nor is every so-called prophet true when preaching and prophesying the imminent end of the world…

But our Father is speaking to us, and wants us to understand what He’s saying! Are we listening? And do we truly feel able to understand, especially when He’s speaking in such unconventional ways?

Job’s friend, Elihu, says this about the Lord: “God speaks again and again, though people do not recognize it. He speaks in dreams, in visions of the night, when deep sleep falls on people as they lie in their beds. He whispers in their ears…” (Job 33:14-16) And the apostle Peter quoted the Word the LORD gave the prophet Joel, that, “In the last days, I will pour out My Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17 quoting Joel 2:28) And in the context of that promise, the Lord is clearly speaking to Peter and to Joel about more than just young men and old men being given His visions and dreams.

Does anybody here dream alot? … As I’ve already said, not every dream we have is God-given. Some weird dreams seem to be just the after-effects of having eaten something weird. ? Other dreams seem to merely be the overflow of our mind not being able to stop after a busy day. Other dreams seem to be “purging dreams” where our minds replay the day’s events and work through all the emotions we – in those moments of the day – pushed aside. Of course, dreams can also be from Satan. (The enemy of our souls isn’t ignorant of the power of visions.) But, when we start to be more aware of our dreams as perhaps being from the Lord, we may find He is seeking to speak to us in such ways more than we thought…

Dreams and visions (and visions are simply dreams that we are given while we are awake) are primarily made up of symbolic images and allegorical circumstances: That is, a beast might represent a kingdom, or a tree might represent a kingdom; a star might represent a human or an angelic messenger; and the Lord walking among a bunch of menorah might represent God’s presence with His worldwide Church; etc…

In your dreams the Lord will use symbols that are familiar and personal to you and your understanding, and yet He might also use universal symbols that can be found in the Scriptures to get His message through to you. God customizes our dreams for each of us specifically. For instance, two people have dreams about their fathers. If one of them had a good relationship with their dad, their father in their dream might represent the Lord. If the other person had a bad relationship with their dad, their father in their dream might represent their own anger (that their dad stirred up or left behind), or, likewise, bitterness, or even hurts…

Of course, anything God says, whether through a dream, vision, impression, or “still small voice,” will always agree completely with what He has already revealed to us in His Word. Dreams do not have more authority than Scripture. Compare the content of your dream and its message to the Bible; if anything seems to contradict God’s Word or His nature, it is wise to disregard the dream—even if the dream comes true. The enemy can and will bring dreams to pass in the hopes of tempting us to put more faith in our dreams than in God’s Word. (And then use future dreams to lure us from the Lord.) (I know I horribly sad story about a woman who asked God for a baby, but when the Lord miraculously made her pregnant, on account of a dream, she aborted the baby, and in her upset, divorced her husband, and has been living in pain and misery ever since.)

But let me say this to all of us with regard to those dreams that God is giving us to reveal His plans to us and our place in those plans. First, know that ninety-five percent of dream-material refers to the dreamer rather than to anyone who might be being dreamed about. One of the greatest dangers in dream-interpretation is thinking that you’re getting guidance for other people. Almost always it’s about you.

So, when you dream about your husband or your wife, know that the dream may not necessarily be referring to your mate.
The message may be about what you, the dreamer, are “married to” emotionally or spiritually. Likewise, when other people are in our dreams, those persons are almost always a part of us being represented in our dreams by these others…
An often helpful procedure for hearing what God may be trying to say through our dreams is something like this:
First, write down your dream immediately upon waking up, if you can. (Interrupt your sleep to write it down, if necessary. Turn on a light. Get a pen and piece of paper. And write it down.) Some Christians who dream a lot keep a pen, pad, and bedside lamp nearby just for this purpose.

Second, write down the big events going on in your life right then. Include any major fears or worries you’re aware of being tempted by. (This context is helpful as you talk to others and pray in seeking to understand your dream.)
Then, talk the dream out with a trusted person. Let their questions, ideas, and insights add wisdom to interpreting your dream. (Notice I said “add wisdom”. Their insights and ideas might not be right. And yet they may be, or they may help you move towards God’s truth about it all.)
If there were symbols or images in your dream that are a mystery to you (because sometimes we know as soon as we wake up what this or that person or event stood for), look up the symbols that confuse you – those analogies and images that seem so strange – in your Bible. How does the Lord use those symbols and similar situations? You can also visit websites that deal with symbols and imagery. (You want to conduct this research prayerfully and sharing your findings with that trusted friend, because there’s a lot of folks out there that want to be known for interpreting dreams, but their work and messages are only from themselves and not from the Lord.)

After you’ve done all this homework and research, take the significant insights, leadings, and questions you’ve gathered to prayer. Meditate on these things. Ask the Lord to speak to you, to guide your thoughts, to reveal that which is still hidden. Since working to interpret dreams is not the same as God giving someone the gift of interpreting dreams, after all you’ve done the Lord may reveal things completely to you, but even if not, you can trust that, if you’ve been diligent, He will reveal to you that which He most wants you to understand.

The LORD is speaking, my brothers and sisters! He wants to reveal to us what He alone knows about us and the plans He has for us. No other god, no other power, no other force has ever shown themselves so willing to be known by, heard by, and be close with His people. No other god has shown Himself to be like this God and Father of our Lord Jesus Who gave His one and only Son to die for our sins so that we might be brought near, and get to live with Him, now and forever!



“Love Lost & Found”August 20, 2017 A.D.by Pastor Ben Willis

THE PROPHET EZEKIEL 16:1-15 [NLTse]
Then another message came to me from the Lord: 2 “Son of man, confront Jerusalem with her detestable sins. 3 Give her this message from the Sovereign Lord: You are nothing but a Canaanite! Your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. 4 On the day you were born, no one cared about you. Your umbilical cord was not cut, and you were never washed, rubbed with salt, and wrapped in cloth. 5 No one had the slightest interest in you; no one pitied you or cared for you. On the day you were born, you were unwanted, dumped in a field and left to die.

6 “But I came by and saw you there, helplessly kicking about in your own blood. As you lay there, I said, ‘Live!’ 7 And I helped you to thrive like a plant in the field. You grew up and became a beautiful jewel. Your breasts became full, and your body hair grew, but you were still naked. 8 And when I passed by again, I saw that you were old enough for love. So I wrapped My cloak around you to cover your nakedness and declared My marriage vows. I made a covenant with you, says the Sovereign Lord, and you became Mine.

9 “Then I bathed you and washed off your blood, and I rubbed fragrant oils into your skin. 10 I gave you expensive clothing of fine linen and silk, beautifully embroidered, and sandals made of fine goatskin leather. 11 I gave you lovely jewelry, bracelets, beautiful necklaces, 12 a ring for your nose, earrings for your ears, and a lovely crown for your head. 13 And so you were adorned with gold and silver. Your clothes were made of fine linen and costly fabric and were beautifully embroidered. You ate the finest foods—choice flour, honey, and olive oil—and became more beautiful than ever. You looked like a queen, and so you were! 14 Your fame soon spread throughout the world because of your beauty. I dressed you in My splendor and perfected your beauty, says the Sovereign Lord.
15 “But you thought your fame and beauty were your own…

SERMON – Part 1
You know, you were nothing but a… No one was interested in you. No one pitied you. No one truly cared for you. You were unwanted. Dumped…
But God saw you… Yes, God saw you. He commanded you, “Live. Live!”
And He helped you to thrive. And you grew. And you were a treasure!
And the LORD declared His love for you. And the LORD made Marriage Vows with you and entered into a Covenant with you. And you were His!

And He gave you good times and good feelings; and He gave you what you needed when you needed it; and He promised He would always be with you and that you would always be with Him; and He showed you how to turn the other cheek and how to overcome evil with good and promised you power to accomplish all that He would ever call you to; and He assured you of absolute security – forever, for always – through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.
But you made it all about you.
You lost your “first love”.

This idea of losing our “first love” comes from the Bible’s Book of Revelation. After showing Himself alive to John the apostle in a fireworks display of sound and lights in a vision, the Lord Jesus – conqueror of Death and raised from the dead – dictates to John seven letters to be delivered to seven local churches that were representative of all churches across all Time. And to the church in Ephesus, the Lord Jesus said, “I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not… You have patiently suffered for Me without quitting.

“But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love Me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to Me and do the works you did at first.”

Do you remember when the Lord was first pursuing you with His wonderful, making-everything-new love? Of course, then He moved into your life. And you found out He wanted to take up an incredible amount of your space! He started turning everything upside-down and inside out. He wanted you to share everything with Him. He wanted you to talk to Him. He wanted you to consult Him about all your decisions. He was always there, always watching, demanding everything!
But it was okay because it was so new and so exhilarating to be so wanted, so loved, so treasured and sought after by… by God! It wasn’t ever necessarily comfortable. It didn’t always feel easy, or cozy. His love demanded everything! And it sure didn’t feel so very miraculous when He was busy rearranging your entire life! But, O, to be so loved! …
Over time you got used to it. It happens sometimes with love. Fast-forward a few years and you’ve gotten used to God. He’s always around. And you can hardly remember what it felt like to be without Him, you can hardly remember a time when you didn’t know God’s love. You get used to it. You start to take Him for granted…

And now, sometimes, you struggle holding on to the truth that He loves you because He has hurt you, too, along the way. You’ve heard the words, “God loves you and He has a wonderful plan for your life!” But you’ve looked around, and maybe it seems to you that your life’s not all that wonderful. And you wonder, how can a loving God, an all-powerful God, let this bad stuff happen? And you struggle wondering how to keep on trusting in the love of this God when you’re so disappointed? So disappointed in Him; so disappointed in yourself…

Marriage experts want to make sure we all understand that love grows: It twists and changes to keep up with and make room for the new discoveries that our lives together across the years reveal to us about each other. Our relationship with Abba can’t go back to the rush and zealous thrills of that fullness of time when we were born again – made new as we trusted in Christ Jesus! We know too much – about God, about ourselves – we know too much to go backwards to those ignorant, “holy-high” days. No. But we can go back to that “first love”.

TO THE ROMANS 5:6-11 [NLTse]
When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. 7 Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. 8 But God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. 9 And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, He will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of His Son while we were still His enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of His Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.

SERMON – Part 2
On the cross the Lord Jesus made us friends. On the cross the Lord Jesus made us children. On the cross the Lord Jesus made us lovers. We don’t need to seek after pleasure. We don’t need to scurry for possessions. We don’t need to scratch for position. We don’t need to strive after power. We don’t need to sue for protection. All of this is ours as we put our faith in Jesus Christ each day.
But do we believe that?
Do you believe that?

Everything we need – all that we were made for – we’ve been given in Jesus Christ.
Meditate on that as you begin the long commute to work and see if the Holy Spirit doesn’t deal with your road rage.
Meditate on that when facing the bullies in school or at work and see if the Holy Spirit doesn’t grant you the grace to overcome.

Meditate on that in your conflicts with your husband or wife or children or parents and see if the Holy Spirit doesn’t bring you to your knees and to repentance.

O how He loves you and me… O how He loves you and me… He gave His life, what more could He give? O how He loves you; O how He loves me; O how He loves you and me…
It’s not about you or me bringing about change in ourselves. It’s about letting ourselves be transformed by the truth and power of His love.
[If you want to cooperate with Him in that way, see How To Fall In Love With God All Over Again