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Sermon Series

 

June, 26, AD2011, “Make Time Every Day” Pastor Ben Willis

Leviticus 26:1-13 [NLTse]

1 “Do not make idols or set up carved images, or sacred pillars, or sculptured stones in your land so you may worship them. I AM the Lord your God. 2 You must keep My Sabbath days of rest and show reverence for My sanctuary. I AM the Lord.

 


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June 5, AD2011 – “Eternal Questions”, Pastor Ben Willis

In just a few moments a bunch of our congregation’s teenagers are going to be promising themselves to Jesus Christ. Some of these teens were promised to Christ by their parents when they were baptized while very young. These teens will be “confirming” those baptismal vows now that they have reached the age of responsibility, and be making those promises afresh for themselves. Two of our teens have never been baptized; dedicated to Christ, perhaps, promised in their parents’ hearts, perhaps. They will be baptized here among us this morning.

Both groups of teens will be asked the same questions, making the same promises, the same commitments…

The first question is this: “Who is your lord and savior?” Raised up in a free and democratic society a question asking, “Who is your lord?” is a foreign one. We Americans have been taught that we are our own people, we belong to ourselves, subject to no lord or master or king. And so this very first question gets to the very heart of who we think we are, and who we are choosing to be. It is a question about subjection. To answer this question we must believe that we do not belong to ourselves; that we are not our own; that we do indeed have a lord, a master, a king to whom we owe our loyalty and obedience. Answering that this same one is our savior means we believe we owe this lord and master and king our loyalty and obedience because he has saved us when we could not save ourselves.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 states: “You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price.” And Romans 14:7-9 continues the thought: “For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Christ died and rose again for this very purpose – to be Lord both of the living and the dead.

When we become Christians, the Holy Spirit comes to live in us. Therefore, we no longer own ourselves. Christ’s death freed us from sin but also obligates us to His service. If you live in a building owned by someone else, you try not to violate the building’s rules. Because we belong to God, as our Lord and Savior we commit our lives to fulfill His standards and purposes for our lives.

Who is your lord and savior?

Our teens, having committed themselves to Jesus Christ – their Lord and Savior, the second question we’ll be asking is this: “Do you trust Him?”

I think of that as a question of intention: Because each and every one of us has all manner of sad & upsetting and thrilling & joyful experiences happening across our lives. And it can take great faith – great trust – in the midst of these varied situations and happenings to be confident that the Lord God has love for us in them all; that His plan and purpose will be achieved through them all; and that His plan and purpose is to love us, and through these experiences to form us into the likeness of Christ Himself.

2 Timothy 1:9 tells us, “For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was His plan from before the beginning of time – to show us His grace through Christ Jesus.” You and can wholeheartedly follow and obey Him as our Lord and Savior because we trust – through all our troubles and trials, that – His plans and purposes for me are loving and good.

Jesus Christ: Do you trust Him?

If we do, the next question we’re asked is: “Do you intend to be His disciple, obey His Word, and show His love?” If the first question was one of subjection and the second a question of intention, this third question is surely one of commitment to transformation. This question assumes that no matter how good or how moral my life, that my Lord and Savior – Jesus Christ – is calling me to change.

“But change to be like what, to be like who? Do I try to act like the pastor, or do I pick out my Sunday School Teacher or one of the Elders to emulate?” Perhaps. But ultimately the One we’re called to be like is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. So by answering this question we are committing ourselves to get to know our Lord and Savior: To read the Bible and get to know about Him; to read the Bible and get to recognize His voice; to talk to Him in prayer and to listen for His response through His Word or through our circumstances or through the words and counsel of others.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 encourages us: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip His people to do every good work.” So we’ll read the Bible and pray and shape our lives according to what we read and hear…

The last question: “Will you be a faithful member of Christ’s Church, giving of yourself in every way? And will you seek out the fellowship of other Christians wherever you may be?” It’s a question about belonging: We’ve committed that we’re no longer our own and that we now belong to Christ. We believe He has good plans for us, even when bad things happen! And we have committed ourselves to work with Him – as we get to know Him better and better through His Spirit and His Word – to become more like Him, as He’s shown Himself to us in Christ. But not everyone around us is like this. Not many at all have been called out of society to be so focused and committed to Christ.

And so the Lord has established for Himself a community of people made up of those who have been called out and set apart, just like us. This new community is called “The Church”. It has many names. (“First Presbyterian” is just one of the names.) And its made up of folks of every color and every nationality; its people speak every language and live at all ranges of the economic and intellectual spectrums. But it is one body, this Church. It is one community – no matter our variety or differences. United around our one, common faith and trust in our one, common Lord and Savior; all of us committed, together to be His disciples, obey His Word, and show His love…

As Ephesians 2:19-21 states: “So now you are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens long with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. Together, we are His house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus Himself. We are carefully joined together in Him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Through Him you are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by His Spirit.”

The Church is our new family; we’re a part of a new community, the household of God, the Body of Christ.



May 29, AD2011 – “He Calls Us Together”, Pastor Ben Willis

Leviticus 17:1-16 [NLTse]

1Then the Lord said to Moses, 2“Give the following instructions to Aaron and his sons and all the people of Israel. This is what the Lord has commanded.

3“If any native Israelite sacrifices a bulla or a lamb or a goat anywhere inside or outside the camp 4instead of bringing it to the entrance of the Tabernacleb to present it as an offering to the Lord, that person will be as guilty as a murderer.c Such a person has shed blood and will be cut off from the community. 5The purpose of this rule is to stop the Israelites from sacrificing animals in the open fields. It will ensure that they bring their sacrifices to the priest at the entrance of the Tabernacle, so he can present them to the Lord as peace offerings. 6Then the priest will be able to splatter the blood against the Lord’s altar at the entrance of the Tabernacle, and he will burn the fat as a pleasing aroma to the Lord. 7The people must no longer be unfaithful to the Lord by offering sacrifices to the goat idols.d This is a permanent law for them, to be observed from generation to generation.

8“Give them this command as well. If any native Israelite or foreigner living among you offers a burnt offering or a sacrifice 9but does not bring it to the entrance of the Tabernacle to offer it to the Lord, that person will be cut off from the community.

10“And if any native Israelite or foreigner living among you eats or drinks blood in any form, I will turn against that person and cut him off from the community of your people, 11for the life of the body is in its blood. I have given you the blood on the altar to purify you, making you right with the Lord.e It is the blood, given in exchange for a life, that makes purification possible. 12That is why I have said to the people of Israel, ‘You must never eat or drink blood—neither you nor the foreigners living among you.’

13“And if any native Israelite or foreigner living among you goes hunting and kills an animal or bird that is approved for eating, he must drain its blood and cover it with earth. 14The life of every creature is in its blood. That is why I have said to the people of Israel, ‘You must never eat or drink blood, for the life of any creature is in its blood.’ So whoever consumes blood will be cut off from the community.

15“And if any native-born Israelites or foreigners eat the meat of an animal that died naturally or was torn up by wild animals, they must wash their clothes and bathe themselves in water. They will remain ceremonially unclean until evening, but then they will be clean. 16But if they do not wash their clothes and bathe themselves, they will be punished for their sin.”

 

Footnotes:
a 17:3 Or cow.

b 17:4a Hebrew Tent of Meeting; also in 17:5, 6, 9.

c 17:4b Hebrew will be guilty of blood.

d 17:7 Or goat demons.

e 17:11 Or to make atonement for you.

Oftentimes non-Christians try to label God as being controlling, wanting us to do what He wants the way He wants it done, as though for no reason. As a pastor I get an earful of these accusations, and especially in situations having to do with our reading this morning. In these opening verses the Lord tells us He wants His people to come to His place of worship to offer our sacrifices. As New Covenant people, the New Testament speaks of “sacrifices of praise” and the “collection of offerings” and “surrendering our will” and Christians have often come to associate these things with our Sunday Worship Services.

But folks around our community regularly call me asking to have their newborn baptized or if I would conduct their weddings. As a part of that conversation I always ask them where they go to church. And most often they tell me: “You don’t have to go to church to worship God.” (To which I always respond, “Of course you don’t.”) And then they will often chime in with some litany about how the woods are their Sanctuary and that they worship when they go hunting, or that God seems so close to them when they are working in their garden, or something like that. And yet the Lord makes clear to us directly or indirectly across the pages of Scripture that He wants us to be together with other believers and come to His place.

Why do you think that’s important to Him?

Before I became a Christian I used to read about things God wanted from us or demanded from us in the Bible and I would ask, “What does He want that for?” accusing Him of demanding too much or being unfair. I’ve changed since putting my trust in Christ. Instead of accusing God, I’ve begun trying to believe His Word, and trying to understand – if I can – what benefits, what light, what life might result from His various commands. Most of the time much becomes clear that way, and I get more and more encouraged what a loving and perfect Father we have. But even when I can’t comprehend, still I try to trust and obey Him anyway…

So when I read this passage, I asked, “What problems might arise if sacrifices were offered in an uncontrolled context? How would limiting sacrifices to the Tabernacle reduce these problems?” And I tried to think of the good things God might have for us in keeping such commands, and the blessings He might want to bestow.

First, I got thinking about unity, being the “Body of Christ.” How can we be a part of each other if we don’t spend time together to get to know each other: each other’s strengths and weaknesses; each other’s needs; personality quirks; so that we might have the opportunities to forgive one another and support one another or to let others forgive us and support us..?

I got thinking about unity in teaching: Even here in Milford the different teachings of different pastors and leaders create a sense of disunity between us and those who are a part of Long Meadow Chapel (for instance) or Milford Bible, and other congregations to the point that we don’t tend to look at ourselves or think of ourselves as one church but as several churches.

Of course, the Lord Jesus says that wherever two or three are gathered in His name that He is present. So merely to be confident of His presence and hearing our prayers we need to be with other Christians and not off by ourselves…

You might ask, “What about when there are corrupt leaders?” Well, the opening chapters of 1 Samuel tells us of two corrupt priests named Hophni and Phinehas. The Law stated that from every sacrifice that was brought to and offered at the Tabernacle the priest was allotted a certain portion. But we read in 1 Samuel that Hophni and Phinehas would take extra portions of the sacrifices they offered, by force if necessary! And that they would use their authority and influence to take advantage of the young women who helped with all the work and chores around the Tabernacle. (We haven’t been reading our Bibles very well if we think the abuses of power by priests and pastors is a modern occurrence.)

“What do we do about the reality of corrupt leaders?” Well, we don’t give up on cars because we had one that broke down once. You do what’s necessary to get them fixed! And if you’ve tried and tried but it seems like you’ve just gotten a lemon, you sell it, trade it in, (abandoning it in the middle of the highway is not recommended) and get a new one! And we should do the same with Christ’s church: We should hold people accountable to the Word of God and seek for repentance and biblical change (our own repentance and biblical change first, and then that of others); and if we face refusal or hardness of hearts then we go and find a more faithful body. But don’t stop being a part of Christ’s church!

“For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father, Who is over all and in all and living through all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6)

So as Hebrews writes: “And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the Day of His return is drawing near.” (10:25)

… [Go stand behind the Lord’s Table.]

I’d like to address one more thing in closing. Our reading from Leviticus speaks about the offense of eating blood. Now eating blood was a common practice in pagan worship rituals. It was often done in hopes of gaining the characteristics of the slain animal: You’d sacrifice a bull and drink its blood in the hopes of gaining strength; you’d sacrifice a gazelle and drink its blood in the hopes of gaining speed; you’d sacrifice a lion and drink its blood in the hopes of gaining ferocity or to incite fear in your enemies. By drinking the beast’s blood you sought to gain its life – today we’d call it its life-force, maybe.

This restriction against blood was one of the most dearly held tenets of Judaism, alongside circumcision and keeping the Sabbath. Even today kosher practices go to great lengths to draw the blood out of meat before it is cooked or eaten. And in the Book of Acts in the letter sent by the Jerusalem Council out to the growing number of Gentile churches, only four areas of the Jewish Law were required to be a part of the Gentile-Christians’ forgiven lifestyle: 1) Not eating any food that had been sacrificed to demons; 2) not eating the meat of animals that had been strangled; 3) no sexual immorality; and, 4) no eating blood!

In the light of the importance of this command, imagine the horror when first century Jews heard the Lord Jesus say, “Anyone who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise that person at the last day.” And the Lord went on, “For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. Anyone who eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me, and I in him. I live because of the living Father Who sent Me; in the same way, anyone who feeds on Me will live because of Me”. Imagine the shock, the revulsion and disgust! And the Gospel of John tells us that many of Jesus’ disciples “turned away and deserted Him” at that time. (6:66)

Next Sunday we’ll be celebrating the Lord’s Supper – eating the Lord Jesus’ flesh and drinking the Lord Jesus’ blood – as a part of our one, blended Worship Service at 10:30am. But my brothers and sisters in Christ, we were not made to have the characteristics of beasts! We are not animals. We are not evolved apes or monkeys or lesser creatures! We have been created in the image of almighty God. We were made to have His characteristics in us. He wants us to have His life! Let’s prepare ourselves this-coming week to take into ourselves the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, and to gain all His benefits.

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