Saturday, September 26, 2009

Greater Things Are Yet To Come!

(On September 13, I preached this sermon at Bethel Baptist Church in Newell, Iowa, which was celebrating its 50th anniversary)

I am a pessimist at heart. I feel a little like a character from one of my favorite books. In “The Silver Chair” – one of CS Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles, the Marsh-wiggle Puddleglum always manages to find the cloud in every silver lining. No matter how well things go, he is able to imagine how things are going to go horribly wrong. When things are going great for me, when the church is running smoothly, when everyone is getting along, when people are responding to the Word, I start looking around to figure out where the backlash is going to come from. I know that human beings are sinful, that our hearts are desperately wicked and that we have a powerful enemy coming against us. It is easy to lose sight of the power of God and adopt a negative, pessimistic, depressing outlook on life.

And this world gives us a lot of reasons to be pessimistic. Eight years ago this weekend, terrorists attacked our nation and killed around three thousand innocent Americans. But they did more than destroy some buildings, down some planes and kill some people. They shook our confidence, our sense that we are strong and safe in our homeland.

Since that day, we have gone through some difficult economic times. We’ve had some ups and downs, but in the last year it has been mostly down. Across this land there are people whose homes have lost most of their value, who have lost those homes to foreclosure, who have lost jobs and savings and financial security. Even if you haven’t been affected as much as some, I’m sure it is hard for you to look to the future with security and confidence.

We are also in a time of political upheaval. Whether you are a fan of the current administration or not, you have to agree that things are changing in America and that there is more political unrest, more anger out there than most of us can remember in our lifetime. Americans used to believe that their government could solve problems. Now, many believe that the government is the cause of our problems. We are involved in wars that seem to never end and are never really won, wars that take the lives our young men and women and bring hatred from around the globe.

And if you are a Christian, you cannot be pleased about the moral and spiritual direction of this nation. Can you imagine, in 1959, congress debating whether marriage is supposed to be between a man and a woman? Could we have imagined then that millions of babies would be aborted annually, that moral and spiritual values that have marked this nation throughout its existence would have so quickly been abandoned?

Add to that the fact that many of you are probably going through personal struggles. Families are falling apart. We are worried about pandemic diseases such as the H1N1 flu that has been threatening our nation. You may be having family issues, financial issues,

Before I put all of you into severe depression, let me sum this up. It is a difficult world in which we live, a world that intimidates us, overwhelms us, discourages us and sometimes oppresses us.

But there is one thing in this that bothers me most. The world is wicked – that is a reality ever since Adam and Eve turned their backs on God and embraced sin. We live in a fallen world. Sinful people sin, and that sin seems to be growing as we approach the day of the blessed return of Christ. But the problem today is not with the sinful world. A sinful world does what a sinful world is supposed to do. It sins.

The problem is with the church. We are the salt of the earth, put here by God to prevent the decay of sin and death. But the salt has lost its savor. We are the light of the world, shining the light of Christ into the darkness. But the world is not seeing the light. Where is the light? Where is the salt?

I have never seen Christians as discouraged and forlorned as many of them are today. We have become spiritual pessimists. We have accepted an assumption that the church should never accept. We have given up. We believe that the power is gone. The mighty power of God that changed lives in biblical days, that turned the world upside down – we believe that that power is no longer available to us today. Things are bad and they are only going to get worse.

Here is the thesis I would like to communicate to you today. Regardless of how difficult the times, those who have been born again by the grace of God, redeemed and forgiven by the blood of Christ, adopted into God’s heavenly family, indwelled by and sealed with the Holy Spirit, given an eternal home in Heaven and empowered by God for significant service have NO RIGHT to be anything but optimistic!

In support of this thesis, I offer two stories from the Bible, one scripture, and then, of course, a song. I was considering this sermon and wishing that we could sing a certain song to close it out. Then, your pastor went over the order of the day and told me the song that we would conclude with. That was my confirmation that this was the message we needed to hear today. So, let look at these two stories from the Bible (one OT, one NT) and then draw some important conclusions.

Judges 17-21 is not a high point of the Word. In fact, if they made a movie of this scripture, and made it accurate, it would be rated R and none of you should go see it. At the end of the period of the Judges, Israel had become a pagan, idolatrous and wicked people. Thing happened in this time that were shameful beyond words. It was, perhaps, worse than the world we live in today.

God’s people treated God’s Word with disdain and went about their lives doing as they pleased. Israel had no king and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Does that sound familiar? It was a time of political upheaval, with leadership changing all the time. Immorality and perversion were rampant in the nation, and culture had become violent and cruel. Even the spiritual leaders have become compromised with sin. Instead of being united in the service of God, the people of God were divided and hostile to each other. In other words, things in Israel were much like they are in the church today.

It would have been evident to anyone who lived in those days that things were pretty much over for Israel. Their best days were behind them, the glory was gone. Anyone who looked at it could see that the days of the power of God, the days of God’s miraculous display of his glory in Israel and in the conquest – those days were over now. It was just a matter of time until God’s patience was exhausted and Israel was destroyed forever.

But anyone who thought that would have been wrong. As Judges closes out and 1 Samuel opens, a baby is born. That little boy’s mother did something amazing, she gave her son to God. That boy experienced the reality of God in his own life, and over his lifetime he led Israel back to God. In his later years, he anointed a young shepherd to be king and that young man established the messianic line of Israel.

Here’s the point, my friends. When things looked hopeless in Israel, God was about to do something amazing. When it looked like Israel was finished, their best days were still ahead. When Judges closed and things looked awful, Israel was less than a century away from its greatest days of glory. Greater things were yet to come and greater things were still to be done in Israel.

Now, let us move forward about a thousand years. The disciples left everything to follow Jesus. They seldom understood what he said and they often said and did things that can only be described as silly. They had left all to follow Jesus, confident that he would lead them to throw off the yoke of Rome and reestablish the nation of Israel. They bumbled and stumbled but were always confident that they would be Jesus’ right-hand men when he became King. And then, one day, it all fell apart. Jesus was arrested and put on trial for blasphemy. False witnesses lied about him and the crowds called for his blood. The messiah of Israel was put to death on cross. They were devastated, destroyed. Their whole world was blown apart.

Three days later, they were shocked when Jesus rose from the dead. They were still confused though. They kept expecting him to use his supernatural power to gather an army and chase the Roman army off their land. Jesus tried to teach them, but they never got it. Then, Jesus left. He ascended up into heaven and left them by themselves. What were they to do now? They did not have a clue. But they met together for ten days, praying and seeking God together. Circumstances told them that it was all over. This whole thing had been interesting but now, Jesus was gone. His power was gone. The opportunity was gone. That was the unmistakable message of the circumstances.

Then the power of God fell. At they were all together in the Upper Room, the Holy Spirit descended on them. Suddenly, the confused and bumbling disciples became world-changing apostles who carried the gospel to the four corners of the world. You see, circumstances lied. The events of the world told them that it was all over. But in reality, God was about to release his glory in a new and powerful way. When it looked like everything was over, greater things were yet to come and greater things were still to be done in Jerusalem.

That brings us to a scripture we need to consider. John 14:12-14 says this, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.” There is no question that this verse has a lot of theological background and context that needs to be considered – more than we can do today. And it is also undeniable that this verse has been as misused and abused as any verse in the Bible. Too many folks have made false claims based on the teaching of these verses.

But there is one truth that cannot be doubted or denied. God intended his people to accomplish great things. In fact, he wanted them to do greater things than he himself did in his earthly ministry. The same God who empowered the ministry of Christ would be there to empower the ministries of those who came in his name.

Jesus evangelized a small group of men who would go on to serve him. We are to work together to evangelize the world. We are meant to live lives of significant service, empowered ministry and to have a world-changing effect on this world. As God empowered his work, he empowers us to greater things.

So here’s my point, folks. It is wrong, perhaps even blasphemous, for Christians to be pessimistic, or to act as if the power of God has somehow been diminished or that his purposes will fail. I don’t know all that God is doing in this world, but I know that his power is still real. The power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead can strengthen us to do mighty things in the name of God.

I was at an anniversary celebration at another church several years ago, and it left me kind of sad. They had a great history and God had done great things there. But all they could talk about was what God did in the 60’s. Since then, not so much! It is easy for us to get nostalgic, to look back at the old days and think – wasn’t that great! Then, we settle down and wait for the bad times to come.

I am here to give you a simple message today. Greater things are yet to come and greater things are still to be done right here in this city. If Bethel Baptist Church in Newell, Iowa will yield itself to God, your greatest days are still ahead. It is not an easy world. Carnal Christians will not get the job done anymore. Christians who are drawn into the culture and adopt the values and goals of American society will not get it done. But committed Christians, those who give themselves to Jesus and walk in obedience to him, those kind of Christians have every expectation that they will experience the power of the living God and that greater things will continue to happen.

I will tell you, if you want to see greater things you must give greater things. You must lay down your lives and living sacrifices, denying yourselves and taking up your crosses to follow Jesus. You must submit to the Lordship of Christ. You must walk daily in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. You must focus on the eternal purposes of God and the needs of your community and the lost. You must walk in complete dependence on him and his power.

But God has plans for Newell. He plans to do greater things here than he has ever done. Today, as you look back on what God has done, rejoice. But no church can be healthy that ONLY looks back. We must also look forward. We must have the sure and certain hope that the power of God will do greater things in the future than he has done in the past. The good old days are still ahead if you give yourselves to God. Greater things are still to come and greater things are still to be done in this city.

When things fall apart in your world, do not despair. Remember that greater things are yet to come and greater things are still to be done in this city.

When the troubles of life pile up and you do not think you can go on another minute, remember that greater things are yet to come and greater things are still to be done in this city.

When you wonder how you can pay your bills or keep your head above water, Remember that greater things are yet to come and greater things are still to be done in this city.

When you see your nation falling into moral decay and you despair that righteousness can ever be restored, remember that greater things are yet to come and greater things are still to be done in this city.

When your eyes are on the problems and you can only see the victory of wickedness in this world, lift up your eyes, my friends. Jesus is alive and greater things are yet to come and greater things are still to be done in this city.

There is a God in this city. Jesus Christ is the rightful Lord and King over Newell, over Storm Lake, over all this area. People may not recognize his right to rule, and they may walk in disobedience to him, but that does not change things. Jesus is the God of this City and he is alive. He is at work. And if you will be his people, he will do greater things through you!

Greater things are yet to come and greater things are still to be done in this city.

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