Welcome to Rosenort. We are glad to be able to host you today and I hope that you feel welcome, that your needs will be met and that the conference will be helpful to you.
When our children were young, I sometimes let them mow the lawn with me. They would push on lower cross bar and I would push on the handle. From their perspective, I imagine that they thought they were doing a lot of work and were mowing the lawn. In reality, of course, I was doing most of the pushing and steering.
When it comes to the work of God, I wonder if a similar picture isn’t happening. We think that we are so busy doing God’s work and that without us the work will not happen. In reality, although we are contributing, God is doing the work. If that is true, then it seems to me it is pretty important to be aware of how God is at work in our world. The Bible invites us to just such an awareness. Psalm 66:5 invites us: “Come and see what God has done.” In Ephesians 1:18-19, Paul prays for the Ephesians, “I pray …that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”
What does it do in your heart and in your service when you realize the extent to which God is at work?
In the Old Testament, the greatest evidence of God’s work was the exodus out of Egypt. When the people of Israel were in Egypt, they were a slave nation. They belonged to someone and had no power. Through a series of miracles and through God’s mighty work, Pharaoh was finally persuaded and they were released from slavery and began to make their way across the desert towards the promised land. No sooner had they left, than Pharaoh changed his mind and began to pursue them. Suddenly they found themselves between the Red Sea and the Egyptian army. They were doomed, but God did another miracle before their eyes. He made a path through the middle of the sea and they all crossed on dry land. As the Egyptian army ventured into the path, the sea came back over them and they were all drowned in the sea. This was the greatest demonstration of the power and love of God they had ever experienced and after it happened, many Biblical writers referred to it again and again. For example, Psalm 105 is a whole Psalm that tells the story in order to call the people to praise God. The Biblical writers reminded people of God’s mighty act in the Exodus in order to motivate them to trust, obedience, service and praise.
As New Testament people, we have an even greater demonstration of God’s power in the work Jesus did when he died on the cross and rose again. The other day, I was thinking about how Pilate made the decision to have Jesus crucified. In Mark 15, the text actually says that he knew that they were accusing Jesus out of jealousy. It is astounding why a few lines later he agrees to their request to have him crucified. Why did He do it? Was it because he was ruthless? That is possible, but they had a very strict law system at that time, so it is hard to believe. Was it because he was afraid of them? It is much easier to believe that he had contempt for the Jews than that he feared them. The only explanation that makes sense is that it was God at work. Jesus died because God allowed him to go through death so that He could provide the way of salvation. The New Testament writers repeatedly made reference to this event to encourage faith, hope, to motivate service and to call people to praise. I Peter 1:3 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…”
In all of history, these have been the greatest acts of God at work in our world and as we reflect on them, they encourage us in our faith walk. If that is so, we ought to keep our eyes opened for other acts of God in our world.
I attended a meeting a few weeks ago and as we opened the meeting, we were given opportunity to share something that would be a spiritual encouragement to the others. One of the people shared that he had been amazed at something which had happened on the world stage which could only be explained as an act of God.
Many of us will remember the terrible fighting and hatred which has happened in Northern Ireland. The IRA has been at the centre of fighting between Catholics and Protestants for many years. We have heard of the terrible bombings, murders and other atrocities and have often wondered if it would ever stop.
Some of you may have the CD “Revival in Belfast” which was produced in Ireland by an Irish band. On that CD, there are words of prayer for revival in Ireland. In the song “Days of Elijah” Robin Marks prays, “….if 145 nations declare that instead of saying “can no good thing come out of Nazareth,” Lord, but declare that there is revival and there is restoration in this part of the world, Lord, where your name has been sullied, where your name has been brought low, that your name is lifted up…” This prayer is an indication that the people of Ireland have been praying for peace in their land.
A week or so ago I read a BBC news report which declared, “The IRA has put all of its weapons beyond use.” General John de Chastelain made the announcement at a news conference accompanied by the two churchmen who witnessed the process. What is even more amazing is who the two churchmen were. As you may know the conflict in Ireland was between Catholics and Protestants. The churchmen who witnessed the process were Catholic priest Father Alec Reid and ex-Methodist president Rev. Harold Good. Scripture repeatedly indicates that God is over the nations. Psalm 22:28 says, “for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations.” The announcement about the arms of the IRA being decommissioned is an indication that God has answered prayers for revival in Ireland. It is a demonstration that God is at work among the nations.
Of course the area that we are most concerned about is that God is at work in the building of His kingdom.
We have seen evidence of His mighty work in this area in the past, perhaps most powerfully on the day of Pentecost. When Jesus was crucified, Peter denied Jesus because he was afraid to identify with Jesus even though he had just boldly declared that he was willing to die with Him. After the day of Pentecost, Peter boldly proclaimed the gospel and witnessed to Jesus without fear. When 5000 were baptized on that first day, it is clear that God was at work building His kingdom.
What about God’s work in the present?
When we think of our churches, we can also see that God has been at work. A few years ago, the theme for our EMC convention was taken from Psalm 66:5 – “Come See what God has done.” At that convention, we reviewed our history of involvement in missions and it was evident that it was God, who took a small church with no mission program and changed it into a church that now has mission involvement in many countries of the world and finances some great programs. There is only one explanation for this and that is that God has been at work.
The involvement of the EMC, CMC and EMMC in ICYA and in the tri-conference church plant in the inner city of Winnipeg is nothing short of a miracle and another evidence of God at work.
In our own church, we have recently seen evidence of God at work building His kingdom. For 50 years, our church has had VBS in Woodlands. A number of times during those years follow up programs have tried to extend the witness into that community throughout the year, but for the last number of years we have only held the summer VBS program. After VBS and camp this summer, a number of young people were moved with the lack of spiritual input in the lives of the young people of that community. They have committed themselves to going there once a month to do a youth program and to disciple these young people. The way it came about and the enthusiasm and support for the program are evidence of God at work.
These are but a few of the ways in which I have seen God at work. I believe that the perspective of seeing God at work is very important in the work of the church. Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” When we see how God is at work in salvation, we are encouraged to put our hope in Him for all things. When we keep our eyes opened to what He has done and is doing in our world, in our churches and in our lives, we are encouraged to trust Him, to serve Him with abandon and to praise Him.
As you talk about the matters of church management and think about what your responsibility is, I want to encourage you to remember that what you do is a part of a bigger picture of what God is doing. May the glory go to Him.