Message - George Klassen & George Toews
It is great to be back here again and see so many good friends. It is especially good to celebrate such a wonderful occasion. As we have talked about the past and what God has done, it is truly wonderful to praise Him for all His mercy. When I think of my own family and the time we spent here, I am so glad for the 12 years, it was truly God’s blessing to us. The history of blessing goes back 75 years and God has been good!
But a glorious past does not guarantee a glorious future. The Timothy Eaton company was founded in 1869 and became the largest privately owned department store in Canada. I can well recall the glory days of Eaton’s - meeting people by the statue, Christmas displays, home delivery. It was a well known and well respected Canadian institution, but in the early 1990’s trouble began to show up. After financial restructuring in the mid 1990’s and a sale to Sears in the late 1990’s, in February of this year, Sears decided to give up the Eaton’s name and close the remaining 7 stores. It is now a store with a glorious past, but no future.
As a small rural church, there may be times when people wonder about the future of Manitou MB. As we look at the congregation we realize there are demographic gaps and that this church probably can’t do what some large urban churches can do. Is there any reason to think that Manitou MB may go the way of Eaton’s? I believe that there are two reasons why this church can and should look forward with hope, vision and commitment. The reasons are found in several phrases in Ephesians 1:18-23; 3:8-11; 3:20,21.
I. The Incredible Authority Above Us
If we look at the church from the human point of view, we may become discouraged, but we simply can’t look at it from the human point of view. It is amazing to see the significant place which the church holds in all of human history.
A. The Churches Place
Ephesians 1:15 and following is prayer of Paul for the people of Ephesus. He prays that they will know God, know the hope of their calling and His power available to them. In verse 19, he goes on to describe the resurrection power that is available to believers. The mention of Christ sets Paul on a further description of the power and authority of Christ. In verse 20, he mentions that he raised Him from the dead. The verse goes on to say that he seated him at his right hand. This, of course, refers to the ascension and exultation of Christ. But the lifting up does not stop there. Verse 21 goes on to describe that the risen and exulted Christ has authority far above everything. The totality of Christ’s power over everything else is emphasized by listing all other possibilities - rule, authority, power, dominion and every title that can be given. The authority and power of Jesus extends to all powers on earth - monetary power, political power and military power. His authority also extends to all powers in heaven - angels, demons and all possible powers. But as we read on, we also learn that His power is not only over this age, but also the age to come. All things are under His feet. He has absolute dominion and authority.
That is wonderful! Christ, the one who came to earth, who knows us and has lived with us is Lord above all. But the truly interesting part of this passage is that as verse 22 says, “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church.” Did you catch that? Christ’s authority over all things is “for the church!” What are the implications of that amazing statement?
When we see the world in its present or in its past, what do we see as important? The world in which we live gives important place to nations. The running of nations, the interplay of one country with another, the G-8 summit, the Middle East peace talks, Olympics - these are the things of consequence. These are the things that newspapers will record, that historians will write about.
But that is not God’s point of view. From God’s point of view, the thing that will be recorded for all eternity, the story that will be told in heaven is not the story of nations, it is the story of the church. John Piper said in a sermon, “The church of Jesus Christ is…more significant in world history than any other group, organization or nation. The United States of America compares to the church of Jesus Christ like a speck of dust compares to the sun. The drama of international relations compares to the mission of the church like a kindergarten riddle compares to Hamlet or King Lear. And all the pomp of May Day in Red Square and the pageantry of New Year's in Pasadena fade into a formless grey against the splendor of the bride of Christ.”
B. The Churches Role
Furthermore, in Ephesians 3:10, we have a verse that intrigues me when it says, “His intent.” Now when God is revealing his intentions, that is something that I want to take note of. I always want to know what God’s will is. What is his intent? It is “that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” Once again the high and significant place of the church is revealed.
Mention of the “rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” shows that the church has a significant place in the cosmic order of things. The existence of the church has implications far beyond what we can see, far beyond who you are in this community, far above the nation of Canada. The role of the church is to make known to all of creation, both on earth and in heaven what God has done.
How does it do that? Its very existence as a community of people who have been redeemed and changed and are living in the new way of God rather than the old way of the world is already a powerful witness to the universe of what God has done and can do. Marcus Barth writes, “By its very existence the church is called and equipped to be the ‘theatre of God’s works.’” The church is God’s display of his amazing redemptive work.
The intentional witness of the church through its programs of Christian education and evangelism is another part of the amazing wisdom of God which is made known through it.
So we must stop relegating the church to the place the world gives it. In light of Scripture, it is obvious that God gives it a role far above its place in the world.
What we celebrate today is a tiny part of the recognition of this truth. When we look at the history of the church - the fact that it looked like the church in the dark ages was dead, but came to life again. Another example is the history of the Mennonites in Russia when it looked like true faith was dying and God brought the MB church into being to bring renewal to his people. The story of the persecuted church also tells us of God’s work - the church keeps growing in spite of opposition so strong that it should be wiped out.
So also the Manitou MB church, is one part of Christ’s church and therefore has this tremendous authority of God as a part of what is truly making history and with the significant role of making known His wisdom to all the universe and in this community. So don’t lose heart! Keep on being what God has made you.
II. The Incredible Power Within Us
However, not only does the church have the authority of God to have a place of significance, it also has the power of God to do what He has called it to do. The church in Manitou has a future because God empowers His people to do his work.
I mentioned that Ephesians 1:15ff. is a prayer and a major component of that prayer is that God’s people will know the great power which is available to them. Paul prays in verse 19 that they, will know, “his incomparably great power for us who believe.”
The resurrection power of Christ is not only a power which we look back at with wonder and thankfulness. It is the very power which we possess as believers and as churches to do amazing things in the name of God today. That power does not depend on resources that we have or abilities that we possess. It depends entirely on God and is given to people who will go to their Father and ask Him to do mighty things in their midst.
The power of God that is available to do the work of God is also seen in 3:20,21 where we read, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”
One writer translates this, God is able “to outdo superabundantly all that we ask or imagine.” “Can we really expect God to do more than we can imagine?”
I read a story about a man who lived in a town where he could never buy anything to fit him so he ordered from the catalogue of a certain store. At the bottom of the order forms were the words: “If we have not the article you order in stock may we substitute?”
Once he wrote, “Yes,” and when he received his order, they wrote, “We are sorry we have not in stock the article you ordered, but we are substituting—,” and they sent something that was worth double the price he had paid. They made it a rule, if they could not supply the article ordered, to substitute with one of a much better quality.
When we pray to God, we had better put on the order form that we are quite willing to let Him substitute, for every time He does, He sends us something far better. “Exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20).
I believe that the passion play put on in La Riviere is an example of this. It was just getting going when we left three years ago. When we came back for the first year of production and I saw the people who were involved in acting, ushering, parking cars, taking tickets and noted that they came from many churches in the region, when I saw the impact the play was having throughout Manitoba, I thought, this is something beyond what I could have imagined, this is a work of God.
I believe that your very presence in Manitou has an impact that you have no idea about. God is doing more in this community by the presence of the church and each believer in the community than we know.
Sometimes we get discouraged because we pray for a person year after year and nothing changes, but if we stop to think, we know that there are people sitting here today whose lives have been changed forever because of what God did through this church and people from this church.
So once again, I want to encourage you to be faithful and look to God. Someday in glory, I am looking forward to seeing what God did as His people were faithful and lived in love and holiness. Then we will give glory to God for doing much more than we asked for or even imagined.
This is a weekend of celebration. But we do not celebrate a history or certain families or certain people. We celebrate what God has done and when we celebrate what God has done, we can also hope in what he will do.
These words of God are your encouragement that you can never say, “we are just a little country church.” You have a significant place in all of human history, a mandate that reaches to the very heavens and you have the power of the eternal God with you.
What is your part? Keep looking to see what God is doing and join Him in his work here! God’s promise is that it is sure to succeed!!
I promise to continue to pray for you as you fulfill God’s work in Manitou.
P. L. Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations : [A Treasury of Illustrations, Anecdotes, Facts and Quotations for Pastors, Teachers and Christian Workers] (Garland TX: Bible Communications, 1996, c1979).