Sunday, May 14, 2017

God’s War and Faith Reformed Church

As you can tell from the title of the sermon I’m going to dealing with some things about our church. But I want to start by taking a look at the big picture. And the classic text for that big picture is presented to us in Genesis 3. 

Our fall into sin has just occurred. And God speaks to the serpent.

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. Genesis 3:15

This is God’s declaration of war. And the two sides in this war are clear. On the one side is the serpent. That includes Satan and all who are his. On the other side is the woman. That includes Jesus, and all who are His. It is this war that is the big picture of the Bible.

Something from Revelation captures this situation.

Then the dragon [Satan] became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. Revelation 12:17

From beginning to end, Scripture is all about this war.

This is not new to you. I’ve mentioned it before. What I want to do this morning is to consider one particular aspect of this war. I want to look at how God fights this war.

To start, we’re going to consider a few examples of God’s method of fighting.

First, there’s David. There are more than a few situations in his life that we could look at. But let’s consider his famous confrontation with Goliath. Consider again the highlights of the story. Here is this kid, someone probably no older than Christopher. And his brothers don’t think much of him. Remember how his oldest brother mocked him when he showed up at the army’s camp? But this despised kid does what all the men in Israel’s army were afraid to do. He faces Goliath on the field of battle.

And what is it that this Goliath wants to do? He wants to destroy Israel. And that makes sense since he is one of the offspring of the serpent.

So, David boldly says to Goliath,

You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of Yahweh of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 1 Samuel 17:45

And, as you know, David destroyed Goliath and rescued Israel. The offspring of the woman defeated the offspring of the serpent. It’s another battle won in this war of the ages.

Then, there’s Gideon. When you boil it all down, Gideon was a timid man of negligible faith. In his thing with the fleece he was basically saying to God, ‘I’m not sure that I can believe what You just told me’. And he did that twice. But God wanted to use this man who was so weak in faith. And God decided to use him in what, to all appearances, was a set up for disaster. Gideon called for the men of Israel to come to him to fight their oppressors, the Midianites and their allies. So, thirty-two thousand show up. And what does God say? ‘Too many.’ And this against the Midianite armies who are multitude. Listen to how they are described.

And the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the people of the East lay along the valley like locusts in abundance, and their camels were without number, as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance. Judges 7:12

Thirty-two thousand doesn’t sound like too many to me. But God thought so. Ultimately, God has Gideon attack this massive horde with three hundred men. And this timid man of negligible faith with his little handful of men routs them. It’s another battle won in this war of the ages.

Then, there’s Daniel’s friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They are told that, by the king’s decree, when they hear the music they need to bow down and worship the golden statue. The music sounds. Everyone bows. Everyone, that is, but these three. Their enemies - and you can tell whose offspring they are - report them to the king, hoping to get rid of them. And how do these three respond when the king tells them that failure to obey will surely result in death in a blazing furnace?

If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up. Daniel 3.17-18

So, here are these three guys. They are going against the flow, standing while everyone else is bowing. Talk about peer pressure. And they are powerless before a king who can, in fact, throw them into the furnace so they die a horrible death. But, as you know, their stand was rewarded. They walk out of the furnace unharmed. And the king is so moved that he praises the God of Israel and decrees that anyone in all of his massive kingdom who says anything against this God will be utterly destroyed. The offspring of the serpent tried again but, lost again. It’s another battle won in this war of the ages.

One more. This time we’ll look at Paul. Here is this great evangelist of the Gospel who preaches throughout the Roman Empire, converting many, starting churches left and right. But he does it with a limp. I’m talking about his famous thorn in the flesh. Whatever it is, it debilitates him in some way or other. As far as Paul is concerned, it’s an obstacle to greater service, to more Gospel churches being planted. So, he pleads with Jesus to take it away, to heal him of whatever it was. Paul is thinking, ‘Without this problem just think of how much more effective I could be in proclaiming the Gospel’. And what does Jesus say in response to his request? No. But He also tells Paul why.

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. 2 Corinthians 12:9

Jesus figured that it was better for Paul to feel his weakness, to be weak and to appear weak to those whom he met. It was better because that’s how Jesus’ power becomes most effective. And the results? Many more battles won in this war of the ages.

So, back to our question. How does God fight this war? What kind of people does He use? There’s the despised kid, the man who was timid and weak in faith – with his few, the three powerless friends and the hamstrung preacher. Who fights using such feeble weapons? Your God does. And He does it by design.

Now, why has the God of the Gospel chosen to fight in this way with these kinds of weak weapons? He has explained that. Listen.

For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 1 Corinthians 1:25-29

God fights this war in this way as a protection for us. It’s a protection against our pride. We are very good at being very proud people. It is so easy for us to think that any victories in this war that we are involved in are, in some way or other, due to some strength in us. ‘Hey, look at what I did!’ Really? No. God uses the foolish, the weak, the lowly and the despised. And using such weapons, He wins battles.

Now, it’s time to talk to you about our church. So, take a look at us. We are a small church. And we are a small church that has gotten smaller over the last two years. How should we respond to this?

One option is to become discouraged. After all, we have been told that success is about getting bigger and more powerful. It’s the American way. Should we agree? I really don’t think so.

We should not be discouraged at what we all have seen happen. I rather think that God is setting us up to be even more useful than what we have been in the past. I say that because I think that we more clearly qualify as the kind of people that He commonly uses. We are not the picture of success, at least according to popular standards. In many ways, we are like the despised David, the timid and weak in faith Gideon, those three friends who were powerless before the mighty of this world and the debilitated Paul. This is who we are. As such we are a perfect fit for God’s army.

So, what do we do now? If giving in to discouragement is not an option, what do we do instead. I have a list.

We need to rejoice in God’s gracious providence. We are who we are by God’s doing. He has brought us to this point of becoming even smaller. And He knows what He is doing.

We need to have confidence in our God. He has plans to use us in His war. We, the offspring of the woman have a role to play in this war with the offspring of the serpent. God is going to use us to win some battles.

We need to do the work, the hard work, of being a church. It’s the church that is the main tool that God uses to fight in this war. The New Testament letters are filled with God’s instructions on what it means to be a church, instructions that we need to become more familiar with so that we can do better at putting them into action.

We need to be ready to suffer loss. All of my examples suffered loss of some kind or were, at least, threatened with that loss. We need to expect to face the same possibility but still continue on as a faithful church.

There is one more thing we need to do. And this one is key. We need to pray. Nothing happens without prayer – nothing good anyway. But generic prayer is no good. So, I want to be specific. What specific things do we need to pray about. Well, how about the four things that I just mentioned in that list. We need to pray that each one would be true of us, and obviously so.

Now, I want to be clear. This isn’t some sermon applications that you might want to consider - or not. No. As your pastor, I’m telling each of you to spend some time each day this week, starting today, praying about the things on that list. Everyone. Each day. You can structure that in any way that you like. All four every day. Only one a day. Whatever. But some time, every day, all of you. And don’t worry, you’ll remember what’s on that list because, as usual, I’ll be sending you a copy of the sermon.

Now, someone might be wondering, ‘So, if we do this and God grants our requests, will we become a success?’ If, by that, you mean, ‘Will we get more people to join our church?’, then you really do need to re-read this sermon. We may never become a success as that is defined by our fallen American culture. It may well be that the fruit of our labor will be completely unknown to the people around us until the age to come. People may look at us and think, ‘What a bunch of losers.’ But I’m fine with that. And you should be, too. What I’m aiming for is something much greater than that twisted notion of success and the fickle praise of others. What I’m aiming for is to hear Jesus say to us, the people of Faith Reformed, ‘Well done, good and faithful servants’.

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