God Will Do What Needs to Be Done
September 18, 2005
A long time ago in the history of our church, long before I became the pastor, someone wrote a document that became our Church Covenant. It is probably the most forgotten document in the history of this church. If you are a member, you had to read the covenant before you joined the church. And for most members, that’s the last time they ever think about it. Our church covenant tells us in great detail what kind of church we are supposed to be. It tells us who we are. It tells us how we promise to treat each other. It tells us what we believe God is going to do for us. It is one of the most wonderful statements of the Christian faith you would ever hope to find in your whole life.
The church covenant is an agreement we make with each other in the sight of God. When we enter into a covenant, we are saying, “We will do these things and we ask God to be our witness.” Therefore, a church covenant is far more than words on a piece of paper. It is as serious as our Articles of Faith, and it is more significant than our Constitution. Unfortunately, those things are usually reversed in a congregation’s thinking. People will wrangle for hours on how the Nominating Committee should be set up, but they will quite literally never give a thought to the church covenant. In point of fact, it usually doesn’t matter how the Nominating Committee is chosen. There are at least a half-dozen good ways to do it. And no matter which way you choose, the work generally gets done.
The Church Covenant matters because it transforms us from a conglomeration of people into a gathering of the saints of God. The covenant binds us together. Even though we ignore it and pay almost no attention to it, even though we pass right over it and we don’t think about it for years on end, without that covenant we would not be a church at all. It is the agreement that binds us together. It answers the question, “What kind of church is this?”
Six Sacred Promises
The covenant begins with these stirring words: “Having been brought by divine grace to embrace the Lord Jesus Christ and to give ourselves wholly to him, we do now solemnly and joyfully covenant with each other to walk together in him with brotherly love to his glory as our common Lord. We do, therefore, in his strength promise:” The covenant then lists six sacred promises we make to each other and to God:
# 1 Exercising Christian care and watchfulness for one another.
# 2 Raising our children for the Lord.
# 3 Encouraging each other to serve the Lord.
# 4 Being salt and light in the world.
# 5 Giving to support the spread of the gospel.
# 6 Living to the glory of God.
The covenant ends with a benediction. Far from being an add-on, the benediction tells us how we will do what we have promised to do. If we think we can keep these promises in our own power, we will surely fail. The benediction reminds us that everything depends on God.
Sixteen years ago, a young man moved from Texas to Oak Park to become the pastor of this church. Because he did not know how to begin, he searched through the history of the church. Eventually the idea came that he should preach through the Church Covenant as a means of reminding the congregation of what the church should do and be. That turned out to be his first major sermon series.
Most of the people at Calvary don’t remember that series because they weren’t here when I began my ministry in August 1989. Back then we were on the eve of our 75th anniversary. Today we are on the eve of our 90th anniversary. It happens that my ministry is bracketed by those two events. Without a doubt, we have come to a “hinge moment” in the history of Calvary Memorial Church. In a few days, my ministry among you will come to an end. I know that some people are worried about that. Just before the first service on Sunday, a woman grabbed my hand and said, “Pastor Ray, what will we do when you are gone?” I think I know the answer to that question. You’ll do the same thing you did for 75 years before I came. Nothing of eternal consequences changes after I leave. You have the same God, the same Lord, the same Holy Spirit, the same Bible, and the same eternal promises.
As I thought about what I should share this morning, my mind drifted back to that benediction at the end of the church covenant. The benediction comes from Hebrews 13:20-21. After reading it, I can see why it was chosen for the church covenant. It joins exalted spiritual truth with the reality of living together as the family of God. Here it is:
May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
This is a text uniquely suited for this moment. It comes at the end of Hebrews, at the end of the Church Covenant, and it seems to fit at the end of my pastoral ministry here.
For those who wonder what the future holds, consider these three great truths:
I. You Have a God of Peace.
This is very good news. Our God is a God of peace. He is at peace with himself and he is at peace with you. Because of the death of his Son on our behalf, our sins have been forgiven and we have peace with God. “Therefore, being justified by faith we have peace with God” (Romans 5:1). This is good news for a world where lasting peace is in short supply. Every day we hear of another bombing in the Middle East, of the threat of nuclear war from North Korea, and closer to home, we hear daily reports of murder, theft, broken vows and broken homes. Sometimes peace does not reign even in the local church. Because we are human, we have struggles and disagreements. But we know that strife and divisions do not come from God. Our God is a God of peace, and therefore we can have “peace that passes all understanding.”
II. You have a Living Shepherd.
When Jesus died on the cross, his blood established the eternal covenant. His blood made it possible for me to have a new heart and the forgiveness of sins. That’s the promise God made. It is guaranteed by the blood, extended by the blood, and purchased by the blood. And the blessings of the eternal covenant are available to all who trust in him. Therefore, by virtue of Christ’s bloody death and victorious resurrection from the dead, God is now a God of peace and Jesus Christ has become the great Shepherd of the sheep. We can say it in a series of short statements:
God sent his Son.
His Son shed his blood.
God raised him from the dead.
He is now exalted in heaven.
Now we have peace with God.
And he is our shepherd and we are his sheep.
On Friday evening Jesus was dead in the tomb. On Sunday morning he rose from the dead – never to die again. That’s a wonderful thought – never to die again. I have done so many funerals over these 16 years. It happens that I will conduct the funeral for my dear friend Steve Meyer tomorrow morning. While it is an honor to speak on behalf of a beloved friend, I tell you that I am weary of death, and I long for a world without funerals or cemeteries. How wonderful to come to a place where there are no grieving parents, no brokenhearted children, and no weeping wives and husbands. We aren’t there yet, but because of Jesus, we will one day come to a land where death will be no more. What a happy day that will be.
Did you know that the word pastor literally means shepherd? Jesus is not only our great shepherd, he is also the true pastor of the church. Because he is a living shepherd, he will never die and he will never leave you. Because he is a great shepherd, he never makes a mistake, and he never fails.
He cannot die.
He cannot be defeated.
He will never leave you.
He will never fail you.
If you will trust him and follow him, you will be safe.
III. You Will Be Equipped to Do His Will.
The benediction contains some good news that applies to all of us, both now and in the future. No matter who you are or where you are, God fully intends to equip you to do his will. The word “equip” originally meant to set a broken bone so it will heal properly. It was used of mending a torn fishing net. The word also described a weary, scattered army that was pulled together for refitting, retraining and redeployment. In context this word means that God will do whatever it takes to give us whatever we need, whenever we need it, so that we can do his will. Let me say that in reverse: God will never call you to do anything without also giving you the tools you need to do the job. Sometimes people say, “God helps those who help themselves.” But that is not biblical. It would be more proper to say that “God helps those who can’t help themselves.” God will never call us to do something without also (and at the same time) equipping us to do it. Never. He simply will not do it.
Some of you face difficult situations this morning. You may be out of money or out of a job. You or a loved one may be facing surgery soon. Others face debilitating illness. Some of you have very hard decisions you need to make this week and you don’t know what to do. Take this word of good cheer. Whatever you have to do this week, God will equip you to do it. No matter how hard the road ahead, God has already started mending your nets and arming you for battle. You don’t even have to ask him; he just does it because that’s the kind of God he is. He never, never, never, never calls you to any hard task without giving you what you need to get the job done.
About 12 years ago I discovered a concept called the prevenient grace of God. I’ve referred to it in various sermons over the years. The word “prevenient” means to go before. It means that no matter what difficulty I may face in life, God is already at work before I get there. So many times we tend to limit our thinking to the fact that God’s presence goes with us as we go through life. That’s true, but it’s only part of the story. He’s not only with us now; he’s already way up the road ahead of us.
Think about it this way. While I am struggling with the problems of today, God is hard at work providing solutions for the things I am going to face tomorrow. He’s already there, working creatively in situations I have yet to face, preparing them for me, and me for them. Or to say it another way: While I’m living in Tuesday, he’s clearing the road for me on Friday. That’s what Proverbs 3:6 means when it says that, “He will make your paths straight.” Or to say it yet another way: God is already at work providing solutions for problems I don’t even know I have yet.
Are you worried about next week? Forget it. He’s already there. What about next month? How about 2006? Don’t sweat it. He’s already there. What about that crucial meeting you’ve got on Wednesday afternoon? Sleep well. He’s already there. What about that tough decision that looms ahead of you? Fear not. He’s already there. It would be enough if God simply walked with you through the events of life. But he does much more than that. He goes ahead of you, clearing the way, arranging the details of life, so that when you get there, you can have confidence that God has already been there before you.
Notice how he does it. He works in us from the inside out. The text says, “May he work in us what is pleasing to him.” If we need courage, he works that in us. If we need compassion, he gives it to us. If we need integrity, he builds it in. If we need wisdom, he imparts the wisdom we need. If we need common sense, he finds a way to give it to us.
So many of us look at a difficult situation and pray, “Lord, change my situation.” That’s not usually God’s will. Much more often the difficult situation has come as a means of making us grow spiritually. God often brings difficulty into our lives to deepen our total dependence upon him. When that happens, we ought to pray, “Lord, change me so that I can face this situation.” That’s a prayer God is pleased to answer.
“What Will We Do When You Are Gone?”
That brings me back to the original question someone asked before the first service on Sunday: “Pastor Ray, what will we do when you are gone?” This text has the answer. “You will be equipped to do his will.”
What about the Legacy Campaign? “You will be equipped to do his will.”
What about the 90th anniversary? “You will be equipped to do his will.”
What about the Upper Room service? “You will be equipped to do his will.”
What about “The Church in Many Places”? “You will be equipped to do his will.”
What about our budget? “You will be equipped to do his will.”
What about our missionaries? “You will be equipped to do his will.”
What about our plans for the future? “You will be equipped to do his will.”
What about our next pastor? On that topic, someone said, “We’ll never get another pastor like you.” That’s true, and that’s not a bad thing. If you look at the last four pastors of Calvary (we’ve had only four since 1952), each man was different from his predecessor.
Bob Gray wasn’t like John Emmans.
Don Gerig wasn’t like Bob Gray.
Ray Pritchard wasn’t like Don Gerig.
And whoever comes next won’t be like me.
Each man God sent to Calvary was sent at a particular moment in time with a particular set of gifts and with a particular mission from God. This isn’t 1952 or 1958 or 1976 or 1989. It’s 2005. The world and the church have both changed dramatically over the years. Don’t fret about the next pastor. If we believe in prevenient grace, God already has his man chosen and he’s already beginning to loosen the dirt wherever he is so that when the time comes, the pulpit committee will find him, and both he and they will recognize that he is God’s man for the job.
Some people wonder what will happen to Calvary in the days ahead. I don’t know the answer, but I know the One who does. The church belongs to Jesus Christ, not to any man or any group of human leaders. It doesn’t even belong to the congregation. This is Christ’s church. He has committed himself to care for his own body. Go back and take a look at the title of this sermon again. God will do what needs to be done!
Finally, notice how the benediction ends. “Through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” In all things, God must get the glory. He gets the glory in the death of his Son, Jesus Christ. He gets the glory in the blood that established the eternal covenant. He gets the glory in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And he must get the glory in the equipping of his people to do his will. He has given us new hearts and forgiven us. He works in us to give us whatever we need to do his will. He equips us to go into battle for him. It all comes from him.
Therefore, no matter how successful we are, it all comes from him.
When we walk together in brotherly love … to God be the glory.
When we exercise Christian care … to God be the glory.
When we raise our children for Jesus Christ. … to God be the glory.
When we encourage one another … to God be the glory.
When we are salt and light in the world … to God be the glory.
When we cheerfully give of our means … to God be the glory.
When we are faithful even until death … to God be the glory.
Let us not be ashamed to say that it all comes from him. Without God’s help, and his mighty hand undergirding our efforts, everything else would come to nothing. As I come to the end of my 16 years here, one overwhelming thought grips my heart. Whatever good has been done in these years we have spent together, it all comes from God. Let us say it and then say it again:
All God – All Grace – All for God’s Glory – Always!
Ninety years ago, a few families banded together to establish a witness for God in Oak Park. Little did they dream what this church would become. They wanted a church that would stand on the Bible as the Word of God, preach the gospel and win the lost, and send missionaries to the ends of the earth. God has answered their prayers abundantly.
What will the next 90 years bring? I am sure that we would be just as surprised as our forefathers if we knew the answer to that question. But certain things are sure: The gospel that was handed down to us will still meet the needs of the future. The Bible that we believe will still have the answers for the next generation. And the victories that are yet to be won will be accomplished in the strength of the Lord.
To God alone be the Glory!
Lord, you have not brought us this far to leave us now. We have come this way by faith; we go forward by your faithfulness. Equip us now to do your will. Lord, as you have been with us for all these years, we ask you to lead us into the future. We are your sheep and you are our Great Shepherd. Work in us what is pleasing in your sight. Open our eyes that we might see you clearly. Take away our doubt and fear. Teach us to trust you in a new way. We pray that we might not live on yesterday’s blessings but look forward to tomorrow’s victories. In the strong name of Jesus we pray these things. Amen.