This morning I want to remind us all of the centrality of Jesus Christ and His crucifixion. The message will continue into next week, when I want to challenge you to be a people of the cross.
When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters, I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan. For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified. I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5, New Living Translation)
Paul is emphasizing here the importance of trusting not in the wisdom of people, and in their ability to teach, or lead or explain things. Rather, trust in the power of the Spirit of God. For it is not human ability that gives strength to the church or its members. It is the power of God that gives you strength.
I have chosen this passage for a particular reason. I will share with you that reason, and then I want to continue with the message in hopes that you will find this to be a very meaningful and important message.
On October 31, 2013, I came to Bergen Church for the first time to meet with the pastoral search committee. I wrote in my journal after that meeting that I came away feeling a sense that Bergen Church really could be a place for our family to settle into for a while. To this day, I still feel the same way. And so it is with great difficulty to tell you that I have decided to resign from my position as Family Pastor here at Bergen.
I said from the start, and I have said it many times since then: I came to a place here in Bergen where God has been working long before I got here. And he will continue to work here long after I’m gone.
Although it was always my desire to be in this position for many years, I have never thought about myself as irreplaceable. I believe that the role of pastor is vital to the health of a local church, but the person who fills that role is only temporary.
As long as the Lord’s will is being pursued, it will be His Spirit that keeps the family healthy and strong for many generations.
Paul wrote this message to the Corinthian church in order to remind them of who they have placed their faith in. The message, not the messenger, is the key. Your faith is not in Rob or myself. Your faith is in the gospel of Jesus Christ: his death, which has purified you and brought peace between you and God.
During my time here, I have been a servant of God. I was brought to this particular place for a particular time. I have tried to do my best, but ultimately it is only the power of God that has been at work to transform you and this community.
This work will continue for many years to come, and not because you will have great pastors, but because you are constantly reminding one another of the power of God at work among you.
With this passage in 2 Corinthians, Paul was raising a banner over the people, a banner that declared that they belonged to God. And it was by the power of God that they would be able to stay strong and faithful.
The strength of the church must not depend on her human leaders. Training and skill are indeed valuable in a leader, but without the power of God, no amount of skill can help a church in bringing the presence of Jesus to our communities, to our neighbours and into our workplaces.
Next week I want to talk more about our identity as people of the cross, what that means for our daily lives. But I just want to say that each one of you who has declared him or herself a follower of Jesus, you all are able and commanded to be ministers of the gospel. This is not an option!
The pastors are here to equip you to this end, and to pray with you. But the real work of the gospel will only be done when each member takes responsibility for bringing the message of Jesus Christ and his crucifixion to your neighbours.
During my time here, I have seen many of you do this. But it is only done when the message has become life to your soul. And so this morning I want to share with you this simple message of Jesus Christ and his crucifixion. This is not my last sermon, only the first part of my last sermon. Next week, and possibly the week after, I will continue.
I acknowledge that some of you are having a difficult time focussing on this message, thinking about what I have just announced. Although this has been a conversation with Rob and the Board for a little while now, you all are probably quite surprised. After I have wrapped up my message, I will explain the reason for my resignation, and then Rob will come up and pray. After the service, I will stay as long as necessary so that anyone who wants to talk will have the opportunity to do so.
In the mean time, I hope you will hear this message. If I were to only have one opportunity to preach here, this is the message I would preach. It is not a new message, and if you have heard me preach more than once, you have heard this from me before. I want to read to you the Apostles Creed, and using that as an outline, go through the gospel message in its most basic form.
I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth
And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord
Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary
Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried
The third day he rose again from the dead
He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty
From there he shall come to judge the living and the dead
I believe in the Holy Spirit
the holy universal church
the communion of saints
the forgiveness of sins
the resurrection of the body
and life everlasting
Paul wrote that he considers everything worthless when compared to knowing Jesus Christ. This is what the gospel demands. If you have heard the gospel before, but you are not willing to give up everything in trade for knowing Jesus, you need to hear this message again. And I hope that God will work in your heart, to bring you to repentance and to true faith in him as your only hope and greatest treasure.
God exists in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is the maker of all things seen and unseen. Jesus Christ, the Son, came to the earth by means of a supernatural pregnancy. Mary, who was engaged to Joseph, was a virgin, and became pregnant by the Spirit of God.
While Jesus lived on earth in human form, he lived a sinless life, declared himself one with the Father, and the promised Messiah. He was condemned to die by Pontius Pilate, who gave him the charge, King of the Jews. Jesus’ death was by crucifixion, after he was beaten and whipped until he could hardly walk. This punishment was undeserved, but necessary, for it is only through the shedding of pure blood that anyone can receive forgiveness for sins.
After Jesus died, and was buried, he rose from the dead, defeating death and giving true life to all who believe in him. Because of his death we have forgiveness. Because of his resurrection, we can have eternal life and fellowship with God.
Following His resurrection, Jesus spent some time with his disciples, reminding them of the coming Holy Spirit, who would help them as they continue the mission Jesus came to declare. This mission was to make disciples of all people, to teach them to observe the teachings of Jesus, and to baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Jesus then ascended into heaven in human form, where he now lives as ruler with the Father, interceding for us until he returns to judge all the peoples of the earth. He will judge rightly and according to his wisdom.
Those who trust in Him for salvation will be judged as righteous and allowed entrance into the kingdom of God. And those who do not trust in Him for salvation will be condemned to Hell, where there will be separation from God and suffering beyond measure.
Although Jesus is absent in human form, he is present in Spirit. His presence is within all who trust in him, and his mission is being carried out all over the world by the church.
All people who trust in Jesus are commissioned by Jesus to proclaim the forgiveness of sins, and to invite them to join in our mission as we follow Jesus and obey his teachings.
It is this message I have just proclaimed to you that you are being sent by Jesus to proclaim. I do not send you, it is Jesus who sends you and invites you to participate with him as he gives you power and faith to carry out the mission.
There is much more to the gospel message. It is a message that will continue to challenge you all the days of your life. But it is also a message that will give you life and joy and peace even though you may face persecution and trouble.
Having heard this message, you now have a responsibility. You cannot receive this message only as a good thing to agree with. Jesus does not allow for a mediocre response. He demands a decision. Will you or will you not trust him?
Over the last four years I hope you have heard this message more than once. And I hope you have decided to trust Jesus. That is my only desire. I cannot offer you anything more than this: Jesus Christ and the hope of his salvation.
If you want to respond right now to this message, either because you have never made a decision to trust him, or because you need to renew your commitment to trust him, I urge you to talk to someone about it. If you feel the need to come forward and make a public declaration of your faith, please come while I pray, and stay here at the front until the service is over so that someone can come and talk with you.
Now, I would like to say a few more words in regards to my resignation.
I want to thank the Board for their leadership of our church. There doesn’t exist in the world a perfect leadership team. But, because of their trust in the Lord and their desire to love and serve this family, their leadership is unmatched. I can’t thank them enough for that.
And I want to thank all of you. Any pastor would be blessed to serve such a wonderful group of people. Over the last four years, Bergen Church has become our family. We have adopted older men and women as mentors for ourselves, and as aunts and uncles and grandparents for our children. This family is rich with character and an honest desire to faithfully follow Jesus.
As new people have begun attending during our time here, I have seen them welcomed not only with open arms, but with a sincere hope that each person would feel like they are a part of our family. This is one of the great testimonies to our community of the love and acceptance of Jesus.
It is important that you know the particulars of why I have come to the decision to resign. There is much to the story of what I have gone through in the last number of months, and beyond. At the outset, I want to emphasize that Bergen Church and the leadership are not to blame. This decision has not come out of conflict or a difficult working environment.
I do not claim that our time has been without struggle. But when it came down to the decision to resign, it was really about my own sense that my time here has come to an end.
In his book titled Don’t Waste Your Life, John Piper recommends that from time to time we stop, and go away for a few days to pray and think about how our particular time and place in life fits into the great purpose of God.
Lynn and I did that in August, and things really began to become clear for us. Part of that retreat was a series of self-assessment workshops and conversations with the directors of Kerith Creek retreat centre.
We were given language that helped us understand ourselves and our calling. It has been this process of discovery that has brought us to this point. I am resigning not because Bergen Church has failed me or because anyone has done anything wrong. I am resigning in order to live with integrity.
If I were to stay in this position I would be lying to myself and to the church about whether or not I believe I should remain a paid pastor at Bergen Church.
John Piper goes on to say that every year he reexamined his life as a pastor at his church. He would look at what he was doing in the light of God’s global purpose. He asked himself, “Is this the most strategic investment of my life for the sake of God’s purpose to make the nations glad in him?” He asked his wife, “Are you sensing any tugs to move closer to the front lines of the unreached peoples?” Finally, he asked himself if he could stand before God and say that he stayed at his church because he believed he could be most instrumental there in accomplishing God’s purpose. If he could no longer say yes to that question, then his time at his church would be done. He stayed there for 33 years. I praise God for John Piper’s ministry, but it is only God who gave life to that church, and he continues to do so long after John Piper’s resignation from that position.
My resignation is an act of obedience and an act of faith. Through a lengthy time of reflection and difficult questions, I can no longer say that I am most effective in accomplishing God’s purpose by staying here. Lynn feels the same way; we are united in this decision.
We do not have complete clarity on what the next stage of our life will look like. But, we have a vision based on what we have learned about ourselves and how God has equipped us.
Right now, we are planning to move back home to Winkler, Manitoba. The kids would like to be with their cousins and grandparents. We do not know how long we will be in Winkler, but wherever we go and whatever we find ourselves doing, one thing is clear: both Lynn and I will find ourselves searching for creative ways to empower people to thrive as unique and gifted individuals.
We have learned about ourselves that we work best in an environment where there are constantly new challenges that require unconventional problem solving. We deal well with change and a dynamic atmosphere in which we are expected to provide creative leadership as we explore new territory. We hope to eventually find ourselves in a place where our unique personalities and gifts and leadership styles are functioning at an optimum level.
We have decided that my final Sunday here will be December 17. We will go to Manitoba for the holidays and spend some time with our families. What happens after that depends on the sale of our house. There is a possibility we may stay in the community for a while longer, or we may not return after Christmas.
In the next month I will continue to fulfill my regular responsibilities with the youth group, as well as preaching next week and possibly the week after, as Rob recovers from surgery.
If you would like to meet with me sometime over the next few weeks, I will make sure to keep plenty of time open for conversations. Please do not hesitate to contact me and arrange a time to meet. I will be very happy to talk.