This sermon was preached on Sunday, January 23, 2011.
[Pastor has just returned from a visit to Hershey Medical Center for cancer treatment, and this is how his sermon begins. He also alludes to prophetic words spoken earlier in the service and a testimony by Worship Pastor Wayne Miller, both of which are sufficiently explained in his sermon.]
By the way, I made a mistake about registration for Spiritual Breakthrough Weekend. The deadline is next week, not this week, but I’m losing sense of time. You can understand. This week I was like, “What day is it?” Wednesday, I got home from Hershey and a couple of the pastors came over. I said, “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow; it’s my day off.” [The congregation laughs because Pastor’s day off has been Tuesday since anyone can remember.]
Turn with me to the book of Ephesians. I’ll share a little bit of personal stuff as we begin. We’re kind of getting deeper and deeper into this wonderful book, this wonderful epistle, and we come to an intriguing section this week in Ephesians 3, verses 10 and 11. Would you stand with me, please, as we give honor to God’s Word?
His intent—this is God, God’s intent—was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to His eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. [He repeats it.] His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to His eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.
[Prayer] Father, thank You for what You accomplished through Jesus Christ our Lord. We thank You for the prophetic words that were shared today, thinking how they fit with the message. Lord, we are sons and daughters of the very Highest, and You want us to walk in heavenly realms. You want us to walk in victory, and you want that victory to spread. And Lord, we look forward to that day when the land is swept with Your Spirit, by Your Spirit, and the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth. Father, thank You today for Your Holy Spirit in this place. Thank You, Lord, that You will take this word and touch every heart, I pray. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, speak to my heart, change my life, in Jesus’ Name. Amen, amen. You may be seated.
One of the most difficult decisions that pastors face is how much personal stuff to share, you know what I’m saying? If you share too much, it’s not healthy. You may be sharing some things you shouldn’t share. And also, you make it all about you, and it’s not all about me. It’s about Jesus, amen? But if you don’t share anything and you just preach as if, you know, you’re not living a life, you’re not dealing with these issues, then it’s hard for people to translate that into their lives. In fact, many times, as we face common issues, if no one shares how they got over that, how they dealt with it, then when you’re impacted, you feel alone. You feel like you’re the only one, or whatever. So finding that healthy balance is difficult.
I’m going to share a little bit more today, personally, than I normally do, and let me start with what happened a week and a half ago. Tuesday night I went home from a board meeting; it was a good board meeting. I went home, and we were predicted to have two to four or two to five inches of snow, and I still contend, it was a shovelable amount so the snow blower theory still holds. [The snow blower theory, in Pennsylvania, is that once you break down and buy one, you will not need it for that first winter. Pastor had finally bought a snow blower and central Pennsylvania was experiencing a fairly mild winter. And the congregation laughs.] But when a guy buys a toy worth a few hundred dollars, you are not going to let it just sit there. So I decide, I’m going to use the snow blower and I don’t want to bother anybody else, so I start using the snow blower. Well, I do recommend, you know, that if you are out snow blowing, particularly if you have lung issues like me, you should probably not be dressed in street shoes. You should probably have a decent coat on. Someone said to put a mask on. Those would have been smart things, if I had done those. But I didn’t.
So I go in the house, and I’m really cold, and so I go through a routine. I sit down at the computer to just kind of settle down a little bit and go to bed, and I start, not just coughing, but I started throwing up some food from a little earlier in the evening, and that’s happened before. I thought, “I need to get to bed.” I drug myself up the steps and I was just exhausted at that point, and I get upstairs and I’m thinking, “I’m going to get better, I’m going to get better,” and I don’t get better. I’m getting worse. So I go through the routine that you do at nighttime, and I lay down, and I think, “Once I lay down, I’m going to do better.” Well, I laid down and I didn’t do better. I got worse. And all of a sudden, I am starting to gasp for air. I feel myself spiraling down, and I just pray that this will get better and it kept getting worse and worse. In about 20 minutes or so, I realize if I didn’t call 9-1-1 then, in another ten to fifteen minutes, I could probably still dial them, but I wouldn’t be able to get any consonants, any words out at all. So I call them, and I barely could get one consonant out at a time, to tell them what’s going on. And they got there, and as soon as they put the mask on me, I started to get better, and the next morning, I felt pretty good.
But, I was suffocating. I was asphyxiating, and I’ve asked multiple doctors what would have happened if this had gone on another half hour or so, and they were hesitant to say because they still don’t even know what happened. They don’t know what caused it, and you are looking for physical causes, obviously, and then we as Christians, we understand spiritual attack, but I was reaching a point where I thought if I didn’t do something in the next fifteen to thirty minutes, I might be going home to glory. I mean, it was that bad. You know, I had a brother that drowned and they say asphyxiation is one of the worse ways to die, and I mean—I don’t know that I can recreate it here. You feel like you are drowning. You are gasping for every breath, and hurriedly, to get anything into your system.
So it actually crossed my mind, “Should I just not call?” You know, Heaven is a great place and I want to go there. Well, I thought, Arline [his wife] was at work, and when I called 9-1-1 I was able to get her number out, one number at a time, every few seconds, so it’s not fair to Arline; she’s not here. I don’t necessarily feel like God’s done with me yet. The Steelers are still alive and in the play-offs. [Pastor and many in the congregation are big Pittsburgh Steeler fans, so the congregation laughs and some applaud. And with this and the following comments, we know that Pastor is still about God’s business. Armed with God’s Word and his sense of humor, he is still going, with all the strength he has.] And I had heard, again, that suffocation is about the worst way to go. The best way to go to Heaven, up here [making a hand signal up high], on a scale of zero to ten is chariots of fire, you know. It’s up there. And then death by chocolate is just below that. [Congregation laughs.] I am really glad at Hershey I didn’t see anywhere in the cafeteria or anything, Death By Chocolate [a popular dessert]. When you are in Hershey Hospital, that’s the last thing you want to see there. So asphyxiation is way down here somewhere [making a low hand signal].
So I called and they [the EMTs] took good care of me, and the hospital took good care of me. They had planned, the Hershey doctors had been in the process the last two or three months of trying to decide whether they could go down and put a stent in the lungs and open up a passageway to get me a little more breathing capacity because I am about 60% or so—that’s the last number they gave me this week—and they did go in, and they did look at that, and they were not able to do that, so that was a disappointment. So I went back in–came home for two days, went back in–and they did two procedures. They cut about a four-inch hole here [indicates across the middle left side of his chest], kind of like mini open-heart surgery, but they cut a hole here, and the pericardium, the sac around the heart, they cut a window to drain the fluid that has appeared there over the last six months, and they took over a pint of fluid that was around the heart. They cut that window so it just permanently drains, and then they put a drain over here for fluid around the right lung, and so far they’ve taken about two and a half pints out for that. So that’s kind of where it is, and I’m just kind of getting stronger and trying to get back to normal, and praise God, I’m here and it’s a good day, amen? It’s a good day! [Congregation breaks into applause.]
Well, what’s that have to do with the text? You’ll see, you’ll see. This text is fascinating because in Ephesians, we have a little more material than we have in some other books of the New Testament about evil in the spiritual realms. Now we already touched on, in chapter one–and I kind of breezed through it–we talked about the name of Jesus, how exalted He is, verse 21 [he quotes verses 21-23] in chapter one: far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and over every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be the head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way. And then chapter two [verses 1-2]: As for you, you were dead in your trespasses [NIV uses transgressions] and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.
Now if you ever saw a tie-in between evil forces in spiritual realms and that Christ defeated them—[verse 22] God placed all things under His feet, appointed Him to be head over everything for the church–so you see a tie-in between these authorities and powers, evil powers and satanic powers, being defeated for our sake. Now in chapter three, our text, says: His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms. So in chapter one, it’s for the church. Now it’s through the church. God is saying to these powers and authorities, “Take a look at this; take a look at my church,” and revealing His wisdom to them.
Now in chapter six, there is a passage that most of you are familiar with–and we will get there, Lord willing, should Jesus tarry–about spiritual warfare, and it tells us again, verse 12: our struggles are not against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Now if you’ll flip a couple pages in your Bibles to Colossians, chapter 2, verse 15, Paul is using very similar language. It says: And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He—meaning Jesus–made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross, [he repeats] triumphing over them by the cross. So here we have these powers and authorities that oppress us, and by the way, Pastor Wayne, I really appreciate you sharing today about that day where these dark forces were filling the room. I’ve had a couple days like that in my life, where you just submit yourself to God and you resist the devil, but the best way to do it is in worship; by worshipping God, he has to flee. He has to go. Martin Luther talked about one time when satan visited him. He woke up at night and said, “Oh, it’s just you,” and he threw the ink blotter at him. [Many in the congregation laugh.]
We are in a spiritually hostile world, and there are powers and authorities that are aligned against Christ and His church. Now historically, you go to seminary and all this stuff, and you read all these books from times past. For a number of centuries, the commentators didn’t even deal with this stuff. They didn’t know what to do with it. From about the 18 or 1900’s, they didn’t even touch it. And in the 20th century it took awhile until people started to be able to process this. And about a decade or so ago I came across a book from Intervarsity Press, Powers of Darkness: Principalities and Powers in Paul’s Letters , where he puts together—Clinton Arnold [the author] does–all the bits of evidence that we see, particularly in the letters written by Paul, and what his understanding was of this spiritual realm, of what’s going on, the powers that be. Some have used that term. We’re under attack, and Paul talks about this in a very personal way, in Philippians 3:10, he talks about: I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death.
Now, I’ve got to tell you, on Tuesday, I’m laying there in the gurney as they are taking me to the hospital, and that verse comes to my mind. You know, crucifixion is all about suffocation. It’s not about bleeding to death. Crucifixion is designed to kill you by asphyxiation. Now, I am not saying that I experienced anything more than maybe two or three percent of what Jesus experienced on the cross. But I thought, “Here I am, I’m fellowshipping in His suffering.” I know what Jesus felt like, to be gasping for air on the cross–anyone who was crucified, for that matter, but particularly Jesus. Then I said, “Okay, Lord, when are we due to–[he pauses questioningly]. We want to fellowship in Your glory too. Fair is fair. Fellowship in Your sufferings, we want to fellowship in Your glory too.” So those prophetic words today were such an encouragement, that the glory is coming.
So we are under attack, and yet, here this text says that God is proud of His church. Jesus is proud of His church, and He is saying to the enemy, “Take a look at this.” Now I am going to bring this down personal. I want to talk about the church and then us personally, but when the Bible talks about the church, it usually, in the New Testament, is talking about the church universal, the body of Christ around the world. Now we have the visible church; we have buildings that people go to. Not everybody in a church building is a Christian and there are Christians who are not necessarily in a church building at a given point in time, so we are talking about the universal body of Christ.
And we [State College Assembly of God] have a little taste of that. In Heaven, you know, we are all going to be together—different cultures and languages and races and everything. We have a little taste of that here, the more and more international we become. And I want to do something. I wanted to do this two weeks ago, but I felt a check in my spirit to wait. I want to do it today, and I’m going to need an extra microphone. I want to just take a few minutes, and have representatives of different nations help me with something very simple. I won’t embarrass you, but I need a representative from every nation that is represented here. [Remember that Penn State University is just down the road and we do have quite an international congregation, so this exercise is quite effective.] Okay? I get to be the United States [and everyone chuckles]. So I’m going to ask you to stand where you are at, and just stay standing. [I have edited this part slightly, paring down a bit of the dialogue, but it is worth it to read through this to notice that first, Pastor knows the individual members of this 700+ congregation well. And second, even in his suffering, his interaction with his flock is energetic, encouraging, and effective.]
Let’s start with Africa and maybe one of the more populous nations. How ‘bout Equatorial Guinea? [He shakes his head.] No, the Africans understand the joke there. [Equatorial Guinea is one of the smallest nations in Africa by area and population. I had to look it up too.] How about Nigeria? How many Nigerians do we have here? [Many stand and he asks] Who gets to be the representative? Who is willing? How about a student over here? Okay, stay standing. Other African nations—do we have Kenya today? Is Ethiopia here today? Others? Tanzania. Do we have Sierra Leone? Ghana, if would you stand please? [One person finally stands and he says] Okay, there we go. We have more than one Ghanese in this congregation, so we are getting a little hesitant. Any other African nations? Sierra Leone is not here? [Apparently he knows someone who attends our church is from Sierra Leone.] Okay, Zambia, please stand. Are we done with Africa? [A student stands and he says] Rwanda. There we go.
Now let’s go north to Europe. Holland, anyone from Holland? Oh, come on guys. There you are, okay, there is Jouke. [Jouke is active on our tech team, and could be anywhere during the service.] Okay, England, Great Britain—who is going to be representative? There we go; all the Anglophiles, just call them that—lovers of England. Other European nations? Oh, come on. Ukraine, yes please. [People are a bit reluctant to stand because he still has not said what he is doing, so he pans the crowd and begins picking out people.]
Okay, Asia, Philippines, yes, please stand. How about Malaysia? There we go. Other Asian nations, any from India? Come on, Prince. [As two students decide who will stand, he says] Oh, they are trying to decide between them. Okay, Ranaj. Other Asian nations? China, please—there we go. Is there someone from Togo? Okay, anybody else from Asia? Taiwan, yes. I tell you what, if the mainland Chinese—we’re going to count Taiwan, and we’ll count Puerto Rico, to be fair. South Korea? North Korea? [and he laughs] I’d love to have someone from North Korea. Anyone else from Asia? [One person stands and he says] Korea? Wonderful.
Okay, Latin America, where do we start? Puerto Rico, we have. [Ireida, Pastor’s daughter-in-love, is from Puerto Rico and her mother and sister are here]. Columbia, where the coffee comes from. One from each. Other Latin American nations? Back here, Costa Rica, and El Salvador. Any others from Central or South America? Any Canadians? [Someone shouts out “Haiti” and Pastor says] Is Haiti hiding? Okay, Haiti is not allowed to hide. D.R., do we have anyone from the Dominican Republic?
No Canadians? Okay, okay. [A Canadian stands up and says he wonders why there is no flag from Canada in our sanctuary. We have flags from 70 nations hanging overhead in our worship space.] Since you asked, these [flags] represent nations where we support missionaries, and we just don’t support missionaries to Canada. [Many in the congregation chuckle as the Canadian expresses surprise.] There is a guide back here [an indicator on the back wall identifying each flag]. Yeah, it’s not where people from our congregation attend. We’d be changing that about every three weeks, probably. It’s more missions than it is us but it does speak of the character of the congregation, so I am glad you asked, so everybody knows. What did I miss? Australia? Russia, yes, yes, Russia. No? Any other nation, please? There’s a hand back here—Jamaica, yes! Come on.
Now I don’t want to take a lot of time on this but I want you to just come forward here and form a line. I won’t make you go up on the platform, just a line right here and I am going to ask you a question. You don’t have to answer it. How ‘bout that? It doesn’t get any more low pressure than that! Come here to the center, and we’ll fill out. Actually, I am going to ask two questions together so we don’t have to go down [the line] again. Wonderful, wonderful [as everyone is lining up], we’ve got one more spot here—Pablo, right? Yes. Pablo, the pianist from Costa Rica. [After they are all lined up, he says] Isn’t that a good-looking group? Isn’t that awesome? [Congregation erupts in applause. These folks still don’t know exactly what they are doing.] This is like Heaven. I’ll tell you why I don’t have someone from the US, because the question I am going to ask you would not be germane to them. We’re going to start down here, okay? [He heads to stage right.] I just have a feeling this side is braver, maybe, than this side.
And here’s two questions. From what you know of the church from your country of origin, what could they learn from the church in the US? And what could the church in the US learn from your church in your homeland? You don’t have to answer it. Some of you might say, “more expressive worship”, and you can duplicate. If someone else has already said something, you can say the same thing, okay? You have all kind of possibilities. You can skip, so you don’t have to say anything. Why don’t we do this rather than go down? Why don’t you just raise your hand when you are ready to answer the question, and we will hop around. What could the church in America learn from your country of origin, and–you can do one of the two, or both– and what could we learn from them? [I think he meant, they learn from us.] Okay, here we go. [For this portion, I have just used the country and not the person’s name. The country representatives’ responses are in quotation marks. Pastor’s words are not. Explanatory asides are in brackets, as always.]
Name the country—give us your name, and name the country.
“I am from Tanzania. Can I answer one part of the question?” Sure, you bet. “So, what the US people could learn from the churches in Tanzania, or I would say East Africa is we, like, we praise God. We don’t have a sense of time, like you can go to church at 9 o’clock in the morning and you could leave at 2, whatever the pastor feels. Maybe 3, sometimes even 4, during Sundays, so it is quite an extensive church. We use drums sometimes, and we just praise Him wholeheartedly.” How many are there at 9 though? [Everyone laughs, because people are in the building but no one is in the sanctuary when the service begins, and everyone rushes in during the first praise song, or second.] Could that be the other part of the question? [She laughs and replies] “Yes, that’s another part of the question.” Okay, great! Who else?
“I am from Nigeria. We could learn to dance some more in this church, and then [she laughs], in Africa we could learn to be on time.” [Everyone laughs.]
“I represent Haiti. As far as Haiti learning from America, more accepting as far as who comes into the church. [Pastor gives an audible “hmm” to that.] As far as America from Haiti, I would have to agree with the two ladies who went before me. Back home—I’m from Philly—church would really start at 9 and I would really leave at 3 o’clock, and praise and worship would be hours long.” Okay, who’s next?
“I’m from Costa Rica and I feel like something could make a big difference is patience. When you really want something, I mean, you will get it, and that could make a big difference. I grew up next to a pastor; my dad is a pastor in Costa Rica, and we see all kinds of wonderful things—miracles and God moving in all kind of different ways, and I think that will be a big difference. I’m not saying that you are not patient or we are not [Pastor affirms him with, “I understand”], but you know, like, we have to look for God’s presence with all our heart. [Applause for that.] Amen, thank you.
“I’m from Columbia and I was going to say the exact same thing. It’s the passion.”
“I’m originally from England. My first experience in the Assemblies of God—I came out of the Church of England which was very, um, very ritualistic, and you stood up, you knelt down, you sat down, you did all these different things, but there was no spiritual atmosphere at all. So when I went into the Assemblies of God, the first thing I experienced was the joy and happiness with the Pentecostal people, and not only speaking in tongues, interpretation, and words of prophecy, but also the spontaneous prayer from the people in the congregation. Someone would stand up and just worship Jesus in prayer, and then somebody else would, and then somebody else. A lot of time was taken up there in just praise and worship, and I don’t see that in American congregations, so that is something we could learn from the British.” [Applause for that too.] Thank you.
“I am from Puerto Rico. I think so, all the church, all around the world, that Jesus is our Savior and Pastor Grabill, I want my flag from Puerto Rico hung in the church. Thank you.” [Pastor laughs in agreement, as this lady, Ireida’s mother, serves as a missionary to her family in Puerto Rico.]
“I am from Malaysia. We can learn to be more accepting, like the church over here, and you can learn how to appreciate authentic Asian food more.” [Pastor and the congregation laugh. This young man attends the college group where they occasionally have pot luck dinners, and not everyone fully appreciates his contribution.]
“So in Jamaica, I think we can learn how to be more united in the churches, and as far as here learn from Jamaica, I think one of the things is going out into the streets and teaching people the Gospel. Presenting the Gospel to people in the streets, that is something we don’t do here a lot.” Okay, great.
“I am from Sierra Leone. I’m not sure if I can say the church of America can learn from my country, but in my country things are not as orderly as here and sometimes things are a real struggle. And so people try or tend to put Christ and God in the center of their lives because you have to lean on God for everything because things are a struggle. I mean, medical care is not as easy as you get it here so when you are sick, you really have to put your faith in God.” [Applause again.]
I hear some of you saying you’d like a little bit more order but not too much, is that correct? Yeah.
“I’m from El Salvador, and one thing we can learn from my country is be thankful and humble for what we have here because I was able to go to a big church in El Salvador, and it was hot as can be. We were not able to see the pastor this closely as we can see the pastor in a big picture [I think she is referring to projecting images on our screen up front], you know, because there were so many people seeking God and people standing up, no seats, you know, more hungry for God. Being more thankful for what we have in this country because a country like ours, they are not blessed like we are here with the nice weather. We complain about how cold it is, we are not going to church or how hot it is; it is too hot. We should be thankful for the roof and everything we have in here.” [Congregation applauds and Pastor affirms with] Amen. Actually, I thought we might hear from Canada, to learn to go to church when there are 18 inches of snow on the ground, right?
“I think what I learned was, from this church, is it’s more loving and more community, and that’s critical. And I think what I miss most is more silent time, devotional, reverent moments. And I am from The Netherlands.”
“I’m from Canada. I attended a Missionary Church in Canada and it was probably half the size of this, so it was more intimate. However, it was basically the same. We had the same kind of music. Our minister was very much like you were. The one thing that I found a little more difficult to become accustomed to was the overall speaking out and really praising of the Lord. We are much more conservative in our religion even though we are very deeply ingrained with it. We do a lot of missionary work and we really focus on that, and there is always a lot of different presentations being done, and people coming in and doing it. One of the things that I really miss from my church is there were always regular speakers coming in and different concerts and things, so that the church was very much the neighborhood church. It was a place where you went probably one extra Sunday evening every month because there was always something going on, either for couples or for families and things like that, so I would have to say that is one of the things I do miss.” Okay. Two more.
“I’m from Zambia, and one thing I miss about the congregations in Africa, like them, is the praise and worship, but also the fact that they involve their children. I was in the church choir when I was 7 or 6. I can’t sing for my life but they had their kids involved in the praise and worship and everything like that.”
“I’m from Rwanda, and as far as the church of Christ is concerned, I see a lot of things in common between both churches but if the church in Rwanda could learn anything from what I see in the US, especially in this church, is acceptance, diversity. Rwanda is a country that was devastated by genocide and ethnic conflicts, but when I see people of a lot of different race, backgrounds and cultures coming together to praise the Lord, it’s a big lesson that Rwanda could learn, and just go together regardless of where someone is coming from or what their races are. What the church in the US could learn is probably—I think I’m going to side with a lot of African churches here–we are not restricted by time. We just go and they stop praising the Lord whenever they feel like it’s time. Sometimes they just forget; they might as well throw away the watches [he, and everyone, chuckles], so that’s about it.”
Great! Oh, here we go—don’t want to miss Taiwan, er, Korea—I’m so sorry!
“I’m from South Korea. I think I love diversity in this church and I think it might be a great advantage in this United States church. At the same time I sort of miss the early service in church. For example, we have a regular 5 AM service and that’s pretty good. [Many in our congregation laugh, because we don’t do early well.] Sometimes you want to pray and gathering together might be very good, so I miss that one though.”
“I am from Ukraine, and for most part of my life, I was atheist. That’s not surprising. And I’m not comparing, because this church, of course, started our church–it makes no sense. [Everyone laughs, because if our church planted her church, it would be nearly the same, wouldn’t it?] Well, but I came to go in Ukraine and it was church actually close to what we have here. It was church arranged by Americans and Australians. It was full Gospel church, and at the time all the churches were very young and it were more passion that here, I would say. I’m not sure, always, it was good, but what I like more in this church is that–and maybe not only this but I can speak only about this church—it’s more serious relation to God, and more deep explanation of our life in God, and our mission in God, because in our churches, again maybe because they were so young, it was very popular to say, ‘Well, you come to God and everything will [go] good with your life, so you are happy, you are rich, everything will be okay.’ And even then I understand it is probably not so, but here I just get some confirmation. It is much more serious and much more difficult way.” Sure, wonderful. Didn’t they do a great job? Oh, one more.
“I’m from India. One thing that the Indian church could learn from America is that true holiness comes from the heart, and it’s the heart change that matters most to God. At the same time, I think the American church can learn from the Indian church is that we are in the world, but we are not of the world. You know, there is that physical separation that needs to occur with how we appear, how we act as well.” Amen, amen. Okay, thank you. Awesome, awesome! Thank you. [Congregation applauds.]
You know, first of all, Germans do have passion [Pastor’s family heritage is German], and when they express it, it’s historic. It’s called World War I, World War II.
For those of you who are parents of more than one child, haven’t you often wished that you could put the strengths of each child together into one, and they all could share the strengths and not have the weaknesses? I wonder if God looks at us that way. As He looks around the world, at the church around the world, if we could put all the strengths together–well, we have an opportunity at State College Assembly to move in that direction. I’m not saying we’re going to get there, but to learn from each other, and to combine those strengths, and to please the Lord. So the Lord is pleased with His church. He loves His church around the world, and He is saying to the enemy, He’s saying to these authorities and powers in the heavenly realms, “Take a look at this. Take a look at them.”
I want to share one more point, and then I think I am going to make this a two-part message for next Sunday, because there is a lot I want to share with you. The church of State College [speaking now of the entire community] is similar in that some years ago we recognized we are one church. Each congregation has its own strengths and weaknesses, and we can learn from each other. We don’t have to become each other, but we can learn from each other, and we can pray together, we can work together. And I believe the Lord is pleased when we do that. Psalm 133, when brothers dwell together in unity, there is where the anointing is poured out. [See vs. 1-2.] And so we recognize that we’re not there yet and we want to please the Lord, and the Lord is, through the church, making known His manifold wisdom to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.
Now, the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, how relevant is that? Well, it’s more relevant than some think, and it’s less relevant than others think. First of all, just the whole idea that there are these numbers, maybe millions or billions, of spiritual entities in a realm that we cannot see, that is invisible to us, and that there is any interaction, being made known. In the book of Job, we have—and if you’ve not read the book of Job, I recommend it before next Sunday because I am going to be referring to Job quite a bit next Sunday. In the book of Job, the first disturbing thing to us, to the reader, is in chapters one and two, is to discover that God and satan are on speaking terms, at least at that point. And you would think, “They shouldn’t be talking. They’re mortal enemies, right?” And why is God saying to satan, “Have you looked at Job recently? Isn’t he awesome?” How many of you want God to say to satan, you know, “Have you looked at John or Jim or Sally or Susan recently? Aren’t they amazing?” It’s like, “Lord, could you bring somebody else’s name up?” [Congregation laughs.] If you don’t read the whole book of Job, and you should, because you have time to do that, but it’s encapsulated in the first two chapters and the last chapter, and it ends well. And I thought a lot about Job this week, and I thought about how well it ends, and I thought if I experience what Job experienced how good it is at the end, and Arline gets to have ten more children! [Congregation laughs again.] Just read it for yourself. What a blessing that would be.
So what’s going on here? Is God showing off or is He trying to teach them something? What is this interaction going on when He’s saying, “Take a look at this. I’m so pleased with my children.” I want you to know today that He does love you and He is not pleased with everything you do, but He is pleased with His church, and when Jesus comes, the church is going to be ready. I’m not sure who all is going to be in that crowd when we’re taken up, but the church is going to be ready and the bride of Christ is going to ascend into the Heavenlies to be with Him forever.
In the meantime, we face some challenges from these dark forces, and I’ve thought about, “Do people in high places in the secular realm, do they even realize that there are dark forces?” Maybe, maybe not. These are things that people don’t often talk about, right, particularly people in public. They pooh-pooh it in public, but in private, you know. . .
Some years ago Paul Burrell, who was chief butler to the Queen of England wrote a book, [A Royal Duty, Viking UK, 2003] and in the book, after Princess Diana died, he said in the book that he asked the Queen about the mystifying circumstances around Princess Diana’s death, and that she said–the Queen said to him, he said, “There are dark forces at work in this nation of which we do not have knowledge.” Well, is that people or is that spiritual entities? What is that? Years later, he was in an inquest and he withdrew that; under oath, he took that back.
But Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States, put in a book of his that he wrote soon after he became President—the book is called The New Freedom [New York: Doubleday, Page and Company, 1913]—he wrote this:
“Since I entered politics, I have chiefly had men’s views confided to me privately. Some of the biggest men in the US in the fields of commerce and manufacturing were afraid of somebody, or afraid of something. They know that there is a power somewhere so organized, so subtle, so watchful, so interlocked, so complete, so pervasive, that they had better not speak above their breath when they speak in condemnation of it.”
Oo, that’s quite a quote. Again, what’s he talking about? Is he talking about people or is he talking about spiritual entities? What’s he talking about? I don’t know. I can tell you what, we don’t have to be afraid of them. We don’t have to be afraid of the enemy because we are children of the King, and no matter what happens around us, we can trust that even when bad things happen, He’ll turn it into good. Romans 8:28 is true, it really is, that God works all things for good, all things for good, for those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose, and we are that.
So is He showing us off in Heaven, and what are the implications of that? We’ll talk a little bit more about that next week. But this week, we live in heavenly realms, we need not be afraid, and maybe the reason we haven’t been told more in scripture is because we don’t need to know any more than what is in scripture. What we’ve been told is sufficient, and we walk in that. We walk by faith, not by sight. We walk in His grace, and even though the Earth is a spiritual battlefield, we can live secure lives, not worrying, not fretting, not fearing. That’s why Jesus said, “Do not worry. Do not worry. If your Heavenly Father cares about sparrows, how much more does He care about you?” [I think he is referring to Matthew 10:28-30.] Would you stand with me this morning? How much more does He care about you? Know that He cares about you today, He cares about you. He really, really does. If you have fear or worry today, leave it here. Don’t take it home with you. Leave it here. I invite you at the end of the service to come forward and lay it at His feet. Leave it at the altar. There is no need to fear, there is no need to fear. Thank you, Jesus.
[Prayer] Lord, I thank You for this congregation, Lord, as we are continuing to learn to walk in victory and we want to manifest the strength of Your church. We want to be like the church was in the book of Acts. They started with an international chorale there right on the day of Pentecost. Lord, You timed it so it would be at a time in which they came from so many nations of the world, they came. And they saw the demonstration of Your power, and 3000 committed their lives to You that day. And Lord, from the very beginning, it began as a diverse group. And Lord, You went from there, that this Light, this Gospel would spread over all the Earth. I thank You, Lord, for what You are doing among us. Lord, we thank You that we can walk in victory, no matter what. Lord, I pray a blessing on each and every child of Yours today as we go from this place.
Let’s sing together before we go. [We closed singing, “Jesus Messiah” by Chris Tomlin, 2008.]