Message delivered September 2, 2018 at Liberty Spring Christian Church, Suffolk, VA
Good morning, church!
Well, I don’t know about you guys, but something feels … I don’t know … different here today.
I can’t quite put my finger on it. Lauren, did you change your hair? Is that it? Maybe it’s just because I’m looking at everyone from the pulpit. But that can’t be it, because I’m still facing the same direction that I always face.
Now, my family and I have been members of Liberty Spring Christian Church for only a couple of years, so we don’t always recognize when a tradition has become sacrosanct here, and we don’t always notice when the order of things has been shaken up.
But I do know people, and I know how to look for the signs when people are feeling uncomfortable and maybe even struggling to gracefully accept change, and I sense a little of both of those things today.
I have to admit that I deliberately set out to make you feel that way, because I wanted a physical representation of the point of today’s message.
Brothers and sisters, Liberty Spring may be in the midst of a painful transition, and we may very well grieve the loss of regular fellowship with people we love. There is surely change in the works here, and some of it is sure to be uncomfortable.
But the things that are different here today are things that – on the fundamental level, at least – should not be our focus. I’m different, and the seating arrangement is different. But neither of those things is the reason we should be here – or, frankly, a legitimate reason NOT to be here.
I hope the reason you all chose to come, even in the midst of potential concerns about changes in this church is to spend an hour or two drawing closer to God.
And as we draw closer to the unchanging and eternal God whom we serve, He will bring us great comfort.
As He said to the people of Israel through the prophet Jeremiah, He says to us today:
“I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.” (Jer 31:3)
We live in an age of uncertainty, and some of you probably have come here today uncertain about the future of this church, uncertain about the direction of its ministry, uncertain, perhaps, about whether you will even continue your membership here.
People change. Friends who were once close become distant. Their interests change – or ours do – and the things that once brought friends together can eventually separate them. Even followers of Christ can grow distant from one another as they seek to follow God’s leading.
We see this happening with Paul and Barnabas in Acts, Chapter 15.
“After some days Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.’ Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also. But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus.” (Acts 15:36-39)
People change. But institutions also change – even the church itself. Ministries that once buoyed vibrant fellowship and even growth can become irrelevant in the changing culture. They can even become weights dragging the church down into obscurity.
The Apostle Paul’s letters to the Corinthians serve as a great example of how this took place during the early church. The two letters that survive – and some scholars believe there must have been at least four – paint a picture of a church with many problems – division, discipline, morality and even doctrine.
They were a body of believers – Paul said they had been “sanctified in Christ,” that they were “saints by calling” – but they had strayed from their mission because of divisive egos, nonexistent church discipline, insufficient commitment to holiness and weak teaching. This was not the church that Paul had planted.
People change and move on, and we are tempted to say we have lost our faith in humanity. But we know that we have never been called to place our faith in any other than the one true God, who is revealed in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, and whose Spirit dwells in all believers.
Churches change, and we are tempted to give up on them. We go searching for new fellowships where we feel more comfortable, where we like the worship better and we see parking lots full of vehicles.
We do this, but we should know that each of us is called to a body of believers for the purpose of building up that body, of edifying it with our spiritual gifts — even when we are uncomfortable and even when we do not always appreciate the style of worship (which, by the way, is not about us in the first place).
But the eternal God, the God who is from everlasting to everlasting, the God who is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end — never changes.
James said it this way: “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”
The songs we sing about Him may change, as has the one we sang earlier this morning, but the God we sing about does not. There is no shadow of turning with Him. His compassions never fail. His love never changes.
Charles Spurgeon had something to say about how God’s unchanging love manifests itself in relation to those who love Him:
“The Christian knows no change with regard to God. He may be rich today and poor tomorrow; he may be sickly today and well tomorrow; he may be in happiness today, tomorrow he may be distressed; but there is no change with regard to his relationship to God. If he loved me yesterday he loves me today. I am neither better nor worse in God than I ever was. Let prospects be blighted, let hopes be blasted, let joy be withered, let mildews destroy everything. I have lost nothing of what I have in God.”
We can have confidence in this, because God’s character does not change.
From the burning bush, God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And then, as He prepared to give Moses the 10 Commandments for the second time, he revealed to Moses some of his characteristics:
Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed,
“The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished….” (Exodus 34:6-7)
People can be mean-spirited and petty. People can get angry and fly off the handle; they can be unkind and deceitful; they can hold grudges and treat one another unjustly.
But God “never becomes less truthful, or merciful, or just, or good than he used to be. The character of God is today, and always will be, exactly what it was in Bible times.”
A.W. Pink was a Bible teacher in England and an influential evangelical writer during the 20th century. He said this about our unchanging God: “He cannot change for the better for his is already perfect, and being perfect, he cannot change for the worse.”
Because we know that a perfect God cannot change, we can also know that his perfect Truth will not change.
But what is truth? That’s a question we hear Pilate ask Jesus as he is trying to decide what to do with the man the Jewish religious leaders are demanding to be crucified.
Just a few hours before that meeting between the Roman ruler and Jesus, our Savior prayed for His disciples after having shared the Passover meal with them and after then having taught them some of His most important lessons. He asked God to “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.”
It was by His very word that God created light out of darkness and everything out of nothing. His Word is powerful and everlasting, and it does not change with the changing of our culture. What He said then is what He says now.
He said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And he saw the light and it was good. And now, today, God calls US – the church that bears His Son’s name and image – to be light in a dark world.
The Psalmist wrote: “Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.” In that same psalm, we see this: “The sum of Your word is truth, and every one of your righteous ordinances is everlasting.”
Church constitutions change. Mission statements and websites get overhauled. The names that appear on church bulletins are different from one season to the next.
“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:8)
Are you looking for comfort in a season of change? Look to God’s eternal word, where you will find His unchanging Truth.
And if we know that God’s truth does not change, then we can also know that Jesus – He who called Himself the Way, the Truth and the Life – also does not change.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.”
In what I think is one of the most beautiful passages of Scripture, the Apostle John describes the eternal nature of Jesus:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” (John 1:1-4)
And then, later in the chapter:
“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
Jesus was there with His Father at the beginning of it all. He is in heaven today, preparing a place for those who follow Him. And He will be there to receive His bride, the church, when it is called home.
He will rule there as King of Kings and Lord of Lords for all eternity, having received the glory of His father because of His obedient death on the cross for the sins of mankind.
That sacrifice, when the sinless Christ gave Himself to be crucified for our sins, has the same power to save today as it did for the thief who confessed that Jesus was Lord as he hung on the cross beside his Savior on that great and terrible day.
The writer of Hebrews calls Jesus the priest who continues forever, who holds His priesthood permanently. He writes that Jesus is “able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him.”
That writer then makes the contrast with the Levitical priests, who had to make continual sacrifices to atone for their sins and the sins of Israel.
“For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.” (Heb. 7:26-27)
The sacrifice of our High Priest was once, for all. We can take comfort in the knowledge that His blood was and is fully sufficient to cover the cost of all our transgressions if we will only believe in Him and submit to him as our Lord and Savior.
This is the eternal and unchanging message of the Gospel.
And this message is the same message that was given even before the full revelation of God through His Son.
We are called to a saving relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. So, too, were the people of the Old Testament called to a saving relationship with God through faith.
From the very beginning, it was faith in God that allowed man to have a relationship with the Creator.
When Adam and Eve chose to put their faith in the word of the serpent instead of the Word of God, the perfect relationship they’d had with God was broken.
By contrast, when Abraham chose to have faith that God would honor His promise to give him and his barren wife a son, God counted it to him as righteousness.
This plan that we should respond to God in faith has been God’s plan since before the foundation of the world.
Nothing that has happened in time – not the disobedience in the Garden of Eden, not the unchecked evil that led to the destruction of earth by the Great Flood, not the enslavement of God’s people in Egypt or their later exile in Babylon, not the death of His son on a cross – has ever caused God to have to change His plan.
He foresaw all of these things, and He has used even the disobedience of man and the evils of the world to accomplish His work.
He still does so. God is not surprised or derailed by church politics, by church changes or even by church splits.
We who claim the name of His Son can surely bring dishonor on ourselves by contributing to discord within the church that is supposed to reflect the unity of the Trinity, but we can no more cause God to have to change His plans than we can diminish His glory.
Brothers and sisters, there should be no question that this church has at least its share of problems, and that’s largely because so many of us here are weak and insufficient.
But one of the amazing things about how God reveals His grace and mercy to us is that He specializes in using weak, insufficient people to do His work. His strength is made perfect in weakness.
I cannot “save” this church. You cannot “save” this church. Pastor Chris couldn’t save it. To the extent that anything here is broken, here is how it will be healed: Each of us will have to commit to submitting ourselves in obedience to the Lord, to allowing Him to use us in the ways that He sees fit, even when that doesn’t seem to make much sense to us.
And we will have to humbly admit that God will accomplish the plans He made so long ago, with or without any one of us — and, frankly, with or without Liberty Spring Christian Church.
Maybe that sounds like a defeatist statement to you. Maybe it even sounds alarming to hear this from your interim pastor on his first week.
But I want you to think for a moment about how liberating it can be to realize that neither God’s Kingdom nor His love for us nor rely on my success or yours. If that’s true, then what do we have to lose by stepping out in faith for Him?
Whatever act of faithful obedience God is calling you toward today, your hesitation to say yes will not affect His eternal plan, and it will not change His love for you. It will not change anything at all about our unchanging God.
But it could change everything about you.
Have you lost hope in the church? Then find your hope in the One in whom hope is eternal.
Are you troubled by the disloyalty and unreliability of people you once trusted? Then turn your troubles over to the One whose faithfulness endures to all generations.
Are you exhausted by the world’s ever-shifting definition of truth? Find strength then in the One whose word of truth established the universe.
Are you worried that changing priorities will shake up the purpose of this church? Remember that we serve a God whose Kingdom cannot be shaken and whose purpose is the same today as it was before the first ray of light burst forth from the darkness.
Many things may change, but God will never change. And on that unshakeable foundation, this church will continue to do His work.
Forever, O Lord,
Your word is settled in heaven.
Your faithfulness continues throughout all generations;
You established the earth, and it stands.
They stand this day according to Your ordinances,
For all things are Your servants.
 J.I. Packer, Knowing God