Sunday, May 18, 2014

FIRE Conference 2014: Part Two

Day Two
*Note: These posts are real-time Tuesday and Wednesday, but I was not able to post them until now due to internet connection and picture uploads.

The routine today was much the same as yesterday's, except for the requisite additional purchase of books, and thus I shall skip the "we did this and that and then the other" part of narration to plunge into an overview of the messages we heard and the ministries which caught my (and hopefully your) notice.

Josh was hauled into playing keyboard, and he fit right in.
First, for the sermons. As you may recall, we are working our backwards through FIRE, so the topics for today were "Independent" and "Fellowship". Joe Flatt had been charged with the former subject, and he proceeded to deliver a soul-gladdening message from Matthew 16:18-19. Basically, Christ owns the church, and God has deemed it well for ordinary people to be the basis of His institution. People are the keys to the church, and souls saved by grace make up His Bride. Is that not amazing? What is more, God's design includes flawed men running and shepherding His people. Why on earth would He do that? Perhaps to receive glory for the work done here on earth. How else but by His grace could a crowd of fishermen, farmers, insurance guys, coppers, and those strange seminary students keep a church going? Yes, it truly is all grace. Although not directly in the sermon, something struck me about the passage being expounded. Christ is the rock but He is also naming Peter the rock. I know the exact interpretation of this text is debated, but it appears to me that Jesus here is not really setting Peter up as a representation of Himself. No, the idea and play on words is more profound. Jesus is giving Peter His own identity. Christ is the cornerstone, and Peter is the rock because Christ is making him more like Himself. Pastors, and all of us, are Christians, "little Christs," who take on the identity of Jesus by His grace. Glorious much? And I think Peter might be carrying this image of Matthew 16 on into his writing in 1 Peter 2.

Joe Flatt on "Independent"
Anyway, that sets up for the conclusions Pastor Flatt drew from the text. 1) Christ builds His church through flawed human beings, so it must be clear that biblically approved men lead the church, those men are not individually indispensable, and God gets all the glory for whatever the church does. 2) Christ owns the church in the sense of architect, contractor, owner, and builder, so His design serves as the only floor plan. Don't mess with it. The building imagery also indicates the church is a building zone, and the building is not yet complete. Church can be messy and change faces from time to time because, remember, God uses people. But this same church is a guaranteed work in progress, for the owner is the confident Son of God and He boldly declares it will be made perfect. Yeah, stick with it. It's so worth it. 3) Christ owns the church in the sense that it's not yours. Don't behave like you own it, because you don't. No power play, please. 4) Because Christ owns it, the church will succeed no matter what. Not even Hades, Hell and Death and all that evil, will prevail against the battering ram of the church under Christ's banner. Now, that means only the church will succeed. She's the ship to be in, friends, for Christ is manning her. Don't look for salvation or success anywhere else. Oh, yes, and that success is defined by the Owner (Christ), not the gofer (men). Christ's definition of success equals Him saving and sanctifying a people for Himself. That's it, and don't worry about anything else. He is truly the perfect Orchestrator, the glorious Head, and the certain Champion. Therefore, praise God for the opportunity to serve in your local church! And let us not grow fainthearted, for He will fulfill His promises in and through us.

Yep. It was an epic sermon, and I could just see some of the pastors stand taller as Pastor Flatt finished. I mean, there's a lot of pressure removed when you realise you are simply instruments in a completely reliable Redeemer's hands! We non-pastors might want to think about how we treat our church leaders in light of these truths. Are my expectations, or non-expectations, of my local shepherd biblical and Christlike? How should I deal with him/them in light of this? Food for thought.

We took time to pray for one another in small groups
Next up came Steve Krogh preaching on "Fellowship" from...where? I was stumped on where the text would come from for both "Independent" and "Fellowship". Well, Steve Krogh went with the book of Malachi. Surprised? So was I. But it was awesome (again, in the real sense of the word). "Comfort ye my people" came to mind again and again as I listened through the sermon. Pastor Krogh started off by going through the many times God tells Israel "but you say" as the Israelites counteract God's words with their dreadful doubts about His love, worthiness, covenant, and justice in their time of trial. By chapter three, this slippery mental slope leads the Israelites to command repentance of God, call sin blessed, and question the utility of serving the Lord. It is not a pretty train of thought, yet it is also not a foreign one, even to those of the faith.

We also took time to eat, promise!
But what does this have to do with Fellowship? I was definitely asking that question half way through my sermon notes. And then BAM. Malachi 3:16 starts answering our wonderment. There were those who yet feared the Lord, who yet knew God is loving, worthy, faithful, just, and pure. And what did these God-trusters do? They spoke with one another. To me, that was like lightning. I know a chief defense mechanism of mine when I am hurting is retreat, isolation, withdrawal. Certes, everyone needs time to think and rest, for sure, but 'tis easy to use that good alone time as a cover up and take it much too far. The true solution to pain is fellowship! Fellowship around a common fear of the Lord. Convicting news to me, that was. Sometimes there really is pain in the offering of serving God, and it is within the fellowship of believers that we share and carry our joys and sorrows. How wonderful! What a spur to know Scripture so we might speak His words to our needy brothers and receive His words from our loving sisters in Christ. Although I felt like this would be the high point of the sermon, it just got better, for Malachi goes on to say that the Lord heard and paid attention to this fellowship of believers, and He called them "mine". Awesome. And then God wrote their names in a scroll of remembrance (like the scrolls Mordecai read to the sleepless king in Esther), because He has a purpose for His children, for those who trust even in the dark times. See, He is gathering us up for That Day when He will call all of His children "mine" and be glorified in us as His completed building, a beautiful Bride, a perfect fellowship of saints. God has something more glorious than we can imagine, no matter how prone we are to forget that glory in our darkness. And in Fellowship we remember That Glory and move ever closer towards That Day. The End.

Exactly. No words.

Steve Krogh on "Fellowship"
The day, and the conference, ended with one last rousing message from Joe Boot, who wrote a really really neat book on history for God's glory. He challenged us to live out our faith, speaking of "cult"ure as a "cult"ivation, religion expressed and belief applied. If we believe like a Christian, we need to live like a Christian in every single sphere of life. Christians are not compartmentalists; they dump their beliefs on everything they touch. And thus we go through time here on earth. I love love love that sort of thing, that concept of God working in history, and so I only grew even more glad before everything drew to a close.

What's a conference without those crazy group pictures?
But close it did...and so must this blog post. I know I said I would talk about the missions stuff that excited me from today and yesterday, but for your sake I will save that for tomorrow. This glorified version of sermon notes took up all the space even a long blog post allows, and don't your eyes know it! So come back tomorrow.

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