125th Anniversary Sermon for First Baptist Church - Leduc: The Root that Leads to Fruit Ps. 1

  • 19
  • Jul
125th Anniversary Sermon for First Baptist Church - Leduc: The Root that Leads to Fruit Ps. 1

Recently, I was asked to preach the closing sermon for at the 125th Anniversary of First Baptist Church in Leduc, Alberta.  I served at this church for six years from 1998 to 2004.  They were six of the best years of my life.  I decided to post the sermon here so as to help others understand the importance of being a church dedicated to God's Word but also to understand my heart when it comes to congregational leadership.  These are sermon notes thus the sentences are written with my own flair but I trust they are still readable.  I hope you enjoy, can learn and be encouraged from this message.

"Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law, he meditates day and night.  He is likea tree planted bystreams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and itsleaf does not wither.  In all that he does, he prospers.  The wicked are not so but are likechaff that the wind drives away. Therefore, the wickedwill not stand in the judgment, nor sinners inthe congregation of the righteous; for the LORDknowsthe way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish." Psalm 1

Memories: 

I’m so grateful to be here this weekend to celebrate God’s faithfulness to you and His witness proclaimed in this community through this church.  It was a real honour to be here, to preach from this pulpit, to participate in your lives through both difficult times and joyous occasions.  It was tremendously hard to do a funeral here and walk along side of those that were mourning. I say that knowing we don’t grieve as those that have no hope.  It’s still difficult.  To see several people here encounter deeply difficult medical issues took an unforgettable toll on all involved. Even in those difficult times I saw God work in you, and families here, where His grace could be clearly seen.  For myself, I learned a great deal about God, His love, and His mercy.  More practically this place was where I learned pastoral care.  You can read about pastoral care in a book in seminary, but nothing teaches like experience.  I thank God that as a baby preacher, I cut my teeth in this church, where there was an abundance of leniency and hearts full of love.  Difficult as it was at times.  We knew we were loved.

It was tremendously joyful place as well.  I got to baptise a good number of you, dedicate babies, to attend graduations, to oversee weddings, and the annual July 1 picnic. Apart from the sunburn I kept getting, it was wonderful.

Two of our children born here.  Kirklyn who was the Leduc New Years - Millennium baby turned 19 this year.  Ahava is now 15 going into grade 11.  It was wonderful to raise our five daughters here for six years.  It was expensive to have all these little girls around.  But it was safe here and it was good because there was generosity here as I have not seen, or experienced, anywhere else. I remember our first Christmas here. Merle Behnke called and said, “I have a few gifts for the girls.  Would you mind if I bring them in?”  She brought in box after box after box stuffed with gifts.  I kid you not when I say, that between the gifts we bought the kids, that Merle and others brought over, when we stacked the gifts up in the shape of a tree the pile of gifts were bigger than the tree!  It was like that every year for seven Christmases’! The left an impression of me.  It left an impact on my kids.  We never experience generosity like that in the next ministries.  Frankly, there was no generosity at the church we later went to.

125th Anniversary Sermon for First Baptist Church - Leduc: The Root that Leads to Fruit Ps. 1 |

There were other ways that you cared for me and my family. When my dad was diagnosed with cancer, this board said, “take a couple days each month visit your dad and help your mom.  I did that…every month for almost two years.  Just fly down for a day or two.  Some of you would pick up the cost of my plane ticket.  When I got word that my dad was in the last stages of life here you did more than give me time off.  It was late January; it was a cold and snowy weekend.  I preached the evening service and said that I was going to Vancouver and we would drive in the morning and hopefully get there late the next night.  Myron Ohlman says, “no you’re not driving through the Rockies in this weather at this time of year.  You’re flying and you’re gunna book tickets tonight.”  He took his ball cap off and passed it around that evening service and there was more than enough money to get tickets.  We left early the next morning, went straight to the hospital and had my last conversation with my dad before he went to glory two days later. Let me assure you, I went through troubles in ministry far worse than even the loss of my dad and had nobody in the church lift a finger.  Only once did a leader in the church visit me and Ingrid to see how we were doing. In those dark years I never heard an encouraging word, nor did I see generosity. Instead, in the depth of our pain, people furthered the agony by formulating blame.  Accusations about our parenting abounded as did the spreading of rumour, innuendo and conjecture.  I understood what it was to be surrounded by the friends of Job. 

My wife and I have often said, our six years here were six of the best years of our life!  Sadly, they were followed by eight of the worst years of our life.  I was actually glad when I was fired.  As Ingrid and I were thinking about which stories we wanted to reminisce about we had this huge pool of experiences but alas the clock is not a pastor’s friend we had to only mention a brief few.  A first lead pastor position here, ordained here, two children here, experienced generosity here, loved here, mercies here.  I came to appreciate where that came from.  It was the roots of this congregation, the DNA if you will, which was set by the founding families of the church.  I want to thank to Peg Bienert for her giving me an appreciation for the roots of this church.  She is a walking encyclopedia of German Baptist history and of this church in particular.  She helped me understand that when God planted this church here 125 years ago, from a people coming out of persecution, there was a steadfastness in them to remain faithful to God under the authority of His Word! They were rooted, as it were, in God’s Word.  It’s because of these roots that this church has lived for 125 year, a rather odd feat in North America where the average church lives about 70 years before it closes the doors. Wouldn’t it be great if First Baptist Leduc was still here in another 125 years?

125th Anniversary Sermon for First Baptist Church - Leduc: The Root that Leads to Fruit Ps. 1 |

I have a couple questions.  Is it possible for this church, First Baptist Leduc, to last another 125 years? What about another 14 or 1500 years?  Imagine spiritual decedents that will continue to worship God and participate in His mission for over another thousand years.  People that will proclaim Christ, glorify Him with their lives and continue the redemptive mandate he gave to us in the Great Commission. Is that possible? Secondly, if so, what would you need to do or be, on your part individually and as a community of believers today, to make that happen?  

I spend a great deal of time with people in the field congregational leadership development. I’ve been so blessed to come in contact with some great and well-known Christian leaders and to have had them pour into my life.  As much as I love the area of congregational leadership development, I certainly do not subscribe to everything that is in vogue right now in regard to leadership development.

For example, there is a common phrase that leadership experts like to say so as to compel organizations to bigger and greater things as they approach complexities of the future. It goes like this.  “What got you here, won’t get you there.”  It’s actually the title of a leadership book by Dr. Marshall Goldsmith.  It’s a great book from an excellent leadership expert and I understand what he is saying. I also understand how many Christian leadership experts are repeating this refrain too.  However, it’s only partially true, especially for the church. You see, there are timeless truths about how and why this church has been around as long as it has.

I’ve been to many church buildings around the world that at one time had thriving congregations, but today are monuments to what once was.  Magnificent buildings such as Hagia Sofia in Istanbul or Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam. You don’t need to go to Europe to see churches that once were great.  Go to Seattle, Washington and you can see the hollowed-out shell of a church called Mars Hill that was founded in 1996 and by 2014 had a weekly attendance of over 12,000 and by 2015 it shut the doors because of scandal.  What got them there didn’t get them any further.  How is it a church can start strong and seemingly have a measure of longevity and then crash?  It’s clear when the question is asked in light of Psalm 1. What is spoken of the individual is true of the community of believers called the church.  It says“blessed is the man whowalks not inthe counsel of the wicked, nor stands inthe way of sinners, norsits inthe seat ofscoffers.”

A Life of Decline (v.1b)

Note in the passage that we are blessed by what we don’t do.  We don’t do the things that lead to our decline. There is a great deal of churches that are in decline in this day and age.  I recently had a prolonged conversation with a friend of mine that was a minister in the Presbyterian church for 40 years.  He has had to leave the denomination that he laboured faithfully in for so long because of that decline that is now leading to ordaining practicing homosexuals in ministry and forcing ministers to do same-sex marriages. How does this happen?

If ever there was a passage that speaks to us to be careful of who your friends are and the influence they give, this is it.  This is a warning that we need to be careful who speaks into our lives and the lives of the church.  Proverbs 18:24 says, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, butthere is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Far too many of us Christians do not discriminate as to who ought to be the people that are influential in our lives and our congregations.  

As parents, I know we tell our children all the time what makes a good friend and who is not a good friend because we know that kids drag other kids down.   So we teach our kids to choose friends that have good morals (1 Corinthians 15:33), aremodest (1 Timothy 2:9), abstainfrom mind altering drugs (1 Peter 4:3), watch their language(James 1:26), are honest (Luke 8:15), and are law-abiding (Romans 13:1-7).  We want good friends that are influential, in the positive sense, upon our kids.  Yet when it comes to us as adults, or perhaps the church, we sometimes turn a blind eye. We perhaps let our standards drop because we think we can’t be influenced. The Psalmist here makes it clear that indeed adults can be influenced negatively and warns the reader to be aware of influences that drag a person down. The Psalmist states that a blessed person does not allow three kinds of negatively influential people to drag us down. It is a decent that goes from walking, to standing, to sitting.

Walk:“...walks not inthe counsel of the wicked...”

 The blessed person does not join the crowd of worldly wisdom and its counsel but receives the counsel of biblical wisdom.  The Bible constantly compares worldly wisdom (foolishness) with that of biblical wisdom.  We often think wisdom is a matter of understanding, intelligence, brainpower, acumen or aptitude.  But scripture repeatedly juxtaposes foolishness and biblical wisdom like this.  Worldly wisdom, or foolishness, is godlessness whereas biblical understanding and belief in God is wisdom.  For example, the Psalmist says, “The fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God.’”  Conversely in Proverbs 9:10 it says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, andthe knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”  Of course, there is a negative outcome of godlessness and worldly wisdom that leads to two negative traits in people.

First,godlessness, leads to instability in a person’s life and instability brings confusion.  Social disorder comes from comes from instability. When men and women rely on the wisdom of the world the results are envy, selfish ambition, which always leads to chaos and confusion.  This happens in homes, and places of work and when in a church when people, place the wisdom of God and His word aside, for godless human responses to challenges that they face.  Instead of bringing people together… godlessness rips people apart; unity is replaced by divisiveness.   1 Cor. 14:33 says, “For God is not the author of confusion.”  Where there is confusion, godlessness abounds. But where there is God and His wisdom there is unity and understanding. 

Second,godless wisdom leads to uselessness.  Whether I translate the Hebrew or Greek word for evil there is a component of the original words that suggest uselessness.  You’ve heard the term “good for nothing.” Guess where that comes from.  That’s what godlessness does. When people choose worldly wisdom, God’s wisdom is absent, and evil will abound; futility and frustration will proliferate.  Yet when we have the wisdom of God it brings peace and the fruit of righteousness. James 3:18says, “a harvest of righteousnessis sown in peace by those who make peace.”

Stand:“...stands inthe way of sinners...”

The fruitful Christian lives in choice company. We Christians are sinners we have been washed by the blood of the Lamb and have been made anew.  As Martin Luther said however we are Simul Justus et Peccator; simultaneously justified yet sinner. Though we are alive in Christ and no longer dead in our sins; though we have the Spirit of God living inside and not the spirit of the flesh; though we live in the power of God’s grace to resist sin and not in weakness of the flesh. We may be a friend of sinners, as Christ was, to lead them to Christ, but we don’t not carry on in our sin with those who are defined by their sin.  Our salvation is transformational.  Therefore, as Christians we refuse to fellowship with evil.  We are not to stand with sinners that are carrying on all sorts of evil, but we are to flee from sin.  I want you to note something here.  There is a direct connection between walking with ungodly (godless living) and standing with sinners. 

Saint Augustine in his book Confessions wrote, “Sin comes when we take a perfectly natural desire or longing or ambition and try desperately to fulfill it without God.” So, what many do when they are surrounded by evil people without God and threaten to bring others down?  Further decline.

Sit:“...sit(s) inthe seat ofscoffers...”

The fruitful Christian doesn’t find any rest when he sits with those that mock sin, hell, heaven, and the Eternal God.  Do we ever live in a scornful society?  One of the most popular books right now is called, God is not Great, by Christopher Hitchens.  Hitchens is a remarkably articulate, and yet equally profane, atheist. His words are liberally peppered with mocking sarcasm, scoffing at the stories of supernatural events and sacrilegiously laced speech that is meant to verbally beat Christians into submission of the atheist.  Like many scoffers he has found a favourable group of sympathisers in leading academics and social commentators.  I’m sure he loves the attention that his atheism has drawn to himself and to his bank account.  Sadly, he died from cancer a few years ago.  I’m sure many of you have heard of him.  Ironically his brother is Peter Hitchens the Christian apologist.

It was CH Spurgeon said, “The seat of the scornful might be lofty, but it’s near the gate of hell.”  If we are not walking, standing or sitting but rather our, delight is in the lawof the LORD, and on hislaw, he meditates day and night...” there will be a benefit; fruitfulness.

125th Anniversary Sermon for First Baptist Church - Leduc: The Root that Leads to Fruit Ps. 1 |

A Life of Fruitfulness (v.2, 3; Ps. 92:12-15)

“In all that he does, he prospers.” Far too often our North American mind seem to interpret this to mean that we will prosperous financially. That could happen, I don’t want to discount God from being able to bless in those ways.  But in the Old Testament where there is talk about success, blessing, prosperity etc. it’s more often than not speaking of spiritual prosperity; in particular a prosperity of godly fruitfulness.  What we see from Psalm 1 is how that fruitfulness looks.  I looked at not only Psalm 1 as to how that fruitfulness appears but also looked at Ps. 92.  It’s quite telling. You will be:

Productive:The righteous flourish like the palm tree. By the way, what’s better?  A lone fruitful tree or an orchard of trees each producing good fruit?  If we all, at an individual level, practiced not walking, not standing, and not sitting with godlessness. And if we lived that way in the context of community we would see tremendous amount of fruit and the Kingdom of God grow exponentially. 

Mature:They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green,”Can I say something that may be a little controversial. I’m getting a little tired of hearing some of our older saints say we need pass the ministries on to the next generation.  I’m not saying we hang on and never let any of the new generation assume any leadership. Yet if we believe the church is the body of Christ, one part can’t say to the other “I have no need of you.” Whatever you think, don’t think because you are older you can’t be effective in ministry.

I don’t like to use my family as an example but let me tell you about my mom. She’s 82 years old tomorrow and one of the godliest people I know.  After my dad died, she began to ask God, “Lord, what possibly could you do with me in my senior years?”  She found out.  In White Rock there are numerous drug addicted vagrants.  She sees them, asks if they are hungry, takes them to Tim Horton’s for a meal and says, “you eat, I’ll talk.”  She tells them about Christ.  She’s bearing fruit because she doesn’t Walk, Stand, or Sit with evil but her mind is fed by God’s Word.

Strength:and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.  If you ever seen a Cedar of Lebanon, you will see that they are formidable trees. Large trunks, huge root system, and branches that spread out in all directions. They are a word picture of strength and there is nothing that can bring those trees down.  When we meditate on God’s Word, we have strength available to us that is unknown by unbelievers. It’s not that we won’t have moments of weakness, but whether sin tempts us, or tragic events threaten us God’s strength is available when we are weak.   

Character:He is likea tree planted bystreams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and itsleaf does not wither.”  In Mexico City we had one tree in our meagre back yard.  A Lemon Tree.  I never watered in rainy season, but we watered it all the time during dry season and the results were amazing.  We didn’t have a day when that tree didn’t have lemons.  In fact, its branches hung to the ground consistently because it was bearing so much fruit.  A person that neither Walk, Stands or Sits in ungodliness but drinks on God’s Word “day and night” are not fruitful intermittently, or when it is seasonable to be fruitful, but they are fruitful all the time.  They know nothing about seasons only bearing fruit.  It a natural part of who they are.

So, with all this in mind I go back to that saying common to leadership experts, “what got you here won’t get you there” is incorrect in regard to the church. What got you here, according to Ps.1, will indeed take you further.  But there is more.  The methodologies that got you here will not take you any further.  This church was planted in an agricultural community, by German Baptist immigrants.  That’s not your future or that of this community.  The city of Edmonton is moving closer to this location every year and eventually it will be all around this locale.  The people won’t be German Baptist, but people from Asia, Africa and the Middle East, that are Buddhist, Animist, Sikh and Muslim. Having a tent meeting down the road like once was done likely won’t work.  Expecting people to enter the church doors in search of answers to spiritual question is not going to happen as they can get answers on their smart phones, a new invention since I left this church.  The methods that you do will be very different and you will need to be willing to do things never done before in this church to see the kingdom grow.

Besides staying close to God’s word, you’ll need to develop two methods of outreach you perhaps are not used to doing, but are essential.

1) You’ll need to be evangelists that are not only heard, but seen. 1 Peter 3:15 says, “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness andrespect.  This means giving a defence of Christianity in Christian terms. Clarifying Christian truth claims against the other worldviews.  But if all we do is stimulate the intellectual capacities without taking the posture of a missionary in your community, we will do nothing to help people see that Christianity is not only intellectual but immensely practical.  In Medicine Hat we did several outreaches to the growing Muslim community.  We had several interactions both in our church as well as the mosque where we freely preached the gospel.  But it was when we gave food and clothes to Muslim refugees, people that suffered under ISIS and other Islamic groups that Christianity was seen for what it is, for it is fuelled by truth and love.  As one Muslim man said to me, “I know you care for my soul because you care for my body.” I had the privilege of baptizing two Muslim men into Christ. My friends, Christianity is much more easily accepted when it is not only heard but seen.

2) We need an apologetic that embraces the emotion.  Not emotionalism like we see in some branches of Christianity if it is Christianity at all. I mean emotion that comes from your intelligence intact and breeds conviction that is seen in fervent worship, prayer and evangelism.

Remember I asked you if you think this church could be potentially here in 14 or 1500 years from now?  Let me tell you about a church in Europe I visited three years ago.  A church that was a Psalm 1 church delighting in God’s law, having a missional apologetic and embracing emotion. St. Aldates Church in Oxford.  I was in Oxford at the Ravi Zacharias Summer School of Apologetics.  Perhaps one of the most meaningful weeks of my life. When I went in this church that was planted around the year 500, I was sitting in a part of the building that are the remains of the original structure 1500 years ago! I didn’t see a monument to what once was.  I saw a vibrant, living church with young people from every continent, having left other religions and now worshipping the Risen Savior with a fervor rarely seen here.  This church had dedicated itself to being faithful to the Word.  It survived wicked kings, and counter-reformations, and persecutions.  It was influential in leading John and Charles Wesley to Christ.  George Whitfield was led to Christ there, as was J.I.Packer.  The day I was there they ordained three people, two men and a young woman, to be church planters in London.  Young people tasked to be Missionary – Apologists.

Though I celebrate with you 125 wonderful years that are a testimony to God’s faithfulness to you and His witness in the community, I equally want to light a fire here today that will last for generations to come. This church can, and I pray will, be here till the Lord returns even if that is a millennium and a half from now, which it could be, if you, today, remain faithful to God’s word.  What got you here, will indeed get you there!