God’s Story, Our Story: To God Be the Glory!

Preaching: Brian Keepers
Text: Ephesians 1:3-14, 3:20-21

 

Intro- When God’s Plants a Church

I like to try to imagine that very first worship service on June 12, 1966 in the gymnasium at Waukazoo Elementary School…when Fellowship Church’s story began. I imagine Pastor James Schutt standing, Bible flipped open in hand, looking out at a sea of faces he didn’t know.  Faces, so many of them, that didn’t know each other.  Strangers who were called by God and gathered around Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit for one purpose: to start a church on the north side of Holland.

The sermon that Pastor Schutt preached that day was titled, “When God Plants a Church.”  He preached on Acts chapter 14, which tells the story of Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey to Asia Minor--how they traveled from city to city in whirlwind fashion, boldly preaching the gospel and planting churches.  Paul and his companions would make two more missionary journeys. On the second journey, they traveled again to Asia Minor, planting more churches.  One of those churches was in the city of Ephesus, a Roman capital and major commercial sea port.  That story can be found in Acts 18:19-21.  On Paul’s third missionary journey, they stopped in Ephesus again, only for a longer stay.  In Acts 19-20, we read that they stayed there for about three years, building up the disciples there.

This summer, we are engaging one of the 22 NT letters each Sunday, getting a sense of the story behind the letter and the story of the letter; and how this letter draws us into God’s larger story today.   Ephesians is Paul’s most general and least personal letter—a companion to Colossians—and was most likely circulated to a number of churches in Asia Minor.  Although it lacks the personal touch of his other letters, it is beautiful and theologically rich.  It was John Calvin’s favorite epistle, and another theologian described it as “the crown of St. Paul’s writings.”(J. Armitage Robinson). 

 It is fitting that today, as we celebrate our 50th Anniversary as a church, we would hear from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.  Ephesians is about what happens not only when God plants a church, but when God grows that church—into full maturity in Christ.  God reveals, through this letter, the deep and glorious mysteries of what it means to be a “new creation people,” adopted children of God, who were once in darkness but are now called and empowered to live as children of light.

We’re going to hear two sections of this letter today—the opening fourteen verses, and then chapter 3:20-21.  I’ve asked some friends to help me out.  Our Scripture readers this morning will be June Reimink, one of our founding members at Fellowship; Bob Bruins, who was just a little boy when Fellowship was planted; Becca Bruins, the daughter of Bob and his wife, Betsy; and Bahati Mirembe, a very special little boy whose family has become an important part of our church family.  So hear the Word of the Lord from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, knowing that this is the Story in which we find ourselves.  Read Scripture

Truth that Sings

After Paul opens the letter with a traditional greeting, he launches into a doxology of praise.  One Bible scholar describes this first chapter of Ephesians as “truth that sings, doctrine set to music” (see Stott, p.16).  And it has that feel, doesn’t it?  It’s as though Paul bursts out in a song of praise, blessing God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit--for who God is and all God has done on our behalf!

From the opening word “Blessing” to the ending word “glory,” there are 201 words that cascade out of Paul’s mouth!  Our English translators break them into twelve verses for us, adding punctuation to make it more manageable, but in the original Greek these 201 words form a single sentence!  It’s as if Paul is so enraptured by what he is saying that he can’t stop talking, and he doesn’t even pause for a breath—it just flows out!

As Paul considers the new life God has given us in Christ, he can’t help but rejoice and be moved to worship.  There is so much packed into these first fourteen verses.  And like a beautiful piece of music or work of art, you can listen to the song or gaze upon the canvas for hours on end, getting lost in it, and yet never fully exhaust the depths of its meaning.

That’s true of Paul’s doxology.  In fact, I would suggest that this opening part of Ephesians is best heard as music.  So as we listen to this “truth that sings,” there are a handful of implicit questions that Paul is answering.

What Has God Done for Us?

Here’s the first: What has God done for us?  Paul sings out: “Blessed be the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritually blessing in the heavenly places.”  It doesn’t take long when you’re listening to Paul’s praise song to see that everything he says centers on God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  God is the subject, God is the one doing all the action.  God blessed us…God chose us…God bestowed and lavished his grace on us…God redeemed us…God has forgiven us…God has made known to us…God gathered up all things in heaven and earth.  This last one is really the crescendo of Paul’s song.  If you’re looking for a succinct summary of the theme of Ephesians, here it is in verses 9 and 10: In all wisdom and insight, God has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure set for in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him [Christ], things in heaven and things in earth.

Paul is giving us a bird’s eye view of what God is up to in the universe—a breath-taking view of the way God, even now, is at work to gather up all the broken pieces of this cosmos and bring it to wholeness, completion and unity under the Lordship of Jesus.

The most important thing to be noted here is that we are made new creations, and then mature into the full stature in Christ, because of what God has done for us.  The Christian life is not a “do-it-yourself-just-try-harder” self-salvation project.  It is all about God, from beginning to end.  Yes, we respond with belief and a life that honors God, but our birth and growth in God’s new family is grace all the way down.

How Has God Done This?

Which leads to the next question the song answer: And how has God done all of these things?  Paul’s song of praise leaves no doubt: in Jesus Christ!  In the first fourteen verses of the letter, Jesus Christ is mentioned either by name or title or by pronoun or possessive no fewer than fifteen times!  And the phrase “in Christ” or “in him” occurs eleven times!

New birth and spirituality maturity happens “in Christ.”  His death and resurrection, his ascension.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are united to Jesus and we share in his very life and mission.  Paul tells us that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.  That’s a mind boggling thought, isn’t?  Just think of it!  Before time began, before God spoke out in the beginning, “Let there be light!”, God had us in mind!  God had already decided to create a people who would be his very own, the treasured possession of God’s own heart.  God had a purpose for Christ before time began, and he had a purpose in mind for us as well as those who are “in Christ.”  Truly amazing!

Why Has God Done This?

This, then, leads, to a third and final question:  Why has God done this? Why is God gathering up all things in heaven and on earth in Jesus?  Why has he chosen us in Christ and adopted us as his sons and daughters?  Why has he marked us as his own with the Holy Spirit?  For what purpose?  Let’s just be clear: is not for ourselves alone but for a greater purpose.  Paul summarizes the purpose this way:  for the praise of God’s glory.

I just love that phrase!  Three times Paul sings out about this: He destined us…to the praise of his glorious grace” (1:5-6); “…so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory” (1:12); “…marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit…to the praise of his glory” (1:13-14).

It sounds beautiful, but what does Paul mean by it?  “Praise” is grateful celebration.  “Glory” refers to the bright presence of God.  This is our destiny, this is our purpose, this is what we are made for: a grand celebration in the full presence of God (Peterson, p.67).  We are called to be God’s workmanship, children of light, who live all of life—everything we are, everything we do—to the praise of God’s glory.  In God’s presence.  In thankful celebration.  And with God’s mission to draw others into his glorious presence ever before us as our life’s aim.

Today we celebrate 50 years as a church, 50 years of this congregation called “Fellowship Church” being drawn into this song of new creation—and embodying this song in our community.  There are a lot of stanzas to this song of God’s faithfulness, and I’ve invited the chorus of pastors who’ve faithfully served Fellowship over the years to help us give witness to all that God has done.  I asked each of them (in 2 minutes or lessJ) to share some memories or aspects of Fellowship Church that make their heart sing.  And hopefully their testimonies will make our hearts sing as well

Testimonies of pastors

My name is Larry Izenbart, and I was called to be the first pastor of Fellowship Church in 1966.  Pastor Brian asked us to share some memories of Fellowship that make our hearts sing.  The first thing that came to mind was the rapid growth of the church during those early years to the extent that after our 7 year pastorate here, there were over 700 total baptized members.  When we were asked what contributed to this growth, my response was something to the effect that so many of our members opened their hearts and homes to newcomers, thereby creating a spirit of family and comradery. God brought many new people into our fellowship, and I can remember one Sunday where we had 54 people join the church at once!  Praise be to God!  Some of my fondest memories include my wife and I getting to host these new families in our home for an evening of fun and fellowship.  From the beginning, Fellowship Church has always been about relationships.

These were also the days when we still observed “Huisbesoiek”—“house visitation”—and every family was visited by the pastor and elder at least once a year.  Unfortunately, those visits were commonly perceived as disciplinary in nature, but I wanted to change that perception and make them more celebratory.  So we developed a positive theme around which we could engage in family conversation.  We would encourage the whole family to be present, and I remember one evening where we encouraged the siblings to share something nice about them.  At the end of the evening I asked, “What could the church do that would be helpful to your family?” And one of the teenage boys spoke up and said, “More of this kind of stuff!” I must confess that not all of these visits turned out to be so positive.  Sometimes they were difficult conversations.  But there was always a sense of the presence of God’s grace, both in the joys and the struggles, and a recognition that we were all part of the one family of God.  To God be the glory!

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After Larry, Ken Reynen was the second pastor called to serve Fellowship Church.  Ken and his wife Nancy currently live out in California [show picture].  Here is what Ken wrote and wanted to share today:  As Nancy and I recall our move to Holland and Fellowship Reformed Church in 1975, we remember our great excitement as we anticipated being a part of this fledgling congregation.  I had filled pulpit supply when I was a senior at Western Seminary, and Fellowship was still meeting at that time in Waukazoo School.  Now, some years later, we found not only a new worship center and fellowship hall with classrooms, but saw the church had decided to add an office suite and more classroom facilities.  We were impressed that a congregation would move forward with such a vision during a time they were without a pastor. 

With the firm belief that God had a plan for Fellowship Church, we began a number of ministries, including the Sunday night drive-in and the 8:00 joggers’ service on Sunday mornings.  We did not always see immediate success; in fact, the first joggers’ service had just one jogger – Jay Bruns – who’d run a number of Marathons. I recall my family was also at that service, and not too many more.  However, that service continued to grow and became a wonderful option for worship for many families in the community.

By God’s grace, the congregation continued to grow.  There was a genuine warmth where this body not only loved one another, but they loved God above all else.  As visitors came from week to week, they were enveloped in that love. 

With that growth, more space was needed and so we added to the facility.  The church was rich with talented, creative people who were able to carry forth the message of salvation in a variety of ways.  We became a teaching church for the seminary, added multiple staff, and we were humbled to see God working in and through us to make a difference in this community.  What a privilege it was for Nancy and I to serve Christ with this congregation for 13 years.  It was not easy for us to leave, but the call came for us to move to California.  Part of our hearts will always remain with our friends – and now, family – here at Fellowship Reformed Church.  May God’s richest blessings be with you during this celebration weekend.    To God be the glory!

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine…

To God be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus, throughout all generations!  Amen!

Fellowship Church is fifty years old.  That means this year I will be seventy.  That’s not fair!  It means that we have shared thirty five years of life and ministry.  It has been a true joy and blessing to my family and me.  Thank you!

My name is Jim Baar, and my wife Sue and I came to Fellowship in 1981. In my forty-five years of ministry, I have observed that churches have different personalities and character traits.  Some are more positive and others not so much.  It is my opinion that this congregation is healthier than most.

What might be some things that make this true?  Let me share two.  Have you ever been around for one of our summer day camps or our Hope Christmas stores?  I have participated in or observedover thirty day camps and all of our Christmas Stores.  What vivid pictures of the church at its best.  At day camp the volunteers almost outnumber the children; crafts, recreation, worship, refreshment teams, adult and junior counselors.  Helpers young and old appearing to have as much fun as the children attending.  Then there’s the Hope Christmas Store—whose purpose is to provide gifts to lower income families in our community at a more affordable cost.  I know that there are more contributors and helpers than the number of families served.  From the moment these families arrive, parents and children are greeted in gracious and personal ways that honor their dignity.

What a great picture of God’s people coming together to share God’s love with others.  It reminds me of Fellowship’s theme verse in 1 John 1:3: “We share with you what we have seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us and with the Father and his Son, the Lord Jesus.” It is also proof that the Lord will do far more than we can ask or think.  To God be the glory!

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My name is Ken Eriks, and God blessed me with the opportunity to serve as one of the pastors here at Fellowship from 1989 to 2004.  I am grateful that Fellowship has never forgotten its founding DNA and reason for being—to be a church home for outsiders; for those new to the Holland area and moving to the north side. This mission was given expression by a great team and later the consistory in a mission statement that emerged naturally from Fellowship’s foundational verse in I John 1: 4 We declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you will join with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ,” and from the leadership of Larry Izenbart and Ken Reynen before me. You hear that mission statement each Sunday from one of our pastors: “To love God and others as an accepting community, centered in Christ, focused on developing faithful followers of Jesus.”

I am so pleased to have a 27 year history—first as a pastor, and later as a member—with a Christ-centered, grace-oriented congregation committed to do all that we can locally and globally to spread the Good News that all people, that God loves everyone of us just the way we are; and God loves us far too much to leave us that way.  God’s grace that comes to us in Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit, accepts us where we are and transforms us into people who are increasingly able to live and love like Jesus.  To God be the glory!

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Jean Lemmenes video

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine…

To God be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus, throughout all generations!  Amen

Sara Beaver Vogel joined Fellowship’s pastoral staff in 2003 as the Minister of Adult Spiritual Formation.  Sara and her husband, Eric, and their three boys now reside in Kalamazoo, Michigan [show picture].  Sara sends this message to us today:  

I'll always remember Fellowship as a community that is down to earth and accepting of people as they are. And following Jesus in mission looked different for each person, depending on their gifts.  For me, it was the special services like Ash Wednesday or Good Friday - or worship services when the youth and children were involved in meaningful ways - that I sensed the presence of God in a very tangible way.  I'll always be proud to have been a part of Fellowship.  Congratulations on 50 years!  And to God be the glory!

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I’m Megan Hodgin, and I was a seminary intern at Fellowship from 2006 to 2009.  I then stepped into the role of Minister of Discipleship and Missions, a role I served in until this past October 2015.  “Being the church where you live, work, and play.” This is a phrase that was just being introduced when I first came to Fellowship as a seminary student. Over nine years I watched as that phrase became more than words, it became a way of being, a way of doing life together. I believe two powerful catalysts that God used for that growth were the Ridder Church Renewal and Faithwalking processes. These experiences cultivated values of integrity and authenticity among you and renewed the call to grow as disciples for the sake of the world.

A father shared his faith journey with his own children for the very first time.

A family discerned a call to open their home to children and families in challenging circumstances through the ministry of Safe Families. More and more households continue to open their doors and hearts to this ministry.

A young man discerned a call to a new career path, one that has placed him at the intersection of non-profits, churches, businesses and community leaders who are all committed to addressing challenges in the Holland/Zeeland area. At the same time, a young woman came to understand her role as a manager as ministry, learning the power of listening well to those who supervises and serving graciously as their coach and confidante.

As a larger community, a vision was discerned and a commitment was made to feed and nourish the children of West Ottawa. One by one, partners were identified and school after school has been blessed by the efforts of Hand2Hand. One of the things I loved the most in that process is the ways you gathered around Karen Donker, supporting her gifts and joining her in this good work…acknowledging that it must be a shared effort of the church family.

I heard and witnessed story after story of homes, workplaces, classrooms, coffee shops, restaurants, boards of directors, and more changing because of God’s work in and through you. You who are humbly and faithfully learning to live lives of grace and truth and to love with the love of Christ. I thank my God every time I remember you and I pray that your joy may be made complete.  To God be the glory!

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Marijke Strong is not able to be here today, and she sent me this message to share with you.  Marijke served as our Minister of Congregational Care and Community Life from 2012 to this past January, 2016.  Here’s what she would like to say:

My friends, the Lord be with you. I'm so happy to celebrate 50 years of God's faithfulness at Fellowship. When I think about God's presence and power in the life of Fellowship church, I think of Mother Teresa, who said "love begins at home." Fellowship is a home. It's a place of warm welcome and belonging, of deeply transforming worship, and of joyful sending.

When I came to you from Canada, you welcomed me with open arms and made me part of the family. That is one of your gifts. During the time that I was with you, I saw you embody the presence of God by caring for one another - you visited bedsides, dropped off soup when people were sick (*I* even found turkey soup on my front porch when I had the flu), you sent cards, gave each other anonymous donations, prayed together in crisis. God is in your midst through the ministry of presence. 

God is also in your midst through courageous leadership. I saw you boldly respond to God's call in your own lives and the life of the church - you studied how to be "high performance teams," you formed Missional communities, you dug into Faithwalking and Ridder Church Renewal, you envisioned "God's Preferred Future" and developed new ministries, you mentored seminary students.   Surely the Spirit is in this place, and you say "yes" to the Spirit when you rise up to lead. 

Finally, God is here with you in the creativity of your worship and mission. Remember Pastor Brian's sabbatical? When we did the series on Genesis 1 with Joel Schoon-Tanis - and talked about how God is creative, and we're made in God's image, so that makes us creative too? Then we made art in worship and hosted creativity nights, and re-learned that joy and play and laughter and generating new things are part of our lives of worship and our witness to the world.

When I think about Fellowship I remember that love begins at home. And in *this* home, Christ is at the center - gathering us to the table where we eat as a loving family, and then sending us out to share his love with the world. Thanks be to God for so many years of God's faithfulness here, and may you be blessed with many more years to come.... To God be the glory!

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine…

To God be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus, throughout all generations!  Amen!

I came to Fellowship first as a seminary intern in 1999, then later as one of the pastors in 2005, as Ken Erik’s successor, my mentor and friend.  I think back to the first sermon series we shared together: Turning the Church Inside Out.  Which was another way to give words to what has been in Fellowship’s DNA from the beginning: this deep awareness that God planted this church and has grown it not for itself alone but to be a church for others—to be turned inside out and participate in God’s mission in and for the world.  And I’ve seen that happen in so many beautiful and compelling ways over the past eleven years.  I would affirm so many of the highlights that have already been shared.

For me, Fellowship has always been about the people.  Even as we are in the midst of a building project, it still is that for me.  It’s about the people, you, who have had your lives transformed by the grace of God in Christ, made a new creation and joined together as the family of God, who then bear witness to the beauty and hope of the Gospel in so many ways big and small.

One story that will forever make my heart sing is how, four years ago, when God brought the Mirembe family to us from the Congo: Justine, Nowela, Bahati, Aimee and Costa.  I’ll never forget the morning that I shared with you that we had an opportunity to welcome the Miremebe’s, and thirty people stayed after church to talk together about how we might use our different gifts and skills to make that possible.  We knew that it would not be a one-way street, but that we would be blessed by the Mirembes and recipients of their ministry to us.  And that has happened over these past four years.  To celebrate Nowela’s graduation party yesterday.  To have Bahati up here today.  This beautiful family has been a gift to us.

There are moments when you are overcome with such a deep sense of gratitude.  And I feel that today.  To get to be a part of what God has done and is doing in this place, among this people.  Over the past year, some of those beloved saints have gone to be with Jesus.  I feel their absence today.  One of those people is Bob DeWeerd.  Bob so badly wanted to make it to this 50th Anniversary.  Two months ago, I was sitting with he and Aleda in their living room, and Bob was telling stories about Fellowship’s beginnings.  I asked him this question: “Bob, what are your hopes and dreams for Fellowship for the next 50 years?”  He glanced down, thought about it for a minute, looked up with tears in his eyes and said, “That Fellowship Church would keep reaching out to our community and be a place where anybody and everybody could know what it means to have a relationship with Jesus Christ.”   To God be the glory!

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine…

To God be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus, throughout all generations!  Amen.

For fifty years, the song of God’s new creation has played out in and through this congregation.  Can you hear it now?  Will you join in singing it?  Will you join me in offering your life—our life—as doxology—lived for the praise of his glory? 

I love the way June Reimink talks about it.  She and Carl, and I suspect most of the charter members, imagined Fellowship being a small, country church.  “Who would have ever imagined that Fellowship Church would be what it is today?” June has said. 

Where gladiolas once blossomed, now a church of over a thousand people has blossomed.  Think about all the lives that have been impacted over the past fifty years because God planted this church.  Think about all the ministries, the local mission opportunities, the national and global mission support, the way this church has impacted Park Township and the city of Holland and beyond!

Can I say it again?  Who would have ever imagined?

God imagined it.  God had it in mind, from the very beginning.  And so we’ve seen what God can do when God plants a church.  Now just imaginejust imagine what God can do when he grows the faith of his church, emboldens them with his Spirit, and leads them on in mission for his glory and the sake of the world!

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever!  Amen!

Fellowship Church