By Paula R. Kincaid, The Layman, Posted Wednesday, February 6, 2013
ORLANDO, Fla. – “Pussycat, pussycat, where have you been?
“I’ve been up to London to visit the Queen.
“Pussycat, pussycat, what did you do there?
“I frightened a little mouse under her chair”
“Sometimes in the Presbyterian church we are so focused on the mouse under the chair, we forget Who sits on the throne,” said Rev. Dr. Richard Gibbons. “We forget that love, that sovereign, providential love that allowed Christ to come into the world.”
Gibbons was speaking at a worship service of the Fellowship of Presbyterians (FOP) and ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians gathering held Jan. 30-Feb. 1 in Orlando, Fla.
He noted that there was a mixed group attending the event: “Some have been blessed,” he said, “and others of us have come with deep, profound questions about the future of our denomination.”
Gibbons is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Greenville, S.C., which was dismissed from the Presbyterian Church (USA) into ECO on Aug. 18, 2012, by Foothills Presbytery.
His Scripture text was Ephesians 3:14-21, the Apostle Paul’s prayer for the church of Ephesus:
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.
“Don’t you long for that power this evening … that kind of power in our congregations, denominations, in this generation?” he asked.
The Apostle Paul was laying out the power of the Holy Spirit in his prayer, just as he had demonstrated it earlier in his letter:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. (Eph. 2:1, 4-5)
“Understand that this unregenerate man or woman is not just misinformed, he or she is lost and dead in sin and only the power of the Holy Spirit at work can transform, renew and transform that life,” he said. “Our own Reformed heritage teaches us this … The power of the Gospel is such that it does not offer liberation, it liberates. It does not offer regeneration, it regenerates. … You were once lost and blind and dead in sin, but because of His great love, God in His great mercy made us alive in Christ.”
Gibbons then spoke about his own death to life experience when he suffered a heart attack in 2005. When the paramedics arrived, he had no pulse and was not breathing. He was shocked four times before his heart started beating again. He was taken to the hospital and put into ICU for several days.
“On a Sunday morning, they took me off life support, off the medication and slowly, surely I came back,” Gibbons said, adding that he had no memory of the events, including the five days before and after the heart attack.
“What I know is this, as I lay dead on Sept. 13, 2005, First Presbyterian Church in Greenville, S.C. was praying for a pastor,” he said, and once again referred to the beginning of Eph. 2, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins … But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ.”
“That is the power of the Gospel,” he said. “Don’t we long for such a power in our lives? Don’t we long for a church that takes us away from meetings, agendas and votes? They are only helpful when they are enabling ministry not restricting ministry.”
Referencing something he said he has learned from Darrell Guder, Gibbons said that there are two types of churches. “The one is more or less passive, yielding to influences from outside. The other is active, influencing rather than being influenced,” he said. “That’s the kind of church I long to belong to.”
“I have discovered again, and again, a number of us are deeply frustrated with the status quo. We recognize that this is not the hour of apathy or indifference,” he said.
Gibbons advocated for a church that was Biblical in its thinking, missional in its ministry and intentional in its action.
“Paul writes to remind us of the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives,” Gibbons said, and Paul reminds Christians to “grasp how long and wide and deep is the love of Christ.”
Gibbons said that God’s love is wide enough that infinity cannot encompass it and depravity cannot exhaust it.
“How deep is the Father’s love for us,” he said, “how vast beyond all measure that He should send His only son to make a wretch His treasure.”
The Apostle Paul hoped that the Ephesians and all Christians since that time, would “gasp for breath when they read that prayer,” said Gibbons, “and find a glimpse of that love and be lost in wonder, love and praise. … That is what Paul is thinking here, and he doesn’t stop there. He takes another step, to one of the greatest passages in all of Scripture:
Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen. Eph. 3:20-21
“That is the power of God at work,” he said.
For those that came to the FOP/ECO gathering struggling and discouraged, Gibbons said “Please go home and remember this truth: He is able.”
“If you are defeated, ashamed of your own sin,” he said, “begin again. Understand the truth of this word: He is able. … Struggling with fear and uncertainty? He is able. Willing to walk the narrow road? He is able. Looking for Biblical leaders? He is able.”
“He is able to do immeasurably more than I can ask for or imagine,” Gibbons said. “There is no barrier too high, no valley too deep, no dream too extreme, or no challenge too great for Him.”
“God is able.”