ORLANDO, Fla. — Before reading the Scripture passage and delivering his sermon at the opening worship service of the 35th General Assembly of the Evangelical Church, the Rev. Dr. David D. Swanson thanked the EPC.
Swanson’s church — First Presbyterian Church of Orlando, Fla., the host church of this week’s assembly meeting — had been in the Presbyterian Church (USA). The church went through a two year process to leave that denomination and affiliate with the EPC.
“We entered the EPC a tired and wounded church … when we came into the EPC you welcomed us,” he said. “You didn’t ask anything of us. You just let us heal. … We will never forget that. We want to thank you.”
Swanson told those gathered at the assembly and listening on the live Internet feed about the living cross that was planted on the church campus when FPC Orlando joined the EPC.
The marker at the foot of the cross reads:
“Stand firm, Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord because you labor in the Lord is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:58
This cross stands in celebration of what God did among us on January 29, 2012, when this body stood firmly for Christ, pointing us to a joyful rebirth in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, approved by the Session, Oct. 23, 2012.
Real dominions, real Kingdoms, real battles require real strategies and real leaders
Turning his focus onto the Scriptures, Swanson read from I Samuel 16:1-13: the story of Jesse’s sons passing before Samuel until Jesse finally brought his youngest son David in from the pasture and the Lord told Samuel to anoint him.
He also spoke of Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister when England entered World War II. Chamberlain is remembered for his attempts to appease Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany, which in the end failed and the country was drug into the second world war.
“The policy of appeasement was a miserable failure,” said Swanson, continuing that the very notion that evil will be appeased is folly. He then moved into present day saying that “The battle that we are in, that is being waged now, is for God’s kingdom,” and is every bit as dark as the battles waged before.
He lamented the defensive posture the church has developed — almost a “survivalist” mentality.
“But, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church has been called to build…God’s kingdom,” he said, adding that since kingdoms have enemies, “We will always be opposed.”
He referenced Ephesians 6:12: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
“If the EPC is to deliver on her vision to enhance and advance the kingdom of God,” said Swanson, it will be opposed, reading from I Peter 5:8 “… your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
“In North American we are losing ground,” Swanson said. In the rest of the world — the Global South, Africa, China — the kingdom of God is growing.
That — the growth in the rest of the world – “starts to be a rationalization,” he said, “for not doing the things we should be doing in the place where we have been planted.”
“In the church — though it is hard – have we gotten to the place where we are flinching a little bit, almost giving up,” he asked?
“What is happening in the place where we have been planted? That is what gets me to 1 Samuel,” he said.
The Israelites said they wanted a king, so they could be like all the other nations. “They wanted a king who could help them culturally accommodate,” said Swanson. “I wonder if there’s not just a little bit of that in our church, our denomination, even in me … There are times when I don’t want to stand up. … I want to blend in, not be noticed.”
When the state says they will allow same-sex marriages, Swanson said he didn’t want to be the one the press called for a quote and be portrayed as the “bigoted downtown pastor who hates gays.” There are all kinds of questions the church and its leadership has to answer in these days, but does it want to stand and be noticed? In the theme of the Assembly, does the Church “Arise and shine?”
Swanson said that “appeasing the enemy requires nothing of us, but if you want to advance the kingdom of God,” it’s going to take time, effort, money, sacrifice.
The swagger that comes with knowing Whose you are
Returning to the text, Swanson pointed out that David, who was anointed to be King, understood that he was part of the covenant promise of God and because of that — “He had swagger.”
At 15 years old, David fights Goliath. He’s been taking care of sheep, but David is saying “Let me at him.” David understood that he was in the covenant.
“In everything he did, David was filled with security and strength, because he knew God,” said Swanson. “We can minister with that confidence and strength. … The church of North America needs to get its swagger back. We are part of the covenant promise.”
That swagger does not come from personal pride but from knowing who we’re with, the one we’re representing, the one whose Kingdom we are advancing. Swanson used a personal story of his 6 foot three sons walking behind and having his back in an encounter on the street in downtown Orlando. The covenant people of God need not fear, the one who is with you is stronger than the one who is the world, Swanson affirmed.
A man after God’s own heart
David also had a covenant heart — or, as Swanson put it, “a heart that serves the Lord.”
David’s heart for God was cultivated in worship, Swanson said. He read a description of David found in I Samuel 16:18: ““I have seen a son of Jesse of Bethlehem who knows how to play the lyre. He is a brave man and a warrior. He speaks well and is a fine-looking man. And the Lord is with him.”
The Scripture said that David was brave, a warrior, played an instrument, spoke well and that “the Lord was with him.”
Swanson said that God prepared David. “What are we doing to incorporate worship daily into our lives, so our hearts are turned to advancing the kingdom of God?”
When God wanted a leader to take enemy territory, said Swanson, he turned not to a military guy, to a man with a heart for God.
Referring to Matthew 16:18, “… on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it,” Swanson said that some use the phrase like it is “an out cluase.”
Gates, he said are “defensive. They can’t play offense. … We are the ones who are supposed to be taking the gates. We have been called to offense,” to advance the Church against the darkness of our generation.
Swanson read the description of Christ found in Revelation 19:
“His eyes are like blazing fire,and on his head are many crowns.He has a name written on himthat no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood,and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen,whiteand clean.Coming out of his mouth is a sharp swordwith which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: King of kings and Lord of lords.
“That’s the guy I want to follow,” said Swanson. “The guy with ‘King of kings and Lord of lords tattooed down his thigh. That’s the guy I’m following. The same guy calls you.”
Each local church has a part in the Battle Plan
First Presbyterian Church Orlando has been assigned this sector, he said, indicating the city of Orlando. He then outlined the plans the church has for the future and what it is doing now to further the kingdom of God.
He challenged those listening to make plans in their churches — in their sectors for advancing the kingdom. “Are you doing more than putting a bible on your desk and a sticker on your car? What are you doing to prepare to give your report to the General on your sector?”