Sermon Notes for the teaching at Christian Fellowship Church on Sunday, January 16.

My Closing Sermon

by Phil Schaefer

I want to begin by thanking all of you who have sat over the years in this setting giving me the honor of speaking into your lives, encouraging & exhorting, comforting & correcting, and leading us in the direction that I sensed the HS was taking us.

As God has been faithful to us, I am humbled by your faithfulness and willing hearts.

I also want to express my appreciation to our elders & pastors who have with genuine humility served alongside me, put up with me, stood with me, and not given up on me for more than 40yrs.

Especially to Dan Baracco, Clay Spencer, & Scott Williams.

As Clay referenced in his closing sermon last year, our leaders have been serving together for more than 30+yrs.

By God’s hand we have been a band of brothers thru thick and thin.

And to Mike Acock. I am very grateful that I can leave this role in his very capable hands.

To Nene and Jean-Claude whose presence is a great blessing.

As a church we are greatly blessed to have had such dedication.

Thank-you brothers and bless you.

I want to thank those who have served alongside me as assistants to me. Anyone who knows me knows I am not a very capable guy and without those who said I’ll help you I don’t know if I would have gotten anything accomplished.

Thanks to Susan Klosterman, who served with me for 10 yrs. in the 1980’s, to Sherry White, to Debbie Koske, who did so for 20yrs, to Tara Freeman, who was there to help in whatever ways, and to

Elizabeth Stott, who has been like a daughter serving her father, and so capably managed all the details of this building program

and also keeping me on schedule.

I respect you, really enjoyed working alongside of you, and greatly appreciate your servant’s hearts.

And I want to give thanks to the many people who stood at their stations in the life of the church, serving quietly but faithfully for many years. I want to recognize Bob Hon for his years caring for our buildings, and Bob Martin for tracking of our finances, and Tony and Mary LaBarbera for their commitment to children’s ministry, and for so many more who made church life work by being faithful in their area of calling.

I would not be here today if it wasn’t for the support that Deb gave me every step of the way. I am grateful to God that He gave me a wife who is an encourager. She has been my best cheerleader. She gave me the words that I needed to hear week after week to keep me going.

As my spouse she had to absorb all the frustrations and challenges that I would bring home and bear them too.

Hers may have been the hardest job of all.

But anyone who knows Deb knows she is a woman of prayer and faith, and I know I kept her busy in prayer for all these years.

What a strength she has been.

And as Paul said: I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry.

-I never aspired to be a pastor.

I never wanted to preach.

At our first building dedication, one of the speakers spoke from Lu.9:51 – Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that he steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem.

Somehow that verse spoke to me and said it’s time for you to set your face into a calling of vocational ministry.

That was not my career goal.

When I announced to my family that I was entering ministry, my brother-in-law asked, are you going to be a pastor?    No!

Are you going to preach?     There is no way I will do that!

You see, I did not have a very high regard for pastoral ministry.

It seemed like you had to be a salesman, or live with a façade, play the church game.

I had no stomach for any of that, and I still don’t.

Well then what are you going to do, my brother-in-law asked?

I said I was going to serve in whatever capacity I was needed, after that we’ll just play it by ear.

So, I served. I did church administration, navigated the finances for several building expansions, went many a time without a pay check so we could make payroll or pay bills.

I lead worship for 10 years though I knew nothing about music.

I lead marriage ministry. Did pre-marital counseling.

Took phone calls in the middle of the night from desperate people.

Missed dinner times because someone had a personal crisis.

I helped in children’s ministry, though Deb did that for 20yrs. solid.

I helped in youth ministry when my sons were teens.

Back in the day, we all did what was necessary to pioneer a church.

-I never wanted to pastor another church.

I did not believe I had a call to be a pastor just anywhere.

I only felt called to pastor here.

I wanted to be a part of this church – this family, this community God was building. Birth to death.

West Side Story – ‘Womb to tomb.’ To marry, raise families, have life-long friends, do life together, do church life together, serve in the Kingdom of God together, and in the end, bury one another.

Naïve? Perhaps.   Difficult? Very.   Rewarding? I think there may be an eternal fruit that will blow us away.

My son told Deb and me a few years ago: You and Mom aren’t rich by wealth, but you are rich in relationships, and not many have what you have.

-God did something in me.

I don’t know if He does it to all pastors, but to me He gave this love for this group of people that defies logic.

I cared for every one who has ever been a part of us.

I felt loss, or grief, or hurt by those who for all kinds of reasons moved on.

In a church our size, you don’t get close to everyone, but as a church we do walk thru life together. And whether we talk often or years go by w/o a conversation – every person here is in my heart, even those who don’t know me well or those who I don’t immediately recognize.

This is unnatural but it is of God, and it is what I feel for each of you.

I have pads of names of people – your names – whom I have prayed for over many years.

Paul writes: ‘But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.

I think I have felt something of what Paul felt.

-I don’t think I got saved willingly.

Just like I don’t think I willingly wanted to go into ministry.

I was commandeered by the HS.

I think God said: I want you!

I think God said as Ern Baxter said in the greatest sermon I have heard in my lifetime titled ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ about the Apostle Paul breathing out threats, imprisoning the Church, approving of Christians being martyred, hating the very name of Jesus and God said, ‘I’ll take that one.’

I think God chose me not because of any ability but to show to you that if He can use me, He can use you.

I used to have people come up to me after sermons and say, ‘Well if he can use you I guess he can use me.’

I called it a back-handed compliment, but it did what I had intended, God will use you, weaknesses and all.

‘But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty…that no flesh should glory in His Presence…as it is written, he who glories, let him glory in the Lord.’

-The first sermon I preached was in 1983.

It was Heb.12:1 – Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.

I spoke for 65 minutes.  (We went longer in those days.)

I recall the words of advice (MLJ or Spurgeon) to a young preacher:

Preach the whole counsel of God, just don’t preach it all in one sermon.    //

-I did not want to become the Senior Pastor in 1992.

As many of us know I assumed that responsibility out of a terrible crisis of leadership in our church.

I had said that whoever took over in that position next was either a fool or insane.

There was too much hurt, too much anger, too much confusion.

When I was told by Terry Virgo that he believed I should assume that role, the only reason I could find for doing it was this was my home, my church, my family that I belonged to.

My friends, my fellow sojourners in Christ were here and in spite of all the pain, I still loved this place.

On the morning that it was to be announced, Deb got up early and cried all morning. She thought for sure our marriage would be destroyed, our lives would get too damaged.

‘And who is sufficient for these things? Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant.’

In assuming that role my prayer was simple:

Lord, let Deb and I have a good marriage so we can be a strength and a model and a security for others.

Let people see we love each other.

And the other was: Let us be faithful to what you’ve put into our hands.

Or to put it simply – Let us just keep showing up.

Somehow, I thought just showing up – just not quitting - would help people keep faith.

-When I stepped into the role of Senior Pastor, I realized I had to have something to say. Preaching random sermons wasn’t enough. What was God giving to me to impart?

I hope you are catching the irony of God – His sense of humor.

The one thing I had no interest in doing when I first entered ministry was now the thing I would be doing nearly every week.

I have given over 1000 Sunday sermons over the years and multiple hundreds over Friday nights and in other churches.

While I am comfortable in public speaking, I never allowed myself to be comfortable delivering a sermon.

I lived in a kind of fear and trembling.

I never wanted to assume I knew how to do this.

I wanted the words to sink into people’s souls.

I knew only the HS could make that happen.

1Cor.9:16-17.

-I realize I haven’t had a week-end for 30 yrs.

I lived 2 weeks within each week. The first half was taken up with church duties – Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday.

The second half Friday, Saturday, Sunday, was taken up with a sermon.

For me, I had to live in the message I was giving.

It had to own me. It had to grip me. I always hoped that what was said would affect others, but I needed it to affect me first.

Oddly, I wanted to be undone by the truths of the message I was to give.

Thus, to give up decades of week-ends, was not a chore.

It was a holy burden.

I never tried to speak down to others, but I always wanted to lift up our sights.

I wanted to explore the Scripture beyond just the surface.

I have always believed it was saying so much more than just the surface.

I wanted the lessons to be profoundly simple and mind-blowingly mysterious.

I never wanted to reduce God to my understanding.

I never wanted to box Him in where I could contain Him.

He is God, He cannot be contained.

And that’s where I need Him to be.

And so my prayer was always, Lord, let the words come alive to me and then prayed let it come alive to those who heard.

Paul wrote to Timothy of the things he should hold onto.

In giving these closing words I’m doing that with us now.

So here are a few values that I have held onto for us as a church with the hope that we would keep these things ever before us:

-The message of grace.

The message of the Gospel of grace 1st gripped me in 1989.

I had been a believer for more than 15yrs. before I heard a message that said I did not need to perform for God.

A message that said the entire enterprise of salvation is in the hands of God. I did not choose Him. He chose me.

It is a Copernican revolution of understanding. It is the Gospel.

I began teaching this in the early ‘90’s and some people got it immediately. I kept teaching it and some people got it 10yrs. later and then some 20yrs. later.

Whatever you believe, get grace.

Grace sets us free to enjoy God.

The chief end of man is to know God and enjoy Him forever.

-Keep a high value for the real presence of God in our midst.

I know that can seem subjective, but over many years I have heard it said by visitors that they sensed God in the midst of our worship. Worship is the environment for God’s presence.

-Be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Prayer and worship are the means for being filled with the HS.

Paul writes be filled and go on being filled again and again.

That to me is the Christian life – a life lived in the Spirit.

This very real filling is transformative, and you are not the same.

-Keep the cross central. Lean on it, look to it, lift it up, learn its message, why it is the hinge of all history, what God was doing in that moment, who it is that is on that cross.

The cross is the center of the story, the center of all history.

-Keep a welcoming spirit toward the outsider. Welcome people.

When Deb and I and others were getting saved we sauntered into churches that were as straight as could be and we were nothing like that, yet we were welcomed. God was drawing us.

The church had to make a choice, accept us or turn us away.

In accepting us scores of people came to the Lord.

-Remember, Jesus loves his church. He’s coming back for her.

About every 10yrs. we get another round of ideas for how to do Church better.

A new format, new style of music, alternative settings.

These come because the church is always thought to be outdated and out of touch and irrelevant.

Because it’s lost its voice, can’t compete in the marketplace of week-end soccer, politics, public opinions, culture wars and all the more important things going on in the world.

But here is the eternal reality – the church was established in creation – Remember the Sabbath day. Keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work but the 7th day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. And the Lord blessed the Sabbath and hallowed it.

You don’t come to church. You are the church.

We don’t gather so much for our benefit, though there is that.

We gather as a community of saints and bear witness to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places who rule over this fallen world as though they own it, and we make a declaration with one voice – our God reigns…Jesus is Lord…every knee shall bow, of those in heaven, and of those on the earth, and of those under the earth and every tongue shall confess Jesus Christ is Lord…Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

‘And so they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayer…continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all people. And the Lord added to the church those who were being saved.’

At the end of each year I write a personal note to each of our church co-workers, and since Deb is a part of that group I write her one also.

This year I said, ‘Dear Deb, We made it. We finished our course.’

Thank-you Deb. I love you.

And my love to you all. Amen.