When God Builds a Church

            This morning, I am absolutely overwhelmed as we gather together for the very first time in this building to worship God.  I am overwhelmed with God’s goodness, overwhelmed with God’s love, overwhelmed with God’s provision.

            This part of our journey began in March of last year when we became aware of this two-acre piece of land that looked like this.  We felt like God was providing us an opportunity, and after much prayer and thought, we made the decision to purchase this land.  We didn’t have much money, and we didn’t know where the money would come from to build a building on this land.  But we believed that this was what God wanted us to do, that this would allow us to serve this community in a greater way, so we stepped out in faith.

            And it didn’t take long before we discovered just how overwhelming this task was.  As I said, we didn’t have a lot of money and nobody wanted to loan us any money to finance this project.  Nobody wanted to be our general contractor.  Nobody wanted to do the electrical work.  But every time we came to the point where we said, “We can’t do this”, God said, “You’re right, you can’t, but I can” and he made it happen.  Time and time and time again.

            I’m reminded of how God told Gideon to trim his armies down from 32,000 men to 300 men.  And the reason he gave was this.  God said to Gideon, “You have too many warriors with you.  If I let all of you fight the Midianites, the Israelites will boast to me that they saved themselves by their own strength.” (Judges 7:2, NLT).   In other words, God said, “When this battle is over, I don’t want there to be any doubt but that I was the one who gave you the victory.”

            And I believe that God has done the same thing with us.  There have been times when God has made it clear, “When this building is built, I don’t want there to be any doubt but that I was the one who made it happen.”

            And so, over the past 15 months, we have put our faith in God to do something only he could do.  And now that he’s done it, we give him all the praise.  God has built this church.  We put our faith in him.  We gave.  We sacrificed.  We prayed.  We worked.  But all the glory is his.  And I don’t want us to ever fail to appreciate what God has provided for us here. 

            And every time we come here to worship and every time we see this building, may it serve as a reminder that this is his church. God has built this building just as he is in the process of building us.

            Because the most exciting thing to me is not that this building is finally finished, as exciting as that may be.  The more exciting thing to me is that the church that God is building is now filling this room.  That’s what’s really exciting.  That God has been building your lives and our lives together and because he has been building this church, he has had to build this building to hold it.  That’s what’s exciting.  God is growing a church.  God is building this church.

            In I Peter chapter 2, Peter uses this imagery of a building to describe God’s church.  He says the church is like a temple that God is building.  And just like you have to start your building with a foundation, we also have a foundation in the church – Jesus Christ.  And then, Peter says to these Christians, “And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple.”  (I Peter 2:5, NLT)

            God may be finished building this building around us, but he is not finished building this church.  There are more and more “living stones” that he wants to add to this church.  And there are changes he wants all of us to make as we grow, as we change, as we become what God intends for us to be.

            Because our mission, our goal, is to grow into the image of Jesus Christ, and that construction is still going on.  As Paul says in Ephesians 4:15, “we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”

            Because God is focused on building more than just a church building.  He’s more concerned about building lives.  And it’s exciting to see God at work building this church, and our goal is to use this building in a way that best honors and glorifies God as he does that.

            As we begin this new phase of our church, we dedicate this building to the glory of God, but, more than that, we dedicate our lives.  Because the only way this church will ever be what God wants it to be is to fully commit ourselves to letting God use us and work through us.

            Before we started building this building, we had to have plans drawn up, blueprints.  And all along the building process, everywhere you looked there were plans.  The electricians had a set of plans.  The plumbers had a set of plans.  The HVAC folks had a set of plans.  All along the way, there were lots of people working with plans. And this building had to be built according to the plan.  Or else the inspectors would have come out and said, “This is not the building that we approved for you to build.”   And, so, this building had to be built according to the plans.

            And God has laid down a plan for building his church.  He has told us how he wants us to live.  He has told us how he wants us to love.  He has told us how he wants us to give.  He has told us how he wants us to serve.  Our job is simply to follow his plan and to let God build his church his way.

            As we look at how God began building his church in Acts chapter 2, we find something interesting.  It all began when the Holy Spirit filled the apostles and Peter stood up to preach.  He preached a great sermon about the crucifixion and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  And, after that sermon, 3,000 people put their faith in Christ and were baptized.  And that’s when the church began.

            Those early Christians didn’t know anything about a church.  There had never been a part of a church before.  They didn’t have any books about the church.  They didn’t even have a New Testament to read about the church.  They didn’t have any seminars or conferences or lectureships or experts on the church.  They had nothing. 

            But, as the church began, as God began to grow that church and to build that church, we see that one of the things that defined the early church, one of the things that made the early church such a special group of people was their sense of community.  In Acts 2:42, “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

            Those early Christians were devoted, they were dedicated, they were committed.  And they were devoted to several things.  First of all, they were devoted to “the apostles’ teaching.”  That is, they were devoted to God’s word, to being taught, to growing, to maturing, to being led by the apostles.

            Secondly, they were devoted to “fellowship”. They were devoted to community, to life together, to loving, supporting, and encouraging one another as the people of God, as the family of God.

            Thirdly, they were devoted to “breaking of bread” and “prayers”. While “breaking of bread” might have included regular meals together, I think this verse deals with a context of praise and worship, which means that “breaking of bread” was a reference to the Lord’s Supper.  So, this area of devotion focused on things like gathering together regularly, observing the Lord’s Supper, worshiping together, singing, giving thanks, prayer.

            All of this paints a picture of community.  Despite the fact that these Christians came from different parts of the world and were different in many ways, there was a sense of community that bound them together. 

            We all need that sense of community, and I think the world around us is hungering for community.  After the tragedy of 9/11, you may recall that people flocked to churches.  They were looking for a place to pray.  But I think they were looking for more than that.  I think they were searching for community.  Because when things get tough, when it’s hard, when a crisis hits, when you’re afraid, you don’t want to be by yourself.  You call your friends; you call your family.  You want to be with other people because it’s important in those critical moments of our lives that we belong to one another.

            And I believe that the church of our Lord Jesus Christ is better equipped than anyone else in this world to model what that community should look like, and to provide that sense of community to a world of people who are in need of it.

            Some of you may remember an episode of The Andy Griffith Show in which the Women’s Historical Society had discovered that a living descendant of a Revolutionary War hero was living right there in Mayberry.  And everybody was all excited about who it might be.  The two ladies searched through the Mayberry records to find this living relative, and there was a lot of speculation about who the person was.  Barney was so convinced he was the relative that he went ahead and wrote his acceptance speech.

            But do you remember who it was?  It was Otis Campbell, the town drunk.  The mayor told Andy not to let Otis come to the ceremony because he would probably show up drunk and embarrass the whole town.  But eventually, Otis did show up — sober, clean-shaven, and wearing a suit.

            When the ladies gave him the plaque, Otis said, “Just because you’re the descendant of a hero doesn’t make you one. So, I would like to present this plaque to the town of Mayberry, to which I am just proud to belong.”

            And I think in that way most people are a lot like Otis.  We all want to belong, we all want to be a part of something special!  And when we are baptized, that’s what God does for us.  Paul says in I Corinthians 12:13, For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.”  In baptism, we are made part of something special as God makes us part of his family. We are included, we are incorporated into the body of Jesus Christ.

            You may have heard the story about little Johnny.  He was out playing in the back yard and his mother looked outside to check on him and she was thrilled to see that he was reading his Bible to their cat.  She thought to herself, “Isn’t that sweet?”

            But an hour later she heard this loud racket.  Running out the door, she finds little Johnny stuffing the cat into a bucket of water.  She says, “Johnny, what are you doing?” 

            He says, “I’m baptizing the cat.”  She says, “But cats don’t like to be in water.”  He said, “Well then, he shouldn’t have joined my church!”

            The moral of that story is, when you decide to be a part of a group, you make a commitment to support those things that that group is committed to.  And, as we saw a few minutes ago in Acts 2, those early Christians were committed “to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” 

            Those early Christians devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles, trying to learn as much about God’s Word as they could.  They devoted themselves to breaking of bread and prayer, as they gathered for worship every week.  But they also devoted themselves to fellowship, being together, spending time together, living as community.

            And the reason they did that was because the disciples had learned from their time with Jesus that discipleship involves relationship.  When Jesus called people to be his disciples, they traveled with him, they spent time with him, they had conversations with him, they ate with him.  And so, it’s only natural that when the church began, the early Christians spent time together in community. 

            Because, you see, Christianity is more than just a private transaction with Jesus.  It’s more than just getting your sins forgiven.  Acts 2:47 tells us that “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”  God saves us individually, but then he places us into community.

            There are a number of reasons why community is important.  But, in the time remaining, let me share with you just a couple.

1.         We need community because we need to know that somebody cares about us

            There was a Peanuts cartoon years ago where Charlie Brown was explaining how this new dog food was so easy — you just tear open the package, you pour it in a bowl, you pour water over it.  He said, “It’s absolutely no trouble at all!  And then in the last frame of the cartoon, Snoopy thinks to himself, “I wish I was worth some trouble.” 

            And we all do.  You’d like to think that someone thinks you’re worth a little trouble.  That somebody truly cares about you and what’s going in your life, and the problems you’re dealing with.  In Romans 12:15, Paul said to, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”  In other words, show each other that you care.

            Here in this church, we will often speak to one another before and after our time of worship together.  We may even occasionally have a “meet and greet” period during our worship.  But our sense of community needs to go deeper than that.

            In Galatians 6:2, Paul says to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”  That means that when someone staggers, we’re there to help steady the load.  If someone is straining, we’re there to help bear the burden.  And if someone stumbles, we’re there to lift them up. 

            In 2013, there was an article in the London newspaper, the Guardian.  This article was written by Giles Fraser, who is an Anglican priest.  Fraser was responding to the desire of so many people who don’t want to be a burden on their families when they are dying.  He took an opposing view.  

            He said, “I do want to be a burden on my loved one, just as I want them to be a burden on me.  It’s called looking after one another.  It’s about how my life and my existence are fundamentally bound up with yours.  So shut up about being a burden.  I love you.  This is what it means to love you.” (Guardian, May 3, 2013).  

            Our community, our personal relationships, give us an opportunity to put into practice all those “one another” passages – we can love one another, exhort one another, comfort one another, forgive one another.  Through caring about one another and being cared about by others, we all grow as followers of Jesus Christ.

            Rick Atchley once made a profound statement.  He said, “People aren’t looking for a friendly church – they’re looking for friends!”  They’re looking for people to share their lives with.   It’s easy enough to be friendly and say, “It’s good to see you.”  But being part of community means that we’re willing to take the time to show people that we truly care. 

            Josh Hunt is a preacher who tells a story about going to a mall where he met  someone that he didn’t recognize.  After a little bit of conversation, the guy said, “I used to attend your church but I don’t attend church anymore.”  And then he said, “Would you like to know why?”  And, of course, Josh did want to know why.  So, the guy said, very bluntly, “Because people are only nice to you at church.”

            And that wasn’t enough for him.  It wasn’t enough that they taught a message about a God who loved him.  He wanted people to actually love him. It wasn’t enough that they told him about how he could have a friend in Jesus.  He wanted human friends as well.  

            You see, there’s a big difference between being at church and being in church.  There’s a difference between being in this building and actually being a part of the body.  What we’re doing right now is important – worship is extremely important – but if God is going to build this church, we need more than this, we need community.  And we need to be willing to spend the time and the effort necessary to reach out to this community around us to draw them into our community.

2.         We need community because we need someone to encourage us

            It’s not easy to be what we’re trying to be.  We’re trying to follow the way of Jesus Christ.  And I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but there are not a lot of people out there trying to do that.  There’s not a lot of folks trying to be like Jesus, to talk like Jesus, to think like Jesus, to treat people like Jesus.  We’re all trying to swim upstream against the current.

            Maybe that’s why the word “encourage” is used 109 times in the New Testament.  Like Hebrews 3:13, “Exhort [or encourage] one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”  In Hebrews 10:24, the writer says that one of the reasons we come together to worship is so that we can “consider how to stir up one another [or encourage one another] to love and good works.”

            In the midst of a world that is filled with so much discouragement, we all desperately need that encouragement.

            I’m sure you all recognize the name of Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play Major League baseball.  He played for the Dodgers in the National League.  But you may not know about Larry Doby, who was the first African-American to play in the American League.  He played for the Cleveland Indians in 1947. 

            He came to bat in his first game.  The stadium was filled with racial slurs.  It was a disaster. He swung at the first three pitches and missed them all — struck out.  The fans “booed” him off the field.  Larry Doby stared at the ground as he walked back to the dugout.  He went to the end of the bench, sat down, and put his head in his hands.

            The next batter up was second baseman Joe Gordon, who was an All-Star hitter.  Everyone knew that he could not only hit the ball, he could put it out of the park.  But when he stepped up to the plate, he swung at the first three pitches and missed each pitch by at least a foot.  The fans couldn’t believe it.  A huge silence fell over the crowd.  Joe Gordon stared at the ground as he walked back to the dugout.  He went to the end of the bench, sat down, and put his head in his hands.

            To this day, people wonder if he struck out on purpose. Of course, nobody knows for sure, no one except Joe Gordon. But I can tell you this. It is reported that from that day on, Larry Doby never went on the baseball field without reaching down and picking up the glove of his teammate Joe Gordon and handing it to him.

            You see, that’s what community will do.  It will encourage you when everyone else is trying to discourage you.  It will stand with you where you are and encourage you to keep going, encourage you to be a better person.  We all need that encouragement.

            And our sense of community is our greatest witness to the world around us.  Jesus said in John 13:35, “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”    You see, the world can copy a lot of things the church does, but it can never imitate the way we do community.  Community is inspirational.  It will inspire the people who are growing, and it will inspire the world that is watching.

            In Gainesville, Texas, there’s a school for young men who are incarcerated, 12-19 year-olds who have committed serious crimes.  They have a football team called the Tornadoes.  They’re not very good.  To be on the team, you have to have finished half your sentence, pass all your classes, have no behavior problems.  Boys are constantly coming and going from the team.  There’s no continuity.  I don’t think they’ve ever won any games.  All of their games are away games, they ride in a bus with armed guards, never any fans to cheer them on.

            But, a few years ago, they had a game against Grapevine Faith Christian School and the coach of that school came up with an idea.  What if, just for that one night, half of their fans cheered for these boys.  So they did.  When the Tornadoes arrived at the field, they found a group of people holding a big banner that said, “Go, Tornadoes!”  Half of the cheerleaders rooted for the Tornadoes.  Half the fans went to the visiting side of the field to support the Tornadoes.

            The players on that team were overwhelmed. One boy said, “This is the first time I ever saw somebody who cared for me.”  Would it surprise you to know that those boys played their best game of the year?  They didn’t win, but they scored two touchdowns.

            After the game, both teams gathered in the middle of the field to pray and the quarterback for the Tornadoes asked to say the prayer.  This is what he prayed, “Lord, I don’t know how this happened, so I don’t know how to say thank You, but I never would’ve known there was so many people in the world that cared about us.”

            Folks, nobody should do community better than we do.  May the day come when the people of this community are able to say, “I didn’t realize there were so many people that cared about us.”

            We are so very thankful that God has built this church.  But we are even more excited that God is continuing to build this church – a group of people who are growing every week to look more and more like Jesus Christ.  To love like Jesus, to live like Jesus, to serve like Jesus.  To show this community the love of God.

            I want to close this morning with the words of Solomon in I Kings chapter 8.  Solomon was the one responsible for building the temple in Jerusalem.  It took him seven years to build it.  And then, at the dedication of the temple, Solomon offered a prayer of thanks to God.  And, after that, he spoke these words to the people of Israel:

            “Praise the Lord who has given rest to his people Israel, just as he promised.  Not one word has failed of all the wonderful promises he gave through his servant Moses.  May the Lord our God be with us as he was with our ancestors; may he never leave us or abandon us.  May he give us the desire to do his will in everything and to obey all the commands, decrees, and regulations that he gave our ancestors. 

            “And may these words that I have prayed in the presence of the Lord be before him constantly, day and night, so that the Lord our God may give justice to me and to his people Israel, according to each day’s needs.  Then people all over the earth will know that the Lord alone is God and there is no other.  And may you be completely faithful to the Lord our God. May you always obey his decrees and commands, just as you are doing today.” (I Kings 8:56-61)

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