Big Renovations (Part 2: The Church)

We might think that the best days are in the past for the Church in Canada. The Church in Canada has changed as has Canada itself. Christianity seems to exert less influence. In many churches Sunday Schools which were once full are now mostly empty. Many churches feel like run down houses which have seen better days.

In the previous post we considered Haggai’s message for those who looked back at the glory days of the temple which could be summed up as “take courage . . . work”. God’s house had been destroyed, but in Haggai’s day rebuilding had begun then halted. However, the run down house can be renovated! Take courage and work!

We also considered that God no longer takes up residence in a temple building, but somewhere far more exciting for us:

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (NRSV)

 

If we are God’s temple individually, then how much more are we the place of God’s residence collectively? What does “take courage . . . work” look like for us today as the Church? What does the renovation of the Church look like?

The building and rebuilding of the Church can be summed up in two words; disciple making.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 (NRSV)

But what about opposition to Christianity today? Renovations may seem daunting in the face of societal changes. Temple building was a daunting task in Haggai’s day as there had been opposition to the rebuilding in the years previous. However, with a new Persian king amenable to the task, there was really now nothing stopping them from moving forward. While we may feel an opposition to Christianity here in Canada in our day, there really is nothing stopping us from moving ahead! Yes, there is a movement to take Christianity out of the public sphere. But we do not need the Lord’s prayer to be prayed in schools for God to be answering our prayers. Yes, there is a movement away from Christian values. But we don’t need laws against sharing recreational pot to share God’s love in Christ. We don’t need society to make discipleship or evangelism easy. What we need is courage. “Take courage . . .work”.

We have the same reasons for courage as the people of Haggai’s day; God is present, God’s promises stand:

Yet now take courage, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; take courage, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; take courage, all you people of the land, says the Lord; work, for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, 5 according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear. Haggai 2:4-5 (NRSV emphasis added)

Plus, the day of God’s glory is coming:

“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. 7 I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory, ’ says the Lord Almighty. 8 ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty. 9 ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty.  ‘And in this place I will grant peace, ’ declares the Lord Almighty.” Haggai 2:6-9 (NIV emphasis added)

Do you see the best days of the Church as being ahead? If not, perhaps you are too busy looking behind. Don’t look back at the glory days of the Church in Canada, move forward into God’s glory.

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To the Glory of God, HELPING PEOPLE . . .

(This is part two in a series based on the tagline of our church: “To the Glory of God, Helping People Walk with Jesus in Faith, Hope, and Love”)

Why “Helping People”?

When we want as few words as possible in our tagline, why should “Helping People” make the cut? In reading the Bible we learn that God has always had a focus on helping people. One example is the giving of the the law. Consider the words of Jesus:

The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath” Mark 2:27 (NLT).

When God gave the law He was not arbitrary in choosing its commandments. The law helped people. A day off for rest is helpful. It still is! We choose many other examples. If you were keeping God’s law, you were forbidden from sacrificing your child in fire as some religions from Biblical times required. That too, is helpful! God’s law also helped people to realize their need for grace which brings us to Jesus. He was always helping people through his teaching and miracles. However, Jesus also helped us with our greatest need, reconciliation to God. In Jesus God offers the grace we need. That too, is helpful! Since God has always had a focus on helping people we can expect that His Church will be called to help people also.

What are we helping people with?

Consider the story of Jesus helping a man and his son:

He replied, “Since he was a little boy. 22 The spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.”
23 “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.”
24 The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” Mark 9:21-24 (NLT)

Jesus is asked for help in a very practical way, the curing of the child through the casting out of the demon. However, the father also asks for a help with his spirituality: “I believe, help my unbelief”.  Churches may help people with very practical things, helping with food, clothing, shelter, and the like. But there is a spiritual help that will only come through the Church. Jesus spent three years helping people by working miracles, but it was only three years, and it was only in a small corner of the world.  However, Jesus has helped people across the world and throughout the generations by offering the cure for what alienates us from God. We do good works as Christian people, but they are not the core of what we are about. We are to do something that only we as Christians will do; that is, point people to God in Jesus Christ. If all heaven rejoices over the repentance of one sinner, then the people called the Church will be reaching out to that sinner. If the Father runs to welcome home the prodigal son, then we want to call the son home.  While helping people with the practical stuff of life is important, our main focus is on helping people to connect with the Giver of Life Himself, to help people walk with Jesus.

Whom are we helping?

Jesus teaches us to love our neighbour, and through the parable of the Good Samaritan we learn that our neighbour is anyone and everyone. But are we to focus on helping the people who are the Church, or people beyond the Church? Our neighbour includes both. Churches which do not help Christian people walk further with Jesus have a wide open back door. Churches which do not help non-Christian people begin, or at least consider, walking with Jesus do not have a front door.

Who is helping?

We could phrase this question another way. Is the task of Christians to support the church financially, then the staff of the church will help people? Ephesians 4 will bring some clarity:

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13 (NRSV emphasis added)

The entire church body is involved in ministry, the entire church is to be involved in helping others. The people of our church family have passions and gifts which I, the pastor, do not, so they can be of greater help to a greater number of people. They also have connections with neighbours and friends and acquaintances which I do not. Any church which limits its helping of others to its staff is severely limiting its capacity to help people. The mission of the Church is always to be carried out by all the people of the church.

Are there any icebergs ahead? Is there anything that might sink a church in helping people?

There is a subtle slide that can happen.

But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love. Ephesians 4:15-16 (NRSV emphasis added)

Here we read about “the body’s growth”. We might, therefore, try every trick in the book to “grow” our church. However, we can lose sight of the fact this passage is about people. Just as we saw last week that the church is the people, not the building, so too we must realize that each church is the people, not the organization.  Just as the Sabbath exists for people and not people for the Sabbath, the organization exists for people, rather than people existing for the organization. There is a subtle difference.

Conclusion

It has always been about the people. When God introduced religion, it was about the people; a better way to live, a way to live that pointed to the need for a better way to relate to God. Now that God has come to us in Jesus and we relate to him, not through religion, but through relationship by His grace and through faith – it brings glory to God, but it helps people.

To the glory of God, may the people called “Church” always be helping people.

Evangelism, Typewriter Sales, & Ezekiel.

As Christians we have an amazing message to share with the world. God is love and desires to be reconciled to each and every person no matter where they came from or what they have been like. He has done the heavy lifting necessary for reconciliation through Jesus and offers His Spirit. We share in God’s amazing ministry of reconciliation. Yet it often feels like this amazing message falls on deaf ears. Churches have tried a great many things in order to get the message out, including revamping the experience of church in an effort to get people in. However, many have felt the frustration of trying change after change, and program after program, with limited results. The message seems stuck within our walls, and even when it gets out, it feels like no one is listening. It feels like we are selling typewriters.

Ezekiel had a similar experience of not being heard. For seven years he faithfully spoke messages from the Lord to God’s people in exile. These were, more often than not, messages of judgement, or stated more precisely, messages of opportunity. In Ezekiel 33 we get a glimpse of how successful he was:

As for you, mortal, your people who talk together about you by the walls, and at the doors of the houses, say to one another, each to a neighbor, “Come and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord.” 31 They come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear your words, . . .

So far so good!

. . . but they will not obey them. For flattery is on their lips, but their heart is set on their gain. 32 To them you are like a singer of love songs, one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument; they hear what you say, but they will not do it. Ezekiel 33:30-32 (NRSV)

In other words, Ezekiel was not very successful at all! No one was really “getting” the message. Ezekiel may have had more success selling them Latin-script typewriters.

So is there any encouragement for us from Ezekiel’s experience? Yes, there are four points of encouragement:

First, look to the future.

Having been told that his efforts have failed, Ezekiel is pointed to the future:

When the thing takes place — and it is beginning now — they will know that there has been a prophet among them.’ (Ezek. 33:33 NJB)

In this chapter word arrives that Jerusalem and the temple have been destroyed. Now that judgement has come, the truth about Ezekiel is made plain. He is not just a “singer of love songs,” he is a prophet of God, and has been speaking true and truly significant things.

The Church might be thought of as many things to many different people; a curiosity, a museum, a historical footnote, a crutch for the weak, a drug for the masses, a danger to society, a false religion, a source of entertainment, a social opportunity, a collection of nice, but not very bright people, and of course, a bunch of hypocrites. But, when Jesus returns, the truth will come out as to what the Church really is. We are not typewriter salespeople. We have a prophetic role, we speak a message on God’s behalf to the world:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 (NRSV emphasis mine)

We are ambassadors for Christ, we we fulfil a prophetic role by speaking a message on behalf of God; be reconciled to God. That may seem like hogwash to many today, but the day will come when “they will know that there has been a prophet among them.”

Second, Ezekiel had confidence in his calling. He knew he was a prophet.

When this comes—and come it will!—then they shall know that a prophet has been among them. Ezekiel 33:33 (NRSV)

Before the people knew a prophet was among them, Ezekiel had to know it first! Do we as God’s people today have confidence in God’s call upon us? Many things have been tried, and will be tried in efforts to attract people to the Church and Jesus. However, sometimes we confuse our methods with our calling. Our calling is not to attract people, but to call people to reconciliation with God. We will know we have been faithful in our calling if it said of us “the Church has been a prophet among us, those people have been speaking a message of reconciliation on behalf of God.”

Third, Ezekiel had confidence in his message. He knew his message was the correct one.

Just as the message of Ezekiel was not popular, and certainly not as popular as the “happier” messages from the false prophets, so the Christian message is not popular. I am reminder of the hymn lyric “Oh the old rugged cross, so despised by the world, has a wondrous attraction for me.” Despite the unpopularity of the message, we can have confidence that it is the correct message, and the most important message in the world.

In luring John Scully away from Pepsi to work at Apple, Steve Jobs famously asked “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?” There is no doubt that Apple products like the iPod and iPhone have been transformative. But if Steve Jobs were still alive we could ask him if he wanted to sell circuit boards the rest of his life, or if he wanted to join Jesus and change the world. Even the smallest, most stuck in the mud church, with the most boring preacher ever heard, has a greater and more significant calling than the extraordinary Apple company. The message we have been entrusted with is the most important message in the world. We do know that, right?

Fourth, Ezekiel was faithful despite being ignored for 7 years. 

We need to be faithful for as many years as it takes. When the world does not listen to God’s message, let us remain faithful as God’s messengers.