Foundations for Tomorrow: The Way We Are
“Build me a church,” said God,
“Out of man’s fairest dreams,
Heaven must be its dome
Lighted of prophet’s gleams
Justice shall be the stones
On which my house shall rise;
Truth and love its riches
Gripping my ageless skies.
Out of your dreams on earthly sod
Build me a church,” said God.
Those words of the poet speak clearly to this church today. For we are engaged in a campaign to raise enough money to secure the future of this great church, at the heart of this great city. God is calling us to build this church. Understand please, that He is not calling us to build a building. Rather, He is calling us to build this church. He is calling us to make whatever sacrifices are necessary in order that the Gospel of Christ’s truth and love and justice may be trumpeted from this place for generations to come. He is calling us to lay foundations strong enough to carry this church into the next century. He is saying to us: “Right there on Church Street in Orlando, build Me a church!”
As I have reflected upon that call of God, I have been forced to take a look at the way we are as a church, to see if our life together as a congregation is something worth preserving for the future. In order to find an answer, I turned to the place where I always turn for answers. I turned to the Bible, specifically to the Book of Hebrews. Now Hebrews is a very difficult book. It’s imagery is sometimes difficult to comprehend. That’s particularly true of the first nine chapters. But suddenly, in the middle of the book, about the tenth chapter, the tone changes. Instead of dealing with concepts which are difficult to grasp, the author becomes very practical and down-to-earth. About midway through the tenth chapter, he gives us some very specific descriptions of the way we are as a church.
First, we are a church where we get together.
The writer to the Hebrews says in verse 25 that we are not to neglect meeting together. That is basic to our whole Christian experience. We are to get together; we are to assemble together in worship. And we do get together for worship in this church. Oh, do we ever. In fact, we do that so well that we have long since run out of room in this sanctuary. We have had to go to multiple worship services. Just last Sunday, our three worship services were jammed as more than 3,000 came crowding in. What a glorious problem to have!
You see, every time a Christian says “I”, God corrects him and says “we.” We are made to be in fellowship with one another. Look at Jesus. He is the pattern for our living, and it is quite obvious that Jesus never missed an opportunity to assemble with other people of God.
This is recorded at many points in the New Testament. I think specifically of Luke 4. It says that Jesus was visiting in Nazareth, the town in which He had grown up, and the Bible says that “He went to the synagogue as was His habit.” If you want to know a lot about a person, don’t just look at the magnificent moments, the mountaintop experiences in that person’s life—look at what that person does in the midst of everyday living. Look at the person’s habits and customs and you will come to know and understand that person. Well, it was the habit, the custom of Jesus never to miss an opportunity to fellowship with other people of God.
Jesus didn’t have to go to that synagogue when He got to Nazareth. He could have said: “Look, I am only in town for a few days and I want to spend the time with my family.” He could have said: “I know the people in the synagogue. I’ve known them for years. And I know how many hypocrites there are in the synagogue, so I won’t go.” He could have said: “I’m too tired to go, I’ve just been through 40 days of temptation in the wilderness and some weeks of demanding ministry. I’m exhausted, so I think I’ll stay home today.” Or He could have said: “I won’t go because there is no one there who can teach me anything. I am the only begotten Son of God. I know all there is to know about the things of faith.” These were a lot of reasons why Jesus did not have to go to worship, but Jesus went.
The Word of God in the flesh, Jesus, corroborates the command of God as it appears in the Word of God written—that we are not to neglect assembling ourselves together. And we do this, you see, because our time of worship and our being together in it is the place where everything else in the life of the church begins.
One of our people said to me after worship last Sunday: “I know that you’re not supposed to say it like this, but I really enjoyed that service!” And I said: “Don’t apologize for using the word ‘enjoy’. It’s a proper word to use. The first question in the catechism is ‘What is the chief end of man?’ The answer is ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ So when we come into the presence of God and into the presence of other Christians, it ought to be a joyous experience. It ought to be enjoyable!”
So this is a church where we get together in worship and we enjoy it! If you were to stand with me at the door after worship each week and see the joy in the faces of young and old alike as they leave this place, then you would understand. That’s the kind of church we are and I believe that’s worth preserving for the future.
Secondly, we are a church where we hold together.
The writer to the Hebrews says in verse 23 that we are to hold fast to the faithfulness and the dependability of Jesus. That’s a great truth to remember in the church, especially in a world like ours. My friend, Bill Hurt, shared with me a little book containing all of Murphy’s Laws. They are all variations of Murphy’s Original Law which declared that “if anything can go wrong, it will.” Reading through that little book will leave your sides aching with laughter. Here’s a sampling:
- The chance of bread falling with the peanut-butter-and-jelly side down is directly proportional to the cost of the carpet.
- The other line always moves faster.
- No matter how long or hard you shop for an item, after you’ve bought it, it will be on sale somewhere else cheaper.
- A day without a crisis is a total loss.
- Any tool dropped while repairing an automobile will roll underneath to the exact center.
On and on they go, but they illustrate a profound truth, namely that life is not easy—it is not predictable—it is not filled with certainty. And that means that if we are going to be able to cope with life around us, we cannot do it alone. That is why this church declares that God’s grace is never experienced in isolation. We do not offer a home correspondence course in salvation. This church is a family, a household, a colony, a flock, a race, a body, a nation. We get together, yes, but we are also held together. And what holds us together is the faithfulness of God. He called us together, and He will keep us together.
There was a time in the life of Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China, when he knew intense despair and discouragement. At that time he wrote a letter to a certain Mrs. Burger. He told her how he had been studying in his Greek New Testament and he had come across a phrase in Mark 11. It read: “Echete pistin Theou.” He translated it: “Have the faithfulness of God.” He didn’t recognize that phrase. He didn’t think he had heard it before. He picked up his English Bible and the phrase was translated: “Have faith in God.” Well, he recognized that. He had been told that all his life. “Have faith in God.” We tell that to everybody. But at that point in his life he was so low that his faith was weak, his faith was bruised, his faith was damaged. He couldn’t muster up much faith in God. But as he looked at that verse again in Greek, it came home to him with great power that what the verse was really saying was not “Have faith in God” as it had so often been translated, but instead “Have, or accept, or receive, the faithfulness of God.” That is, accept the promises of God. Have confidence in the fact that God never breaks His word.
The verse was saying not that we are to manufacture faith within us, but instead we are simply to rest in the fact that God is faithful. We may be weak; God is not weak. We may break our word; God does not break His word. We may lose confidence; God never loses confidence. Our hope is to be in Him and not in ourselves. That’s a tremendous affirmation. You see, every page in this Book testifies to the fact that God keeps His promises. That is why in this church every sermon that is preached from this pulpit is a proclamation that God keeps His promises. In this church every lesson taught in Sunday School is designed to build up our confidence in the faithfulness of God. In this church we are held together by our love for Christ and our love for the church and our dependence upon the dependability, the faithfulness of God in keeping His promises. That’s a powerful certainty to have in the midst of an uncertain world. That’s the kind of church we are, and I believe that’s worth preserving for the future.
Thirdly, we are a church where we grow together.
The writer to the Hebrews says in verse 24 that we are to stir up one another to love and good works. Now in order to grasp that truth you’re all going to have to become Greek scholars. I know, that’s so exciting to you that you can hardly wait. So let’s go. That word “stir” is used in the New Testament only four times. When Paul had his argument with Barnabas, the Bible says “a sharp contention rose between them,” and the word “sharp” is the word we are talking about. Then when Paul went to Athens and saw all the idle worship there, it says that he was “cut to the heart,” and the word “cut” is the same word again. Then in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul writes that “love is not easily provoked,” and the word “provoked” is the same word. Now here in the Hebrew letter the word is used again. The meaning now is clear. In the church, we are to stir each other, we are to sharply cut down into the middle of each other and provoke each other to do ever more loving and grateful things. The church is to be like a scalpel which very carefully, very gently cuts, not to wound, but to get down inside and there to make beautiful and healing things happen.
Here we are in what I believe to be the most dynamic and exciting city in the nation, in what is the fastest growing section of America, in a city which exists for the world, for the world comes to Orlando every year by the millions. Here we are at the heart of a great city. And I believe that God has called me to this church for the purpose of stirring us up to greatness, for the purpose of provoking us to be Christ’s lips and Christ’s hands and Christ’s feet and Christ’s heart for this city and for this nation, and for the world which comes to our doorstep.
That’s the kind of church we are—growing together, growing in numbers, growing in commitment to Christ and growing in our ability to meet the needs of people. And I believe that’s worth preserving for the future.
The writer to the Hebrews ends with a trumpet blast. He says: “Do those things because Jesus is coming again.” I don’t know when Jesus is coming. No one does. But I do know this: Whether He comes now or a thousand years from now, we should live every day as if He were coming tonight and we should work every day as if He were not coming for centuries.
That’s our call as the church. In Ephesians, it says that we are to be built together as the whole family of God. In James, it says that we are to pray for one another and to confess to one another. In First Thessalonians, it says that we are to comfort one another. In First Peter, it says that we are to love one another. In Galatians, it says that we are to bear one another’s burdens. In Colossians, it says that we are to uphold one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. And then to climax it all, in Ephesians, it says: “With all the saints (notice that we’re still together) we are to know the length and the breadth and the height and the depth of the love of God.” And where do we experience these things? Where do we get together and hold together and grow together? We do it here in this church. That’s the kind of church we are.
“Build me a church,” says God. “Right there on Church Street in Orlando, build me a church.”
That we shall, O Lord. With Your help and by Your grace, that we shall…