A couple of weeks ago were read were seven men were chose to look after the Greek widows, Stephen was one of them. He was a man full of grace and power. He did great signs and wonders But opposition against him arose. Members of the Synagogue of Freeman began arguing with Stephen and his ministry; but the Scripture says they couldn’t stand against the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. So they began spreading lies about him claiming he was blaspheming the Holy Temple of God. He was arrested and put on trial. Instead of being intimidated by the situation Stephen uses this occasion to deliver a scathing sermon of reproach to his objectors; but also in his message he recounts the history of Israel, culminating with the building of God’s houses. Each of the three temples built are a significant part of Israel’s and our history. Each house stands as a symbol of the different stages of God’s House as it has grown from the past, to present and the future.
Moses Tabernacle was a House of Promise and Presence, a period of beginnings. This was the ‘original recipe’ for the house called church. It was at the beginning of Israel’s journey with God to the land of Promise. During this period they learned to walk by faith. They learned the keys to warfare. They experienced God’s miraculous provision of manna and water.
During David time it was a Tabernacle, a House of Praise. It was a period of revival and renewal in God’s House. Physically, it amounted to little more than a tarp stretched over some tent poles to shield the ark from the burning sun. Yet God said, “I will rebuild this one.’ This represents the period of renewal in the life of the believer. God says, I will raise up that which has fallen. I will rebuild the ruins of your life.’ Oh how we love revival. It is spiritual party time!
The Temple of Solomon was a House of Prosperity and Prominence. It represented a period of stability, growth and prominence. Of all the structures that were built, this is the one that stands out in our minds as the temple. It was a glorious edifice. It was inlaid with ivory, and covered with gold on the outside. Kings from all over the world came to wonder at this great building that Solomon had erected. The temple represented God’s presence with his people, His stability, and His power. When Jesus said this temple would be destroyed the religious leaders were incensed.
Why? Because it was all they knew about God! Their thinking was, “This is it!”. It stood as a monument to the past glory of Israel. Everything that they believed and knew about God was contained within the safe walls of the temple. It spoke of history, power and prestige and tradition. They were safe and comfortable within the confines of the temple. They did not have to be stretched in their faith. In short, their faith did not go beyond the confines of the temple courts. In their minds ‘This is all there is for me. I do not need or want to do anything else when comes to God’. They thought they had to protect it, protect God from what others might do to his House. They had forgotten God’s power and presence is sufficient to protect it and lead it to where he wanted it to go just as he had lead them through the wilderness.
The religious leaders of the day had lost their focus on why the temple was built in the first place. They had allowed their history and traditions to get in the way of the purpose of God’s house. And they used it to exercise power over the people instead of using its influence to further God’s will. And so God allowed the temple to be destroyed. This scenario is still being repeated.
When Charles Haddon Spurgeon first went to Park Street church in London, he was nineteen years old. The church had a seating capacity of fifteen hundred but an average attendance of under two hundred. Nine years they had out grown the church and the Metropolitan Tabernacle was built to accommodate the crowds. Spurgeon’s sermons were published in newspapers around the world; a school was established to train pastors; and a colportage business was started to print evangelistic booklets. It was said that over 23,000 people had heard him preach during those years.
For 38 years Spurgeon was the pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle. 14,000 members joined the church during his tenure. The Metropolitan Tabernacle was one of the most influential churches of the 19th century.
In 1972, however, seventy-five years after Spurgeon retired, there was only 87 worshippers in the morning service.
What happened to this once great church? How did they lose their influence? Many explanations could be given. London had changed. People had changed. The church did not keep up with the times. It should have moved to the suburbs; but those things are only the symptoms of the real problem. In simple terms the church somewhere along the way, lost its focus and became irrelevant in the battle for the Kingdom of God. We are all only one generation away from extinction unless we keep/maintain a intimate and committed relationship with God and His Will—not with the church building and its traditions and history.
Stephen closes his sermon with a quote from the Prophet Isaiah vs 48. The question is a redundant one. Of course we know that it is impossible to erect a building where God can be contained. Stephen does not intend to insult the intelligence of the Sadducees or us. The question is a reflective one meant to draw their attention and ours to the true purpose of the temple. It is to declare that, ‘Solomon’s temple was not all there was. Buildings of stone and wood will be destroyed, will decay and die away: But God’s purposes will remain uniquely His forever. Stephen was saying that the house, the temple, the church that will stand the test of time, is the house that God builds!
The house God builds is one where His power and Son are preeminent; His presence is pursued; and His purpose is practiced. A House where His power is preeminent:-God’s word says, Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool...”,- The house that God wants to build is one that cannot be measured by size, wealth, numbers, or programs. It is a house of God’s power and providence . I heard a story recently about a man who had purchased an expensive painting. It was contained in a rather large frame. He wanted to place it in a room so that it would prominent. Each wall he placed it on seemed to be too small for its immense size and presence. Finally he went back to the artist.
The artist said, when I go to hang a painting, I first of all take all the furniture out of the room. Then I hang it on the wall. I then arrange my furniture in the room around the picture. The picture is then no longer prominent, it is preeminent. It is the center the focus.
That is what God is saying. He does not want to be merely another part of our program, a part of our lives. He wants to be the program be our life. He has set Jesus as the head of the church. The Apostle Paul said it like this,
He(Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created; things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities, all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy.
God’s house is a house where His power and His son are preeminent. Where everything is centered and revolves around Him and His will. It is a place where the questions is continually asked, Is this the will of God for this house?
And God’s House is a place where His presence is pursued: The Lord asks, “ Where will my resting place be? While God cannot be contained within structures made of steel, concrete, wood and glass, Isaiah says that He is looking for a resting place. Where is that resting place? It is in our hearts.
Eph. 2:19-22,‘Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.(Eph.2:19-22)
God lives wherever hearts of faith are open to receiving him; God lives where he is the focus of individual lives, who continuously pursue after Him and his perfection. It is an ongoing process. It is the living and growing of an individual and the church as they become fully and completely His. It is a mirroring of his image as found in Philippians 2:5-8: Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! Whenever an individual or a church honestly seeks, follows after God himself, demonstrates his will by being a servant then they are His House. ..
…A House where his purpose is promoted. In Mark 11:17 Jesus is infuriated at the presence of money changers in the temple because they had forgotten what the House of God was to be. They were more concerned about doing the programs – getting the sacrifices right then they were about fulfilling the will of God. Do you remember what Jesus said in those verses is the purpose for God’s house?
The purpose of God’s House is to be a House of Prayer – not just in the sense that this a place where you come say a pray. Jesus is saying this should be a place where God can meet with his people. Each Sunday we come together in our various churches throughout the world to ‘meet with God’. And we bring our laundry list of needs and requests that we ‘leave at His feet’ until next Sunday when we go through the same regimen, where we drop by for a brief one hour dutiful visit.
Jesus was saying that the House of God should be a place where we don’t just come to meet him but a place where we can encounter and experience God through intimate prayer with Him. It is in prayer that God reveals His heart to us where he speaks to us. Is this church truly a house of prayer or is prayer something we just tack on at meetings, in our worship service, in our lives? When we pray do you expect to meet God, to encounter God? Deuteronomy 4:7 says God will be with us when we pray. When you pray do you believe, understand that God is standing right there next to you listening and responding to you? Seeking to help you become more like him, seeking to help us have the same peace and joy that he has. Prayer is about changing us to be come more like him not about changing his mind to get what we want. Prayer is about learning all that he commanded. It is about the two greatest commandments. It is about loving God and loving our neighbor as he loved us. And the only way that is possible is through meeting with God, listening to Him, hearing his voice. Are you committed to being a House of Prayer, are we committed to this being a House of Prayer
Jesus says, My House will be a house of prayer for all nations/all people. As we close out our series on Becoming His Church may we be reminded that we are the church, physically here in this sanctuary, and spiritually as reflected by our hearts and soul. And our purpose is to declare his preeminence in this world, to pursue Him and to practice his teachings, His will, so that we might go into all the world baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son and The Holy Spirit teaching them to obey all that he has commanded. God’s house is a house that is dedicated to be for all people, a place where we are united as one, where we are concerned about reaching all the world.
Like Bill Hybels, I believe that there is nothing like the local church when it is working right. “Its beauty is indescribable. Its power is breathtaking. Its potential is unlimited. It comforts the grieving and heals the broken in the context of community. It builds bridges to seekers and offers truth to the confused. It provides resources for those in need and opens its arms to the forgotten, the downtrodden, the disillusioned. It breaks the chains of addictions, frees the oppressed, and offers belong to the marginalized of this world. Whatever the capacity for human suffering, the church has a greater capacity for healing and wholeness.” Hybels concludes, “Still to this day, the potential of the local church is almost more than I can grasp. No other organization on earth is like the church. Nothing even comes close.” (contributed by: Jim Kane on Sermon Central)
…Because the ark, the temple, the church is a piece, a reflection of His House, his eternal home in Heaven. May we truly be God’s House!
September 11 is a date that will be forever etched in the minds of the world. The mention of the words immediately brings to mind thoughts such as, terror, horror, disbelief, death, sorrow, war, tragedy, hopelessness, confusion, anger, hate.
As I sat, transfixed in front of my Television set that week, there was something in the solemnity of the tragedy that made me realize that this was not just something that was happening to another city 12 hours away in anothercountry. This tragedy happened to the awestruck crowd, rescue workers, the city of New York, The United States, Canada and to the world. And in a sense it happened to me.
As the importance of the event hit me, I noticed something remarkable about the crowd and rescue workers. It was neither black nor white, rich nor poor, cultured nor uncultured, though it was all of these. It was humanity. No one was thinking about Collor, creed or social status. At a time like this the people of New York were just fellow human beings, drawn together in their compassion for loved ones, known and unknown who had been trapped in the mountain of concrete, glass and steel
As the critical 36 hour mark drew near, the fire fighters were working with what seemed untiring speed, determination and resolve. When one fireman was asked, why the intensity, the quick answer was, “there is someone dad, husband, wife, friend in there,. We believe that just one is still alive we will do whatever it takes to save them.
In a world that has ben terrorized by Satan and his legion, our call is to link arms and courageously, faithfully, diligently go and rescue sons, daughters, moms, dads, bosses, workmates, school chums. The critical hour is approaching. Now is the time to go, as the hymn says, ‘Rescue the perishing, Care for the dying Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.!
Humor Illustration: CHRISTIAN FOOTBALL!!
Quarterback Sneak - Church members quietly leaving during the invitation.
Draw Play - What many children do with the bulletin during worship.
Half-time - The period between Sunday school and worship when many choose to leave.
Benchwarmer - Those who do not sing, pray, work, or apparently do anything but sit.
Backfield-in-Motion - Making a trip to the back (restroom or water fountain) during the service.
Staying in the Pocket - What happens to a lot of money that should be given to the Lord’s work.
Two-minute Warning - The point at which you realize the sermon is almost over and begin to gather up your children and belongings.
Instant Replay - The preacher loses his notes and falls back on last week’s illustrations.
Sudden Death - What happens to the attention span of the congregation if the preacher goes "overtime."
Trap - You’re called on to pray and are asleep.
End Run - Getting out of church quick, without speaking to any guest or fellow member.
Flex Defense - The ability to allow absolutely nothing said during the sermon to affect your life.
Halfback Option - The decision of 50% of the congregation not to return for the evening service.
Blitz - The rush for the restaurants following the closing prayer.
(From Webpage Fortune City)
[Odd Laws Still on the Books, Citation: Robert W. Pelton in The Door. Christian Reader, Vol. 33, no. 5.]
Young girls are never allowed to walk a tightrope in Wheeler, Mississippi, unless it’s in a church.
In Blackwater, Kentucky, tickling a woman under her chin with a feather duster while she’s in church service carries a penalty of $10.00 and one day in jail.
No one can eat unshelled, roasted peanuts while attending church in Idanha, Oregon.
In Honey Creek, Iowa, no one is permitted to carry a slingshot to church except police.
No citizen in Leecreek, Arkansas, is allowed to attend church in any red-colored garment.
Swinging a yo-yo in church or anywhere in public on the Sabbath is prohibited in Studley, Virginia.
Turtle races are not permitted within 100 yards of a local church at any time in Slaughter, Louisiana.
a. James White states: Church growth consultant Win Arn has observed something even more disturbing. Arn conducted a survey in which he interviewed the members of nearly one thousand churches in regard to what they perceived to be the mission of the church. Eighty-nine percent said the church exists ‘To take care of my family’s and my needs.’ Only 11 percent said it existed to win the world to Christ. This points to a disturbing reality: Many churches fail to have any sense of mission at all, and those that do may fall far short of having a mission that is biblical in its scope (30).
Contributed by: Michael McCartney
Murren helps us to see a clear picture of a healthy and a healing church by reminding us what the Bible says we as the Body of Christ should be doing:
The Believers are devoted to one another and give preference to one another (Romans 12:10).
They love one another (Romans 13:8).
They refrain from judging one another (Romans 14:13).
They edify one another (Romans 15:14).
They serve one another (Galatians 5:13).
They don’t hurt one another (Galatians 5:15).
They don’t provoke one another through conceit (Galatians 5:26)
They help carry one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2).
They are patient with one another (Ephesians 4:2).
They are kind and forgiving toward one another (Ephesians 4:32).
They submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21).
They esteem one another (Philippians 2:3)
They stimulate one another to do good works (Hebrews 10:24).
They don’t slander one another (James 4:11).
They don’t complain against one another (James 5:9).
They confess their sins to one another and pray for one another (James 5:16).
They extend hospitality to one another (1 Peter 4:9).
This is what a church that heals looks like and acts like.
Gordon MacDonald, a Christian author once said this, “The world can do almost anything as well as or even better than the church. You need not be a Christian to build houses, feed the hungry, or heal the sick. There is only one thing the world cannot do. It cannot offer grace.”
Elton Trueblood wrote, "It used to be that Christianity was a revolutionary faith that turned the world upside down. But today Christians sit in Sunday morning church services looking at their watches, wondering what time dinner will be served, or thinking about the kickoff. And we hope that church won’t interfere with the things we would really rather be doing."
Contributed by: MELVIN NEWLAND
ILLUS: John Bisagno former Pastor of Houston’s First Baptist Church tells the story of his coming there to candidate for the position of pastor many years ago. He said that as he entered the auditorium it was dimly lit, with just a few people huddled together. They were singing some old slow funeral type song that was depressing.
Later that day he took a walk in downtown Houston and came upon a jewelry store. It was some sort of grand opening and there were bright lights and a greeter at the door to welcome you in with a smile. Inside there was a celebration going on. There were refreshments and people having a good time talking and laughing with each other. They welcomed him and offered him some punch. He said that after attending both the church and the jewelry store, if the jewelry store had offered an invitation, he would have joined the jewelry store!
Contributed by: Larry Jacobs
RON DUNN: The world does not fear the church, it barely tolerates it. It considers the church no longer a player in the world affairs and only an observer.
The church is a quaint old relic of the past that lends a certain charm to a neighborhood, a holdover from bygone days, big but harmless, like a beached whale.
Contributed by: Guy McGraw