Rebuilding the structure, Pardon our Dust series Ezra 1:1-5
Eric A. Snyder, Minister, Farwell Church of Christ
July 28, 2002
A couple of months ago I gave a sermon which outlined a lot of the things that we are doing right as a church. And because I like to keep things positive I failed to mention what our problem is as a church.
We have an average Sunday attendance of 75 on Sunday morning which believe it or not is actually up a little from last year. But Sunday attendance is not where we measure success. Our Bible school hour needs work. We have a high number of once a month attenders who have been coming for years and never moved up to faithful regular attendance. Or perhaps they have backed away from it. Last year when we had our annual meeting we had just over 30 people show up. Which some of you may think is good attendance, but with a Church who currently sees more than 150 different member in one month you can obviously see that we need more people to care about the direction and focus of the church. And we have other problems as well. But all of that being said, those things are not our big problem. Those things are just symptoms of a larger problem.
There are 2 underlying problems that we are facing as a church
Max best expressed our first problem last year in our annual meeting when he said that our younger members need to start taking on more responsibility. Because if they do not we will slowly dwindle until it’s time to close the doors. The way Max stated it was this ”We are one generation away from extinction”
We have to get more people involved in leadership and service in the life of the church. So the question has been asked “How do we get people involved in what’s going on? Can we just do what we have always done and expect them to show up and say I want be a team leader. No we need to be realistic. Can we hire a youth minister and have that fix the problem. Again the answer is no, While hiring a youth minister is the right move unless we find a way to connect we will only be putting a band aid over a gaping wound.
I have received some phone calls and letters this last week from people expressing your concerns about some changes we are making here.
Let me say this I understand the concerns some of you are facing. Our Leaders understand the concerns that you might have. And we know that some of these changes are hard to deal with. Some of you have seen technology and business change so rapidly and constantly that when you come to church you just want everything to be calm.
But as earlier stated “we are one generation away from dying”
A few years ago there was a company in Alma called “Lobdell Emery “ They had a plant in Alma and they manufactures metal products. Such as shelving units for grocery stores and the doors to a lot of Gm cars.
A few years ago the leadership found that the company was losing money at an incredible rate so in an effort to turn a profit the owners sold the company and ultimately the plant was shut down.
This affected my family because at that time my father was an executive of the data processing area. The Company that purchased the plant saw my dad’s value but wanted him to relocate to Detroit. He ended up taking another Job with a major pay cut just to stay in the area but he did tell me that, the company has been losing money for years and someone finally said enough. We either have to innovate or we will die.
I wonder what life was like when the automobile was becoming popular? Suddenly people were buying less horseshoes, no one needed a horse anymore so saddle companies were losing money, feed companies couldn’t sell their product.
Throughout history there have been some great companies, When the railroads were started in this country they were controversial but they were also powerhouses. And they threatened other companies who could not get cargo to it’s destination in nearly the same amount of time that they could.
But what did we see about a month ago? Amtrak can’t keep up with airlines, busses or cars so they announced a plan to suspend passenger trains, Now the government stepped in to help with a substantial loan but if they had not Amtrak would be seriously downsizing right now.
My father in Law works for a place in Ohio called Owens Brockway, They make glass, Specifically glass containers. He’s one of those guys who believes in what he does if you go into his garage he has hundreds of glass products. Old coke bottles. Ketchup bottles, pickle Jars, On his refrigerator is a sticker that says “only the best comes in glass” He used to ask his wife to only buy things out of the glass containers, so if she went to the store she would buy ketchup in the glass bottle, she would buy mustard in the glass jar.
She told me that one time she took him into the store with her and showed him the price difference between plastic and glass. And from that day on they have been buying the plastic.
Because everything is in plastic now the plant has been talking about closing , they talk about it every year when the earnings come in.
Now it’s obvious that they company could change and make plastic bottles and stay in business, but they never will, Here’s why, The cost is too high. They would have to retrain people to use new machines, they would have to buy completely different machines, and the list goes on.
As the Church of Christ our challenge is to take the old, old story and put a different package on it.
Let me give an example. Messages about the truth of Jesus are still important right. Basic package is 3 points and a prayer. A lot of you are comfortable with that. The new package does not change the content but it changes how it is delivered. Now we use power point with goofy little slides and other things to send the message home.
Here’s the difference, We don’t want to Just make it, as a Church. Our goal here is not to merely survive but to become a place where the Spirit of God and the message of Christ resonates from these walls.
And perhaps you would like it if we could just pay the bills and have a good dinner, but the bottom line is that’s not what the church is for. If we wanted to have small meetings and eat afterward we would have the mission statement of the Moose lodge.
So we in the words of Jesus “Change the wineskin” We use a different format
Because that’s what Jesus said we are to win people who need his love and Grace. Paul said I look for common ground with everybody so that I can influence people. One of my favorite church leaders in history said the same thing. Martin Luther
What would you say if I told you that we were going to sing a song here that was sung in every bar and tavern, That we are going to sing a good old beer drinking song. Most of you would say no way
Well what if I told you it went like this “A mighty fortress is our God, A bulwark never failing”
See we hear that song today and say wow what a great testament to our faith. It tells a story or there’s so much meaning. When Martin Luther wrote that song it was the most popular bar tune of it’s time. But he did it to bring people to a right relationship with Jesus.
I can’t believe we didn’t notice it, it kinda sounds like a beer drinking song “ Bla da da di da da”
It surprised me to hear that when polled about the purpose of their church 85% of church goers said it was a place where they could go to learn and not one of them said that the purpose was to bring people to Jesus
Change is hard, in fact there are some who think it’s a dirty word. But the horrifying fact is true. If we do not attract new people to Jesus then we are just one generation away from dying.
I don’t think anyone wants that. There may be some who would rather die than do what it takes to become more evangelistic. But I think for the most part all of you want to see as many people come to Christ as possible. The question is are you willing to pay the cost for this kind of radical growth?
We know that Change is hard and you may not see the benefit now. People have had problems changing forever.
Our text is Ezra Chapter 1 today and in this text we see the people of God scattered through the wilderness. They had no place to worship, no place to teach their children. And no hope left in their once godly government. Does this sound familiar to anybody.
These people were truly one generation away from dying off. The Old Testament is very interesting to me because so many times we see the promise of a coming Christ or the message of proclaiming Christ dwindled down to just one person. And so this in not the first time the cause of God has been one generation away from annihilation.
The exciting news is that although tough God used those instances to bring people back to him, but it did not happen easily, it did not happen smoothly, it did not happen overnight and it did not happen without change.
Ezra 1:1 In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing: 2 "This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: "’The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. 3 Anyone of his people among you--may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the LORD, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem. 4 And the people of any place where survivors may now be living are to provide him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem.’" 5 Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites--everyone whose heart God had moved--prepared to go up and build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem.
There are some hard questions that this text forces us to ask ourselves when it comes to building the house of worship. You see we could just read this story and say that’s a great story about how God gave hope to his people. But real understanding of this passage comes when we say how does God give hope to us as His people here today. To find the answers to that question we have to look at some other areas of ourselves.
The process starts like the passage starts. “The Lord moved the Heart”
Have you prayed for God to move your heart?
This is a hard prayer to pray because when you pray for God to move your heart you are in fact saying “God make my heart bigger than my preferences, God make my heart bigger than my dreams, God make my heart bigger than my area of comfort”
I have heard people say things like I have lived my life. I am finished with service, and I am never going to change.
You all probably know people like that. This Bible verse tells us about a man who was like that. He was not only against rebuilding the temple but he was also an evil person. He was not going to change his mind about who God was and he was not going to allow the people of God to congregate and build community. But this text says that the Lord changed the heart of this king. And ultimately that’s what it’s all about if God is going to be able to touch the hearts of more people in our area. He needs a church that is not only loving and caring but also a place where people can identify with God.
Why should we pray this prayer? Because praying it can only bring us closer to God. Because praying for God to expand the capacity of our heart can only bring Joy and fulfillment and peace.
People the change process may be hard, the transition difficult But when God moves your heart he has promised to walk with you every step of the journey.
If God can move the heart of a king and also move the heart of his people imagine what He can do here with a group that is willing to walk with him for another exciting life changing journey.
There are no negatives from making this your prayer There are only blessings and bright possibilities.
But after you’ve answered this question you have to move on to the next
Are you willing to make the necessary sacrifices?
When I was looking at churches almost 2 years ago I heard a lot of exciting stories about what a great time it was when you all constructed this building. And those are great memories they are part of the past of this church. We cherish the past here bet one thing that was noticeable was the hunger that exists to this day to complete the building. Even today some of you probably gave to the building fund. And hopefully we are going to need than money someday.
Buildings are nice but they require patience persistence and the potential to fill them. My first full time preaching ministry was in Kenton Ohio, the people had built an incredible worship center that would seat 350 people, yet when I arrived our average church attendance was 40.
Buildings do not automatically make people become Christians. It’s the process of building something that makes people excited, but for us we have a different kind of building project. We must focus on more involvement and more outreach opportunities.
That’s why we are going to 2 services. Because more times of worship, plus more options for worship mean that we will have more room for guests, and more options for personal preferences in worship time. And although we acknowledge your letters and phone calls, our men in Leadership have spent a lot of time in prayer and consideration trying to hear God’s leading.
And I don’t know about you but sometimes I forget. It’s not about what I want but it’s about what God says.
Please encourage our leaders. They are facing many issues as we gear up to add staff we are still left in a financial position that requires our men in leadership to make some hard decisions. As we prepare to expand our worship experience they need your encouragement.
The sacrifices are not necessarily money it may be an aversion to a certain decision. There are some who try to complain quietly but let me assure you the kingdom of God has a hard time expanding when people refuse to allow him to work in their hearts.
The worst thing that you can do is to hinder the work of Christ by dousing the fire of the Holy Spirit.
We know Change is hard but there is a difference between creating gossip and controversy and working through the problem
Some of you need a support group but if you get involved in one, make sure that your conversation is in confidence. And make sure that the people with you are not going to renounce their faith because of your objections.
Are you mature enough to put other people’s preferences ahead of your own?
Are you mature enough to put God’s ways in front of your own preferences?
Our father you are in heaven
Hallowed is your name, your ways most holy and most righteous and God let your kingdom come here today with power
Change our hearts OH God so that we may do your will
Take care of our needs and help us to be a people of mercy so that all who would hear would proclaim of your goodness from the highest hills.
God we are willing to place aside our selves. Our thoughts our preferences, our opinions, our excuses and we are willing to come whole heartedly to you.
Use us God. And when the dust settles Use us some more.