When God Is Moving part 2
When God Builds a Church
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
January 29, 2006

 

The Olympics are coming up in February, I’m starting a new series of messages next week based on the Olympics, and we all know that the Olympics have their origins in Greece. So to commemorate the 2006 Olympics, I thought I’d teach you a little Greek this morning.

So here’s a little Greek… [PowerPoint] - George Stephanopoulos – He’s about 5 feet tall. I think that qualifies as a little Greek.

Other than that, I want to teach you a word of Greek. Here’s the word…

Ekklēsiā

Now, you may recognize that word already. You may be thinking about the Old Testament book that comes from that root word… Ecclesiastes. It’s the Greek word that we translate as “Church”. Now, what is a church? Watch this…

[Video – Essentials 5-4 – What Is a Church?]

The word Ekklēsiā refers to the church. But what is the Church? Well, the word literally means…

Ekklēsiā – Called Out Ones

We are the Church. We are the “called out ones”. But we aren’t “called out” in the sense of separating ourselves from the world, which I’m afraid many churches have done! We have become little “monasteries” where just our own people come for spiritual blessing with no contact with the outside world. But that’s not what Ekklēsiā is about. We not “called out” in the sense of being separated from, but “called out” as in given a mission and purpose. We are called out and called forth to serve and to work and to submit and to build and to grow and to reach new people!

But the key is to understand that we are the called out ones. Ekklēsiā refers to us, as a people, not to any building. We are the Church. In your notes…

The Church refers to the PEOPLE not the BUILDING

It can refer to us here at Sunrise as a local group of believers getting together. It can refer to the Church universal—believers around the world and throughout time. But when the Bible talks about the Church, it is always in reference to the people, not a building where they meet.

So in the passage Jim read for us, when Jesus said “I will build my church”, He wasn’t talking about the construction of a building; He was talking about PEOPLE being called FORTH with a purpose!

Now, Jesus did say that He would build His Church. How’s He going to do that? How does Jesus build the Church? Well, that’s what I want to spend the next 20-22 minutes discussing. You can use your notes provided for you in your Sunrise Update to follow along and fill in the blanks. Let me just give you six general statements about how Jesus builds His Church. First of all…

 

The Church is Built…

1. By Jesus Personally

Matthew 16:18 (NLT)
“… I will build my church…”

Five simple words from that verse, and in those words Jesus plainly laid out who has the ultimate responsibility for building the Church and whose Church it is. He said, “I… I will build it.” It’s not something He has ditched on us… it is something He is intimately involved in. In fact, He promises in His Word…

Matthew 18:20 (NLT)
“For where two or three gather together because they are mine, I am there among them.”

And notice, too, whose church it is…

Jesus said, “I will build...MY CHURCH”
He didn’t say, “I will build your church”
He didn’t say, “I will build Greg’s church”
He didn’t say, “I will build the Wesleyan Church” or the Baptist or the Pentecostal or the Nazarene or the Catholic… whatever…
He said, “I will build MY CHURCH”

The Church isn’t the building...it’s the people. People who have given their hearts to the Lord... those people BELONG to God. We are His People. We are His Body. We are His Church. And He is the One bringing us together.

 

2. With our Involvement, Faithfulness and Prayer

He builds the Church, but He welcomes us into the process. He entrusts us with responsibilities. He delegates authority. He allows us to play a role. In fact, He believes in us so much, that we are the primary way He grows His Church. He has no plan “B”, we’re it.

And so He counts on each of us to use whatever gifts or talents we have to serve others. He has given each of us special abilities which He intends to be used in serving and encouraging and helping others, and building up the Church.

Ephesians 4:16 (NLT)
Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.

I read a story this week about a man who called a preacher to say he wanted to become a church member. But the man went on to explain that he did not want to worship every week, he didn’t want to study the Bible, he didn’t want to visit the sick, and he didn’t want to serve as a leader or as a teacher. Basically, he wanted to join the church as a member, but he didn’t want to assume any responsibility or become involved in any meaningful way.

Well, the preacher commended the man for his desire to be a church member, but told him that the church he was looking for was located in another part of town. In fact, he even gave the man the address of the church he should join. So the man wrote down the address and then hung up.

Then the man went out, got in the car, and drove to the address he had been given. And what did he find when he arrived? He came face to face with the result of his own attitude of not wanting to be involved.... because at that address stood an abandoned church building, boarded up and ready for demolition.

We are God’s plan A. And He has no plan B, we’re it. He wants to use us to build His Church. And if we refuse, the entire Church… the entire Body of believers… suffers.

We’re talking about how Jesus builds His Church, and if you want to look at Church history, the greatest period of growth the Church has ever experienced was right at the beginning and is recorded in the book of Acts. When you start with about 120 followers of Jesus and add thousands every day, that pretty good growth.

During those early days, the apostles, or the church leaders, would go around to different towns speaking to the local churches and teaching them what it means to live a life of faithfulness to Jesus. You see an example of this in Acts chapter 16 when Paul and Silas and Timothy were traveling together…

Acts 16:4 (NLT)
Then they went from town to town, explaining the decision regarding the commandments that were to be obeyed, as decided by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in their faith and grew daily in numbers.

They learned the Word of God, they put it into practice and obeyed it, they remained faithful to it, and because of all of that, Jesus was able to use them to reach others.

One of the things we learned during our 40 Days of Purpose Campaign was this…

The Church needs to “grow warmer through fellowship, deeper through discipleship, stronger through worship, broader through ministry, and larger through evangelism.”
~ Rick Warren

And we are involved in every part of that. And notice the attitude we are to have in all of this. We are to be humble and prayerful…

2 Chronicles 7:14-15 (NLT)
“Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and heal their land. I will listen to every prayer made in this place [temple]…”

Number three… The Church is Built…

 

3. In Christ’s Power, Name and Authority

Let’s go back again to the passage Jim read for us. In that passage in Matthew 16, we saw how Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Who do you say I am?” Basically, he’s saying… “You know, Pete, we’ve spent a lot of time together over the past 2-3 years. I’ve tried to teach you how to live, how to love, how to serve. You’ve seen me perform some incredible miracles. You’ve heard the scuttle-butt about me… what people are saying, the good and the bad. There are all kinds of rumors, but you… I’ve spent more time with you over these past couple years than anyone else. Who do you think I am?”

And how does Simon Peter respond? He says…

Matthew 16:16, 18 (NLT)
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”…
[Jesus replied…] “Now I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.”

Now, this is an interesting passage, because there’s some debate about what Jesus was saying here. What “rock” is Jesus talking about?

Some believe Jesus was referring to Peter, and saying that Peter would be the rock or the foundation of the Church. And that kind of makes sense, since the very name “Peter” literally means “rock” or “stone”, and because Peter became such a great leader in the early church.

But others would say… and this is what I would say… that Jesus was referring to the truth that Peter had just professed… “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” In other words, the very fact that Jesus was the Messiah, the Saviour of the World, the Son of the living God would be the foundational truth of the Church. So I believe Jesus was indicating that HE would be the rock upon which the Church will be built. It would be built in HIS name, in HIS power, in HIS authority.

I think that becomes pretty clear when you look at what Peter himself later said about Jesus in Acts 4…

Acts 4:11 (NLT)
“For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures, where it says, ‘The stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’”

So Jesus proclaimed, “On this solid foundation of who I am… the Son of God… I will build my Church”. And then He added, “and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.” Or as the New International Version translates this verse…

Matthew 16:18 (NIV)
“…on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

Hades being another word for hell. What’s Jesus talking about here? He’s talking about power. He’s saying that there’s no power that can withstand or overcome His Church. Because His Church is operating under His power, which had no equal.

And I want you to notice something else. Notice that it talks about the “gates of Hades.” Now, where do you find gates? I mean, do you find gates on the battlefield? Of course not. Are gates typically picked up and taken along as weapons? No, they’re not. I have often read this passage and pictured the powers of hell surrounding the church and not being able to break through the gates. But that’s not what the verse is saying at all. It’s talking about the gates of hell! The Church isn’t on the defensive, we’re on the offensive. With the power and authority that Jesus gives us, nothing can stop us. We can even storm the gates of hell.

I was watching a show the other day and one of characters talked about how she believed in someone so much that she would follow him to hell and back. Well, Jesus makes that possible. With His power and with His authority and with His name, we can tear down every stronghold of the enemy, build the Church, and expand the Kingdom of God.

 

4. According to God’s Timing

A couple weeks ago, I was reading a book written for church leaders. And the book pointed out a Bible passage to me that I had never really noticed before. It’s in the book of Exodus, chapter 23. Moses has lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, they now find themselves living in the wilderness along the Sinai Peninsula, and God tells them how He will bring them to the land He has prepared for them… the Promised Land. And He talks about how he will deal with the others who were occupying the land at the time. He tells them…

Exodus 23:27-30 (NLT)
“I will send my terror upon all the people whose lands you invade, and they will panic before you. I will send hornets ahead of you to drive out the Hivites, Canaanites, and Hittites. But I will not do this all in one year because the land would become a wilderness, and the wild animals would become too many to control. I will drive them out a little at a time until your population has increased enough to fill the land.”

He wouldn’t do it all at once. He would drive them out a little at a time. He would only drive the others out of the land at a pace which the Israelites could handle.

And that’s what happened. In the first four chapters of Joshua, when they finally reached this Promised Land, they move quickly into the land and claim the territory. It all happened fast, and miracles were almost a daily occurrence. They were exciting days with dramatic events.

But then you hit chapter 5 of Joshua, and everything seems to grind to a halt, before eventually continuing at a much slower pace.

I tried to think about what I would do if I were in their sandals. And I think my first reaction… if everything was going full-speed ahead and then all of a sudden we stalled… my first reaction would be to ask, “What’s wrong?” I would wonder about our strategy, I would wonder about our work ethic, I would wonder about our faith levels, I would wonder about our purity, I would wonder about our leadership, I would wonder about a lot of things, trying to find the answer to “What’s wrong?”

And really, flaws or weaknesses or sinfulness in any of those areas can cause a church to stall. But that’s not always the reason. Because from that passage in Exodus 23, we see it was God’s plan all along for the Israelites to take control of the land slowly, a little at a time, at a rate they could handle. God wanted to make sure that the nation of Israel didn’t expand so fast that the people weren’t able to keep up. He wanted to make sure the nation had grown enough to handle it.

And I think it’s the same way with the Church. I’ve seen different churches go through different growth spurts and then level off for a time. And I’ve sometimes wondered what happened to their momentum. But perhaps it’s all by God’s design. Perhaps God is coordinating numerical growth with spiritual growth, and He wants to be careful not to allow the numerical growth to destroy the spiritual growth.

“One of the greatest challenges for believers is to comprehend God’s timing… It tests my faith when God moves more quickly than I expect, requiring me to pick up the pace. But the greater test is when God moves more slowly than I expect, requiring me to wait upon Him.”
~ Wayne Schmidt

So when the things are going fast, we need to pay attention to God and not get distracted by other things or get too caught up in the excitement. We need to trust God and follow Him where He leads, and not veer off on another path.

And when things are slow, we need to trust God then, too. And it’s at those times we can pause to re-evaluate where we’re at. Is this period of slow-growth by God’s design, or is it because of some sinfulness or weakness of our own? Plus, we can use those times to grow deeper and deeper spiritually. Just as the Israelites had to grow in numbers in order to occupy more of the land, we have to grow and mature spiritually before God takes us on to the next level.

Here’s what I know: God sees the big picture, He knows what needs to happen when, and I can trust Him. Even when it came to Jesus being born as a baby, it was foretold centuries in advance. But it wasn’t until the timing was right that Jesus came into this world.

Galatians 4:4 (NLT)
But when the right time came, God sent his Son…

So the Church is built according to God’s timing. It is also built…

 

5. Through Pruning, Winnowing and Refinement

How many gardeners do we have here this morning? I’m not much of a gardener myself… that’s more Shera’s territory. So I’m not really speaking out of my expertise; I’m just speaking from my limited understanding. But from what I understand, if you are taking care of your garden and you have a plant that you want to grow nice and big and strong, there are times that you actually have to cut parts of it away, right? Now, on the surface that seems counter-productive. I mean, it just doesn’t make sense that if you want something to grow you have to cut part of it off.

It’s called pruning, and what you’re doing is this… you’re looking at the overall health of the plant, you’re identifying branches or leaves that are dead or diseased or that have stopped growing, and you cutting them off so that the rest of the plant will not be hindered by them. Right?

Jesus used this process of pruning as a metaphor when talking about His followers. He said…

John 15:1-2 (NLT)
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.”

John the Baptizer used a different illustration to teach the same thing. He was talking about Jesus, and he said…

Luke 3:16-17 (NLT)
“He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He is ready to separate the chaff from the grain with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, storing the grain in his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.”

Again, outside of my areas of expertise. But from what I understand, during the winnowing process a farmer would take a pitchfork full of grain and toss it into the air. The good grain would fall back down, while the useless chaff would blow away in the wind.

One more illustration. Gold or silver is purified by fire. Basically, if you take some raw gold or take some raw silver and stick it into a hot fire, it will melt down and all the impurities will be burned away. That’s how you refine gold and silver. And sometimes, God will take His people through a time of testing… a time of refining… in order to burn away the impurities.

Zechariah 13:9 (NLT)
“I will bring that group through the fire and make them pure, just as gold and silver are refined and purified by fire. They will call on my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘These are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’"

Jesus does this with us as believers and as His Church. He prunes us… He winnows us… He refines us through the fire. It’s never an easy process, but it is necessary. You see, the end-goal is for the Church to be without blemish… pure and holy before Jesus.

Ephesians 5:26-27 (NLV)
He made [the church] clean by the washing of water with the Word. Christ did this so the church might stand before Him in shining-greatness. There is to be no sin of any kind in it. It is to be holy and without blame.

So the Church is built through pruning, winnowing, and refining. Sometimes God has to burn away the impurities or remove one part to preserve the health of the whole.

And sixth, the Church is built…

 

6. Continually

Matthew 16:18 (NLT)
“… I will build my church…”

Some people think that the best days of the Church are behind her.
Some people think that the Church is in decline...
Some people think that the Church is ineffective...
But Jesus said, “I WILL BUILD My Church”
He didn’t say, “I will see My Church falter”...
He didn’t say, “I will just watch from a distance while the Church struggles”
He said, “My Church is going to grow. My Church is going to flourish. I will build it.”

And He has done so. And He continues today. Worldwide, the Church is growing and taking new ground every day. There are more believers today than ever before in history. The Church is flourishing today as never before, especially in countries like China where Christianity is oppressed. It’s an amazing thing… the Church has always been the strongest and grown the fastest when under oppression. Probably because it has been refined by the fire of testing.

Two verses from the Book of Acts…

Acts 2:47 (NLT)
And each day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved.

Acts 9:31 (NIV)
Then the church… was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.

One thing you can count on is that when Jesus starts something, He finishes it. He has started to build His Church, and He’s going to keep building it as long as there is time. He’s not going to retreat, He’s not going to give-up, and He’s not going to fail. He will build His Church… that’s a guarantee.

 

And the great thing is, you and I have the privilege of being part of the adventure. Here we are, still a young church ourselves, but we are His Church. And He has incredible plans for us, most of which we can’t even dream of right now.

So as a Church, let us never be afraid of where He wants to take us. Let us never waver in our faith that He is leading us. Let us never discard our trust in Him and choose to find our own way. Let us never abandon our calling as a Church to introduce individuals to Him and to help them grow. And let us never give up pursuing the goal of being pure and holy before Him.

Let’s pray.

Jesus, thank you for building Your church. Thank you that Sunrise, as a local gathering of believers, is part of your universal Church. Thank you that Your Church is not defined or bound by bricks and mortar, but that we are your Church, and you have empowered us with Your name, Your power, and Your authority. We come before You this morning, asking You to continue to build Your Church and expand Your kingdom. Purify us, and use us we pray. We pray this by the authority of Your name, Amen.

 

 

 

 

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