This sermon was preached on Sunday, January 2, 2011.
[Pastor seemed to be struggling today, at least at first, with his delivery and his focus, as you will see. Nevertheless, the message is most powerful.]
We return to the book of Ephesians, continuing on in our series: Following Jesus in a Spiritually Hostile World. Today we come to chapter 2, verse 19. [He pauses.] Will you stand with me, please, as we look together to God’s Word, [verses] 19 through 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 the 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.
[Prayer] Father, thank You for Your Word today. It is our desire to be a dwelling place for Your Spirit. I pray that You will, as we begin this year, I pray that You will speak to everyone and we will seek with all of our heart to be that place, to be that dwelling place, for You, individually and corporately. Anoint Your servant to speak and our ears to hear and our hearts to receive. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, speak to my heart, change my life, in Jesus’ name. Amen. You may be seated.
You know, I find it really amazing how much effort we put into impressing other people. We do it every day. And how little effort we put into impressing God. Impressing other people seems to be what most people do for a lifetime. I mean, it’s just what they do, from the way we look–our appearance, the outside of us, make-up. God only knows what you would have to look at if I didn’t spend all the time I spend to make myself look pretty, I tell ya. [Congregation laughs.] Cosmetics, in the last few decades plastic surgery–I hope nobody got a coupon for plastic surgery for Christmas. That’s something you want to buy for yourself, right? That is not something you want someone to give to you. Our clothing, our houses, our cars. We bend over backwards to try to impress other people, to at least keep up with the crowd and not be lagging behind, so to speak.
It’s interesting that people with different income levels, where they put the emphasis in doing that. There’s places in the world that are very, very poor. I’m talking about dirt shacks that they live in and they barely survive, but they have one really good outfit of clothing or two, and when they go out, they are dressed to the hilt. And you would think, you know, they could be very wealthy, but they impress that way because that’s all they can afford to do. A little higher income level, you still have bad housing but a little bit more income, so you put the money into the car. Have you ever noticed that? They make the car everything that they can make it to be. They decorate it and impress people with their car. And then the very wealthy, of course, have the big homes, and they get the yachts and all that stuff that impresses everybody.
Jesus had none of that. He was all about impressing the Father and being faithful in every way. He didn’t come here to impress people. He came here to save people, and He was not impressive in and of Himself. Isaiah 53, verse 2 tells us that there was no beauty in Him, so unlike many of the pictures, most of the pictures of Jesus, He was not handsome. He was common, because that’s what the Bible says. Isaiah 53:2, you can look it up. [Or I can give it to you, Isaiah 53:2b: He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.]
So, you know, you drive through a community that is somewhat prosperous like our own [State College, PA] and you see these beautiful houses, and you wonder, there are all these beautiful houses but how many beautiful homes are there? You with me? Having a beautiful home has absolutely no relationship to having a beautiful house. You can have a beautiful house and a beautiful home; you can have an ugly house and a beautiful home; you can have—uh [he pauses], I lost it, my construct here. Of course, the worst is you can have an ugly house and an ugly home too. But you can be in a shack and have a beautiful family relationship; home is a place of safety and warmth.
Over the past week I got a chance to relax and watch more TV that I normally do, a lot of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” this week. But I got to see a show recently, the home makeover thing [“Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”], and it happened to be this one family. They are a Christian family that they were in this terrible, terrible house, and they gave them a totally new house, but their home, their family, doesn’t change necessarily. I hope it didn’t get any worse. I hope it got better. But the house, as nice as it is, has very little relationship with the important thing, and that’s the home. So I’m afraid, we pass by, maybe, broken down double-wides that have beautiful families inside, and then there are these half million dollar homes and the family is totally dysfunctional inside. There’s no peace there, there is no nothin’. So what do we do?
Well, we want people to think well of us, so we put on a good front. And so many people live their lives putting on a good front. They come to church and put on a good front because they care more about what other people think of them than what God is actually doing in their lives. It’s all about perception; it’s all about impressing people. It’s all about what other people think of us, and we live by that.
Well, here we come to a text that talks about God’s dwelling place. It talks about God’s home and what is that in the Old Covenant, and what is that in the New Covenant, and how does that affect how we view our lives? Well, in the Old Covenant, God, of course, dwelled in Heaven, came to the Garden [of Eden], interacted with Adam and Eve. We see His interaction with everybody up until when you go into the wilderness, God tells Moses to build a tabernacle for Him [Exodus 25:8-9], just a very simple place, it’s a tent, basically. And let’s throw that picture of the tabernacle up. [I cannot remember exactly what the picture looked like but here is one example. Used by permission: By Ruk7 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15125748]
There are many of these around the world, reproductions of the tabernacle because it’s so easy to replicate. You could do that in your backyard, pretty much. This one is in Israel, in a wilderness area, so you can kind of get the feel of what it would have been like. But the closest reproduction that I know of, of the tabernacle, in Pennsylvania, is in Lancaster, at the Mennonite Historical Society as you go down [Route] 283 into Lancaster; it’s there on the right, about a mile after McDonald’s. That’s the easy way to find things, at least for me. [Congregation laughs.] So if you ever want to stop there, you can. It’s so simple.
So David establishes the Kingdom and he wants to build a temple for God, and they are building palaces for themselves but they are still using the tabernacle. And God says, “Yeah, that’s a good idea to build a temple, but you should not do it. You have bloody hands; you are a man of war. I want your son to do it, Solomon.” [See I Kings 8:17-19 and II Chronicles 6:7-9.] So Solomon builds a temple, and it’s destroyed, and it gets rebuilt a time or two, and there are less of these reproductions. This one [picture displayed on the front screen but again I cannot remember which image he used; the one below is from the Museum of Israel, used by permission from Wikimedia Commons] is one of the better ones. There are a couple in Israel, there is one in Florida at the Christian experience down there, a theme park in Orlando [it is called the Holy Land Experience] and I think there is one in England as well; it’s a very good replica. As you can see, the Temple is a big deal. It’s a whole lot different than the tabernacle. The tabernacle is a tent. The temple is ornate. And both had gold, both had wonderful ornaments in them, but the structure itself, you can’t even compare them. They are two very different things.
Well, which did God prefer? By the end of the Old Testament, we see God telling us it doesn’t really much matter to Him. Don’t you admire a person that it doesn’t matter what they live in? You know, they just live life. They have a nice house—great; they don’t have a nice house—fine, because it’s not about this world anyhow. So God is indicating late in the Old Testament that He doesn’t really care, because He wants to dwell in people’s hearts, in people’s hearts. In fact, in Isaiah 66, God says: Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Who can make a place for Me to stay? Who can build a home for Me? [NIV says, verse 1: This is what the Lord says: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for Me? Where will My resting place be?”] And this is repeated in Acts 7, when Stephen is about to be stoned, and he is defending himself, and he is saying the Temple, which everybody in Israel—the Temple was everything. And remember the disciples said to Jesus, “Isn’t the Temple awesome, these beautiful stones, Herod had rebuilt the temple. Isn’t it wonderful?” [See Mark 13:1-3 or Luke 21:4-6.] And Jesus kind of pooh-poohs it. It’s not important. And not only does He say that His body temple is going to be destroyed, and in three days is going to raise up, but He prophesies also that this stone temple is going to be destroyed, which it was 40 years later.
Now I believe in the end times we are going to see that Temple rebuilt, or something like it in Jerusalem. That’s something to keep an eye on, a Biblical prophecy. But Jesus does not put His emphasis on it, and Stephen is pooh-poohing the importance of the Temple and he quotes Isaiah. [See Acts 7:44-50.] You know, God is so big, He is so awesome. Who can build a house and say, “This is what contains God.” They get really angry when he diminishes the importance of the temple, and that’s part of their anger when they stone him.
Now church builders like to think about church buildings as temples but they are not. I remember a church builder some years ago had an ad in a magazine that they send to pastors, you know, they advertise, all these people that build communion sets and church buildings and we get all these advertisements of this. And this one church builder who had a dubious reputation anyhow, lifted it out of context and took just the sentence, “Who will build a home for Me?” And the implication in the ad was, “Who cares enough about Me that they will build a beautiful building for Me?” When actually what the Bible is saying is the exact opposite. God is saying, “Hey, it’s nice and everything,” and His Shekinah glory did reside in the Ark of the Covenant in the tabernacle and then in the Temple. [From the Jewish Encyclopedia, http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/13537-shekinah, Shekinah is the majestic presence or manifestation of God which has descended to “dwell” among men.] But God is so much bigger than that; His real desire is that He wants to be in us.
So before we bring this home to us, this text talks about God building a dwelling place for Himself. And Jesus is the chief cornerstone. Now when you build a building, that cornerstone better be not off twenty degrees, and it better be cut right. It better be a rectangle, not a trapezoid. You have to have it cut right to start your building right. And Jesus, as the chief cornerstone of God’s Temple, is perfect. Think about it, He is perfect in every way—sinless, so we start off with a cornerstone that is perfect. And then the Apostles and Prophets are the foundation–we’ll come back to that later in another chapter where we talk about five-fold gifts of ministry. I’ll address the whole issues of apostles and prophets but not today. So they lay a foundation and we’re building on this building and we’ve been doing this for 2000 years, building this spiritual temple for the Holy Spirit, for God to dwell in.
Well, as I say, a lot of people confuse that with our buildings. So why do we have a church building? We don’t build it as a place for God to live in, you know. People don’t walk in and say, “Where’s God’s bedroom? I want to see it.” If it were, I don’t know, maybe Pastor Buck’s office—I don’t know [he chuckles; Pastor Buck Fetzer is our prayer and counseling pastor]. He doesn’t have a bedroom. Now I know people walk into the building and say, “I feel the presence of God.” Well, it is a sacred place we have dedicated to God and we are here so often, and I can understand someone feeling that, but it’s not that His Spirit lives here in the sense that He did in the Old Testament. What is His temple? His temple is us, individually and corporately.
Let me talk about corporately. He dwells in State College Assembly of God but this building is not State College Assembly of God. If we are meeting over at the high school, we’d still be State College Assembly of God. We’re a family. It’s the difference between a house and a home, you with me? And I’m so grateful to be part of a healthy family of God. I was talking to the elders this morning as we were praying for the service. I’ve been given the responsibility to help a church that is in deep, deep, deep dysfunction, deeply divided and hurting. And it just reminded me how grateful I am to be part of a healthy family of God. We’re not perfect. You know you’re not [as he chuckles, the rest of the congregation joins in laughing]. And Arline [Pastor’s wife] knows I’m not. I’m not saying we’re perfect but it’s healthy in many ways. And God dwells with us, when we come here and we worship or wherever we are, His Spirit is with us, among us, in a corporate sense.
So why do we have buildings? Let me take a moment, as we start 2011, to talk about something that is almost never talked about. Why do we have buildings? Some people say if we get away from buildings we’d have pure Christianity. I’ve got to tell you, there’s a little part of me that resonates with that, the whole house church movement in China and other places in the world, I have a lot of admiration for that. But we need to understand what happened in the New Testament. Here’s what happened. Here’s why we have church buildings. The New Testament never says that you should have a church building–you should raise money and build a building to worship in–it never says that at all. But what it does say is that there are certain people called by God to set aside for ministry, that they should be supported by people’s giving and they should devote their livelihood, their whole life, to ministry. The Apostle Paul did not avail himself of that. He was a businessman and so he ministered and supported himself, so he wanted to go the extra mile. And I don’t know that he was trying to make up for his sins or anything. He just wanted to go the extra mile. But he said, very clearly and repeatedly, that those who minister the Gospel are entitled to financial support so that they can devote themselves to ministry.
Once you do that, you have an economy of scale, so we’ll pull in the economists today. Sometimes we pull in the sociologists and psychologists; we’ll pull in the economists. How many people does it take to support someone full-time? Well, if people are tithing, it can take between ten and twenty families, so you have a house church there. But if that house church is doing well, or if people are not tithing, then it requires more people to do so. And what was happening in the New Testament was they were meeting in rich Christians’ homes, who made their homes available. But as they grew and they are burgeoning out–they subdivided into other ones, but people wanted to stay–and they are pushing out the walls or adding on additions and it gets old after a while, particularly for the wife. Church is always in your house, you know—when are we ever going to have a week without these people trampling through our home? And so it took about two to three hundred years till they decided, “Let’s build a building that we devote to worship. Jesus hasn’t come back yet, so let’s support our minister and let’s build a building.” Well, at that point, you need more families, you with me? And the typical size, particularly—around the world actually, not just in America–where you can have a building and a pastor, is about 200 people. When you get up to about 200 people, you are able to do those things, so there’s nothing wrong with having a building. What’s wrong is if you start to think of that building as where God lives, because He lives in us.
But it’s okay to have a building, and you want it to be reasonably attractive. Now when we built this building now over ten years ago, we came down to two architects. There was one who would build a simple building with a couple little add-ons, you know–the carport and the roof–and try to make it somewhat attractive, but it’s basically Wal-Mart with a couple additions. And we had a choice between him, kind of the Buick, and we had an architect who would have been a Cadillac. He would have put an artistic imprint, a statement of his ability, and it would have cost us at least another million dollars. You with me? So we decided not to do that. So people call it an attractive building. I’m grateful for that. We don’t want an ugly building. We want to be excellent in what we do for God, but it is not about the building. It never is, it never should be.
But we have to pay for it. If you are going to have a building, you have to pay for it. Just like to have a nice home, it’s nice to have at least some kind of a house, you with me? You know, of food and shelter and clothing, a shelter? Yeah, it’s hard to have a good family when you are homeless, so you have a house. And you want it to be nice, so you decorate it, you paint it, you make it attractive because you want to live in it. And then of course, sometimes we go over the line to try to impress other people. And we’re not trying to impress people here, we want to invite people to Jesus, amen? So we have this house and we need to care for it.
Last Sunday I said I’m grateful for those who are faithful in your giving. We talk about tithes and offerings, and in the Old Testament there are two places near the end of the Old Testament. One is the prophet Nahum who said you are living in paneled houses but you don’t seem to care about God’s house. [He is most likely referring to Haggai 1:3-4: Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: “Is it time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”] And then Malachi talks about tithes and offerings, robbing God. It says, “Bring your tithes into the storehouse.” [Malachi 3:10] God asks of us at least ten percent of our income. I am very, very sorry that Uncle Sam doesn’t stop at ten percent. I’m sorry for you, I’m sorry for me. However, if American Christians tithed–all of us, people in America who call themselves Christian—all the needs of the world would be met. I’m talking about feeding children, housing people, educating; it would cover everything, but we don’t.
So while there are people in Cuba, Haiti, earning less than $100 a month tithing, we have a lot of American Christians who are making one, two, three, four thousand dollars a month, trying to get out of tithing. And when we are the richest five percent of the world—of all Christians around the world, we are the richest five percent—how is not tithing not greed? I don’t understand it.
Well, in the New Testament, it’s liberty not law. Yeah, it’s liberty. Anywhere from ten to one hundred percent of what you receive, God asks for. Jesus endorsed the tithe in Matthew 23, specifically, He did. And I wish–and this is a little family talk to start the year, I don’t know who tithes and who doesn’t. We have chosen to set it up that way, so I love you all equally. And I know there are times there are people telling me what I ought to do who don’t give any money at all, and once in a while, after a while, I’ll ask them, “Do you tithe here, by the way?” About the fourth or fifth time that you tell me, “I think we ought to do this, I think we ought to do that,” don’t be surprised if I ask you. And obviously we have a lot of people who tithe, because, you know, we are blessed in many ways financially. I know that not everybody does, and I don’t know who they are. So since I don’t know who they are, I can’t do—what I’d like to do is I’d like to line up 25 people over here who tithe [gestures to the right] and 25 people over here who don’t [gestures to the left], and just look at them [he pauses and the congregation laughs], and see if you can tell any difference between them. Well, you say, these people over here, they tithe because God blessed them. No! God blessed them because they tithed. [Many people in the congregation immediately respond with “Amen.”] You hear the amens? These are not people who are brainwashed. These are people who have experienced God’s blessing, who want you to have it.
Over here [to the left] you have people with all kinds of reasons and excuses—you know, some of them are reasons and some of them are excuses of why they don’t [tithe], and they are kind of jealous of these people over here [gestures to the right], but they don’t put God first. They don’t put His storehouse first. Some of these people over here [left again] send it everywhere; maybe they do give ten percent to God but one percent goes to State College Assembly, and one percent goes to such and such a ministry, and another percent goes somewhere else. Okay. Well, imagine if everybody did what you do. What would it look like? You with me? Just multiply it out, what you do times three or four hundred families, and see how many needs would be met. Frankly, if you pursued that strategy, I don’t know how many pastors we could have. I don’t know how much we could do as a congregation. I don’t know if we could keep the lights on, actually. It’s not about that.
It’s what Malachi says, so there will be meat in my storehouse [Malachi 3:10]. Let me talk about that, meat in my storehouse. This does not mean meat at 2201 University Drive [our church address]; it does not mean meat in a building. It means meat in a congregation, meat in a congregation. My family can tell you, and the elders can tell you, there is no stress more stressful to me than when finances are really tight in the church. Finances at home tight, that’s stressful when that has happened throughout our lifetime. I’m thankful that right now is not one of those times. But when finances in the house of God are really tight, I’m under so much pressure. And you can’t feed an ox a couple grains of wheat and expect him to plow very well. So what we want to do is to be a force for God here in this community and beyond, so tithe, ten percent, is to go to the local congregation, whatever family you’re part of, the family of God. Not the building, the family, the home. And then as God blesses you, you want to give to others, you want to give to missions, you want to give to Rob and Ireida [Pastor’s son and daughter-in-love are serving as missionaries to India], or you want to give to the Hartzenfelds [a missionary couple from our church serving in Indonesia], or you want to give to Bibles for Afghanistan or whatever you want to do, praise God! Do it, but don’t rob Peter to pay Paul, you with me? It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t work.
So we rely on people’s faithfulness. We don’t crack a whip, we don’t go after you, because I don’t know who you are, and I think it’s better that way. I really do. So the tithe comes to the storehouse, not the building, [but] the family. The family has to be cared for, just like you care for your own family. You don’t bring your paycheck home and cut it into ten parts and send it to ten families. You take care of your family and then you help others as you are able to, so that’s God’s system, tithes and offerings into the storehouse.
So a house and a home are different things. God wants to dwell in a temple not made with hands. In I Corinthians, Paul identifies corporate temple—you corporately are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and individually, physically, you are the temple of the Holy Spirit. And that’s why when we come into God’s house and we come with the right attitude, we come with expectation and we come with faith, His presence is welcomed here and God does some really neat things when we come with that heart attitude. You just sense that He is here, He is here. It’s not just us, not just a collection of people but He is dwelling with us, not just a visitation, but a habitation. He is with us. We are a holy temple for His presence.
But how about as individuals? The apostle Paul said—he is writing about sexual morays: Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit? [I Corinthians 6:19, he is quoting kind of a mix of King James and NIV. The full KJ is: What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?] So we need to care for our physical body because it, too, is a temple. Do you know that your body is to be like the Ark of the Covenant? That when you walk around–see, those of you who want some people to carry you around, now you have an excuse. “Pick up sticks and carry me around. I’m like the Ark of the Covenant.” [congregation laughs] Wherever you go, you take God’s presence with you, and you need to care for your body because it belongs to God. We are not our own, the Bible says, we are bought with a price [referring to I Cor. 6:20, the next verse]. So we are the Lord’s; our body is His, and I am reminded of that all of the time. So why should I try to impress people with my body? It’s not my own anyhow; it’s God’s body. It’s a tool to be used for how many ever years we walk this Earth, we use it for His glory. Now we should clean it, we should care for it, we should maintain it, we should eat healthy. We should do all the right things, but we shouldn’t vandalize it. Some people spend good money to painfully mark up their bodies. I don’t understand why we do that. What are we trying to do? In what way does that bring glory to God? Or we do all kinds of things to our bodies. It’s God’s body, it’s His temple. Would you do that to the Ark of the Covenant? Would you spray paint the Ark of the Covenant? How blasphemous would that be? So we need to take care of our bodies. The body does not live eternally, this physical body–we’ll have new bodies–but we need to care for it while we have it. It is a place for Him to dwell.
And so Jesus came with a physical body and He came to this earth full of the Spirit. And that body that Isaiah said was not all that attractive is beaten and bruised and nailed to a cross at Calvary. You know, a lot of people suffer tragedy in their homes—tornadoes, floods, all kinds of things destroy their homes–and they go back and they look at their house, and they’re in tears about their house. Think about the house—the physical body—that Jesus had, how it was beaten and whipped and pierced and brutalized for you and for me. The issue was never how good He looked. “Jesus, You’re not looking good on the cross. You’re not going to be on the cover of GQ.” That’s not the issue. The issue was not appearance. The issue was sacrifice. He sacrificed His body for you and for me, broken body and the shed blood. And He calls us. In Romans, we are told in Romans 12 to be living sacrifices, our body, holy, presented unto Him acceptable which is our reasonable service. [Again, his quote is a mix of King James wording and NIV. Romans 12:1: Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.] This body becomes His temple because that body was broken, that body shed every drop of blood so that Jesus could pay the price for our sins and so the Holy Spirit may come and live in us.
Would you bow your heads with me this morning? [Prayer] Father, as we begin this year, You know in my heart it weighs so heavily that there are so many people, their houses are beautiful, but their homes are not. What is on the outside looks so great; what’s on the inside, they’re ashamed of it. They don’t want people to know how bad it is. Jesus, you were just the opposite. Your broken body that was whipped and beaten and spat upon, was so unattractive, was so hideous to the eyesight, but what was inside was so beautiful, so beautiful. You are a home for the Holy Spirit, and even on the cross You said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” [KJV Luke 23:34] Lord, I pray this year that our hearts will be that kind of home for the Holy Spirit. It’s not about how we look. It’s not about what our hair is, or our clothing, our car, our house, any of that. It’s about what’s on the inside that impresses You. Make our hearts a home this year. I pray our hearts will be a home for You in every way in 2011. Lord, as we prepare to receive these elements today, just draw us to your side, make us more like You.
I’m going to ask those who are serving, would you please come. I’m going to share the bread and the cup. Please hold on to both until we all receive together. You don’t have to be a member of State College Assembly of God, just a member of the body of Christ, that you are right with God, you are right with your brother and sister in Christ. Today this house is a home, and so often a home is at its best when we are gathered around the table, when we are eating together. Obviously we can’t eat a whole meal right now but we partake of the most important thing we can partake of, and that is these emblems of the body and blood of Jesus. And so we are a family, God’s family, God’s home. Would you prepare your hearts, make them right before God right now, as we prepare to receive?
[The service ends with Communion and singing, beginning with the hymn “Oh, How He Loves You and Me”, Kurt Kaiser, 1975.]e is here