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Imagine

Building a Place Where God and (His) People Meet

1st Chronicles 28:1 - 29:21

Lesson audio

(The title is exceptionally long because we are following a mandatory curriculum). My thanks to Mike Boon, whose master lesson was provided for this week’s teaching. The text of the Scripture is omitted due to its length; if you’re reading this on the web, you should be able to find a Bible.

Why a Building?

Let’s take the bull by the horns on this one, shall we? Just why is our congregation being asked to give so much money, over a three year period, to build new buildings? Let’s examine that question first. Just why do we need a building at all?

Sojourners before God

Take note of something here: David acknowledges that we are sojourners before God, pilgrims on the Way. Indeed, building a building has been known to bring down a church.

Great men sometimes bring greatness with them. George P. Taubman was such a man. In 1915 he and his family moved to Long Beach, California, and he took on the pulpit of the Long Beach First Christian Church. Waves of people were moving to California. Many Christians moved to Long Beach (especially from Iowa) and First Christian soon boasted the largest Sunday School class in the world – over 15,000 members! The church was one of the first mega-churches in California. The building was magnificent. Taubman retired in 1939, leaving his successor with one of the premier pulpits in America.

Fast forward to 1975. The huge building is occupied by a congregation of less than 200. The facility is still magnificent, but the church is barely an echo.[1] Later, a fraud preacher took over the church by simply moving his congregation to it. Intent? To gain possession of the building – to sell it for demolition for a shopping mall. Sometimes the big building is an albatross.

How does this happen? Churches, like their members, sometimes cling to the things of this world too closely. As a church movement we have become far too enamored with the building of buildings.

You think not? For the first 200 years of the church, she had no buildings. None. Not one. No such thing has ever been discovered in that period. Small groups met in homes; large ones rented space.[2]

How could this possibly be? The early church took the words of Christ seriously, as command, not advice. When he told us that we are sojourners – “This world is not my home, I’m just’a passing through” he meant it. So why, then, do we have buildings for those who are nomads?

For the sake of others

We are taking our precepts from the building of the Temple. It is fitting, therefore, that we also examine the prayer that Solomon spoke in dedicating the Temple. In particular, there is a small section concerning the stranger, the alien:

"Also concerning the foreigner who is not of Your people Israel, when he comes from a far country for Your name's sake (for they will hear of Your great name and Your mighty hand, and of Your outstretched arm); when he comes and prays toward this house, hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know Your name, to fear You, as do Your people Israel, and that they may know that this house which I have built is called by Your name.

(1Ki 8:41-43 NASB)

Consider the foreigner – the non-Christian – how is he to know of the greatness of God, unless he can see it? Unless he can hear it? He cannot know the fellowship of the Holy Spirit as we do; he must see and hear in the physical world. The seeker needs a place to seek – and to find.

One of the ways in which this work is done is in the public work of the church – the weddings, the funerals, the holiday festival worship. There is a difference between Christian marriage and the world’s way (or at least there should be); there is a difference between a Christian’s funeral and a non-Christian funeral. In such things does the man of the world see the world of God.

For the sake of discipleship

Discipleship concerns itself with the growth of the Christian. What in this would call us to construct a building?

First, we are called to be holy. To be holy is to be separated, apart from the world, belonging to God and the things of God. This holiness should be visible; one way that it is comes from a church building. We call it a sanctuary – a place holy to God.

Second, there are the pragmatic concerns of meeting for worship and study. If you have small children in the family, you appreciate a class room for your children at some distance from your own.

Third, a building like that fosters a sense of community in the church. They call it the fellowship hall for a reason.

Barriers

Inside each of us there is a conflict: we want to help the church, we want the church to grow – but there are personal barriers that keep us from giving to support that. We need to examine these barriers and see how real they are.

“My contribution can’t really matter that much.”

The world’s way of seeking donations teaches us this. A Catholic college of my acquaintance is raising funds to build a chapel. This is perfectly appropriate; but they are evidently obliged to do it in ways that appeal to the ego - $25,000 for having a rosette window named for you, for example. Most of us see a building campaign in that light – you appeal to the rich by parading them in front of the rest of us as good examples, and generally flatter them greatly, sealing that with a plaque at the front of the new building. This is not necessarily evil; often we hear of a donation to honor someone’s memory. In that, it can be a sign that “we won’t forget you.”[3] Often, however, a campaign based on such giving seems to be simply a way for the church to inflate the egos of the rich. Go after the rich; they can afford an ego gift. I can’t.

Wait a minute. If the gift is for you to gratify your ego, that’s one thing. But you’re not asked for that. We need to distinguish between right and wrong questions. The wrong question is, “What is this gift for?” The right one is, “Who is this gift for?” That’s why Christ told us to give so quietly and secretly. Giving a gift to your ego is like patting yourself on the back – it fools no one and gives you a sore arm.

There is also the question of stewardship. This is often distorted into “prosperity Gospel” (give to my telethon and God will make you rich), but in rejecting that let us not forget that God sees “faithful in little, faithful in much.” Are you being faithful with the little you have?

“I’m afraid”

After all, good Republicans know that Social Security can’t hold out much longer. How much better to keep the money and build the nest egg while you can.

That’s why David told Solomon to be courageous.[4] Your fears are often the sum of your uncertainties multiplied by the money you don’t have. Have you not heard that God will open the windows of heaven for his children? He promises to care for you; He never promised that your financial planner would get the details. “Anywhere, anywhere, fear I cannot know, Anywhere with Jesus I can safely go.” That includes the bank.

“I haven’t seen enough to convince me that this is a good thing.”

Neither have I. Even in the days of David, he had the plans ready to go before he asked the people to give.[5] But I would make one other point about this: he had the trust of his people. So I ask you: do you have reason to mistrust the leadership of this church?

  • Do you honestly think there is a criminal conspiracy going on here? 18 elders and who knows how many staff involved? It is absurd.
  • But maybe you mean that they haven’t made wise decisions in this. They’re not criminal; they’re stupid. They haven’t examined all the alternatives. Perhaps they are. Is it your task to examine them, or to follow them? Wise as serpents, harmless as doves.
  • In short, fish or cut bait. These men, appointed over the affairs of God’s church, have come to us asking us to commit to funding this vision. I submit the issue is in that word, “commit.” Church shoppers don’t commit. Christians do.

Success Factors

If this building campaign is to succeed, it will only be so if certain factors are working for it. Let’s look at three:

All things from God

David tells the people[6] that they can only be this generous – and the Temple had billions of dollars worth of gold in it – because God is the source of their good things. We can learn from this example:

  • Remember that boy with the fishes and loaves?[7] Little is much when God is in it.
  • Remember: God chooses to work through us, not the rich and strong.[8] It is by such work that He makes his power known. If you’ve been looking for evidence of His power, perhaps you’ve been looking in the wrong places.
  • The truth is simple: God moves in your life to bring you to what is good; look for his hand in your giving. Some of us do not see the providence of God simply because we are not looking for it.
Character of our walk

Do you remember the part about David not being allowed to build the Temple, because he was a “man of blood?” God gives this building to those who meet his criteria – such as:

  • Obedience[9] – the rebellious build on sand, the obedient on solid Rock. We are commanded to obedience, and the campaign will not succeed without it.
  • As we stated, the builders are men of peace. We are the ambassadors of reconciliation; if there is no peace between us, how can we spread His peace in the world?
  • Builders are men of integrity. In the various campaigns to build or rebuild the Temple, the builders were required to be men of integrity – and interestingly, no accounting was required from them.[10]
Sacrifice

It is no secret that this campaign seeks to more than double the income of the church for the next three years. At first glance this may seem absurd – but I submit it is not. The anomaly is not the doubling, it is the poverty of our giving today.

Permit me the mathematics. We have approximately 1500 families at Eastside. The median income in Fullerton is $75,700[11] If we take this as typical, and presume that 80% of them tithe, the church would have an annual income exceeding $9 million. The churches annual income barely exceeds $3 million, a figure which has changed very little over the 14 years we have been here. The problem is not that we don’t really have the money; the problem is that we don’t really have the Spirit.

We need to understand the cost of discipleship: it is a spirit of sacrifice. Consider the widow’s mite. Her coins were not much in the world’s eyes, but they were very costly to her. She could have given only one coin; she had two. No one would chastise her for giving nothing; one coin in our eyes would have been plenty. But she gave two.

If it’s a sacrifice, a real sacrifice, it will cost you. As my dad said, if a man’s principles don’t cost him anything, they aren’t worth much. The same is true of a man’s loves.


[1] The church we attended at the time had an active youth group; we gave a performance of a youth musical there in the mid-seventies.

[2] Acts 19:9

[3] My wife’s family once donated a set of hand bells to our church for such a memorial. It seemed appropriate at the time.

[4] 1 Chronicles 28:10

[5] 1 Chronicles 28:19

[6] 1 Chronicles 29:14

[7] John 6:8-13

[8] 1 Corinthians 1:26-29

[9] 1 Chronicles 28:7-8

[10] 2 Kings 12:15 & 2 Kings 22:7

[11] Source: City of Fullerton web site.

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