This morning as we meet together for our study of the Word of God, in addition to our expression of worship, we want to continue along the lines we began last Lord’s Day. Since we have just moved into this wonderful facility that God has provided for us, we felt that it was important for us, while our attention was drawn to the growth of our church and the uniqueness of what God has done here, to focus our thinking upon the principles of the Scriptures that are related to the church.
We began last Lord’s Day in the morning by discussing the church that Jesus builds His way. We discussed Matthew chapter 16, where our Lord said, “I will build My church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” And so we shared with you the things that we need to do, that we need to commit ourselves to, to be the church that is built Jesus’ way, the basic principles of a church that Jesus builds His way. And our hearts were drawn to make those commitments of those principles to Christ.
And then last Lord’s Day in the evening, we took the other side of that and we talked about what Christ says is His commitment to the church that is the church built His way. So we saw our commitment to be the church He wants to build, and in turn, His commitment to be to us everything that He possibly could be. And so, we've looked at the church from the standpoint of the congregation, and we've looked at it from the standpoint of the head of the church, the Lord Himself, the church’s commitment to Him and His commitment to the church.
And this morning I want to other dimension that would be a part of this, and that is, I want to share with you the commitment of the staff, and the pastors, and the elders, to you the people and to the Lord. What is our commitment? What is it that we are committed to in the days ahead and the future of Grace Church?
We are very much aware that God is at work in our midst. We have seen so many marvelous things that He has done, not the least of which is the provision of this wonderful facility. And people all around are asking you and me and everybody else in the Grace family, “Why? Why does it happen? You are a church that preaches the same Christ we preach, and the same Holy Spirit resides in us, and we have the same Bible. Why does God bless your church in this way? What it that causes this? What makes a church go from 500 to 5,000? What makes a church develop into a church that is able to touch lives, that is able to see God at work and His power made manifest? Why does this happen here and not somewhere else?”
To which I inevitably will answer the same answer always, and that is, “Because it’s an act of the sovereignty of Almighty God.” This is as much a mystery and a shock to me as it is to anybody. And we come here on the Lord’s Day and show up, and you’re all here. We haven’t done anything to campaign for this. In fact, as we were anticipating moving into this building, I was just concerned that it not look too empty because of the size of it. And of course, since we’ve been here, it’s always filled, and that’s just that God in His sovereignty has chosen to do this in this place at this time for His glory.
But beyond that, beyond that very special sovereign act of God of which we all are a part and for which we praise Him, there are some things that I believe Grace Church is committed to that do make a difference. We are committed to see Jesus build His church His way. And we are committed to the fact that Jesus Christ is committed to us to fulfill His own person here and His own will, and we desire that above all things. And we are committed to Jesus building His church His way so that the gates of hell cannot prevail against us. And so I believe that God blessed us here because He’s sovereign, but also because the basic commitment of the church is as it ought to be, that Christ be exalted and His church be built His way.
Beyond that, I would add one more thing, which will make the basic thrust of the message this morning. I believe we have a staff of pastors and elders who have a strong commitment to a biblical direction for the church. All you really need to have a church against which the gates of hell cannot prevail is these three things: a church committed to be the church Jesus buildings His way, so that Jesus Himself can bless that church and fulfill all the good pleasure of His will in it; and leadership in the church that is truly committed to biblical principles for the church. And when those three things come together, God will be glorified.
We as leaders of Grace Church - and today I speak to you not simply as a spokesman for God, but as a spokesman who speaks for the elders and the staff and the pastors of this congregation. I speak in their behalf to share with you the things that we are committed to of the divine principles, divine direction for the church, which we believe God has set in order for His church.
Now, several years ago I shared with you some thought along the line that I felt was the direction for Grace Church; and since that time, we have seen ourselves go that direction, and the commitment hasn’t changed at all. And I want today to reaffirm to you as a congregation where the pastors and the staff and the elders stand in terms of their commitment, so that there will never be any question in your mind, as long as we’re here and as long as God allows us to speak, there’ll never be any question in your mind as to what the direction of this church is. And I’m going to share with you maybe a dozen or so, so we’d better hurry.
Number One: We are committed to a plurality of godly leaders. We are committed to a plurality of godly leaders. And I'm convinced that you can’t bypass that and get to any kind of divine blessing. Way back in Hosea, the Bible says, “Like people, like priests.” And God recognized that as the leadership goes, so goes the followers.
Now, it’s evident to me from the Bible, from the New Testament, that Christ is the head of the church. It says that in Colossians 1. It says it in Ephesians. Christ is the head of the church. If He is the head of the church, then He desires to rule His church. And if He is to rule His church, He must have people in leadership who are clear channels through which His rule can flow. It isn’t great ingenuity that God is after. It isn’t great creativity. It isn’t great intellect and genius. It is a great commitment to be a holy vessels through which God in Christ can rule His own church, that is absolutely vital and necessary to the growth of His church.
And so, we are committed that the leadership at this church in this congregation will be those people who have given evidence of godliness in their lives. This has always been God’s way of mediating His rule on the earth. God designed to mediate His world through the patriarchs, then the judges, and the priests, and the prophets, and the kings; and whenever there was an unholy individual in the flow, it blocked everything, and chaos resulted. And it doesn’t matter how intelligent, or how clever, or how well-versed, or how skilled, or how educated, or how exposed to information an individual is, he has no position of leadership in the church in our judgment unless he is a holy individual, unless the commitment of his life is to pursue righteousness. Paul says to Timothy, “But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness,” 1 Timothy 6. The church must be led by a plurality of godly people, people who is lead from the standpoint of the knowledge of the Word of God, people who can lead from the standpoint of a godly lifestyle, so that they model for the people what is God's standard for life.
Look with me for a moment at the 13th chapter of Hebrews, and let me draw your attention to some texts that teach this. Hebrews chapter 13 in verse 7, the writer of Hebrews is calling upon the congregation to which he penned this wonderful letter, and he is telling them that there is a basic thing that they must be committed to. This is what he says in Hebrews 13:7, “Remember them who have the rule over you.”
Now, let me stop there for a moment and say that this presupposes the fact that the church is ruled by Christ through a plurality of godly people who are in the position of leadership. And he says, “Remember those who have the rule over you.” In other words, when you begin to drift away from the moorings of your faith, or when you begin to wrestle with the problem of how the Christian life is lived out, or when you begin to stumble over the questions that you can’t quite answer in everyday living and you want to find the key to the Christian life pattern, remember the people who have the rule over you. Why? Because they have set the pattern.
Further in verse 7, “Who have spoken to you the Word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their lifestyle.” In other words, he’s saying, “Look, when you want to refocus on what the Christian life is, remember those who have the rule over you,” – and then he gives two elements to that rule – “who teach you the Word of God and who give you the examples of faith that you can” – what? – “follow.”
It is basic then to the church. If the Spirit of God is calling upon you to remember your leaders, it is absolutely essential that they be those who speak to you the Word of God and who set for you the life of faith as a model so that you can pattern your life after them. And that is the basic commitment that we have to you. As far as is humanly possible in the limitless energy of the Spirit of God to so live lives of holiness, and to so pursue righteous, and to so endeavor to be perfect as the Father in heaven is perfect, that you can literally trace your life on our lives.
The apostle Paul said to the Thessalonians, “You know why things are going so well for you? Because you have become mimics of me.” Paul said to the Corinthians, “Imitate me.” And that’s the commitment that the elders of Grace Church want to make to you, that when you’re stumbling and wondering what the pattern of Christian living is, and when you need somebody to articulate it and to model it, that we are committed to be those somebodies.
Go over to verse 17. Verse 17 of Hebrews 13 says, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable to you.” In other words, here’s the other side of it. We are committing ourselves to be the model for you, but we are also accountable to God to be that. So it’s more than a human commitment, it’s a divine mandate. God is saying, “If you are in that position, you will give account to me about how you render that service.” So we are committing ourselves to you to be that pattern of righteousness, to so live our lives that we can fulfill what you need in seeing Christianity lived out. That’s our commitment to you as a congregation, to be men of God, and to see in leadership in our church other men of God and other women of God who model a holy lifestyle and who by virtue of their own personal commitment to that holiness have earned the right to be representative of Jesus Christ in a position of leadership in His church.
Secondly, we are committed to a strong emphasis on discipleship, a strong emphasis on discipleship. We’re committed to 2 Timothy 2:2. You remember that text? Boy, that's such an important one. “And the things that thou has heard from me among many witnesses, the same commit that of faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.”
Now, let me tell you about that verse. That verse teaches us a little bit about discipleship. There are four generations of people in that verse. Listen, “The things thou hast heard from me.” There you’ve got Paul, number one. Then you have the people who heard him. “The same commit to faithful men.” That’s the third group. Who shall be able to what? Teach others also. That’s the fourth. The church is ever and always a cycle of reproduction. It is a building of other believers. It is a producing of children in the faith. It is a growing process. We are committed to that.
We’re committed to raising spiritual children. We don’t want a spectator situation. We don’t want people just to come in, sit down, and watch it happen. We’re committed to be much more involved than on Sunday. We’re committed to be involved in discipling individual lives, to pouring ourselves into individuals, who can pour themselves into other individuals and can cycle the principle of 2 Timothy 2:2. We’re committed to drawing people into Christlikeness corporately and individually.
Look with me at 1 Corinthians chapter 4 for just a moment. And we studied this sometime ago, I want to reiterate it to you. The apostle Paul has been very hard on the Corinthians, because they needed it; and that’s part of the ministry is to reprove and rebuke and correct, and he’s been doing that. And by this time he senses that they will be a little bit reactionary, and so he wants to defend to them the reason that he has done this. He wants to let them know that he has a justification. And basically, his justification is in 1 Corinthians 4:15. He says, “The reason I'm writing like this is because though you have 10,000 paidagōgos” - and those are like a moral guardian – “though you have 10,000 people watching out for your welfare in Christ, you do not have many fathers: for in Christ Jesus” - and the emphatic pronoun is here – “only I have begotten you through the gospel.” In other words, he’s saying, “Look, I know you have a lot of people who are concerned about your spiritual welfare, but you’ve only got one person who led you to Christ. You’ve only got one spiritual father. You’ve only got one who carries that tremendous heart burden. I’m the one that led you to Christ, and that’s why I feel so deeply about all of the problems that you’re having. And the reason I’m writing the way I’m writing is because I care because you’re my children.” And he introduces to us the concept of discipling from the viewpoint that you’re a spiritual parent who is producing a spiritual child. That’s what discipling is about: you’re growing spiritual children.
And in the same passage, he tells us how to do it. Verse 14, he says, “I write not these things to shame you,” - in other words, it isn't the joy of a father to just same a child - “but I do this as my beloved sons to warn you.” And we learn the first two things about raising a spiritual son. Number one, they have to be considered beloved. If we’re going to make a disciple, we’ve got to have love for the individual.
Secondly, we have to be willing to warn them or admonish them. And that means to say, “Don't do that, that’ll result in negative things. That’s wrong, you can’t do that. You can’t continue in a lifestyle like that and have the blessing of God.” In other words, there is that love that turns around and warns. And he’s saying, “I’m your spiritual father; and as a spiritual father trying to raise spiritual children, I love you, and my love makes me warn you.”
And so we’re committed to love you and warn you. And I hope we’re committed, all of us to do that to all those that we’re discipling. There’s no such thing as a true Christian who isn’t reproducing somebody else, because eternal life - one of its properties is that it is reproductive.
Look further in verse 16: “Wherefore I beseech you, be ye” – what? - “followers of me.” Here’s the third principle in raising a spiritual son. Number one, love. Number two, warn. Number three, set an example. And he’s asking these people to realize that he is modeling a lifestyle for them.
There is a fourth principle at the bottom of verse 17. I’ll just allude briefly: “As I teach everywhere in every church,” and that is teaching. How do you make a spiritual son? How do you raise somebody? You love them, you warn them, you set an example, and you teach.
Beloved, I am committed to that. At any given point in my life, there are probably half a dozen people that I am in the process of discipling on an individual, one-to-one basis; and it’s always been that way for me, and it always will be that way. And that’s the way it is with our staff, and that’s the way it is with the people in leadership in our church, and I trust that’s the way it is with you, because that’s the way Jesus designed the church, that we may take what we receive and teach it to faithful men who shall be able to teach it to others also.
You can’t be a spectator and fulfill that, you’ve got to be involved in it. And so, he says, “I love you, I warn you, I set an example for you, and I teach you.” And that’s the way he always did. In fact, in 17 - I love this - he says, “I am so concerned about you, that I have sent Timothy unto you.” And you say, “Well, it seems to me if you were that concerned, you would have come yourself.” That’s what I said when I first read it. But then he said this: “Who is my beloved son, faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways.” Listen to this. Do you know when you’ve raised a spiritual son? When you can send him in your place, because he’s so much like you.
Paul says, “Look, I am so concerned about you, I'm sending Timothy, and he’ll remind you of me, because he is my son in the faith.” That’s discipleship. That’s what we’re committed to, to making mature, full-grown disciples, who in turn will do the rest. I know so many of you are involved in this, and it’s so exciting. So we’re committed to that.
Another thing: we are committed not only to a strong emphasis on discipleship, but to a strong emphasis on evangelism, evangelism. Do you know there’s two billion people in the world without Christ, at least? We’re committed to penetrating the community. We’re not just going to sit here and soak it all up and enjoy each other.
Remember how we talked about the fact that we’re like pilgrim on Pilgrim’s Progress. Christianity in America today has reached the land of enchantment, and we just want to sit there and enjoy each other. And it’s becoming ingrown and ingrown and ingrown, and we read book after book. The bookstores are literally jammed with books on how a Christian can be happy, or how a Christian can have peace, or how a Christian can solve his problems, or sort of a quasi-Christian psychology, how you can deal with what’s going on inside. And Christians are looking more and more inward and inward and inward. And we’ve taken the concept of fellowship, which is a godly concept, we’ve pushed it so far that we’ve almost isolated the world; and we almost retreat into our little area, and we just get together and that’s about the extent of the whole thing, and there’s very little real penetration of the world. You can hardly get Christians to go.
Somebody said, “Don’t you worry about too many people coming to Grace?” And I said, “No, I just worry about not enough people leaving, because there’s a whole world of two billion people that need to hear.” And I’ll tell you, people, I’m committed in my heart that we’ve got to start to reach the valley and the city and the world for Jesus Christ. And, you know, they say, “Well, we’ve got to pray and wait until God speaks to hearts.” Well, I am just about at the point now where I think maybe what we ought to do is just look around the congregation, find the best people, and then go to them and say, “You are just considered a prime candidate for Africa or India,” and do a little recruiting. So if somebody comes up to you and says, “We’re doing a little research on you to see if you might not work well in Bolivia,” you’ll understand.
But I’m not sure we can sit around and wait for comfortable American Christians to get rolling. I think we may have to roll them ourselves, because we’re committed to fulfill our Lord’s command to go into all the world and make disciples. And we’ve got to go, people, we’ve got to go. We can’t just keep coming here and coming here and coming here and coming here. And we can’t just keep spawning off useless kinds of activity, when the crisis activities aren’t being accomplished around the world.
We can’t keep duplicating the same stuff. We can’t spend millions and millions of dollars to listen to each other sing and to go to different kind of Christian activities, and bounce from conference to seminar and so forth, until we’re so stuffed full of Christian information, we’re too fat to be able to get up. We’ve got to get out of here, there’s a world out there.
I like what happened in the early church; they got moving, they got scattered. And we’re committed to evangelism by proclamation, from this pulpit, from the lips of these people. Thomas Carlyle said - he was a pastor. He said, “I have the hardest job amount world. I’m trying to pry open the mouths of the people in the pews.” Evangelism is not a feeling, you’ve got to open your mouth and say it sooner or later.
We’re committed to evangelism by proclamation. We’re also committed to evangelism by lifestyle, because it doesn’t matter what you say if you don't live it, right? “So live,” said Peter, “that you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.” There’s got to be a lifestyle that says to the world, “This is different. This is the answer.” And so we’re committed to proclamation evangelism, and lifestyle evangelism, and any other kind. We’re committed to challenging you that your life needs to be credible, that you need to let your life so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
God help us to reach the valley and the city and the world. It can be done. I told the people at the missions conference yesterday. We have the divine power, don’t we? We know that, because God never asks the church to do what they can’t do. We have the manpower, there’s no question about that. There are plenty of Christians to do the job and reach the world. We have the media power; we can do anything media. The only thing missing is the willpower. And we dare not get too comfortable. So I just want you to know that if I make you a little uncomfortable about hanging around Grace too long when there’s a world without Jesus Christ, you'll know I warned you.”
Another: We are committed also not only to evangelism, but to an aggressive ministering fellowship, an aggressive ministering fellowship. Beloved, the last thing we would want would be to have just people come and sit and watch. We want them to minister. People say to me, “Don’t you think that there’s a great danger in your church when people just come and sit and be uninvolved.” Yes. And there's the very same danger in a group of 15, because it has nothing to do with the size of the building they're sitting in, it has to do with what’s going on in here, right? Sure.
Well, we are committed to an aggressive ministering fellowship. The Bible tells in Ephesians 4 that the apostles, and prophets, and pastors, teachers, and evangelists are given for the perfecting or the building up of the saints for the work of the ministry. The work of the ministry is your work. It’s your work to love. It’s your work to proclaim. It’s your work to comfort each other, to pray for each other, to build up each other, to rebuke each other, to reprove each other, to correct each other, to strengthen each other, to give to each other, to pray for each other. That’s your work. And it’s our work to instruct you and to bring you to maturity so you can do that to the fullest possible capacity.
That’s why God has gifted you with spiritual gifts. That’s why God has granted you capacities uniquely by His Holy Spirit. Those aren’t incidental, those are direct avenues through which the Spirit of God is designed that you minister. We want to see fellowship. We want to see people who touch each other’s lives, people who care, people who give, people who sacrifice, people who, like the early church, hold all things in common and were selling and parting with things as each had need, to meet the need of the other.
We want people whose lives make a difference in other lives. We don’t want spectators. We want you to touch lives like Jesus did. When Jesus walked through the world, it wasn’t just theology that came in his trail, it was all kinds of other things. Jesus went to a wedding and immediately brought joy to the wedding. He so identified with drunkards, that He changed them and made them into holy men. But He did the same with prostitutes. He met with weak and unimportant people and He made them eternally significant. He met with hostile, angry people, and He revealed a warmth that made Him approachable. He sat down with the unlovely and the unloved, and He made them into lovers, just like Him. He was sensitive, and He was open, and He cared. And when He went through the world, it wasn’t just theology, it was the warmth of his humanness, it was the love of His great divine heart that touched people; and that’s what we want in this church.
If Jesus is alive in this church, it isn’t going to be just theology, see, it’s going to be aggressive fellowship: people who love, and care, and share, and pray, and talk, and minister, and wait on each other, and serve, and give. That’s the way it is when Jesus moves through His church. And were going to have Communion together a lot; in fact, right here Wednesday. And we’re going to get around that Table and we’re going to remember that that’s the point of our fellowship: commonness in the life of Christ provided at the cross. And we’re going to remember that we’re one, and we’re going to talk about it and we’re going to practice it.
And as I told you last week, we’re just like this building. Every one of these little blocks is like one of the little stones in the spiritual habitation of the Spirit. It’s unique and yet it’s a part of a total entity, and its only function is when it’s butted up against a whole of other ones, so that together they make strength that alone they could never ever make. And so we’re committed to teaching you and praying that you will be an aggressive, ministering fellowship.
Another one: We reiterate to you a commitment to do all we can to help you in the area of your family, a commitment to the families of Grace Church. And we realize we’re in a fragmented society, a pre-industrialized, pre-urbanized society where everybody lived on the farm and they ate all their meals together, and worked in the field together, and spent the evening together – that’s a little different. But in our society, the family is terribly fragmented, splattered all over the place. And we have a commitment in our hearts to try to put your family into perspective before God so that it can be whole, because God invented the family. And it’s part of Satan's ploy to decentralize the family, to scatter and shatter the family. That’s not just a sociological factor, I believe that’s a satanic effort. And we want to commit ourselves to try to help you to put that thing together again.
Oh, it isn’t a new problem. Eli, the priest of God in the Old Testament, had the problem. He was so busy with the work of the Lord, he lost his children; and they turned out to be despicable and God took their lives. And David, such a man of God, who really loved God, but such a terrible father that he cost the lives of his own children. That’s always been a problem.
Our staff was studying this week something of the promises that God has given to those who are rightly related to the family, and one of the things is for you young people. Did you know that both the Old and the New Testament promises that if you behave your parents and obey them with a right spirit, you will live long? You say, “Oh, that's Old Testament stuff.” No, that’s repeated in Ephesians chapter 6. The Old Testament does promise that if you obey your parents, if you’re rightly related to the family, it’ll go well with you, you’ll have happiness, you’ll have prosperity, and you’ll live long. Now, that’s a pretty practical promise. I don’t know that we tell people that long enough.
And let me say something to you, mom and dad. You know, there are a lot of moms and dads who lost their children young. And I’m not trying to overrule the sovereignty of God and give you an absolute promise, but I will reiterate what the Bible says: if you take the responsibility to teach your child how to rightly relate to your authority, you’re going to be able to put him under the umbrella of God’s promise that his life will be prosperous and long. That’s what the Bible says.
And we want to help you to do that. We want to help you young people to know how to respond to mom and dad. We want to help mom and dad to know how to make that child the kind of child who can respond rightly, because God has a great and deep commitment to the family.
We want to help you that want to get married, to counsel you with wisdom and insight, to make sure that you know exactly what it is that you’re doing so that you can put that thing together the way God wants it put together. And we want to set for you a lifestyle pattern. I want my relationship to my wife and my children and that of all the elders in this church to be what it ought to be, because in Paul’s writing to Timothy when he stresses what the pastor is to be and what the elder is to be, he says, “They can’t handle the church of God unless they give evidence of having a proper relation to their family.” That has to be modeled for you. It has to be our deepest commitment in terms of your family, our family. And there may be times when I’m not available to you because I’m with my family, so that my family will be what it needs to be to make my teaching to you credible. And I really believe, beloved, that a church will only be as strong as its families.
Another thing: We’re also committed to a strong Bible-preaching, teaching pulpit. Now, there are a few things I could say about this, but I’ve said them all so many times, I don't want to belabor the point. I really believe in the proclamation of the Word of God from the pulpit. You know, I don’t know how many 80, 90, or 100 home Bible studies we have all over the place – and we can be very kind of disjointed at that point. But the one time we all get together is right here and right now, isn’t it? Folks that were here in the last one, and you’re here. There’s just probably under 5,000 of us here this morning. That’s the family coming together. It’s like a reunion after the week of ministry, and the week of fellowship, and the week of trial and struggle; and we all come here, and this is our common ground; and we come here, and I open the Word of God, and we learn; and this is where we all come together at the same point. It’s really important.
And I told you last time, as long as God gives me breath and as long as you’ll have me around here to be in this place, I’ll promise you one thing, I’ll teach you the Word of God and I’ll proclaim His Word, because that’s the divine mandate. Paul said to Timothy, “Preach” – what? – “the Word. Until I come, give attendance to read the text, explain the text, and apply the text,” he said. “Give them the Word. Give them the Scripture.” And all through the book of Acts, the church went everywhere proclaiming the apostles’ doctrine. I don’t believe any church can really be successful, I don’t really believe any church can be built the way God wants the church built, unless it is based upon the principles of the Word of God. And when they are not declared out of the pulpit, then there is no common ground laid down for every other thing that develops.
When Paul left the Ephesians elders in Acts 20, he said this: “I have not failed to declare unto you the whole council of God. I have said it all.” And that doesn’t mean the ministry is over. Peter said in his letter of 1 Peter, “I continue to put you in remembrance of these thing, that when I’m gone, you’ll never forget them.” The apostle Paul again in Acts 20 says, “I have not ceased to warn you night and day with tears, because I know that when I leave, wolves are going to come in and mess up your thinking.” The Word of God must be proclaimed and taught and reiterated again and again, because as soon as we hear it, we walk away and we tend to – what? - forget it. And so, we forsake not the assembling of ourselves together.
You know, there’s a tendency today in people approaching the pulpit to use the pulpit just to make people feel better, just to make them feel better. And they get to talk about psychology, and, “Do you have a problem?” and, “If you want to get your problem solved, you can do this.” And again, it’s part of this quasi-Christian humanistic psychology that kind of makes you look inward all the time: “Oh, I want to make sure I’m happy and I’m peaceful,” and it’s kind of a “me, me” type thing, instead of taking the Word of God and looking out to the nature of God, and the character of God, and the person of Christ, and the person of the Spirit, and the ministry of the church, and all the great truths of the Word of God which should be proclaimed.
I’ll tell you something about people with problems: people get rid of their problems as soon as they get their focus on something other than their problems. And the best person to focus on is God, and His character is revealed in His Word. You know, people ask me if I have problems, and I can honestly say I’m so busy studying the Word of God, proclaiming the Word of God, and trying to live up to it, I don’t even bother about thinking about the problems. It’s like the hurdler, you know, who knows where the finish line is; he’s not running looking like this at after hurdle. You just watch the finish line, the hurdles take care of themselves.
The pulpit is not to make you feel better; I hope it makes you feel worse before it makes you feel better. I’d like some of you to go away absolutely miserable, but always knowing how you can eliminate that misery. This church will always be committed to this pulpit being to proclaim the Word of God: not to entertain you, but to teach you and proclaim to you God’s truths. All other activities fall behind this proclamation, this instruction.
Another thing: The elders and the staff at Grace Church are committed to know the difference between tradition and truth. Put it another way: We are committed to change. You say, “Oh, no.” Oh, yes. You say, “But I don’t like too many changes.” Well, that’s right, a lot of people don’t like too many changes. But we are committed to the flexibility that the Spirit of God asks of us.
I look down the road a little bit and I say to myself, “What’s going to happen to the energy crisis? Are we all going to be restricted?” There’s some places in the world, you know, where they have city ordinances where you can’t drive on Sunday. Wouldn’t that be interesting? You look around and you say, “Oh, what do we do with this place?” Well, the Lord has a terrific plan. I don’t know what it is, but He knows what He’s doing.
But I don’t want what the future holds. I mean, I have no idea. But I’ll tell you one thing: I’m willing to go wherever the Spirit wants to go. I don’t care what traditions fall by the wayside, right, because we haven’t made sacred the traditions of men. There must be that sensitivity, that sensitivity to innovation, to change, to do it differently, because the Spirit of God is moving in a different direction. We don’t bow down to a structural pope. We don’t worship a building. Buildings are a sign of identification, and people need that. As I told you last week, God grew a church here and then He had to put walls around it so we didn’t get wet. But God doesn’t work in buildings, He works in people’s heart. We’ve got to understand the difference between the building and the tradition, and what God does. Maybe someday we'll be meeting on Tuesday afternoons, or Friday nights, or started mornings; who knows.
Look with me at Matthew 15 for a moment. In Matthew 15, it says, verses 1 to 9, “Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, who were of Jerusalem, saying, ‘Why do Thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders?’“ Now, this isn’t divine law, this wasn’t the Mosaic Law or the Old Testament, this was just some tradition that had grown up around Judaism. And so they said, “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition?” He answered and said to them, “Why do you transgress the commandment of God with your tradition?” It’s a pretty direct approach. “You’re concerned about your tradition, but your tradition violates God’s commandments.” And it’s easy for the church to get a whole lot of tradition going that actually runs right into the commandment to fulfill certain principles.
And in this case, Jesus went on to point out what this was. God had commanded in verse 4, “Honor your father and mother, and not to curse them and let them die.” In other words, if your mother and father were destitute, didn’t have any funds or any money and needed help, you were to help them. You were to supply their need, pay their bills, buy their food, get them a place to stay. But instead, he says, “You say, 'Oh, I’m sorry, mom and dad. I’d certainly like to help you, but it’s a gift, it’s a gift.” What does that mean? Well, they were saying, “Well, I’d like to help you, but you see, the money I would have used to help you is a gift that I’ve already vowed it to the Lord, so I just really probably better not.”
And then in verse 7, he says, “You” – what? - “hypocrites.” In other words, in their desire for hypocritical religion, they were fulfilling their tradition, which said you were to have a Corban or a gift, and give the gift, and make a vow and pledge the gift. And so whenever their mother and father would have a need, they would just say, “Well, I can’t do that, it’s already devoted to God,” and they were playing sanctimonious; and by their tradition, they were violating God’s command to take care of their parents. And so Jesus sums it up in verse 9. He says, “In vain, they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”
And, people, we will always be committed to letting you know the difference between what is traditional and what is true, what is God’s Word and what is man’s institution. And so Grace Church will always be willing to change or to innovate to see that we fulfill that which God is doing in our midst. And you say, “Well, it doesn’t seem to be too dramatic so far.” Well, that’s maybe because you don't come from a traditional background. But we want flexibility in the Holy Spirit, just as flexible as God wants us to be.
Further, we’re also committed to make a constant effort to stretch your faith, to make a constant effort to stretch your faith. You know, we believed God for this building. Wasn’t it exciting? I look back now 14 months, whatever, when we started this, and we just had no peace about borrowing money or going into debt and all this. And we said, “Look, if God wants this here, then let’s let Him do it,” because after all, we don’t really always give God and opportunity to do the thing that only He can do, we sort of always hold something in reserve, and then it’s always explicable some other way. And so, we said, “If God wants to build this building, let’s let Him build it.” So we believed God just that you would provide the money; we started having offerings.
And I told you last week, we had a goal of $1.5 million for this whole complex. The auditorium itself only costs about $850,000 furnished. So we said, “One-and-a-half million.” And they kept postponing the closing, and postponing the finishing of everything, and postponing, and we wondered if it would ever happen. But it happened last week, and we were here, and that’s the very day we went over the $1.5 million. God’s always on time. We believed God, and He glorified Himself.
And so we say, “To God be the glory.” He's done it so many times. We’ve planned into this building a balcony. As you go out, you can see those little panels on the pillars. That’s where the balcony beams will go through, and we’ll suspend a balcony that’ll seat up to a thousand people. But the city wouldn’t let us put it in because we didn't have enough parking: “You we have to wait.” So we thought, “Well, we probably ought to buy some property so we can park.”
So we were kind of just taking our time. And one of the men came into the meeting one day and said, “You know, we have an extra $300,000, or a surplus.” And we thought, “Well, that’s wonderful. Let’s go buy some property.” There were only two vacant lots left in this whole area, on Roscoe down the street, on both sides. So we bought them; signed.
It was interesting, because the very next day, a corporation came in with a whole subdivision project and made an offer. We were 24 hours ahead of them. If we didn’t get that, we didn’t build that balcony. And do you think we’re going to need it? We couldn't get the people in the first hour.
Well, you know what's interesting? We got it; it’s ours. And right now it’s in zone variance hearing so that we can begin to pave it. But the interesting thing was, the next time the elders met, they said, “There was a mistake. We don’t have the $300,000.” It was a bookkeeping mistake.
Isn’t it comforting to know that God works through our stupidity? Isn't that exciting? You don't have to worry about what we do, He’s doing what He's doing to His glory. So, we have that. God willing, that's the provision we need for the balcony. But see, we’ve seen God work, haven’t we?
And it’s my belief that a church needs to see God work. And that means risk, and that means faith, and that means going out there and saying, “God, I’m going to believe you for this. I have the confidence in my heart that this is of Your Spirit. I have the truth of the Word that this is the way You lead. Here I go, God; and catch me.” And if you never do that and people never understand that, you can’t get them to go out and live like that. You say to people, “Now, people, live by faith.” And then you say to the people, “We’re not going to do one more thing until we get the money.” They say, “Huh? That’s not what you’re telling us.” So, you live by faith. Stretch people’s faith.
I believe Ephesians 3:20 is true: “And now unto him that is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all you can ask or think, according to the power that works in us, with the result that unto Him be glory in the church.” He’s going to be glorified in His church when He can manifest Himself by doing the thing that has no other explanation than that God did it. And so, we move that way. We want to be Hebrews 11 people: by faith, by faith, by faith, by faith, by faith. Read that chapter.
Another thought. We are also committed not only to stretch your faith, but we are committed to operate on the basis of the spirit of sacrifice, a spirit of sacrifice. You have done that all the way through, from the very beginning. I remember the first time we announced this.
I went back to my office and there was a paper bag in front of my office door, and I thought somebody left me some apples or - I don't know. So I reached down to pick it up, and I couldn’t get up. And I opened it and it was full of silver bars, solid silver bars, valuable silver bars. It was a little note, anonymously, “This is my savings, turned into silver, given to the glory of God.” No name, and it all started. I had a couple come into my office one day and just getting ready to go on their honeymoon, pulled out all their money, $1,000, and said, “This was all to get everything started for us, but we want to give it to the Lord.” It’s always been that way here, a spirit of sacrifice.
The principle of the Macedonians in 2 Corinthians 8, that out of their deep poverty, they gave abundantly, is the principle that we need to be based on. We’re not here to just be comfortable, and satisfied, and overindulged. This building is an economically built as anything you could ever imagine, and yet it’s lovely and it’s conducive to our expression of worship. But we don't want to indulge ourselves, because that would be inconsistent with teaching you the meaning of the spirit of sacrifice, which is the biblical pattern. The early church knew nothing but the spirit of sacrifice.
The apostle Paul said to the Philippians, “Look, you sent me that money” - chapter 4 - “But I don’t need that money. But I'm glad you sent it, because when you sent it, you gave away a little of yourself. And, oh, that's so good.” We’re committed to sacrifice. We’re committed to the fact that anything we have that you need is yours. That’s my commitment. That’s the commitment of our pastors and staff and elders. I hope that’s your commitment to each other. We’re not up here to proclaim our program. We’re not up here to build an empire. We're up here to teach you how to give your life away. Sacrifice.
A last one: In addition to all of this, we are a church committed, we are a staff committed to a primary emphasis on worshipping God, a primary emphasis on worshipping God, not defending a system of theology, not ballyhooing a program, not glorying in a facility, not overemphasizing some point of doctrine, not being out of whack and out of balance, but in worshipping God. And unless you do that, unless that's the focus, things get out of whack. When you use the church just to hammer a system of theology, then God takes a second seat. Or when you just take one point in the Bible and bang it all the time, then everything else falls into imbalance.
I worry about many evangelical churches where Christ is always the issue, where all they ever do is evangelize, evangelize, talk about Christ, talk about Christ, talk about evangelism and evangelism, because you almost anesthetize the congregation against real spiritual growth by just hammering on the salvation story. And I also worry about churches that talk about nothing but the Holy Spirit, because it ends up with some kind of a feeling, and emotionalism, a search for power. But the only safe place is to make sure we focus our attention on God and get the total perspective.
You see, the greatness of the Thessalonican church, chapter 1, verse 9, was, “You have turned from idols” - listen - “to serve the living God.” That’s the key. And so when we gather this morning, as you hear the choir, Homer, as you sang, that was all directed up. That was all to God, and to Him is the glory. We want to understand Him and love Him in His fullness, and praise Him and adore Him. God is our primary perspective, to glorify Him.
Beloved, as much as is in my possible in my humanness and yet in understanding the power of the Spirit of God, I’m committed to these things for your behalf, as long as God has me here. These are the commitments of the staff and the elders. And I trust they’re your commitment to each other, that we may see these things come to pass, that we might be the church Jesus builds His way: the church to whom He commits himself to minister, the church that’s committed to be what it ought to be so that the gates of hell cannot stop it. And only God knows how what has begun here can affect the world.
Our Father, we thank You for the fellowship of this hour, for the privilege of being a part of Your family, of loving You and being loved by You. Start with me, Lord, my wife and my family, staff, the elders, all the people who work and lead in this church, and right through the congregation, to the very newest part, and mold us into the church that You build Your way, that we might be to the praise of Your glory. Amen.