Scripture Reference: 1 Corinthians 14:24-25, Ephesians 2:19-22, Revelation 4, Revelation 5
God's Glory In Our ChurchDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | February 14, 2010
Selected highlights from this sermon
Why do you go to church? Perhaps you have a need and you know God will speak to you there. Or perhaps you want to find out how to live better, or better serve the Lord. Or perhaps you have never really met God, so you go to church to meet Him.
All of those reasons are good reasons. But there is one that is above all. We should go to church to worship God—to come into His presence, recognize who He is, and recognize who we are.
As we become more familiar with God through worship, prayer, Bible study, and fellowship, it becomes our responsibility to bear His message to the wider culture. We represent God to a world that has lost its way.
Many years ago I told you the story of the Tater family. You know various families come to Moody Church, and come to churches all throughout the United States of America. But out of all of the families, I suppose the Tater families are the most interesting.
The father’s name was Dick. Dick Tater (dictator) was the kind of guy you’d like to have for a neighbor, but yet, at the same time, when you worked with him you discovered that it was his way or the highway. He always needed to get in the last word, and he always expected that you would go along with what he had to say.
Not very surprisingly, because opposites attract, Dick Tater married a woman whose name was Hesi. Hesi Tater (hesitator) was the kind of woman who, again, got involved in ministry within the church. The problem was, she could never make up her mind about anything. She was always deferring to her husband. Now Hesi was that way, but I remember more clearly their daughter. Her name was Emma. Emma Tater (imitator) used to dress like everybody else dressed. She was very subject to peer pressure. She always waited for other people to make the decisions so that she could copy them, but the one who gave us the most trouble was the son, Agi. Agi was a real piece of work, I have to tell you. Agi Tater (agitator) would do everything that he could possibly do to defy people, to make life difficult. He was not your model Sunday school boy.
As a pastor you try to figure things out and you try to understand why this family is the way it is, and I never could understand it until I met Dick’s father. Dick’s father used to come in late and he would always sit in the balcony. He’d come a little late and have the option of leaving early. His name was Speck. Speck Tater (spectator) was never involved. He was the kind of person who criticized what was happening, and would always go to church hoping that he’d get something out of it, but he never cared whether he put anything into it.
Well, that’s the Tater family.
Let me ask you a question today. Why do you come to church? Why are you here and not somewhere else? I suppose that there are really three good reasons. One is a personal reason. You come here because you have needs, because you know that it is here that God speaks to us, and He demolishes our idols and He puts us into a different time frame, so to speak. We leave aside all of the pressures of the world, and we come here to concentrate on God and to sing together, and we leave refreshed and encouraged. There are personal reasons for coming to church.
Another reason is the corporate reason. We come because we are members of the same family. Common interests do not unite us. Oh no, common interests do not hold us together. We are not a political party. It is not a matter of all the people being interested in the same hobbies. That’s not what holds us together. What holds us together is that we have a common life. We are brothers and sisters. We have the same Father, and therefore we come sharing that life and finding out how we can better live, and better serve the Lord.
But the third reason to come to church, which lies actually at the bottom of all the reasons, is the divine reason. We come here to meet God because, as we are going to be learning in this series of messages, nothing else matters except His glory. As we learned last time, we don’t have to get even with anyone. We don’t have to prove ourselves to anyone. All that we need to do is to submit and to die to self and to say, “God’s glory is all that matters.”
I hope that you are doing what I’ve been doing for several months. Before I get out of bed in the morning, as I am there thinking about the day and what I have to do, before I have the energy to roll out of bed, I pray and say, “Oh God, today glorify Yourself in me at my expense.” I want to live only for the glory of God. Imagine what that’s like to reduce stress, to put off the pressure, because now it’s not a matter of trying to impress people. It’s just simply the question of what it is that glorifies God, and that is all that matters.
So, what is God doing in church? What is God doing at The Moody Church? Why come to church? What are we trying to do, and what is God trying to do? In order to find an answer to those questions I invite you to turn to Ephesians 2 in the continuing saga of the glory of God. I am going to pick it up in Ephesians 2:19: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” That’s what God is doing in His Church. That’s what He is doing at The Moody Church.
Let me give you three features of the building. God is in the building business, and what are those three features very clearly seen in the text?
The first is the foundation. Paul refers to the apostles and the prophets. Now that doesn’t mean that they are the only foundation. They helped get the Church started, but Jesus Christ, we just read, is the chief cornerstone. Our problem is that in our culture a cornerstone means nothing. You can go out these doors and you can walk down the stairs outside and you can see there the cornerstone that was laid in 1925, but in those days the cornerstone was a huge stone that was quarried at right angles so you would have all of this wall that was built upon this side of the cornerstone and then the cornerstone would go over and the other wall also at right angles was built on the cornerstone. So it really was critical for the whole building. It was what gave the building its start and certainly its foundation. The cornerstone determined the size of the building–how big it would be.
Rebecca and I have lived in Chicago so many years that (Can you believe it?) when the Standard Oil Building was built here, I actually saw it when it was just the foundation because a friend of mine worked for Standard Oil, and he took me there and he showed it to me. It was a deep foundation and you could just see before the structure was built how big the building was going to be. And in the very same way, Jesus is the chief cornerstone and He determines the size of the building. Now some people would like to keep the building small. If we took the time to read the rest of the second chapter of Ephesians, we would discover that there were those who said, “Let’s keep it for the Gentiles. Let’s keep the building for people like us.”
What Jesus is saying here is that He brings together Jew and Gentile, and we here at The Moody Church want to have a broad representation, because we believe that this foundation is broad and goes to every single country of the world.
Years ago we adopted a promise statement that “Moody Church is a trusted place where anyone can connect with God and others,” and we are serious about the “anyone.” A few years ago when we took a survey, we discovered that we have people here from more than 50 countries of origin. We believe that Moody Church should look like heaven where there are people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation because we believe that God has a broad foundation that includes many, many people from diverse backgrounds and ethnicities and countries of origin. So the foundation really determines the size of the building.
It also determines the strength of the building. We believe that a church that is based on the Word of God is a church that is strong, that is doctrinally driven, and as a result of that, we think that foundation should go deep, deep, deep into God’s Word.
Now one thing about a foundation is that it isn’t seen. It’s true that I saw where the foundation was going to be for the Standard Oil Building, but when you see that big building today, you don’t see the foundation, but you know that it is there. In the very same way, people do not see Jesus Christ today. In fact, we do not physically see Him, but people ought to know that He is there because our faith goes down to the bedrock.
All of us are deeply moved when we see the images on television regarding Haiti, and of course, there have been a lot of other disasters that have taken place, but there was one news item that maybe you missed. I saw it only once, and that was of a young mother who was being interviewed by a newsman, and she said that she lost both of her children in the quake. One was a five-year-old, and the other was eighteen months old, and the newsman said to her, “Did you get a chance to bury your children?” and she said, “No, there was no place to bury them so I just threw them away.” Then the camera zoomed in on a bag that she was taking with her on the bus, stuffed with a few clothes, and right next to those clothes, clearly visible, was a Bible, and she said, “I derive hope from Psalm 46,” and then on the news, the first verse or two of Psalm 46 was actually quoted: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” And then it goes on to say, “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth,” and yet it ends by saying, “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” I thought, “Think of how precious the faith of that woman is to God.” Losing both children, unable to bury them, having nothing, that woman’s faith goes down to a very deep foundation.
So the first feature of the building is the foundation, which determines the strength and the size of the building.
The second feature is, of course, the stones. Now let’s look at this. It says that it is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the cornerstone. Now actually what it is talking about is the other stones in the building. Peter refers to living stones. Now we know that actual stones aren’t alive, but this is the imagery of Scripture. And so the Bible says that we are the stones with which God is building this structure. The foundation is Jesus, but we are the stones. And where does God get these stones? God goes into the quarry of sin and He chisels them out of that quarry (just like Solomon’s temple was built), and then He brings them in and He fits them right into where they should be on the walls, so that they become the stones that He wants to have there.
I never tire of hearing testimonies about people who have come to saving faith in Christ. This past week Rebecca and I had dinner with a couple and he was telling us that he bought a Bible for $40. He bought it from a friend because he didn’t want to be embarrassed. He didn’t want to think of himself as being cheap, and so he bought it and regretted that he had, but he took the Bible, and never opened it, and put it in a closet. He said, “The last thing I needed was a Bible,” but then his wife became terminally ill and he took the Bible down and he read Matthew chapters 1 to 23, he said, at least 20 times, and in the process of reading it he came to saving faith in Jesus Christ. He is now a stone, so to speak, in God’s building.
You see, each of us has a different story, but God goes into the quarry of sin, He picks us up, and He puts us into the building. And, of course, we are growing stones, so if you can just visualize one stone grinding upon another, wearing each other down and becoming smooth, that’s what happens through community. You see, that’s why we gather together. That’s why, even though we are thankful for all those who are listening today by way of the internet, the fact is that if you have the opportunity to go to church to meet with the body, you should go to church and meet with the body of believers, because it is in community that we are formed into these stones that become the building. And you know, sometimes the community works. Sometimes it doesn’t.
The same man who gave his testimony to us said that he was in the Marines during the 50s, and he said that there were four of them who would go to church every Sunday. He said, “In those days we were not well fed.” He said, “We were so hungry. We were undernourished.” And he said, “We would go to church and after church we’d stand around looking hungry, but,” he said, “nobody ever invited us out to eat.” Do you realize that the person who is sitting next to you today may be hungry? Maybe you should invite them out to eat. That’s what the Body of Jesus Christ is all about.
But also, as a staff, as we thought about the expectations that we would like to have from our congregations involves, of course, gathering together Sunday morning and Sunday evening, Wednesday night. And then it involves connecting, and you can do that through the TMC communities and in other ways in the church to build that sense of community. It involves also equipping classes and we have those from time to time. You know that they are listed in the bulletin, and of course, there are Precepts classes, and there are other ways all the way from point zero in people’s lives to senior adults. We want opportunities here at The Moody Church for you to grow and to become the kind of part of the temple that God wants.
And then, of course, everybody should serve, and we say that not just because we want to get things done but we believe that all of these things are tied up with character, and tied up with spiritual growth. As it says in Ephesians, “that we might come together and that we might become one and a full body in Jesus Christ.”
So we have the foundation stone. We also have the stones themselves, and now we get to the real issue. Why is it being built and for whom is it being built?
Some buildings are famous because of who visited them. That’s why I’ve been to the Wartburg Castle in Germany perhaps five or six times, because Luther lived there for ten months and you can go into the room in which he actually lived.
Some buildings are famous because of their architecture and who built them, and we certainly think that because of Frank Lloyd Wright being here in the city of Chicago, groups come from all over the world to see his architecture.
But some buildings are important because of who lives in them. Buckingham Palace–that’s where the queen lives. And who lives in this building? There it is in the text–the whole structure being joined together grows into a holy temple in the Lord. It says, “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” It’s a dwelling place for God to be among His people, and by the way, since your Bibles are open, please notice that it is God who does the joining together. It is God who does the building together. God is building a temple for Himself in which He may dwell.
Several implications become very important for us as we think about that. First of all, every church should be characterized by the presence of God. Every church should recognize that the way in which we are distinguished from all other people on the face of the earth, as Moses pointed out, is because God is among us. Do you remember when God wasn’t going to go with Moses and said, “I’ll send an angel but I’m not going to go with you?” And Moses said, “No, no, if you don’t come with us, don’t leave us here. If you don’t come with us don’t take us anywhere. We’ll stay here,” because Moses wanted the presence of God so badly. He said, “How else are we going to be distinguished from all the other people in the earth?”
How is Moody Church going to be distinguished from political parties, from various groups that meet together because they have a common interest? How are we going to be different from all other groups? The answer is the presence of God.
Now, when the presence of God is with us, a number of things happen. First of all, there is conviction of sin. In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul says, “When somebody comes into your assembly and somebody is prophesying (that is to say, preaching the Word), he will be convinced by all and convicted and he will fall on his face and say, ‘Surely, God is among you’ because his secrets will be revealed.” Wow! It happens all the time. It happens to somebody who is sleeping with his girlfriend (or maybe with someone else outside his marriage relationship), and it’s all rationalized and it’s all tucked under, and it’s all secret and it’s all right, and he may even be comfortable with it, and then he comes to church and he hears the message and he hears the songs. And suddenly he knows that he needs to repent of his sin. The Holy Spirit makes it clear.
Or it happens to somebody who comes to church with anger and bitterness that has spilled over into their lives and ruined their lives, and in the presence of God, small sins suddenly become big ones.
It’s like a man who cheated on his expense accounts. That’s what businessmen do. They cheat on expense accounts. They all do it, but suddenly when the Holy Spirit of God began to show him who he really was, he fell across his desk and could not stop sobbing and said it was as if he was looking into the pit of hell. That’s what happens when the presence of God is there, but it isn’t just conviction of sin.
The presence of God brings the joy of God. “In thy presence there is fullness of joy. At thy right hand there are pleasures evermore,” because we at The Moody Church never would leave someone simply with guilt without telling them how that guilt can be removed. And that’s why in virtually every service we point out that Jesus Christ gave an offering and a sacrifice for sin, and your sin is not so big but that God cannot forgive it. There is more grace in God’s heart than there is sin in your past, and the presence of God reminds us of that.
Remember that that’s what we desire, but as we learned last time, when there is sin in our lives, when we go our own way, when within a congregation there is open sin that is not dealt with, what happens is the presence of God withdraws. We here at The Moody Church in the leadership are desperate for the glory and for the presence of God. May people who come in here (may you visitors who have never been to Moody Church before today) say, “Surely God is in this place,” and may those of us who come here regularly say the same thing. The presence of God has to be here.
Secondly, we come to church because we want to worship God. Worship is giving our full faculties and our attention to Almighty God. Worship is the means by which we come into God’s presence and we again recognize who He is, and in the process realize who we are and who we aren’t. Worship is so critical. But you can’t come and worship in a church when you have been up the night before seeing perhaps movies with all of the imagery still in your mind. If you are in a sinful relationship, you can’t worship God. I mean, you can sing the songs. You can pray the prayers. You can go through the motions. You can stay awake during the sermon (I hope), but you can’t really worship God.
Now, think of the book of Revelation (in chapters 4 and 5) when the Church is finally free of sin. Aren’t you looking forward to that day? (applause) Just imagine finally being free of all sin and being able to worship God without mediation, and standing in God’s presence. In this passage heaven opened to John and what did he see? John saw the 24 elders worshiping God. The 24 elders represent, of course, the saints in the Old Testament (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the Patriarchs or the twelve sons of Jacob) but also represent the Twelve Apostles. And what are they doing? They are casting their crowns before Him. They are giving God worship, and they are seeing God face-to-face as He actually is at last, and we here on earth begin that process.
We meet every week as a worship committee and we try to plan a service around a certain theme. Sometimes we are better at it than we are at other times, but we recognize that we cannot make Moody Church worship. We cannot make you worship. Only God can do that. And we also recognize that you will only worship to the extent that you have planned to worship before you come here, spending time with God before you walk into this building, giving Him all of your anxieties and all of your sins, and taking care of personal relationships, so that now with uninterrupted focus when we sing a song, if it’s a song of praise, we are praising. And if it is a prayer, we are praying, because we are entering into worship, and the worship has begun long before the service opens. You see, that’s what we are all about. What we want to do as a church is to begin to worship before we get to heaven rather than waiting until we get there. God desires that among His people. So first of all, it should be a church that is characterized by the presence of God.
Secondly, we should also be characterized by the worship of God, and of course, we should also be characterized by the mandate of God. We have a responsibility, and our responsibility is not just to one another, but also to the wider culture.
As some of you know, I have more than just a passing interest in Nazi Germany. One day, Martin Niemöller had an opportunity to speak with Hitler. Hitler had brought all the pastors together (or at least the leaders) because he was sensing some opposition on their part, and he said to them, “You take care of the German Church and I will take care of the German people.” In other words, “You stick within your boundaries, and I’ll take care of the German people.” When Niemöller had a chance to speak to Hitler as they were saying goodbye, he said to him, “You said that we were to just take care of the Church, and you would take care of the German people, but we also have a mandate to the German people given to us by God, and no one can take it from us.” Hitler turned away without a word, and later 2,000 pastors who had supported Niemöller backed away from their support because they thought that if they simply left Hitler alone he’d leave them alone, but of course, Niemöller was right.
What is our responsibility as a church? Is it simply to worship, simply to learn, and simply to equip? No! Jesus Christ has called us to make the invisible God visible to this culture, to take the invisible God and His presence to all the different areas of Chicago and beyond, that we might be bearers of God and His message, and become transforming agents in offices and banks and hospitals where the world has gone astray and is looking for answers. We are available to God, and we say to Him, “Here we are. Today glorify yourself in my life at my expense.” You live that way, and you’ll be surprised what God might bring to you.
You know, there is a story about a boy who was not reared in church and because he wasn’t reared he didn’t know exactly what to expect when he walked into a church, but he was told that God dwells there. And perhaps you’ve heard the story. He came in and he met the pastor and he said to the pastor, “Be you God?”
Folks, we are God to a world that has lost its way, and God has called us as The Moody Church to make the invisible God visible to a skeptical world through Jesus Christ our Lord.
What we must do is to make sure that we seek Him with all of our hearts, that His glory, His dwelling place, that God might feel comfortable among us, that the companionship of God, which all of us desire might be an experience that all of us have so that people say, “Surely God dwells there among his people.” Are we ready for what God might want to do?
Will you join me as we pray together?
Father, I am gripped by the phrase that says, “The dwelling of God by the Spirit,” that that’s what You are doing. Would You help all of us now, Lord, to be overcome by the recognition that You are building something? You are building here in this church a temple where You can dwell. We pray, Father, that You might help us to rid the temple of impurities through confession, through repentance, and that You, by Your power, might visit us, and that we might experience the fullness of Your blessing.
To those who are here who have never trusted Christ as Savior, may they know that through Him they can have forgiveness of sins and belong to You forever. Lord, by Your Spirit do what we can’t. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.