What an exciting time we are in. What has been talked about for 6 if not 10 or 15 years is about to become reality. This week, the stage will be set for the beginning of the building project. I am excited about it and looking forward to all the great changes that will take place. But not all of this is pleasant. I was comfortable in my office and liked the location of it. Now the upheaval of moving is upon us. All of us will be impacted by what will be happening here for the next 4 months. Those of you planning weddings have already been impacted. Each Sunday, we will realize that things aren’t like normal.
Not only are changes an integral part of the building project, there are also other challenges that come with such a project. I have heard comments or heard about comments made in regard to the project. I have heard words that express people’s frustration with the process or disagreement with certain decisions. How will we handle these things, which are almost inevitable?
Last Sunday at Jonathan’s graduation, the title of the speaker’s message was, “Where in a university is God?” It was a good question and well addressed. I would like to ask a similar question. I would like to ask, “where in our building project is God?” This morning, with all of these thoughts in the back of our minds, I would like to engage in a little Biblical thinking that I hope will help us understand how God is in the midst of our building project.
It is tempting to look at the building of this project as a human thing. We are people, working with wood and steel doing something that we can handle. But is that really what is going on here? I believe that we need to see that the very purpose for our existence as a church is the building of the kingdom of God and the work we are doing is at all times a building of the kingdom of God. God will be in it when we remember our goal and reason for being.
The building project itself is an expression of the building of the kingdom of God. When we look into the Bible, there are several building projects that were carried out. Some of them definitely had the aspect of being a part of the building of the kingdom of God.
Ezra and Nehemiah describe the re-building of the temple and the walls of Jerusalem. Both of the projects were written about as doing God’s work. In Ezra 4, there was opposition to the building of the temple. Some enemies offered to help, but their true intent was to prevent. Zerubbabel who was the leader answered them, “We alone will build it for the Lord.” The emphasis is on their doing it alone, but notice the other message in that statement. They were building it “for the Lord.”
In the building of the wall described in Nehemiah 2:20, Nehemiah was also opposed by enemies. When they mocked what the people were trying to do, Nehemiah responded, “The God of heaven will give us success.”
In both of these stories, it is obvious that they saw what they were doing as obedience to God and a part of the building of God’s kingdom. Do we see the building of this addition as God directed and a part of building His kingdom or do we see it as an expression of self indulgence? We have prayed about this, sought God’s leading, explored and thought things through. I believe that when we consider the value of the things we are trying to accomplish and the way in which we have now come together on this project we can understand that putting up this building is an expression of building God’s kingdom. I look forward to the day when we will be able to have a fellowship meal to celebrate, to the day we will have an event in the basement and not watch someone walk out the door because they can’t get down the stairs, and to be able to provide a pleasant environment to minister to a grieving family while they wait for the funeral of their loved one. These are all aspects of loving, teaching and, in short, building the kingdom of God.
Not only is the building itself a way of building the kingdom of God, but the process can provide great opportunities for building God’s kingdom. As we work together and interact with others who will come to work on the building, we will have opportunities to get to know each other, to encourage each other, to minister to others and so to build the kingdom of God. I read about the Indonesian Christian Church on the West Coast. One of the people involved in their building project wrote, “The Lord has blessed us, not only in providing us with this new building, but also in making each one of us stronger in faith in Him. In the process of building the church, God has also built us from within, transforming our characters. We teamed to develop a deeper sense of trust, a dependent and obedient heart, and a prayerful spirit. By leaving everything in His hands, we have witnessed His works of miracles in return. As a participant in the building team in the role of an architect, I was delighted to witness first-handed the work of God throughout the entire process of the building. Not only was God present during the construction, He was there providing funding for the construction. It was indeed an encouraging experience.
It was quite remarkable to witness the faith and obedience to the Lord that ICC has shown in embarking into this very project. In retrospect, had we not been faced with the problems of financing, permits, design, construction, disagreements, throughout the process of building, and had everything worked just so smoothly without any challenges, would we then have experienced God's presence and guidance? Would we have experienced God's love and blessings poured upon this project? Would we have felt the need to be dependent upon Him? Would we have learned something so precious in our spiritual life? I am extremely thankful that God has proven Himself faithful in my experience with the ICC project.
I trust that through the project, we will see God at work.
But, as we build, we need to remember that the church is not the building, the church is the congregation. There are churches that meet in open areas, in homes, in buildings without a roof and function quite well. As a congregation, we are always involved in the work of building the kingdom of God, quite apart from our building. Of course, that work involves bringing others to Christ, nurturing them in faith and expressing the love of God for one another.
While we are involved in this project, which as I have said, I hope we will see as building God’s kingdom, let us, nevertheless, continue to build the kingdom of God in all the things we do as a congregation of God’s people. In other words, the building of God’s kingdom goes on in spite of the building project.
It is interesting that in both Ezra and Nehemiah, the building project was only part of the story that was being told. Ezra tells of the rebuilding of the temple, Nehemiah tells of the rebuilding of the walls around Jerusalem, but both of these books also tell of the spiritual renewal that took place among the people. The leaders told the people, who were newly returned to the land after 70 years of exile in Babylon because of their sin, that if they did not want to end up in exile again, they would have to be a people who were faithful to the Lord. In Ezra 7:10 we read that “Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.” In Nehemiah 5:9 we read that Nehemiah challenged the people, “Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God…” Later, in Nehemiah 8, we discover that the law was read and sin was confessed. So while the building was going on, there was also spiritual renewal happening.
Robert C. Shannon has written, “The building committee had met to look at some designs for a new house of worship. One member objected to some of the concepts. "Let's build a church that looks like a church," he said. Whatever your tastes in architecture for the building, spiritually the church should look like a church. To put it better, the church should look like Christ. If the church is Christ's body, it ought to resemble him in its compassion, its love and sympathy, its holiness.”
So, my encouragement to all of us is that in spite of the focus that will happen on the building and especially, in spite of the upheaval and disruption that will happen because we can’t meet in this building, let us keep on being the church God has called us to be and let us keep on building the kingdom of God by continuing to do His work wherever we can. Let us keep on ministering to one another. Let us keep coming to the services we have even if they are in a different location. Let us keep offering our gifts for service to the Lord. Let us keep reaching out to those who don’t know the gospel. Let us keep visiting and caring for people. Let us not let the intensity of the building work derail opportunities to care for people.
God is in this project and in us if we build it for the Lord and if we keep on building His kingdom even while everything is different.
God is also in this project as we each offer ourselves for service to the project.
In reading Nehemiah 3, I discovered something very interesting. The building of the wall around Jerusalem was not done by the professional trades. Each person joined in the building project and did their part. In verse 1 we read that Eliashib the high priest was involved in the building. In verse 8, we find that Hananiah, one of the perfume makers, was also involved. Later in verse 32 we read, “and between the room above the corner and the Sheep Gate the goldsmiths and merchants made repairs.” Unfortunately, there were also those who did not contribute. In verse 5 we read about the work of the men of Tecoa, and also read that “their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.”
Much earlier in the history of the people of Israel, during the time of the exodus from Egypt, they were building the tent of meeting. God had given two men who were particularly skilled in all kinds of building - Bezalel and Oholiab. But they did not do the work alone. In Exodus 35:21 we read, “everyone who was willing and whose heart moved him came and brought an offering… Then in Exodus 35:26 it says, “all the women who were willing and had the skill spun goat hair…”
The amazing thing that happened on that occasion was that they were so willing that they had to stop them from bringing more. It says in Exodus 36:6,7 - “the people were restrained from bringing more, because what they already had was more than enough…”
I want to invite us to offer what we have. For some, the offering will be prayer that God will protect, guide and do amazing things during the project. For others, it will be helping with various physical aspects of the building - skills they bring, strength to help clean up, and various other such helps. For others it may be bringing food. All of us will also have opportunity to contribute financially. We will see God in this when we offer to Him, to the project and to one another the gifts, abilities and resources he has given us.
We will also see God in the midst of this project as we do it in God’s way. It is possible to build the most beautiful and functional church anywhere, one admired by all, but if in the process, we destroy the congregation or compromise the kingdom of God, what have we really accomplished?
Let’s be realistic. We will not agree about everything and we will become frustrated. That is already evident. But the Bible is very clear that we need to maintain unity. It was the prayer of Jesus in John 17:23 that all of his disciples be one. Paul prayed for the church in Rome that God would give them a “spirit of unity.” We are called in Ephesians 4:3 to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit.” Evidently, unity is very important. How do you maintain unity given the reality of differing points of view?
First of all, it is necessary to realize that just because we disagree about something that that is not disunity. That may well be creativity. If God had created only cats, what a boring world we would live in. But God has made cats and cows and duck billed platypuses. God has given us different perspectives on things and allowed us to see things from different points of view. Let us celebrate those differences and recognize the tremendous value in seeing things in different ways.
Since disagreement is not disunity, when does disunity come up. Disunity comes when we disparage other people and break fellowship with them because we disagree with them.
These are nice theories, but how do they work when you think the wall should be painted white and I think it should be painted dark green?
We have a structure in place to deal with these things. The building committee and the trustees have been given responsibilities to look after these things. I think we realize that if we ask the opinion of every member of the church, we will have 250 opinions and so there is a level at which we have to entrust the leaders with the responsibility we give them and leave it in their hands. Unity happens when leaders have made a decision and we support them in that decision. Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
Of course, leaders need to be sensitive to the concerns of the congregation. Unity happens when leaders respect the congregation enough to communicate well about the decisions and processes they are engaged in.
Unity also happens when we speak to those who are responsibility about any concerns we have. Sometimes when we have a concern, the temptation we face is to complain and mutter about the concern to other people who are not involved in the decision. Unity is maintained when we gently and patiently point out our concern to those in leadership. If they have not thought about it, we have helped the process, if they have thought about it, then we need to trust that they have balanced that perspective with all other perspectives and made a wise decision.
Unity is maintained with these two things - openness and trust.
Bill Hybels said, “The mark of community--true biblical unity--is not the absence of conflict but the presence of a reconciling spirit.”
I read this story, “During Vacation Bible School last week my wife had an experience with her primary class that she says she will never forget. Her class was interrupted on Wednesday about an hour before dismissal when a new student was brought in. The little boy had one arm missing, and since the class was almost over, she had no opportunity to learn any of the details about the cause or his state of adjustment. She was very nervous and afraid that one of the other children would comment on his handicap and embarrass him. There was no opportunity to caution them, so she proceeded as carefully as possible. As the class time came to a close, she began to relax. She asked the class to join her in their usual closing ceremony. "Let's make our churches," she said. "Here's the church and here's the steeple, open the doors and there's..." The awful truth of her own actions struck her. The very thing she had feared that the children would do, she had done. As she stood there speechless, the little girl sitting next to the boy reached over with her left hand and placed it up to his right hand and said, "Davey, let's make the church together." This story may be seen as a parable of our search for oneness in Christ: to put our inadequate, handicapped lives alongside the lives of others and to pray, "Let's make the church together."
A second quality which will help us do the building in God’s way is to have patience. Scripture often advises patience. Proverbs 14:29 says, “a patient man has great understanding…” In Proverbs 15:18 we read, “a patient man calms a quarrel.” Ephesians 4:2 commands us, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
We are human, we make mistakes, we fail, but it is also true that we are God’s people who have experienced grace at his hands. Therefore, we are under divine obligation to extend grace to one another.
The last thing I would like to say about building in God’s way is to do it with thanksgiving and praise. Reading in Ezra and Nehemiah, this theme of thanksgiving pervades the entire building project. In Ezra 3:10 at the beginning of the building of the temple we read that “When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the LORD, as prescribed by David king of Israel.” When the temple was completed, we read in Ezra 6:16, “Then the people of Israel—the priests, the Levites and the rest of the exiles—celebrated the dedication of the house of God with joy.”
Today we want to praise the Lord as we begin this building project. I look forward to the day when we will celebrate the completion, and dedicate this building to the Lord. But let us also build every day with a sense of thanksgiving for what the Lord has done, is doing and will do in and through us.
Paul and Ina Warkentin are church planting in Germany. For many years, they met in rented facilities. After a time, they decided that it was time to have a building of their own. They tell their story:
According to Ina, a church building has great symbolic meaning to Germans. “For those coming out of a tradition of a beautiful Roman Catholic church, it is very important to have a good facility, so that believers can be proud of it.”
Deciding to have a church building was not an easy step for the church. After three meetings, the church told Paul to pray and fast for a whole day, and they would trust whatever decision he reached.
“The steps of faith, and the risk that it took for the congregation to go ahead with finding a building, changed the atmosphere to one of confidence,” says Paul. “One member told me ‘Because we have faith, we can do it – because it’s impossible for us to do it, we will do it with the Lord’s help.’ ” MB Herald January 2000.
I like that last statement. God will be in this project when we realize that we need His help. I know that according to building ability, financial resources and the fact that we have a plan, we can do it. But, can we do it in God’s way? Can we do it as a way of building His kingdom? Can we build his kingdom even in the midst of the disruption? For all of that, and really even for the financial needs and the actual physical construction, we need God. So I want to appeal to us that we “do it with the Lord’s help.”
Nehemiah 2:18 has a similar idea. There we read, “I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me. They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work.”
We will have a prayer, a song and then, we will dismiss the service outside where we will have a prayer and a ground breaking to invite God to help us do it with His help.
Prayer of dedication inside.
Shovel work and prayer of dedication outside.
Words from building committee
Prayer by committee member & ministerial member
Take first scoop of dirt.