State of the Church 2013

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Near the beginning of every calendar year, it has been our custom for some years now to have a message that addresses the “state of the church.” Sometimes we have addressed the state of the national church, and sometimes of this local congregation. It all varies . . . depending on the state of the church.

“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:24-26)
The fundamental call to discipleship is one at a time. Jesus says that if any man wants to follow Him, he must deny himself (v. 24). He must take up his cross, and follow Christ. A cross fits one at a time—it is not an instrument of mass execution. Jesus then teaches that if we are clingy with our own lives, then we will lose what we are clinging to. But if we lose it for the sake of Christ, then we will gain what we have given up (v. 25). What is the point, what is the profit, in gaining anything if we lose our own soul in the transaction? What would be a good price to put on your own soul (v. 26)? Jesus teaches us to value our own soul over anything else we might gain or accomplish.

We go to Heaven or to Hell by ones. The Lord Jesus was the one who established the importance of the individual, over against every secular collective. A man or a woman will live forever, in a way that corporations and empires will not. But if we live forever in glory, we will do so as part of the Body of Christ, and we will find ourselves in union with Him, and with all the rest of the redeemed. We are all members of one body. But we are not melted down in some sort of cosmic unity—the more Christ is formed in each of us, the more like ourselves we will become.

Pascal once said that “men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction.” This has often and unfortunately been the case in the building of sanctuaries. Holy places have often been assembled with unholy hands. I say this because it now seems possible, Lord willing (Jas. 4:15), that we will allowed to begin construction on a sanctuary for worship in this calendar year. We have architects working on the initial drawings now. But when we are done, we don’t want a sanctuary that is holier than all the people who built it.

We want to build, but we want to build with gold and silver, and with costly stones—and not with wood, hay, and stubble (1 Cor. 3:12). But we are talking about materials from God’s supply houses, not from ours. What does He call gold and silver? What does He call stubble?

It all lies in the adverbs. How we build is going to govern how we occupy, and whether God receives it. If we build in a spirit of love and mutual submission, and a meteorite destroys the whole thing before the first service, we are still that much ahead of the game. This is because building the external building is just a device that God is using for building us—we are the true Temple. We are the living stones, and we ought never to privilege the dead stones over the living ones.

And if we build a glorious building for future tourists and sightseers in Moscow to ooh and ahh over, and to comment on how majestic our spiritual vision must have been, but we did it while quarreling, fussing, and complaining, then we were trashing the real sanctuary for the sake of our picture of it. This is like a man yelling at his wife for damaging a precious picture he had of her.

Many of you have been on glorious tours of glorious churches, both here and in Europe. Don’t be the guy who carves his last scrollwork—soli Deo Gloria, or something equally lofty—and then dies and goes to the devil. What does it profit a man, Jesus asks, if he crafted something as glorious as the Rose Window at Chartes, but loses his own soul?

Since this congregation was first planted in 1975, it has met in many locations. We have met in East City Park, St. Augustine’s Catholic Church, the Hawthorne Village common room, the American Legion cabin, a garage, Greene’s body and paint shop (both locations), the Paradise Hills Church of God, Moscow High School, the Logos auditorium, and now the Logos field house. I will say this—you all are good sports. During the body and paint shop days, I remember joking once that we were the only church I knew of where you could come to worship, find a Rainier beer truck in the sanctuary, and not think anything of it.

But all this was preparation time, not “get lazy” time. God intended the time in the wilderness as a time to shape and mold Israel. Those forty years had a point for them, and they have had a similar point for us. This means I would deliver a charge to the generation following us—my children’s generation, and those coming up after them. You must be like the men who served with Joshua, and who kept Israel faithful as long as they lived (Judges 2:7). You must teach your children to do the same (2 Tim. 2:2). You must not be like the odious woman who finally gets married and is insufferable as a result (Prov. 30:23).
When you come into a land full of good things, take special care not to forget the Lord (Dt. 6:12). And if your response is something like “oh, we could never do that,” you have already started to do it. The one who thinks he stands is the one who needs to take heed lest he fall (1 Cor. 10:12). The Old Testament was given as something that New Testament saints constantly need.

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