ONE CHURCH – A Family
Ephesians 2:19-22 (p. 815) August 7, 2016
Tony Compolo in Who Switched the Price Tags tells this story:
Miss Thompson taught Teddy Stallard in the fourth grade. He was a slow, unkempt student, a loner shunned by his classmates. The previous year his mother died, and what little motivation for school he may have once had was now gone. Miss Thompson didn’t particularly care for Teddy either, but at Christmas time he brought her a small present. Her desk was covered with well-wrapped presents from the other children, but Teddy’s came in a brown sack. When she opened it there was a gaudy rhinestone bracelet with half the stones missing and a bottle of cheap perfume. The children began to snicker but Miss Thompson saw the importance of the moment. She quickly splashed on some perfume and put on the bracelet, pretending Teddy had given her something special. At the end of the day Teddy worked up enough courage to softly say, “Miss Thompson, you smell just like my mother . . . and her bracelet looks real pretty on you too. I’m glad you like my presents.” After Teddy left, Miss Thompson got down on her knees and prayed for God’s forgiveness. She prayed for God to use her as she sought to not only teach these children but to love them as well. She became a new teacher. She lovingly helped students like Teddy, and by the end of the year he had caught up with most of the students. Miss Thompson didn’t hear from Teddy for a long time. Then she received this note: “Dear Miss Thompson, I wanted you to be the first to know. I will be graduating second in my class. Love, Teddy Stallard.” Four years later she got another note: “Dear Miss Thompson, They just told me I will be graduating first in my class. I wanted you to be the first to know. The university has not been easy, but I liked it. Love, Teddy Stallard.” Four years later: “Dear Miss Thompson, As of today, I am Theodore Stallard, M.D. How about that? I wanted you to be the first to know. I am getting married next month. I want you to come and sit where my mother would sit if she were alive. You are the only family I have now; Dad died last year. Love, Teddy Stallard.” Miss Thompson went to the wedding and sat where Teddy’s mother would have sat, because she let God use her as an instrument of encouragement.
God’s household is filled with Miss Thompsons! And it’s designed by our heavenly Father to be this way…What would have happened to Teddy Stallard if Miss Thompson had opened that brown bag and said, “This is the ugliest bracelet and worst smelly perfume I’ve ever seen?” and then thrown it into the trash.
We don’t know…we can be pretty sure that it would have devastated Teddy. But we can be absolutely sure she would have never set anywhere as his mother.
I. FOREIGNERS AND STRANGERS CAN NEVER BE FAMILY
The Apostle Paul talks about the bond that’s formed through the cross…whether Jew or Gentile. Jesus breaks down the dividing wall…Jesus puts to death the hostility…no matter who you are.
“Through Jesus we have access to the Father by One spirit.” (Eph. 2:18)
People become family when they are connected to the same Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
And the hard truth is unless we open our hearts and lives to new people they will always stay foreigners and strangers.
It doesn’t matter your race, gender, economic status…the simple fact is you cannot have a real and deep relationship with someone you don’t know. Pieces of wood that are never joined together will never become a house…They’ll always stay a stack of timber.
For the house of God, Jesus Christ Himself, is the Chief cornerstone…In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord…We have access to God through the One Spirit that makes true worship possible.
Church should never be a place you go to worship…Church is a family of people joined together in worship…not just on Sundays…but in life.
ACTS 2:42-47 (p. 759)
A devotion to God and each other…Monday through Saturday was as important to the bond as Sundays…And new people came into the family daily.
“A family committed to loving Jesus and others so their neighbors, community and world could experience good news.”
A church ceases to function as a family when it forgets this mission and preferences become more important than God’s purpose. Where people are viewed not as possible family but foreigners and strangers.
Established and comfortable members circle the wagons…Their focus turns to friendships and relationships that are safe…This way they don’t get hurt…This way they don’t have to go through the difficult process of building new relationships…I understand this too…I can protect my heart and I can be friends with those I like…The problem is when I do this my Christianity is about “ME.” And according to Jesus…it’s never about me.
[I remember reading this email of a godly woman who wrote…I decided to not let anyone new in…I wasn’t going to do it anymore…I’d been hurt too many times and disappointed too many times…I’ll have my friends and those I trust, but I’m not going to open myself up again!]
I get that!!! I’ve done that! (at least for a while, while I heal up) Relationships are always a two way street…and sometimes the ones you feel like are going somewhere, end up a dead end street.
But, if we close off our hearts to foreigners and strangers, they can never ever become part of the family of God.
If there are never godly teachers who will invest in the Teddy Stallard’s of this world, the potential of God for unkempt, slow loners will never be realized.
Never stop believing that God can build a temple out of a crackhouse!
[I’ll never forget filling out my entrance form to go to Bible College…It was only about 6 months after my conversion…I was working as the lifeguard at Blue Grass Christian Camp and on weekends I came home for church…It had questions on it like “Have you ever used drugs?” and “Have you ever been arrested?” “If so, explain.” I tried to explain honestly and share that that prison didn’t exist anymore. The application also required a letter of recommendation from a church leader…So, I asked one and He looked at me and said, “I can’t write that letter for you!” I felt the judgment and condemnation fall on me like a ton of bricks. So, I asked another…my dad’s boss Bill Buchannan, the President of Kentucky Utilities and an Elder. he said, “Ricky, I’d be honored to write that letter…I’m so proud of you.” It was an honest letter filled with hope, the belief in forgiveness, and God’s plan. By the way I’m the only person in Johnson’s history to enter on Academic probation and graduate as valedictorian…That’s a story of hope and grace…because God can turn potheads into preachers…and the Holy Spirit becomes our letter of recommendation.]
May God help us all have Bill Buchannan’s heart…It believes that those who are far from God can be brought near…Those who are foreigners and strangers can be adopted into the family.
“Anyone can find the dirt in someone…be the one who finds the gold.”
Let me end today with this challenge:
II. GOD’S HOUSE IS A CONTINUOUS BUILDING PROJECT
When Jimmy and Karissa were looking for their first home they found one they really liked, but it had a crack in the foundation…They didn’t buy that house!
The family of God is composed of “Living Stones.” It is people joined together in the Lord, and our foundation is built on the Word of God, through the Apostles and prophets. Jesus is the chief cornerstone that makes that foundation perfect, solid and crack free!
It’s absolutely essential for us who claim Jesus as Lord and Savior to keep Him as the chief cornerstone…It’s His perfection and love that cause us to be in right alignment with God. It’s His Word that is truth, and it’s this truth that keeps us in God’s will…and on point when it comes to His mission. And seeking His will through prayer is the only way our attitudes can be molded through the Holy Spirit.
When Paul finishes this section of scripture in Ephesians 2, he says “And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.”
It’s a continuous project. It’s an ongoing construction…The foundation is Jesus…it involves you too…and it involves His family being unified around His plan together…By His Spirit…and…The Holy Spirit never speaks disunity…Never. He is the construction manager of God’s building project…He never deviates from God’s blueprints…he seeks to guide each worker to build towards the same plan.
But we workers can be an ornery…opinionated group can’t we? The Holy Spirit wants to build a temple of unity and praise…but we’d rather build a clubhouse.
Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin had every reason as teammates to be friends, but they were not. Incognito harassed and bullied Martin. He called him a racial slur in a voicemail played by every media outlet in the country. He threatened to kill him and his family. Incognito claimed all of this was just locker room talk. It is the way the guys talk to one another in the NFL.
Apparently, Martin didn’t get the memo. Martin left his lucrative job citing emotional issues and fearing for his life. Though we don’t know all the details, it appears as if Martin has some culpability, as well. He was far too passive in dealing with Incognito’s threatening behavior. As a teammate, it appears, he should have expressed how troubling Incognito’s threats were to him. These two men had many more reasons to get along than to have a toxic relationship. Consider all the reasons they had to be friends.
They were both football players.
On the same team.
Had the same coach.
Both were offensive linemen.
Both played on the same side of the line.
Both were starters.
Both wanted to win.
Both are big dudes.
Both were millionaires.
Yet somewhere along the way one or both of them forgot they played for the same team and began to treat the other like a New England Patriot. They forgot the enemy was in another city. They forgot enemy is on another team.
Similarly, we have many more reasons to honor one another than to dishonor one another.
We have the same owner!
The same Father cheering us on from the press box.
The same Savior who scouted us and forgave us.
The same Spirit within.
The same playbook.
The same purpose.
We are going to the same place when life is over.
We believe that God has called us to be one Church…One family committed to loving Jesus and others, so our neighbors, community, and world can experience good news.
I’m sorry if you don’t believe God and his Spirit can and should build us to be just this kind of house…I’m sorry if you believe preferences are more important than people…But please remember…It’s not my vision for the church or your vision for the church that makes it great…It’s His!